The 10 Most Successful Expansion Teams in Sports of the Past 25 Years

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2013

The 10 Most Successful Expansion Teams in Sports of the Past 25 Years

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    As a Cleveland sports fan, I can tell you that life following my teams hasn't exactly been easy.

    That's usually the case when no franchise has won a pro title since the Browns in 1964 and has constantly been on the wrong side of things in pretty much every big game since.

    One way to forget about all the heartbreak of the past 50 years though? Jumping on a different team.

    I'd never do it, but with expansion teams popping up every so often, it gives fans a chance to reevaluate their love for one team.

    Over the past 25 years, some expansion teams have found it difficult to build a franchise, while others have been able to see both instant and continued success, and these are the 10 best to do it.

10. San Jose Sharks

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    Year Founded: 1991

    Unless you're a diehard, you might be surprised to see the San Jose Sharks make this list—I know I definitely was.

    But after digging through some research, I actually found that they've quietly been one of the most successful NHL franchises in the past 20-plus years.

    Though they have yet to even play in a Stanley Cup game, the Sharks haven't fallen short on opportunities, making it to the playoffs in 16 of their 21 years of existence—even reaching the Western Conference Final three times in the past 10 seasons.

    That's pretty damn impressive if you ask me.

9. Orlando Magic

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    Year Founded: 1989

    Although the Magic didn't work too many tricks in their first three seasons—winning a total of 70 games in that span—the team's ineptitude led them to the biggest prize in college basketball when they landed the No. 1 pick to select some guy named Shaquille O'Neal.

    The team improved by 20 games in Shaq's rookie year but missed out on the playoffs, giving them, surprise, the top pick again in the '93 draft, prompting them to take Michigan's Chris Webber before trading him to Golden State for Anfernee Hardaway.

    Teaming up Shaq and Penny, Orlando was able to build a team that went to four straight playoff appearances, losing the Finals in '95 to the Rockets.

    After some down years, the team pulled another rabbit out of its hat by winning the lottery in '04, giving them Dwight Howard as the city's newest 'Superman.'

    In a second stretch of improvement, Orlando enjoyed six straight playoff appearances, reaching the Finals in '09 but losing to the Lakers in six games.

8. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Year Founded: 1998

    For all you Diamondbacks fans out there, we hope you know how truly spoiled you are with your baseball team.

    Experiencing the usual expansion blues their first season by winning just 65 games, the team turned things around quickly—as in a 35-game improvement in the win column the very next year, making it to the playoffs before getting ousted in four games by the Mets.

    Though they traded for Curt Schilling midway through the 2000 campaign, the team slipped to third in the NL West and missed the playoffs.

    Fear not though, because with Schilling and Randy Johnson leading the rotation, the D-Backs made the playoffs the next two seasons, winning the World Series title in '01 by defeating the Yankees in dramatic fashion.

    With some poor seasons following the departures of their two pitching aces in '05, the team was able to make the postseason two more times since—with a trip to the LCS in '07—and have consistently stayed competitive in the NL West the past few years.

7. D.C. United

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    Year Founded: 1995

    Go ahead and argue that it's "just" Major League Soccer, but when a team has won four league titles in its history, I give them the respect that they deserve.

    Playing in the first four MLS Cups following the league's formation—winning three—D.C. United was the premier destination for players like John Harkes, Jaime Moreno and later prodigy Freddy Adu in the late-'90s and early 2000s.

    After going through a small rebuilding process following the departure of head coach Bruce Arenas in '98, the team found itself back on the championship podium in '04, hoisting yet another (and most recent) MLS Cup.

6. Tampa Bay Rays

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    Year Founded: 1998

    Sure, the Tampa Bay Rays (formerly the Devil Rays) might have one of the ugliest and most bizarre stadiums for a professional franchise, but what really matters is the product on the field—and they've had a pretty damn good one since figuring things out in 2008.

    Lacking any sort of payroll or real fan support, the Rays had always suffered the misfortune a lot of small-market teams do when their homegrown guys would sign big-time contracts with other clubs.

    But with the hiring of manager Joe Maddon and subsequently locking up franchise cornerstone (and then rookie) Evan Longoria in '08, the Rays have flourished.

    Averaging nearly 92 wins per season, including their World Series trip in that same year—and currently on pace for the same number again this year—the Rays have quietly built a winning atmosphere in a place few may have ever expected just six years ago—no matter how bizarre it might be.

5. Carolina Panthers

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    Year Founded: 1995

    As I mentioned in my opener, my Cleveland Browns have been in the NFL since 1946, being just one of four teams to never even reach a Super Bowl.

    The Carolina Panthers though? They haven't only played in more playoff games than my beloved Browns since the team first kicked off in '95 (10 to three), but they've even reached the Big Game once, losing 32-29 to the Patriots in 2004.

    It's not as if Panthers fans has to wait long to get a winner either, as the team won 12 games in their second season, defeating the Cowboys before losing in the NFC title game to the Packers.

    Even after a few bad years, with quarterback Cam Newton under center, the Panthers seem to have high expectations moving forward.

4. Anaheim Ducks

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    Year Founded: 1993

    I'm not sure if the Anaheim Ducks' success should be attributed to the "Minnesota Miracle Man," or if they truly are as good as they've proven in their 20 years in the league?

    Regardless of the reason, the Ducks have been a stellar franchise, making the postseason seven of the past 10 years, which have included two Stanley Cup Final trips and one win in '07.

    After capturing their second-ever Pacific Division title this past season, the Ducks hope to continue their reputation as a solid franchise by competing for another Stanley Cup.

3. Los Angeles Galaxy

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    Year Founded: 1995

    As great as the previously mentioned D.C. United has been in the MLS since being one of the charter teams in '95, the L.A. Galaxy has surprisingly been even better.

    That may be surprising, but seeing that the club has participated in the league's championship game eight of the 17 years, the Galaxy's rank this high is well-deserved.

    Sure, the last two of their titles came with stars David Beckham (England), Landon Donovan (United States) and Robbie Keane (Ireland), but those guys haven't been in L.A. the entire time, so what the franchise has done over the long run is impressive.

2. Florida Marlins

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    Year Founded: 1993

    It's hard enough to believe that the Marlins have been around for 20 seasons already—especially considering I rocked their fitted teal-and-black hat in third grade pretty much every day—but what shouldn't come as a surprise is that the team ranks No. 2 on my list.

    While some of the other teams I've mentioned may have had more consistent success in making the playoffs, the Marlins are the only one outside of the MLS teams that have won multiple titles, taking home the World Series in both '97 and '03.

    Now the years in-between those championships have been rough for fans to swallow, but with as many rings as the mighty Red Sox and Cardinals in the same time period, that's something that the front office can smile at—even if fans aren't.

1. Miami Heat

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    Year Founded: 1988

    Seeing that the final two teams on my list both reside in South Beach, maybe there's something in the water down there that breeds championships?

    In the Heat's case, I just think it's the LeBron James and Dwyane Wade effect.

    Entering the league in '88 and winning just 57 games their first three years, Miami seems to have scorched the competition since, making the playoffs in all but five seasons since 1991.

    While getting to the postseason is nice and all, Miami hasn't been satisfied with just making it, preferring to go deep each time.

    With six trips to the conference finals, four trips to the NBA Finals and three total titles, the Heat have been the class of all expansion teams in the past 25 years—and they remain the favorites to repeat again next season too.

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