Just below the first level of Stanley Cup contenders are four teams that have more glaring flaws than the definite contenders, but enough strength that it would hardly be surprising if any of them won the Cup.

Probable Contenders

Vancouver Canucks 

Roberto Luongo Vancouver Canucks GoalkeeperThe Canucks probably deserve to be listed as a definite contender, given that they were one game away from winning the Cup last season. However, the perception still exists that the ‘Nucks have a mental block when it comes to postseason play, especially the crown jewel of the franchise, goalie Roberto Luongo

Left wing Daniel Sedin led the league in points with 104, while his twin, center Henrik, led the league in assists. However, during the playoffs it was two-way forward Ryan Kesler who was clearly the team's most valuable player. 

In between the pipes, Luongo led the league in wins, but failed to erase his rep as a head case. In the first round, Luongo was a sieve on the road, as Vancouver barely escaped with a game seven win. And in the finals, Luongo's play was clearly inferior to Boston's Tim Thomas, especially in the deciding game seven Bruins win.  

San Jose Sharks 

Speaking of teams that are perceived as having a postseason mental block, the San Jose Sharks seemed to exorcise some of their demons in surviving a seven-game series in which the Detroit Red Wings came back from an 0-3 deficit, before bowing out fairly easily against Vancouver in the Western Conference finals. 

The Sharks project to once again win the division, thanks to a significantly upgraded roster. Martin Havlat is the proven playoff performer that Dany Heatley never was, and Michael Handzus is a physical Presence at center. Handzus' arrival from the division rival L.A. Kings should improve the Sharks while weakening a potential division contender. 

This is an excellent team with numerous star-level players in their primes. The only knock against them is that it's the Sharks, and no matter how good they look we are conditioned to believe they will end up screwing it up. 

Chicago Blackhawks 

Jonathan Toews Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup 2010In some ways, last season can be looked on as a success for the 2009-10 Champions, as the Blackhawks outplayed the perception that management had decided to mail it in after making some tough moves to get under the salary cap. 

Stanley Cup heroe goalie Antti Niemi and monster defenceman Dustin Byfuglien were among the sacrifices, and the defending champions suffered the indignity of needing Dallas to either lose or shootout with Minnesota in order to make the playoffs. Once in, however, Chicago looked right at home in forcing a game seven against eventual Western Conference champions Vancouver, after trailing 0-3 in the series. 

GM Stan Bowman demonstrated that he has confidence in his core group of forwards – Captain Jonathon Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp – to provide enough scoring to win the Cup again, as he focused on adding toughness and size in free agency. Forwards Andrew Brunette, Jamal Mayers and Daniel Carcillo are all fierce hitters, and particularly Carcillo has been a guy local fans love and opposing fans hate at every stop in his career. 

The Blackhawks are probably not back to the level of the 09-10 squad, but they should hardly see their fate in the hands of another team on the last day of the season, and in fact ought to host a first-round playoff series.

Tampa Bay Lightning 

The Lightning were the pleasant surprise of the 2011 playoffs, outlasting the Pittsburgh Penguins before sweeping the Washington Capitols, and taking the Champion Boston Bruins to seven games. The Lightning displayed an explosive power play and outscored teams in their wins.

The major offseason story was signing Steven Stamkos to a five-year deal. The Lightning also signed veteran goalie Mathieu Garon, a key move in light of Dwayne Roloson's advancing age. None of Tampa's other moves really moved the needle, other than the loss of wings Simon Gagne and Sean Bergenheim. 

Still, there is still plenty of young talent here, headlined by the phenomenal Stamkos. Teddy Purcell and Victor Hedman are two young players who had coming out parties in the 2011 playoffs, but for Tampa to equal or better their 2011 results, the young guys need to be even better.