NHL: Which Playoff Team Needs to Win the Stanley Cup the Most?
Some teams always seem to have a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
The Detroit Red Wings are always ready for a cup run. If they don't win it this year, you know they can take a run at it next year.
Other organizations, such as the New Jersey Devils or Colorado Avalanche, may fall on bad times, but you believe they will be able to rebuild and challenge for a cup soon.
Some teams, though, never seem ready to win or even legitimately challenge for the Stanley Cup. They may get close but never quite put it together. If they don't win a cup when the opportunity arises, you fear they may never win it.
These are the teams that need desperately to win one.
Which NHL playoff team this year most needs to win the Stanley Cup?
Last year, the answer to that question was obviously the Chicago Blackhawks. They were one of the original six franchises that had won the fewest Stanley Cups. They also had the longest extant streak of playing in the league without winning a cup.
Chicago had last won the cup in 1961. They had been without a cup victory for 47 full NHL seasons before 2009-10.
When they finally won last year, it had been 49 years between cups. This franchise had a long-suffering fan base that returned once the organization began to rebuild.
Chicago Blackhawks fandom has gone through a renaissance that was rewarded with a cup win last year.
The Blackhawks were also expecting to lose a lot of players from last year's team because of salary cap issues. Their window of opportunity might have been rapidly closing, which added to the need for the team to win the cup last year.
There is no obvious Blackhawks-type team in this year's playoffs. Still, there are always clubs more desperate than others to win the Stanley Cup.
Here is my list of the teams most desperate to win the Stanley Cup this year.
Thanks to Hockeybuzz.com for my salary cap numbers.
Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs: Disqualified
Here are two organizations with zealous fan bases who are sick and tired of their team not being competitive with the best teams in the league.
Calgary is an aging team that hasn't won a cup since 1989. They made it to the brink in 2004 when they were in the cup final. They lost the last two games and the cup to the Tampa Bay Lightning that year.
Every year since, they have gotten farther and farther away from winning a cup.
The organization has finally come to the realization that it needs to rebuild the team from the bottom up.
The fans who endured a decade of cost-cutting measures from the mid-1990s until the early 2000s are not sanguine about this organization being able to conduct a rapid, efficient rebuild. The team has $57 million dedicated to salaries versus the cap 'next' season.
If they made the playoffs, the Flames would be desperate to win the cup because it looks to be a decade before they can challenge again.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are the holders of the current longest streak without a Stanley Cup win. They won their last cup in 1967.
Patience for a rebuild seems thin in Canada's biggest city.
At least the Leafs have the virtue of having started to build their new team from the ground up. They have put together a core of young veterans.
Once they start drafting in the first round again, they will have a chance to build a Stanley Cup contender quicker than Calgary.
They have the most rabid hockey fan base in North America, and those fanatics deserve a Stanley Cup.
Many a middle-age man and woman has never seen a Toronto Maple Leaf Stanley Cup victory parade.
The Detroit Red Wings are threatening to pass Toronto as the team that has won the second most Stanley Cups in NHL history.
Detroit has won four cups since the Leafs last won theirs. The Red Wings are much closer to winning a cup right now than Toronto is likely to be for years.
Unfortunately, neither of these teams is going to make the playoffs this year, so they are disqualified from my list.
5. Nashville Predators
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The Nashville Predators have never won a playoff series in their 11 seasons in the league.
They are one of the few teams in a non-traditional hockey market that seem to be slowly growing a fan base without the luxury of a cup win to help them.
They have been a fiscally responsible organization that has drafted and developed NHL talent at an impressive rate.
This constant influx of new talent has allowed them to balance the players they have lost over the years to free agency.
This season, the team has spent a little more on salary than they have been comfortable with in the past. Their slowly growing fan base needs a success to celebrate.
A Stanley Cup win would be perfect and would give the organization the cachet that the teams in Carolina and Tampa Bay already have.
That is not very likely.
This fan base looks like it could be energized with a good playoff run. Currently, the Predators would play Detroit in the first round. The Red Wings are not impossible to beat, but it would represent a huge upset if Nashville managed to do that.
A more Predator-friendly scenario sees them finishing fourth or fifth in the West and playing Phoenix or LA in the first round.
Both of those teams are beatable by this Nashville team.
The Nashville Predators aren't as desperate as some for a Stanley Cup win this year, but the fans need and deserve some sort of playoff success to build their hopes on.
The team still has only $37 million dedicated to salary next year and only one big star, defenseman Shea Weber, that they need to sign in the offseason.
A little playoff success will make that much easier and help with the development of the team as a whole.
4. Los Angeles Kings
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The Los Angeles Kings joined the NHL the year after the Leafs won their last cup.
Like the Leafs and the St. Louis Blues, the Kings have played 42 NHL seasons without winning a cup. They have made it to the Stanley Cup finals exactly once—back in 1993 with Wayne Gretzky—when they lost to the Montreal Canadiens.
That season the Kings might have been considered the team most desperate to win a cup.
The LA Kings have gone 11-24 in playoff series. When they made the playoffs last year, it was the first time in eight years they had done so.
