Why Hawks will win Stanley Cup

No team has won back-to-back NHL titles since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings, and there's a good reason for that: It's damn hard.

Teams are pushed to extremes both mentally and physically when they win the Cup, so coming back after a short summer and starting it all over again is incredibly daunting. The Wings nearly did it again when they got back to the Cup finals in 2009 after winning it all in 2008, but the Penguins beat them to keep the long string of non-repeats alive.

In my 18-plus years covering the NHL, I've never picked a team to repeat. I just always felt the competition was too close in this league for a team to have the luxury to have time to recover in time to do it all over again.

I'll always remember Duncan Keith telling me that he basically just took one week off after the 2010 Cup triumph before starting to work out again and that his body never felt totally recovered the following season.

So you ask, why am I picking the Chicago Blackhawks to repeat?

Well, for starters, last season wasn't a full year thanks to the NHL lockout. So the Hawks didn't have to play 100-plus games to win the Cup. Yes, those two months in the playoffs were still as much of a grind as ever, but, overall, the taxing impact of playing hockey from September to June was not there this time around.

I also like the Hawks' chances because they've brought back the same team minus some bottom-six guys. I think Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Kane has more to give, the heart of the team -- Jonathan Toews -- can still take another offensive step, Corey Crawford will prove he was no fluke and Keith has another Norris Trophy in his sights.

I think the St. Louis Blues are the team the Hawks should worry about the most in their conference -- I nearly picked the Blues to win the Cup -- but in the end, I think the Hawks can become the first team since 1998 to repeat. If GM Stan Bowman can upgrade the No. 2 center spot before the March trade deadline, the odds of that will be even better.