NHL Stanley Cup Finals: The 15 Worst Stanley Cup Finalists in NHL History
Each season, the Stanley Cup is awarded to the NHL team that manages to outlast the competition and chalk up 16 wins in the process.
The team that wins the Stanley Cup also earns the distinction of being the best hockey team in the world, but clearly, that isn't always the case. Winning a Stanley Cup is about timing and luck as much as it is about greatness, though each champion is obviously a great team.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a physical grind from start to finish, and for a team to even earn a spot in the Finals, they need to have relatively healthy players, good goaltending and a couple of lucky bounces at the right times.
With that in mind, here are the 15 worst Stanley Cup finalists in NHL history.
15. 2010-11 Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins captured this year's Stanley Cup by outworking their opposition, though they were helped by Roberto Luongo's total meltdown during the Stanley Cup Finals.
With no star players up front, the Bruins relied heavily on the efforts of unsung heroes like Brad Marchand and Michael Ryder to get passed the favored Vancouver Canucks in seven games. They should receive credit for overcoming an injury to one of their best offensive weapons in Nathan Horton, but the Canucks were without the services of top-six defensemen Dan Hamhuis and Aaron Rome, so the Canucks were just as shorthanded.
Ultimately, the Bruins won because Tim Thomas was fantastic in the finals, while Roberto Luongo was below average. Their defense corps played admirably as well, though beyond Zdeno Chara and Tomas Kaberle, they lacked star power on the back end.
The reason the Bruins make this list at 15 is because there appeared to be a number of teams that were much stronger on paper. They didn't have a single player who tallied more than 62 regular season points, but it didn't matter. Washington and Philadelphia imploded, Pittsburgh lost Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Vancouver eliminated the toughest teams in the West, paving the way for Thomas, Chara and a blue-collar bunch to bring Boston the city's first Cup since 1972.
14. 2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers' run through the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs was the stuff of legends. They defeated the favored New Jersey Devils in the quarterfinals, but dug themselves quite a hole by spotting the Bruins a 3-0 series lead in the Semifinals.
However, the Flyers fought back and took the series in seven games, setting up a matchup with Montreal in the Conference Finals. After quickly dispatching of the Canadiens, the Flyers met the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals.
While the Flyers lost the series in six games, they had an extremely talented set of skaters. Their forward group was deep with talent, as Mike Richards, Danny Briere, Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux led the way offensively.
On defense, the team had a top-four that was among the best in the league in Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle.
So why is this team on this list? The answer is simple: goaltending. The Flyers likely had the worst goaltending of any team to ever play in the Stanley Cup Finals, as Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton split time. Neither displayed much consistency, and the Flyers finally realized after a disappointing 2011 Playoffs that it was time to acquire a legitimate starting goaltender.
It was fitting that the Stanley Cup was won by the Blackhawks on a goal that should never have gone in, as Patrick Kane's prayer of a shot from the bottom of the left circle beat Leighton.
13. 1984-85 Philadelphia Flyers
Lead by rookie goaltender Pelle Lindbergh, the Philadelphia Flyers marched all the way to the 1985 Stanley Cup Finals, where they faced the Edmonton Oilers, who were in the midst of a dynasty.
Lindbergh, who would capture the Vezina later that summer, was fantastic in between the pipes for a Flyers team that lacked a single Hall of Fame skater.
Offensively, the team had some dangerous weapons in Brian Propp and Tim Kerr, who each had more than 90 points during the regular season. However, the team lacked star power, as they had a difficult time matching up with the sublimely talented Oilers.
The team had some good role players, such as captain Dave Poulin and Murray Craven, but none had the game-breaking abilities to put a scare into the vaunted Oilers.
On the blue line, they had talent in Mark Howe and Doug Crossman, but it wasn't even close to enough to neutralize Wayne Gretzky and the high-flying Oilers. Though the team would return to the Finals two years later, they would once again fall to an Edmonton team that had a date with destiny.
12. 2002-03 New Jersey Devils
In my own humble opinion, the New Jersey Devils captured three Stanley Cups over a span of eight seasons by being the most defensively sound and disciplined team in hockey even though they were never the most impressive team in the league, at least on paper.