They lost in the first round to the Vancouver Canucks.
The good news for LA is that they are a young developing team with stars like Anze Kopitar (C), Drew Doughty (D) and Jonathon Bernier (G) ready to lead the team into the playoffs, hopefully for years.
That youthful talent allows a team to take a longer view. They should get chances to win the Stanley Cup in the next few years.
That means they are not as needy as some organizations are to win the cup this season.
That is good because the season-ending injury to Anze Kopitar is going to make it hard for the Kings to score in the playoffs and win even one series, let alone the Stanley Cup.
3. San Jose Sharks
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The San Jose Sharks have been in the league for eighteen seasons and never won a cup. They have been more successful than a lot of expansion franchises.
They made the playoffs in their third season and won their first playoff series that same year.
San Jose has won the Pacific Division six of the last nine seasons. They just clinched their fourth straight title last night with a 6-1 win over the LA Kings.
Despite all that success, the San Jose Sharks and their players are acquiring the reputation of someone who can't win the big games.
The team is an expensive veteran squad that won't get too many more chances to win a cup before the players break down and the team has to be dismantled.
The Sharks already gave up on goalie Evgeny Nabokov and are hoping young Stanley Cup champion Antti Niemi can be the difference in nets for the team this year. They have been forced to dump players because of salary cap constraints.
Next season, they still have $51 million dedicated to salary before signing young stars Devin Setoguchi and Logan Couture.
The core of the team features Joe Thornton, 31; Dany Heatley, 30; Patrick Marleau, 31; Joe Pavelski, 26; and Dan Boyle, 34.
These players are by no means old, though Boyle is starting to show signs of slowing down. They are signed until the end of 2014 for a staggering cumulative cap hit of $32 million and change.
If these players can't win a Stanley Cup there is very little cap room in order to add players who can.
This talented core can be expected to degrade over the next few years. If they don't win the cup now—or at least make it to the finals—the organization may find itself saddled with a group who can't win a Stanley Cup for years to come.
This is a very important playoff season for the San Jose Sharks. Their window of opportunity to win a cup may be closing.
It may have already closed.
2. Phoenix Coyotes
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I hate to kick a team when it is down.
The Coyotes have put together another good regular season behind goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and coach Dave Tippett.
They are currently in fifth spot and could still be caught by the Dallas Stars, but they look to have made the playoffs for the second season in a row.
The Coyotes have never won a playoff series in their 13 seasons in the desert.
The Winnipeg Jets only ever won two playoff series in the 17 seasons they existed, both of those over the Calgary Flames.
The organization as a whole has no record of success to look back on. They have had 30 NHL seasons in which they not only have never won a cup, they have never gotten out of the second round of the playoffs.
The Coyotes are still being run by the NHL and seem no closer to being taken over by a private owner than they did a year ago.
Even the NHL head office has to be starting to believe that Phoenix is a financial sink hole for hockey.
The only scenario I see that has even a modicum of a chance of success (and doesn't include forcing the city of Glendale to bankroll a new owner) involves the Phoenix Coyotes winning a Stanley Cup right now.
A cup win buys interest, playoff revenue and probably has the NHL reluctant to move its league champion to another city.
This scenario is 98 percent fantasy unfortunately, though it would be nice to see the Coyotes win a series or two for the fans they do have.
An injured LA team or Nashville is a beatable opponent in the first round for the Coyotes.
I wouldn't predict any success beyond that.
Unfortunately, this team needs a Stanley Cup victory desperately—and right now—to succeed in Phoenix.
I wouldn't guarantee even an immediate Stanley Cup win keeping the team in Phoenix more than five or 10 years unless myriad other factors change.
1. Vancouver Canucks
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The Vancouver Canucks are in a rabid hockey market. Their President's trophy win has expectations in British Columbia at an all-time high. In Vancouver though there is a counter current that fears somehow the Canucks will blow this opportunity. In Calgary before they won their Stanley Cup the pessimism was palpable. Vancouver fans seem to be suffering from the same malady.
Like the San Jose Sharks they have been a good team for years now that hasn't been able to translate regular-season success into playoff victories. They have won the Northwest Division five of the last seven seasons but not more than one playoff series a year.
Like the LA Kings, the Canucks have flirted in the past with the Stanley Cup. They have two final appearances to their credit: 1982 versus the New York Islanders and1994 versus the New York Rangers.
They have been in this league for 40 years and six months without winning a cup.
The Canucks aren't an old team, but they are a veteran team coming off their best season ever. They will probably be a Stanley Cup contender for a few more years.
Teams like the Calgary Flames, who have seen that window close, would warn them that the window can close quickly and for years to come.
This Canuck team needs to win a cup. Their fans, much like Chicago's fans last year, deserve a cup. This looks like Vancouver's best chance to win a cup in their history.
They are going to be hard-pressed to re-sign free-agent defenseman Kevin Bieksa and Christian Ehrhoff after this season, especially if they don't win it all.
While I believe this will not be the Canucks' only chance in the near future to win a cup, I do believe this combination of factors makes them the team most desperate to win the Stanley Cup this year.