Teams begin tireless pursuit of coveted Stanley Cup

FILE - In this June 12, 2016, file photo, Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby raises the Stanley Cup after Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals against the San Jose Sharks in San Jose, Calif. The Penguins will raise their fourth Stanley Cup banner to the rafters before Thursday night's opener against Washington, and do it in front of a Capitals' team that is growing tired of watching other clubs celebrate championships.   (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

FILE – In this June 12, 2016, file photo, Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby raises the Stanley Cup after Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals against the San Jose Sharks in San Jose, Calif. The Penguins will raise their fourth Stanley Cup banner to the rafters before Thursday night’s opener against Washington, and do it in front of a Capitals’ team that is growing tired of watching other clubs celebrate championships. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

By Andrew White | Staff Writer

It’s that time of year again, hockey fans: The 2016-17 NHL season is underway. It has been just over four months since the last meaningful game was played, when the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks to win the 2016 Stanley Cup, but finally, hockey is back.

As of Oct. 10, the favorites to win the 2016-17 Stanley Cup per Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook are the Chicago Blackhawks (6-1), the Tampa Bay Lightning (7-1), the Pittsburgh Penguins (8-1), the Washington Capitals (8-1) and the Dallas Stars (12-1).

The Chicago Blackhawks have been a perennial contender for the last few years, and they seem poised to have another successful season. Led by the 2015-16 NHL scoring leader Patrick Kane, captain Jonathan Toews and two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, the Hawks look to win their fourth cup in eight years.

The Dallas Stars hope to challenge the Blackhawks in the Central Division. The Stars look to build on last year’s success, which included a division championship and a first round playoff win. The Stars will lean on forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for their success, and if both stay healthy throughout the year, they could be dangerous to the rest of the league.

On the other side of the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks desire to accomplish what they fell just short of last year: winning the Stanley Cup. The ageless Joe Thornton — along with Norris Trophy finalist Brent Burns — is poised to lead the team to victory this season. Many experts believe this season could be one of the last chances the Sharks have to win with this core group of players.

In the Eastern Conference, the Washington Capitals are hungry to repeat as Metropolitan Division champs and finally win the elusive Stanley Cup. After a successful regular season that included the best record in the league, the Capitals had a disappointing postseason once again. The Caps are backstopped by Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Braden Holtby and high-scoring forward Alexander Ovechkin. Once again they have the tools to win; it’s time to see if they can finally put it all together.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are coming off their fourth Stanley Cup championship and are in pursuit of back-to-back titles for the second time in franchise history. Although the season has not begun yet, the Penguins have already been affected by the injury bug as rookie goaltender Matt Murray is out for a few weeks with a broken hand and captain Sidney Crosby is out indefinitely with a concussion. In their absence, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury will have to step up and lead the team in the early part of the year.

The Pens will raise their championship banner before their season opener on Oct. 13 against the Washington Capitals at the newly renamed PPG Paints Arena.

The Tampa Bay Lightning will try to build off their last two seasons in which they lost in the Stanley Cup Finals and Eastern Conference finals, respectively. Steven Stamkos leads the Bolts and their core of young but promising forwards as they begin their quest for the second championship in franchise history. The team from Florida is the favorite to win the Atlantic division and has all of the tools to be a title-worthy team.

Although the teams listed above are the favorites, do not be surprised to see other hopefuls jump into the playoff picture. Other teams to watch include the Florida Panthers — who look to build on last years momentum. Also, the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, who have been strong for the past few years. Additionally, the Edmonton Oilers could also shock the NHL this year with their group of young forwards led by captain Connor McDavid.

Sit back hockey fans, and enjoy. The 2016-17 NHL season should be a wild one.

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