The 2003 Stanley Cup Champion Devils featured likely the best lineup of any of their three Cup-winning squads, as they sported four potential Hall-of-Famers on the back end in Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens and Brian Rafalski, but still weren't overwhelmingly talented up front.
The only true offensive stars on the team were Scott Gomez and Patrik Elias, as Joe Nieuwendyk was past his prime. While they did have some depth in terms of secondary scoring in Jeff Friesen, Jamie Langenbrunner and a young Brian Gionta, this team won because of their suffocating trap-style defense.
The Devils were one of the most boring teams during the 1990's and early 2000's, but that's part of what made them so effective in the Postseason. They'd wear teams down with their relentless forecheck and stingy defense and capitalize on one or two scoring chances to win games.
Martin Brodeur and the Devils' star-studded defense corps were the backbone of the team, but New Jersey's identity was its game plan, which is what enabled them to be successful.
11. 1992-93 Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens' last Stanley Cup came in 1993, when a team of seasoned veterans rallied around the best goaltender in the world to upset Wayne Gretzky's Los Angeles Kings.
In the postseason, the Canadiens were lead offensively by Vincent Damphouse, Brian Bellows and Kirk Muller, all of whom were very good players, but none were considered to be superstars in the NHL. Beyond those three, the Canadiens relied on the contributions of role players like John LeClair (who had not yet become the player who would terrorize goaltenders throughout the 1990's), Mike Keane and Paul DiPietro.
While they did have solid defensive forwards like captain Guy Carbonneau, this Canadiens team was not supposed to contend for the Cup, as they finished third in their division during the regular season.
Montreal did have a great goaltender in Conn Smythe winner Patrick Roy, but their defense beyond Eric Desjardins was a collection of journeymen.
One key reason that the Canadiens were able to defeat the Kings, and all of their other opponents for that matter, is that they were simply unstoppable in overtime. After losing their first game of the postseason to Quebec in overtime, Montreal won their next 10 overtime games, including three in the Stanley Cup Finals.
It was a magical run for Montreal in what may have been the franchise's most unexpected Stanley Cup.
10. 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers' run to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals was a feel-good story for the hockey world, as they became the first eighth-seeded team to earn a berth in the Finals.
Backstopped by the otherworldly play of journeyman Dwayne Roloson, the Oilers upset the top-seeded Red Wings, the Joe Thornton-lead San Jose Sharks and their fellow Cinderella team, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, in order to claim the Clarence Campbell Trophy as the champion of the Western Conference.
Aside from Chris Pronger, the Oilers had a very pedestrian blue line, headlined by captain Jason Smith and longtime Oiler Steve Staios. Up front, the Oilers' best forwards were fan favorite Ryan Smyth, Ales Hemsky, Jarret Stoll and Shawn Horcoff, but the team benefitted from key performances from role players like Fernando Pisani, Michael Peca and Sergei Samsonov.
Pronger lead the team in playoff scoring with 21 points in 24 games, and Pisani lead the way with an astounding 14 goals, just four less than his regular season career-high of 18 goals. The Oilers' magical run ended in Game 7 as Carolina prevailed 3-1, though the Oilers showed heart by battling back from a three games-to-one series deficit.
Though they came within a game of delivering Edmonton the franchise's first Cup since 1990, Pronger demanded a trade the following summer, and the team was forced into another painful rebuilding process. The 2006 Oliers were a solid group of hard-working players who believed in one another, but they were far from the best team in hockey that season.
9. 2002-03 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
The 2003 Stanley Cup Finals featured two low scoring teams in the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the New Jersey Devils, which made for one of the most boring Cup Finals in recent memory.
Like the Devils, the Ducks were backstopped by a talented French Canadian netminder in Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who became only the fifth player to win a Conn Smythe in a losing effort.
Giguere was instrumental in leading the Ducks to series wins over the defending champion Detroit Red Wings, heavily favored Dallas Stars and the surging Minnesota Wild, as the team's offense was far from potent.
In fact, the Ducks' leading scorers were 40-year-old Adam Oates and Petr Sykora, who each tallied 13 points in 21 games. While the team had a bona fide star in Paul Kariya, the rest of the forwards were genrally a collection of cast-offs and role players who overachieved in the spring of 2003.
