Going through a rebuilding phase is tough for fans of any NHL team, but when your team finishes with a bad record every year and fails to build a winning team through the draft, it's extremely frustrating.
Poor drafting isn't the only thing that can sink a franchise for many years, terrible free-agent contracts and foolish trades can also result in years of disappointment.
In other instances, teams start to decline when star players become aging veterans. Perennial contenders cannot win forever, and while some teams (like the Detroit Red Wings) are able to reload and contend simultaneously, some franchises aren't capable of doing this.
Let's look at the four NHL teams with the darkest futures.
The Sharks might be a contender in the Western Conference right now, but a roster of aging stars and very few top-tier prospects could force the team to rebuild soon.
When the new CBA causes the salary cap to drop to about $60 million in 2013-14 (this figure is not definite, yet), the Sharks could be in trouble. San Jose has five players with a salary cap hit of $5 million or more for 2013-14.
Many of these players are aging veterans who are at the end of their primes or already past it. Joe Thornton is still a No. 1 center but probably won't reach the 80-point mark again. Patrick Marleau is 33 years old and his points totals have dropped by at least nine over the last two seasons.
Martin Havlat and Michal Handzus are 31 and 35, and battled injuries last season. Both players are no longer capable of making a huge impact offensively.
Making matters worse for the Sharks is their lack of top-tier prospects to replace the current group of veterans. Center Freddie Hamilton and defenseman Taylor Doherty have the potential to be good NHL players, but San Jose lacks elite prospects at every position.
Tomas Hertl, who was the team's first-round pick in June's draft, is the Sharks' most promising prospect.
Signing young star Logan Couture to a long-term contract must be a top priority for the Sharks over the next year since his current deal expires in two years. The future of Joe Pavelski also needs to be determined some time soon because he can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2014.
Weak goaltending, aging stars and the lack of prospect depth and talent are four reasons why the future is not bright in San Jose.
Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006-07, the Anaheim Ducks have not achieved much success. The team has also missed the playoffs in two of the last three seasons.
Anaheim's lack of a top-pairing defenseman, bottom-six depth and quality goaltending have hurt the team's chances of building consistent success over the last three seasons.
If not for their impressive top-six forward group including players such as Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Saku Koivu, the Ducks would have been in the draft lottery in recent years.
The problem for the Ducks going into the future is that Selanne and Koivu are very close to retirement and Perry and Getzlaf can leave in the summer as unrestricted free agents.
If Anaheim cannot trade Perry and/or Getzlaf before they become free agents (if both players don't want to re-sign), then it could take many years for the franchise to recover. If these two superstars leave, will Ryan want to stay long-term?
This is a very important time in Ducks history. They have to retain some of these players, but since the team is far away from being real contenders in the Western Conference, getting their stars to re-sign will be challenging.
Not being able to keep young defenseman Justin Schultz in the summer was a huge loss because the Ducks don't have a lot of quality young blueliners ready for the NHL. Emerson Etem and Kyle Palmieri are top forward prospects, but cannot be expected to play a first-line role if Perry and/or Getzlaf leave soon.
Anaheim has some good young prospects who could turn out to be productive NHL players, but success isn't guaranteed. The team's future success for the next three to five years will be determined by whether or not the Ducks re-sign Perry and Getzlaf before the summer.
The Flames have a pretty good roster right now, but with very few young players that have star potential, the future is not bright in Calgary.
Almost all of the team's best players are 27 years of age or older, including Jarome Iginla, Dennis Wideman, Jay Bouwmeester, Mike Cammalleri and Jiri Hudler. Sven Bartschi is one of the few young prospects with star potential that Flames fans have to look forward to over the next few seasons.
Star goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff is 36 years old with just two years left on his contract, and the team doesn't have another good young goaltender or top prospect to replace him yet.
According to Capgeek, the Flames have 11 players who have some kind of no-trade or no-movement clause included in their contract, so general manager Jay Feaster might not have an easy time trading players if the team has salary-cap problems as a result of the new CBA.
Calgary could improve its future by trading Iginla for young talent, but it's hard to imagine the team making that decision.
Calgary hasn't made the playoffs since the 2008-09 season, and this drought may extend well into the future.
The Blue Jackets are a complete mess.
After trading the team's only two superstars last year (Rick Nash and Jeff Carter) with not much value coming back in return, Columbus has the darkest future in the NHL.
The lone bright spot for the Blue Jackets is the defensive depth and talent the team has built throughout the organization, which was bolstered by the selection of Ryan Murray with the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft.
Among the many problems for the Blue Jackets are the lack of a No. 1 center, a top-tier goal scorer and poor goaltending. Columbus has a collection of second and third-line players who won't provide the team with the scoring production needed to win games on a consistent basis.
Goaltending is one weakness that has prevented the Blue Jackets from building a winning team since their first NHL season in 2000-01.
Acquiring Sergei Bobrovsky via trade from the Philadelphia Flyers will upgrade the team's goaltending a little bit, but he's not a young franchise player that the Blue Jackets can build a contender around.
Even though the Blue Jackets usually finish near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, you could argue that their prospect pool is among the worst in the NHL.
Many of the team's recent first-round picks have not become star players at the NHL level.
The only two quality first-round picks that the Blue Jackets have made over the last decade are no longer with the team.
Voracek was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers along with the No. 8 pick in the 2011 draft (which was Sean Couturier) in exchange for Jeff Carter, who was later shipped off to the Kings. Nash was traded to the New York Rangers in the summer for hardly any value in return.
The hiring of John Davidson as President of Hockey Operations was a good first step for the Blue Jackets as they enter the post-Rick Nash era, but the team has a long way to go before it becomes a legitimate contender.