Ranking the Most Likely Dynasties in the NHL Today
In today's salary-cap driven NHL, parity is the name of the game. More than ever before, the playing field has leveled out. As we've seen in the playoffs, almost anything is now possible.
Unless there's a fundamental change in the way the NHL does business, it's not likely that we'll ever again see teams dominate for years on end like the Edmonton Oilers did in the mid-to-late '80s, the New York Islanders did in the early '80s or the Montreal Canadiens did in the late '70s—and in many prior eras.
What makes a modern dynasty? Here's Rory Boylen's suggestion, from a 2011 article in The Hockey News:
We shouldn’t get so lenient with the definition of a dynasty that we automatically have one each decade, because that would water down the feat. But if a team is consistently dominant and has at least one championship, it’s fair to put it in that pantheon. It may not be the greatest ever, but it’s still up there.
The NHL currently boasts a few consistently good teams, some of which are starting to satisfy Boylen's criteria. To be in consideration right now as a future dynasty, I'd say a team needs to have reached at least the second round of the 2013-14 playoffs, have collected some championship hardware and look like its future is bright.
Here's how last spring's eight conference semifinalists rank in terms of the likelihood they'll reach dynasty status over the next few seasons.
8. Minnesota Wild
What They've Done: The big-money signings of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise during the summer of 2012 seem to be paying dividends for the Minnesota Wild. After four years out of the playoffs before Suter and Parise came on board, the Wild have returned to the postseason for the past two years. In 2014, they upset the Colorado Avalanche in an overtime thriller before bowing out to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
Where They're Headed: General manager Chuck Fletcher told NHL.com's John Kreiser that expectations for the Wild are rising year by year:
I think the group has really matured over the past two years...I felt the year we made the playoffs in '13, there was a sense of relief that we made the playoffs and a sense that it was a good-enough accomplishment. This year, it was great to make the playoffs and great to win a round, but I think our group was striving for more than just getting in.
I think everyone believes we're a competitive team and we can compete with the best teams in the League. We were certainly happy that we won a round, but everyone's expectations are a little higher going forward.
Can They Become a Dynasty? Not without sorting out their goaltending. The Wild are adding talent to their roster of skaters, but their crease will be more-than-crowded when Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper all report to training camp. Minnesota can't ascend to elite status in the NHL until a dominant No. 1 netminder is established.
7. Anaheim Ducks
What They've Done: Like their California brothers from San Jose one round before them, the Anaheim Ducks' excellent 2013-14 regular season was erased after a heartbreaking seven-game playoff loss to the never-say-die Los Angeles Kings. The Ducks have won just two playoff series in seven seasons since they captured the Stanley Cup in 2007.
Where They're Headed: Anaheim's biggest counterpunch against the Kings' attack is their acquisition of Ryan Kesler from the the Vancouver Canucks. If Kesler lives up to his billing as a tenacious two-way player who's great in the faceoff circle, he should help to boost the Ducks' chances. If aggressive play sends the injury-prone Kesler to the sidelines, Anaheim's push could be short-lived.
Can They Become a Dynasty? When the Ducks went 20-0-2 at Honda Center before finally losing their first home game of the season in January of 2014, they looked truly invincible. But no team enters the "dynasty" conversation on the back of three first-round playoff losses and two losses in the second round—the Ducks' results over the last seven seasons.
Anaheim needs to string together some postseason success before it can become a part of any dynasty conversation.
6. New York Rangers
What They've Done: The New York Rangers haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1994, but they've made the playoffs for four consecutive seasons. They exceeded expectations in 2013-14 by reaching the Stanley Cup Final in new coach Alain Vigneault's first year behind the bench at Madison Square Garden.
Where They're Headed: Unclear. The Rangers boast the best goaltending in the biz from Henrik Lundqvist and a solid group of up-and-coming forwards like Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan. But free agency robbed them of a number of key players from the 2014 Cup run.
We'll have to wait and see whether new additions like Dan Boyle, Tanner Glass and Lee Stempniak can fill the skates of departed Blueshirts Brian Boyle, Benoit Pouliot, Derek Dorsett and Anton Stralman.
Can They Become a Dynasty? With just one championship since the end of the Original Six era, the Rangers have been big-spending underachievers for decades.
The recent Rangers have been more successful than the teams that missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons between 1998 and 2004, but they'll need at least one more trip to the Final—and probably a championship—before anyone dares to whisper the "D" word.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins
What They've Done: Five years ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins looked like they were set to become the NHL's next dynasty. Two straight Stanley Cup Final appearances, a Cup win in 2009, two of the most talented young players in the game in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin—Life was good in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins have qualified for the playoffs in all five seasons since their Cup win. They've won their division twice and reached the Eastern Conference Final. But Pittsburgh was crushed by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final in 2013 and embarrassed after surrendering a 3-1 series lead to lose to the New York Rangers in the second round in 2014.