Defensively, the Ducks' lone standout was Sandis Ozolinsh, though veterans Keith Carney and Niclas Havelid played key roles in Anaheim's Cinderella run.
Overall, the team's most valuable person in 2003 was likely Coach Mike Babcock, who was able to get his players to buy into a defense-first system that brought them within a game of the Stanley Cup.
8. 1967-68 St. Louis Blues
When the NHL decided to expand to 12 teams prior to the 1967-68 season, the league chose to put all six expansion teams into one division, leaving the Original Six teams to make up a much stronger division.
The St. Louis Blues emerged as the champion of the Western Division, earning the right to play the vaunted Montreal Canadiens in the 1968 Stanley Cup Finals. Led by star goaltender Glenn Hall, the Blues managed to upset the top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in the first round before eliminating the Minnesota North Stars in the Conference Finals.
There was clearly a lack of talent in the Western Division, as all four of the playoff teams from the Eastern Division had better records than the best expansion team, so it's no surprise that the Blues were no match for the Canadiens.
The Canadiens beat the Blues in four games, though Hall took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. St. Louis wasn't even the best of the expansion teams during the regular season, so they clearly were not close to being one of the two best teams in hockey that year.
7. 1997-98 Washington Capitals
The 1998 Prince of Wales Trophy-winning Washington Capitals were largely a blue-collar group with few stars, but they managed to advance all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they'd be thoroughly dominated by the defending champion Detroit Red Wings.
The main reason the Capitals were able to defeat the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres was the play of Olaf Kolzig. Kolzig, who had been the Caps' backup for a few seasons, claimed the starting job after Bill Ranford went down with an injury early in the year, and never looked back.
Defensively, the team was anchored by veterans like Phil Housley, Mark Tinordi and Calle Johansson, while a young Sergei Gonchar was emerging as a two-way force on the blue line.
Up front, the team's only stars were Peter Bondra and Adam Oates, though they received key performances from Joe Juneau, Brian Bellows, Richard Zednik and Andrei Nikolishin. They scored by committee, as Bondra, the team's only sniper, recovered from an injury that largely rendered him ineffective through the first two rounds.
Ultimately, the fourth-seeded Capitals were very fortunate that the top three seeds in the East were toppled in the Conference Quarterfinals, and the team missed the postseason completely the following season.
6. 1978-79 New York Rangers
The 1979 Stanley Cup Finals pitted the New York Rangers against the three-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Montreal Canadiens.
New York, led by a 36-year-old Phil Esposito, made their way to the Finals for the first time since 1972, though they would be supremely overmatched by the dynastic Canadiens.
The Rangers' primary problem was the fact that no matter how hard they tried, they couldn't find a bona fide starting goalie, as they used three different goaltenders during the regular season. During the playoffs, John Davidson took the reigns and played reasonably well, but he was outperformed by Ken Dryden thoroughly during the Finals.
Though the Rangers had a group of talented forwards like Ron Duguay, Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg, the team couldn't keep up with Montreal's offensive juggernaut, and New York was beaten in five games.
With no standout defensemen to boast of, the Rangers were outclassed by the Canadiens, as they claimed their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup.
5. 1994-95 New Jersey Devils
The 1994-95 New Jersey Devils were one of the most well-coached teams to ever have won the Stanley Cup, as Jacques Lemaire's troops executed the trap to a tee, frustrating the Detroit Red Wings immensely en route to a four-game sweep.
New Jersey's offensive unit is one of the most unspectacular ever to win the Stanley Cup, as the team's top forwards were the enigmatic Stephane Richer, John MacLean, Neal Broten and Conn Smythe winner Claude Lemieux. Though it was a lockout-shortened season, no player on the Devils was close to producing at a point-per-game clip, so the team relied on defense to win.
On the back end, the Devils were backstopped by 1994 Calder Trophy winner Martin Brodeur and future Hall of Famers Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens.
Though the Devils would win two Stanley Cups without Lemaire behind the bench, the 1995 Devils would serve as the blueprint for New Jersey's teams for the next decade. Though often less skilled than their opponents, the Devils played sound team defense and frustrated teams until they imploded.
4. 1987-88 Boston Bruins
This Boston Bruins team had plenty of heart, which is why they were able to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals even though they were clearly less talented than some of their opponents.
