Winning a Stanley Cup title ain’t easy. There are a myriad of moving parts under the hood of an NHL franchise that all have to work in concert to churn out a championship-caliber program.
Salary cap space, player personnel, line chemistry and coaching systems – they’re all big factors that have major implications on what the on-ice product is capable of doing. And FYI: title-contending teams aren’t born overnight.
For the most part, it takes time, money, obsessive dedication and a talented group of hockey players to put a team in position to make a serious run at the coveted Lord Stanley’s Cup.
These days, you’ve got your perennial contenders like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who oftentimes perform like they’re in a league of their own. Those teams are basically a shoo-in for the playoffs before the season even gets underway.
But there are also a lot of middle-of-the-pack teams out there – this season especially – that think they’ve developed the formula for long-term success just because they haven’t been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs just yet. And then, of course, are the lowly clubs in total disarray who have a lot of work to do before they can even think about winning a ring
So let’s clear things up a little bit by pointing out the teams that really do have a shot at a title run in the not-too-distant future and those that don’t stand a chance. Here are seven NHL teams who could win the Stanley Cup in the next five years and eight who definitely won’t.
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15 Won’t: Carolina Hurricanes
So who wants to tell the Carolina Hurricanes it isn’t 2006 anymore? I mean, they keep plodding along like nothing’s wrong, ignoring the issues and pretending like Eric Stall is going to drop from the sky at any moment with his cape and Batmobile and score 100 points to deliver them back to the Promised Land.
Here’s a tip for the ‘Canes: score more goals on your opponents than your opponents score on you. They haven’t done that since the 2008-09 season, which just so happens to be the last time they qualified for the postseason. See how that works?
Seriously, without any offense (read: forwards to adequately replace the departed Staal) in Carolina, the Hurricanes won’t be blowing into the playoffs anytime soon, let alone winning a Cup.
Beyond goal-scoring, you can blame GM Ron Francis for some bad trades and even worse signings that will doom the team for years. And don’t even get me started on the goaltending of Cam Ward. Dude’s gotta go.
14 Could: Minnesota Wild
It’s finally happening in Minnesota. A Stanley Cup championship is well within reach, and it may come sooner than anyone thinks. They’re one of the best teams in hockey this season, and they owe it all to the unprecedented on-ice chemistry they’re producing night in and night out.
The Wild don’t have the best players in the game. Through 59 contests this year, only one guy on the roster had more than 50 points. But what they lack in superstars, they abound in solid, two-way skaters that provide more long-term depth than probably any other team in the league.
Add an All-Star-caliber goaltender with the league’s best save percentage and who’s signed for four more years into the equation, and the Wild have something brewing in The State of Hockey that clearly spells soon-to-be Stanley Cup champions.
13 Won’t: Colorado Avalanche
Where does one even start with the Colorado Avalanche? I guess “how?” would be a good question to ask. As in, how in the world are they so dang bad? Clearly, it’s not a lack of young, fast, talented forwards. There’s plenty where that came from. Clearly, it’s not the coaching. They’ve had two polar-opposite coaches over the past two seasons but very similar results. And clearly, their front office knows a thing or two about winning championships. Super Joe, anyone?
Yeah, yeah, I know, the big glaring hole is on their blue line. Without sizeable, skilled defenseman who can clear the zone and defend the crease, it’s hard for your more-than-capable forwards to score a lot of goals. But still, there HAS to be something else going on here; they’re literally dead-last in almost every statistical category out there.
The two biggest things the Avs need to focus on is building a solid defensive core and learning how to possess the puck for longer than two seconds at a time. Once they do that, I think they’ve got the pieces in place to eventually turn the ship around. But pro tip: don’t hold your breath. It’s gonna take some time.
12 Could: San Jose Sharks
Something’s gotta give in San Jose, and there’s a good chance it will within the next five seasons. When you qualify for the playoffs in 16 out of the last 18 years only to go home Cup-less each and every time, two main things are going to happen. First, you’ll foster a culture of resolve inside the locker room. And second, you’ll start to really key in on exactly what it is that isn’t working in the postseason.