Where They're Headed: Incumbent coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero were fired after the loss to the Rangers. The Penguins will start the new season with a relatively clean slate.
New faces like Christian Ehrhoff and Patric Hornqvist will pepper the lineup, but it'll still be Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury and their longtime cohorts who will be expected, once again, to carry the load.
Can They Become a Dynasty? If the Penguins can get back to being a great playoff team, the lost years that followed 2009 could be forgotten. Because the same core players are leading the charge, they still have a chance to build the legacy in Pittsburgh that once seemed like a foregone conclusion.
4. Montreal Canadiens
What They've Done: Leading the league with 23 Stanley Cup championships since the dawn of the NHL in 1917, the term "dynasty" was practically invented for the Montreal Canadiens. The team's current dry spell has reached 21 years since the last championship in 1993—unheard of for such a storied organization.
Over the last five seasons, the Canadiens have managed two trips to the Eastern Conference Final, offering hope to their loyal fans that they might not have to wait too much longer for another Stanley Cup win.
Where They're Headed: It's hoped that Montreal can ride its crop of young talent back to elite NHL status, as Arpon Basu of NHL.com explains:
The Canadiens are built around a young star at each of the three positions in goaltender Carey Price, 27, left wing Max Pacioretty, 25, and defenseman P.K. Subban, who is also 25 and signed the richest contract in franchise history over the offseason at eight years and $72 million, making him the defenseman with the highest salary-cap charge in the NHL.
Prospects Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk have proven that they belong on the NHL stage, while veterans like Tomas Plekanec, Brandon Prust and Andrei Markov will anchor the group with steady leadership.
Can They Become a Dynasty? They might just get there. After his gold medal-winning performance at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Carey Price is proving that he's among the best goaltenders in the league. He's supported by plenty of talent in front of him.
The Canadiens organization has an expectation of greatness. If the Habs can put together a solid 2014-15 regular season, they might be able to start building the foundation of their next dynasty era.
3. Boston Bruins
What They've Done: The Boston Bruins broke a 39-year franchise drought when they won the Stanley Cup in 2011. They returned to the Final in 2013, and then won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best regular-season team in 2013-14.
Where They're Headed: In the short term, the Bruins need to shed some salary in order to sign young restricted free agents Torey Krug and Reilly Smith while remaining cap compliant.
Boston will have more flexibility in 2015-16 and beyond, but the team could be gutted in the meantime. As many as seven unrestricted free agents, including top center David Krejci and key defensemen Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid and Matt Bartkowski, could be leaving the Bruins at the end of this season.
Can They Become a Dynasty? Boston has some impressive young talent in its system, especially on defense. As the team starts its transition to the next generation, it remains to be seen whether the young guard has enough of the Bruins' trademark grit and determination to help the team challenge once again for the ultimate prize.
2. Chicago Blackhawks
What They've Done: Caught in a salary-cap crunch after their 2010 Stanley Cup win, the Chicago Blackhawks filled their holes by developing prospects within their system. They triumphed again in 2013.
Where They're Headed: Young players like Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw have become key parts of the Blackhawks team, but once again, depth may take a hit as the team struggles to become cap compliant. The 'Hawks will need to shed more than $2 million from their 2014-15 roster to start the season and the pressure won't let up next year, when Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews' new $10.5 million-a-year deals kick in.
Can They Become a Dynasty? Kane and Toews earned those new contracts because they're two of the best postseason players in today's NHL—and they're still in their mid-20s. That's a great way to start building a dynasty.
If Chicago can continue to swap out mid-level veterans for less-expensive young players, the Blackhawks could be a Cup contender for years to come and have a chance at attaining true dynasty status.
1. Los Angeles Kings
What They've Done: With two Stanley Cup championships in the last three seasons, the Los Angeles Kings have risen abruptly from a mediocre Sun Belt team to one of the top franchises in the NHL.
Where They're Headed: So far, the Kings have managed to retain their key players and add key pieces like goal scorer Marian Gaborik, all while remaining salary cap compliant.
The champs will have a chance to defend their title in 2014-15 with most of their Cup-winning roster intact. The pressure will come next summer, when key players like Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll and Alec Martinez all hit unrestricted free agency, according to CapGeek.com.
Can They Become a Dynasty? They have a real shot. Competition is stiff in the Western Conference, but the Kings have stars like Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter and Jonathan Quick locked up at reasonable money for the long term. On the downside, contract obligations to the likes of Mike Richards and Dustin Brown might prove cumbersome.
The Kings' continued success and potential dynasty status could hinge on their ability to re-sign future UFA Anze Kopitar when his current deal expires at the end of the 2015-16 season.