In the spring of 1967 the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens to become Stanley Cup champions. That next fall the NHL added six expansion teams that included the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings.
Of all the teams that began play in the expanded 1967 season only the Blues, Kings and Maple Leafs have failed to win the Stanley Cup in the years since. That means these three teams have gone the longest without winning a championship.
There have been some close calls and near misses but all three franchises are mired in a serious Stanley Cup drought.
Winning the Cup is the ultimate mountain to climb in the hockey world. To get there you have to have shrewd management, good timing and some good luck.
That is something all three of these teams have lacked for periods of time since 1967.
As training camps open around the NHL, which of these three starving franchise is closest to winning the Stanley Cup?
When the Blues joined the league in 1967 the NHL placed all of the expansion teams in one division, which assured that one of the new teams would make the finals.
The Blues dominated that division early and made the Stanley Cup Finals in each of their first three seasons, which has to be a record. Sadly they lost all 12 finals games they played—which also has to be a record.
St. Louis put together some good teams over the years and made the playoffs every year from 1980 to 2004 but never have been able to win it all.
So how close are they now?
They have some decent players.
David Backes is a legitimate 30-goal scorer who they can build around. Andy McDonald is another decent goal scorer and goalie Jaroslav Halak has proven he can put a team on his back in the playoffs.
What the Blues seem to lack is depth. They brought in Jamie Lagenbrunner this off season, but at 36 years old it appears that his career is on the down-slide.
As far as young players go, Backes is still in his 20’s, and T.J. Oshie and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk look like they might turn into good players in the near future.
While the Blues could easily push for a Western Conference playoff berth they appear to be several top players short of making a decent Stanley Cup run.
The team is for sale and with that comes some uncertainty.
With all these questions the Blues are the furthest of our three teams from ending their Stanley Cup drought.
Being the most watched and rooted for team in Canada brings about a fair bit of pressure. The Toronto Maple Leafs have the biggest fan base, and that fan base is starving for a championship season.
How close are they?
Despite not making the playoffs since the lockout the Maple Leafs are showing some promise after a 10th place finish last season.
Last year they struggled to score goals consistently and to keep it out of their own net. On defense they have a couple of big guns in Dion Phaneuf and Luke Shenn. They also brought in John-Michael Liles from Colorado to add another puck-moving blueliner.
Mike Komisarek is also back there, but has yet to show the promise he did when he came over from Montreal. It is possible that he could find himself on the trading block this year as well.
The rest of their defensive corps is young but does show some promise.
Up front the Maple Leafs have some guys who can score, most notably Phil Kessel and Michael Grabovski. Kessel has somehow been underrated and overrated at the same time. But, he is still young and could easily top 40 goals this year.
Toronto also brought in Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly, both of whom can score but have had health issues in the past and will need to stay healthy.
In net the Maple Leafs may have stumbled upon their future franchise goalie in James Reimer. If he can equal the .921 save percentage he put up last year in half a season Toronto will be in a good position.
The Maple Leafs will make a strong push to the playoffs this year but are not Stanley Cup contenders right now. That being said, it appears that they have put some Stanley Cup building blocks in place and could be contenders in a few years.
The Los Angeles Kings have toiled in relative obscurity since that fateful 1967 season. They hit the big lights when they pulled off the biggest trade in NHL history by acquiring Wayne Gretzky from the Oilers.
But even Gretzky and Barry Melrose’s mullet weren’t enough to beat Montreal for the 1993 Stanley Cup and the Kings haven’t been close since.
Until now perhaps.
The Kings have been a team on the rise the past two seasons. They have a young superstar-to-be in Anze Kopitar, who could be in line for a monster season. Dustin Brown will continue to be a scoring threat this season on Kopitar’s wing.
Los Angeles showed the hockey world that they were going for gold, or at least a big silver mug, this season by bringing in Mike Richards and Simon Gagne from the Flyers to give them some much needed scoring depth.
The Kings now feature four top scorers in their top six forwards that puts them among the Western Conference elite.
Los Angeles is led on the blue line by young phenom Drew Doughty. That is, if they can sign him. Doughty of course is locked in a contract stalemate that is taking longer than perhaps it should.
With training camp opening this weekend his absence will become more and more troublesome. The Kings can make the playoffs without Doughty, but it is hard to see them overcoming the big boys in the West without one of their top weapons.
In net Jonathan Quick is an excellent goal tender.
At least he looks that way.
Quick has posted some great regular season numbers but he will need to show that he can bring it in the postseason. In 12 career playoff games Quick’s goals against is 3.32 and his save percentage is a worrisome .900.
That isn’t going to cut it.
A lot of that has to do with some of the youth and inconsistent play in front of him, but Quick will have to show that he can put the Kings on his back.
Of the three Cup-starved teams the Kings are the closest to ending the drought.