The Chicago Blackhawks will win the Stanley Cup this season for the same reasons they won the Stanley Cup last season. They're simply better than every team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There's no mystery with Chicago, no element of surprise. Their opponents know exactly what the Blackhawks want to do, and more often than not they can't defend it. Nobody will be able to defend the Blackhawks successfully enough to beat them four times in a seven-game series this spring.
Chicago is virtually the same team it was last season with 19 returning players. The differences between the 2012-13 version and this season are subtle and offsetting.
The Blackhawks had a dominant penalty kill and a weak power play last season; this season their PK was average, but their power play was in the top-third of the NHL. Chicago allowed more goals per game this season, but because of the bump in power play they scored more and had the puck more often, which is impressive considering they were a dominant possession team last season too.
Toews missed the last six games of the regular season with an upper-body injury and Kane hasn't played since March 19 because of a leg injury. They're expected to be in the lineup when the Blackhawks open the playoffs against the St. Louis Blues, a team with its own share of injury concerns.
Provided Toews and Kane play like, well, Toews and Kane, the Blackhawks will have a healthy mix of stars and role players to once again wreak havoc on their opponents.
Toews, Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook equal star power with experience. Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya are arguably the best second defensive pairing in the League. Brandon Saad is a developing star and has improved every facet of his game from a year ago. Nick Leddy might be a developing star. Corey Crawford is not a Vezina Trophy contender, but he has played well the second half of the season and was obviously good enough for this team last spring.
Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell, Kris Versteeg, Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith and Brandon Bollig are hard to play against for various reasons, be it speed, grit or size. Michal Handzus and Michal Rozsival are savvy, battle-tested veterans.
All of these players can be called savvy, battle-tested vets. Save for Versteeg, they won the Stanley Cup together last season. Versteeg was part of the Cup-winning team in 2010 and is hungry for another after watching his former teammates do it again.
While unlikely, it's possible Finnish rookie Teuvo Teravainen becomes a difference-maker for Chicago. Teravainen is the future No. 2 center behind Toews and has all the skill and hockey sense coach Joel Quenneville wants in a player, but he's only 19 and still raw having arrived in North America last month.
Asking Teravainen to be a factor in the playoffs might be too much, but the beauty of the Blackhawks is they don't have to do that. They're good enough to win the Cup again without any element of surprise.