The Sharks have done both those things. Last year, they got as close to a championship as they’ve ever come. They’re learning from their mistakes, and now, things are on the up-and-up.
They’re tops in the Pacific Division again this year, and they’re still getting good production out of their older guys like Joel Ward, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
Plus, with Brent Burns, one of the best players in the league recently re-upping for another eight years, and a wealth of long-term depth on the books, the Sharks could soon finally break through and finish out a playoff season with shiny new rings on their fingers.
11 Won’t: New York Islanders
Perhaps the biggest reason the Islanders won’t win a championship in the next five years is the very real possibility that they either won’t exist as the Islanders as early as two years down the road, or that they will be forced to pull up stakes and move their home ice for the second time in just four seasons.
After moving to the not-so-hockey-friendly Barclays Center in Brooklyn from their longtime home in Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum prior to last season, the Islanders have failed to draw very good attendance. In response, the venue owner has alluded to possibly cutting ties with the club once the lease expires after the 2018-19 season in favor of bringing in acts that can make more money.
On the hockey side of things, the distraction of the arena issue definitely won’t help the playoff-bubble team going forward, and that could be exacerbated if they end up yet again in a different area of New York – or anywhere else – anytime soon. Plus, c’mon, these aren’t the Islanders of the early ‘80s that won four straight titles.
10 Could: Edmonton Oilers
Two words: Connor McDavid. He’s the best player in the world, and now that he’s healthy, he could single-handedly deliver Edmonton not only a long-awaited spot in the postseason, but a true chance at bringing the Stanley Cup back to Alberta for the first time since the Oilers and Flames combined to do it four times in a row from 1987 to 1990.
Of course, while I have all the faith in the world that McDavid could go out there and score enough goals for the Oil not to have to worry about playing much defense at all, it’s a good sign that their blue line has improved enormously in the past season or two with additions like Matt Benning, Adam Larsson and Kris Russell.
This year, their goals-against per game is much improved over last, and their positive goal difference is a far cry from their abysmal final tally of -42 a season ago. The Oilers are finally trending in the right direction, and they’re definitely poised to do some serious damage in the West.
9 Won’t: Vancouver Canucks
Look, even if the Vancouver Canucks did manage to make it into the Finals sometime in the next five years, they’ve got an awful lot of negative history going against them.
In their 45 seasons of existence, they’ve appeared in the Finals three separate times and twice have gotten to with one game of tasting victory. But each time they come within sight of the finish line, they’ve got nothing left in the tanks to take them across in one piece.
Lately, they’ve had up and down seasons, finishing first, fifth, second and sixth in their division in the past four seasons, and now all of a sudden there are all sorts of rumors that they’re shopping the Sedin twins.
Clearly, there is an impending rebuild in the works, and if I were Vancouver GM Jim Benning, I’d tear the thing down to the studs and start fresh. Their aging roster and atrocious goal differential isn’t getting any better any time soon, and after 45 years and no Cups, it’s time for a complete renovation. But that’s gonna take some time.
8 Could: Nashville Predators
After making the playoffs seven times in eight years, the Predators missed out twice in a row in 2012-13 and 2013-14. Since then, they’ve added highly skilled forwards James Neal, Ryan Johansen, and the biggest trade prize they could ask for, P.K. Subban from the Montreal Canadiens.
Their mini rebuild is has taken shape nicely in a short amount of time, and their balanced attack from between the pipes all the way up to the front has them just inside the playoff picture as we enter the final stretch towards the postseason. That bodes well for the future as the team continues to gel moving forward.
They’ve improved in each of the past two seasons, and they are more than capable of the long-term explosive play that could take them deep into the playoffs. It won’t be immediate, but the Preds will continue to evolve into one of the West’s stronger all-around teams.
7 Won’t: Phoenix Coyotes
The Phoenix Coyotes are in a similar boat as the Islanders. Their future in Phoenix, and as a team in general, is in serious peril at the moment, and that kind of make it hard to win a Stanley Cup championship two, three, four or five years down the road.
