NHL: Ranking Every Stanley Cup-Less Franchise's Odds at Their First Title
With their six-game triumph over the New Jersey Devils this past June, the Los Angeles Kings deleted themselves from the list of NHL teams seeking their first Stanley Cup. That thirsty fraternity has been whittled down to 12 members.
Amidst the parades on the Staples Center ice and the streets of L.A., one was bound to hear the collective question in the background from the fan bases of those teams, except maybe those who are restrained by realism.
“Are we next?”
The lone sure thing in this area is that one NHL franchise will still be bereft of banners as late as the start of the 2024 playoffs. Realistically, at least a handful will have to wait more than another decade.
But now for a shift towards the cheerier, not-out-of-the-question perspective. If there is a not-so-minor miracle and the NHL resumes action in 2012-13 with its teams virtually structured they way they are now, here are the ascending odds of another franchise corralling its first Cup next June.
12. Columbus Blue Jackets
Diversifying the depth chart with newly acquired forwards Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky may help in the long run. But it will not bring the Blue Jackets from the bottom of the Western Conference to even the outskirts of the playoff picture all at once.
If so much as one-quarter of Columbus’ current roster is going to bring the Cup to Ohio, it will need ample time to evolve.
11. Winnipeg Jets
The cumulative travel that comes with the team’s unconventional placement in the Southeast Division will catch up to the Jets before anyone can say "contender," with or without a straight face. If it does not happen in time to zap them out of playoff contention, as it did last year, it most certainly will in the opening round.
10. Florida Panthers
If any division has had to right to deem the word “champions” a misnomer for whoever finishes first, it has most often been the Southeast. The end of the Panthers’ 12-year playoff drought was one of those seasons, one that culminated in defeat at the hands of the Devils, the team bearing the fourth-best record in the Cyclopean Atlantic Division.
Between the likes of Boston, Buffalo, the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh and maybe even New Jersey and Philadelphia, little change is to be expected in the Atlantic or the Northeast. Or, more specifically, change that is going to make life easier for the likes of the Panthers.
Meanwhile, in Florida’s own circuit, Carolina and Tampa Bay have put their regional rival to shame with ambitious and assertive off-season retooling.
Barring momentous moves in their favor, the Panthers could quickly be working on yet another hiatus from the postseason.
9. Ottawa Senators
Not unlike the Panthers, the Sens could be a casualty in the Eastern Conference playoff picture as a result of Carolina and Tampa’s respective improvement. Divisional rival Buffalo could be making an assertive turnaround as well.
Even if Ottawa can make the external and/or internal moves necessary to improve, the near future still calls for difficulty getting through the likes of the Penguins, Rangers and Bruins, just to name three.
8. Phoenix Coyotes
Last year’s Coyotes, along with the champion Kings, were a feel-good testament to the notion that if you cement a playoff spot, anything is possible for the next two months.
With that being said, not to yank down the Pacific Division championship banner at Jobing.com Arena, but last year’s Phoenix team had a lot of outside aid. Multiple slumps tripped up the traditional Pacific princes from San Jose while Los Angeles did not really perk up until December, when Darryl Sutter supplanted Terry Murray as head coach.
If not for those, along with Dallas’ last-minute collapse (five straight regulation losses to finish the season), the Coyotes may not have been in the 2012 playoffs, let alone as the automatic No. 3 seed.
To complicate matters further, top gun Ray Whitney, veteran defenseman Adrian Aucoin and depth forward Taylor Pyatt have since been lost to free agency. The same can still hold true for exemplary leader Shane Doan, Daymond Langkow and Michal Rozsival.
7. Minnesota Wild
This team should be ready to, at the very worst, go down swinging in the push for a playoff spot next season. Over time, with the new corps based around prized free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Wild will someday be suitors for Stanley.
That “someday,” however, is not going to come within the next 300 or so. For the moment, the Western Conference landscape is still posing too many hurdles.
6. Washington Capitals
After barely a full or partial season in D.C., goaltender Tomas Vokoun and skipper Dale Hunter have given way to the youthful tandem of Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby and first-time head coach Adam Oates, respectively.
The performances of those parties in those positions shall be the X-factor as the Capitals continue to face many of the same basic questions, none more pressing than their ability to go deep in the postseason.
Washington has lost all three of its second round appearances in the seven-year career of franchise face Alex Ovechkin, who needs to turn his production back around and be supplemented by a sturdy supporting cast.
5. Buffalo Sabres
Although his team has not won a playoff series since 2007, goaltender Ryan Miller can still, at any time, steal a series and give himself and the Sabres the necessary traction to go on an invigorating ride.
4. Nashville Predators
The aforementioned Suter may be gone and they may still lack much in the way of electrifying scorers, but the Predators still have captain Shea Weber and elite goaltender Pekka Rinne bolstering the blue line and blue paint.
Sufficient support for those two from the offense ought to embolden Nashville’s hopes in most any series.
3. Vancouver Canucks
If Cory Schneider can finally be given the starting job he has clearly earned in recent springs, at least one question can be checked off of the list.
Besides a goaltender who can handle high stakes in an NHL postseason a little better, the Canucks could still stand to take on some more scoring depth. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with keeping the better, more prominent parts of a roster that came within smelling distance of a title in 2011.
2. San Jose Sharks
The light at the end of the perpetual springtime slip-ups may very well be breaching the horizon for the Sharks, arguably the NHL team most jaded by learning experiences.
Assuming fifth-year skipper Todd McLellan and the core group can find a way to put everything they have learned into action, now may be the most favorable time.
The competitive Pacific Division could be growing a little more temperate with Phoenix losing several key players, Los Angeles potentially facing the effects of post-title hangover, Dallas improving but not quite ready to contend again and Anaheim posing a mystery bag.
The rest of the Western Conference features the aforementioned Canucks and all of their plebeian Northwest Division rivals plus a Central Division of uncertainties.
Except, that is, for the one team that ranks ahead of the Sharks on this list and proved to be their latest nemesis this past spring. More on them in a moment, but San Jose would make a telling statement if it reclaimed its Pacific crown, then conquered one or both of the incumbent divisional champs elsewhere in the West.
1. St. Louis Blues
While their rivals either stall or scramble to replenish lost talent, the Blues are on a promising pace to build upon their status as the class of the ultra-competitive Central Division. With the next season being his first full-length ride with the club, head coach Ken Hitchcock will return a balanced core group raring to flex the newly acquired strength from last May’s learning experience.
The Blues are bolstered by an enviable, Jennings-caliber tandem of Brian Elliott and Jaraslav Halak. They have seven forwards capable of hitting the 20-goal range in David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie, David Perron, Alexander Steen and Chris Stewart plus Alexander Tarasenko coming over from Russia.
St. Louis’ blue line is in good hands with Alex Pietrangelo and Barret Jackman while the bottom of the depth chart features two-time champion Jamie Langenbrunner, whose first title was with Hitchcock’s Stars in 1999.
This team is not necessarily ready to go straight from a second-round sweep at the hands of the Kings to a title. But bigger leaps have been made by other teams, last year’s Kings included, and St. Louis’ chances for vindication are easily the best of the 12 Cup-less franchises.