Blackhawks, Kings hungry for another Stanley Cup run

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Gordo's Zone: Picking Blues-Blackhawks

The defending National Hockey League champion Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have applied a Western Conference stranglehold on the Stanley Cup in recent years and both are fixed on pinning down another title.

The trend has the Kings next in line, having won in 2012 and 2014, while the Blackhawks hoisted the silver chalice in 2013 and 2015 after launching their dominant run with a 2010 triumph.

Both are well rounded, physical teams that have developed an elite core of players and supplemented them with deft drafting, trades and signings to stay strong in this complex age of salary cap juggling.

Los Angeles (48-28-6) have consistently been one of the NHL's top defensive clubs under coach Darryl Sutter with goalie Jonathan Quick a stalwart, last line of defense in the net.

Slovenian center Anze Kopitar leads the Kings' rush, scoring 74 points (25 goals and 49 assists) with an impressive plus-34 rating while on the ice.

Jeff Carter follows with 62 points and young winger Tyler Toffoli, 23, has a team-high 31 goals. Veteran winger Milan Lucic, with 55 points, rounds out their big guns, augmented by two-way defensemen Drew Doughty (51) and Jake Muzzin (40).

Chicago (47-26-9) have flashed a more potent attack, sparked by lightning quick Patrick Kane, while goalie Corey Crawford has shown he can get on a championship roll.

Kane became the first U.S.-born player to win the Art Ross Trophy as NHL leading scorer in registering 106 points and first Blackhawks player to win the award since Stan Mikita claimed it for the fourth time in the 1967-68 season.

LISTING THE HIGHEST-PAID NHL PLAYERS THIS YEAR:

21 PHOTOS
Highest-paid NHL players
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Blackhawks, Kings hungry for another Stanley Cup run

#19t Marian Hossa -- $7.9 million

Team: Chicago Blackhawks

Position: Left Wing

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $7.9 million salary

One thing to know: In the seventh season of another heavily front-loaded contract, Hossa is nearing the end of his big pay days as his salary dips to $4 million next season and $1 million in each of the four seasons after that. If he is still around to see the end of the deal, he will be 42 when his contract expires.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

#19t Rick Nash -- $7.9 million

Team: Columbus Blue Jackets

Position: Left Wing

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $7.9 million salary

One thing to know: Despite rumors of a potential trade this off-season, the oft-criticized Nash is still with the Rangers, in the sixth year, of the 8-year, $62.4 million contract he originally signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

#16t Dion Phaneuf -- $8 million

Team: Toronto Maple Leafs

Position: Defenseman

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $6 million salary, $2 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Phaneuf’s 7-year, $49 million contract was considered a big reason for the demise of former Leafs GM Dave Nonis, who was fired at the end of last season.

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

#16t Vladimir Tarasenko -- $8 million

Team: St. Louis Blues

Position: Right Wing

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $8 million salary

One thing to know: Tarasenko signed an 8-year, $60 million extension this summer, despite being just 23 years old and still years from unrestricted free agency. Sean McIdoe described the contract as “one that largely redefines the market for young players."

(AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

#16t Derek Stepan -- $8 million

(AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

#15 Sergei Bobrovsky -- $8.5 million

Team: Columbus Blue Jackets

Position: Goaltender

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $8.5 million salary

One thing to know: Bobrovsky is one of only two goalies on this list, however, his 4-year, $29.7 million contract ranks just 13th among all net keepers.

(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

#14 Patrice Bergeron -- $8.75 million

Team: Boston Bruins

Position: Center

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $8.75 million salary

One thing to know: Bergeron’s 8-year, $55 million contract extension, signed in 2013, means the center will likely play his entire career with the Bruins.

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

#10t Corey Perry -- $9 million

Team: Anaheim Ducks

Position: Right Wing

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $5 million salary, $4 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Perry is in the third year of an 8-year, $69 million contract. His $8.6 million salary cap figure is the 7th-largest in the NHL.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

#10t Claude Giroux -- $9 million

 (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

#10t Zach Parise -- $9 million

Team: Minnesota Wild

Position: Left Wing

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $9 million salary

One thing to know: Like many in 2012 and 2013, the deals signed by Parise and teammate Ryan Suter are front-loaded, with the pair looking forward to $1 million salaries in the final years when they will be in their late-30s.

(AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

#10t Ryan Suter -- $9 million

Team: Minnesota Wild

Position: Defenseman

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $9 million salary

One thing to know: Proving the NHL likes to do the teammates-get-equal-pay thing, Suter and teammate Zach Parise signed identical 13-year, $98 million contracts in 2012.

(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

#9 Ryan Getzlaf -- $9.25 million

Team: Anaheim Ducks

Position: Center

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $9.25 million salary

One thing to know: Getzlaf’s 8-year contract includes a no-move clause, meaning he cannot be traded or sent to the minors.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

#7t Evgeni Malkin -- $9.5 million

Team: Pittsburgh Penguins

Position: Center

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $9.5 million salary

One thing to know: After signing an 8-year, $76 million extension in 2013, Malkin’s dad sparked a controversy by claiming his son had turned down a bigger offer from the Dallas Stars, even though Malkin still had one year left on his prior deal.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

#7t Eric Staal -- $9.5 million

Team: Carolina Hurricanes

Position: Left Wing

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $9.5 million salary

One thing to know: Staal is in the final year of his 7-year, $57.8 million contract. Despite talks of a possible extension, nothing has come to fruition yet.

(AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

#5t Alex Ovechkin -- $10 million

Team: Washington Capitals

Position: Left Wing

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $10 million salary

One thing to know: The 13-year, $124 million contract signed by Ovechkin in 2008 is still the largest in the NHL. However, unlike some bigger deals signed later, his was not front-loaded.

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Team: New York Rangers

Position: Goaltender

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $10 million salary

One thing to know: Even with the new limitations on contracts, Lundqvist’s new 7-year, $59.5 million contract is proof that teams still like to front-load these deals. Of the nearly $60 million, $39.5 million will be paid in the first four seasons.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

#4 Sidney Crosby -- $12 million

Team: Pittsburgh Penguins

Position: Center

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $12 million salary

One thing to know: Like Shea Weber, Crosby signed his extension just before the new CBA, and his deal is also heavily front-loaded. This is the final of three seasons with $12 million salaries. Starting next season, Crosby’s salary starts to shrink, eventually reaching just $3 million in 2022-23, when he will be 35.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

#2t Patrick Kane -- $13.8 million

Team: Chicago Blackhawks

Position: Right Wing

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $6.8 million salary, $7.0 million signing bonus

One thing to know: The $84 million contracts for Kane and teammate Jonathan Toews are also the largest in the NHL since the new CBA was ratified in early 2013.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

#2t Jonathan Toews -- $13.8 million

Team: Chicago Blackhawks

Position: Center

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $6.8 million salary, $7.0 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Toews and teammate Patrick Kane signed identical 8-year, $84 million contracts prior to the 2014-15 season. Their $10.5 million cap hits are the largest in the NHL.

(AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

#1 Shea Weber -- $14 million

Team: Nashville Predators

Position: Defenseman

2015-16 earnings breakdown: $1 million salary, $13 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Weber was one of the last NHL players to exploit a loophole in the old collective bargaining agreement, signing a $110 million contract. The catch is that the deal is 14 years long and heavily front-loaded, not expiring until he is 40 years. The benefit to the team was to spread the salary cap hit out over many years. This practice was nixed in the newest CBA, with contracts now limited to eight years.

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

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Led by Kane and linemates Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov, Chicago boast one of the league's best power play units.

Center and captain Jonathan Toews and defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith round out the core.

Chicago and Los Angeles endured decades of frustration before breaking through and take nothing for granted.

The Kings are still smarting after abdicating their crown without even making it to the playoffs last season. When Los Angeles triumphed in 2012, it marked their first championship since joining the league in 1967-68.

Chicago ended a 49-year title drought when they won in 2010 and are trying to become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.

"This is the meaningful hockey to us," Toews said. "It's an opportunity that we don't want to throw away. You work hard to get here. It's not a given you're going to make the playoffs every year.

"It's not a given that you're going to get this type of opportunity so I think the slate is clean. We're starting over."

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