For starters (no pun intended), Reggie Lemelin shouldered most of the weight in between the pipes, which already put the Bruins at a disadvantage because the Edmonton Oilers had two goaltenders in Grant Fuhr and Bill Ranford who were both superior netminders. Though Lemelin played reasonably well through the first three playoff rounds, he was shelled by the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals as Edmonton piled in 18 goals in four games.
The Bruins were lead offensively by Hall of Famers Ray Bourque and Cam Neely and received decent secondary scoring from Ken Linesman, Craig Janney and Bob Sweeney. However, they were outclassed by the Oilers. Linesman lead the Bruins in postseason scoring with 25 points, while the Oilers had five players who exceeded that total.
Defensively, Ray Bourque was the team's star, but the Bruins also had a collection of stay-at-home defenseman who generally got the job done.
The Bruins were far from the most talented team in the NHL that season, but outworked their opponents to compensate for their overall lack of high-end skill.
3. 1995-96 Florida Panthers
Considering the Florida Panthers entered the league in 1993-94, it's remarkable that the team was able to scratch and claw their way to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, as much of their roster was made up of players claimed during the '93 Expansion Draft.
The team's lone star was former Vezina-winning goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, who played some of the best hockey for the Panthers that postseason. After defeating the Boston Bruins in the quarterfinals, the Panthers delivered two huge upsets, beating Eric Lindros' Flyers and Mario Lemieux's Penguins en route to the Prince of Wales Trophy.
Offensively, the Panthers had no standouts, as their playoff scoring leader was Dave Lowry, who posted 10 goals in 22 games though his career-high for an entire season was just 21. Instead, Florida had a collection of role players like Rob Niedermayer and Scott Mellanby who played gritty, two-way hockey that wore the opposition down.
On the blue line, the only notable player was Ed Jovanovski, who had still not reached his potential as an NHL defenseman.
Overall, the Panthers' run to the Finals was a product of great team defense, fantastic goaltending and yes, a couple of lucky bounces.
While it was a great run, the team was dominated by the Colorado Avalanche in the Finals, as the gap in talent was too great for Florida to overcome.
2. 2001-02 Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes were one of the most surprising Stanley Cup Finalists in history, because the team lacked a single star player.
Ron Francis was the closest thing the Hurricanes had to an elite level NHL player, as he tallied 77 points that season, but at age 38, he wasn't even close to being in the prime of his career.
Carolina's most effective forward unit was dubbed the "BBC" line, as two-way pivot Rod Brind'Amour centered a young Erik Cole and Bates Battaglia, who would never again come close to matching his 2002 performance.
Though Francis lead the team in scoring with 16 points in 23 games, the Hurricanes' most valuable player was likely goaltender Arturs Irbe, though he was never the same after losing the 2002 Final. The defense was a collection of journeymen like Aaron Ward, Sean Hill and Glen Wesley, and they ultimately proved to be no match for the absurdly talented Detroit Red Wings.
Head Coach Paul Maurice deserves a lot of credit for being able to guide this group of overachievers to the Finals, though the team failed to even make the playoffs the following season.
1. 1998-99 Buffalo Sabres
The 1999 Eastern Conference Champion Buffalo Sabres relied on one player more than any other Stanley Cup Finalist in history, which is why they earned a spot on this list.
That player also happens to be the only goaltender to win the Hart Trophy twice, as Dominik Hasek was the league's best goaltender in the middle-to-late 1990's.
However, without the superhuman play of Hasek, the Sabres would not have even made the playoffs. The team's best forward was Miroslav Satan, who was a 40-goal scorer at the time, but after Satan, the team's best scoring threat was defensive centerman Michael Peca.
In fact, the Sabres' offense was so weak that the team's top two scorers were both defenseman, as Alexei Zhitnik and Jason Woolley tied for the lead with 15 points apiece. Defensively, the Sabres were a little bit stronger, but by no means did they boast any standout players on the back end.
The Sabres clearly would go as far as Hasek could carry them, which was all the way to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, but the Dallas Stars' offense proved to be too much for the less talented Sabres.
While they orchestrated two deep runs in 1998 and 1999, the team as a whole is likely the weakest to ever play in a Stanley Cup Final.