Aside from the fact that the Coyotes are ranked next to last in the entire league when it comes to their record and that the franchise – in two iterations in two different countries – has never even been to the Finals in 36 years of existence, their current arena lease is only good through next season.
With the relationship between the team and the city of Glendale, their current home, seemingly forever lost and a plan to partner with Arizona State University to build a facility in Tempe falling through, a lot of things are up in the air.
New legislation making its way through the Arizona senate could make way for the construction of a new home for the ‘Yotes in either Downtown Phoenix or the East Valley in the next couple of years, but as of now, nothing is a sure-thing.
6 Could: Toronto Maple Leafs
Yes, the listless Toronto Maple Leafs’ 48-season Stanley Cup drought could easily end within the next five years. That’s because they’re set up for success, and they’re well on their way to rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the league’s worst team a season ago to getting back into the playoffs for the first time in four years.
As the NHL trends more and more towards a younger, faster, more highly skilled game, the Maple Leafs will hit their stride nicely in the next couple of seasons. Thanks to 19-year-old superstars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, as well as under-30 guys like Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk and William Nylander, the Leafs have more young, fast, high-scoring potential on their roster than any other two teams could wish for.
Plus, they’ve got plenty of cap space in the next few years for GM Mike Babcock to bolster the defense and piece together what might be the best Toronto club in the better part of the last half-century.
5 Won’t: Vegas Golden Knights
The NHL’s newest franchise has a lot of things going against it when it comes to its chances of winning a championship within the next five years, but two big challenges really stand out.
Firstly, the stats don’t lie. Of the nine expansion franchises to enter the league since 1991, only two of them have won titles: the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Anaheim Ducks. But it took the Lightning 11 years before they were able to hoist Lord Stanley’ cup and the Ducks 13. Expansion teams just aren’t that good that soon.
The second biggest obstacle between the Golden Knights and a title in the next half decade is that until this summer’s expansion draft, they won’t know who will be on their team. It’s hard to install any offensive or defensive strategies and execute them well when you don’t even have players yet.
Beyond that, Golden Knights GM George McPhee said he wants to build a high-flying offense like the one he had when he was GM of the Washington Capitals from 1997 to 2014. Of course, that team never won a Cup, so good luck with that.
4 Could: Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens have been consistent enough to make the playoffs in seven of the last nine seasons, but they haven’t quite been able to muster the endurance to make it over the hump and into the Finals to compete for a championship.
They’re right there, right on the precipice of greatness almost every season, but their winning formula always seems to be missing the last, key ingredient.
That could change in the next five years. It looked like Montreal was the team to beat out of the gate this year, going 13-2 to open the season with a healthy Carey Price between the pipes and a much-improved even-strength game. They’ve cooled off a bit since then but have stayed at or near the top of the Northeast Division. Perhaps their recent coaching change, firing Michel Therrien and bringing in Claude Julien, will be that final piece they need.
3 Won’t: Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres will flounder around near the bottom of the Atlantic Division for some time if they continue to rely on guys like Evander Kane and old-timer Brian Gionta to carry their offense.
They’ve got a long, long way to go in order to escape the endemic atmosphere of futility that has produced five – and soon to be six – consecutive seasons without a playoff berth and zero championships in their nearly 50-year history.
Their biggest problem is their scoring. They rank near the bottom of the league in goals-for, and only one player on the team had broken the 20-goal plateau through the first three quarters of this season.
But they’re lacking in other areas too. Their penalty kill is in the bottom-3 of the league, they’re horribly inconsistent, and their defensive corps. needs to contribute on the score sheet a whole lot more going forward if they ever want to emerge from the depths of their eternal rebuild.
2 Could: Columbus Blue Jackets
I’m being serious here. The Columbus Blue Jackets are finally coming into their own as a serious contender in the East, and I have a feeling that once they catch fire, they’ll scorch the competition all the way through the playoffs. Remember that 12-game win streak back in December? That was a nice little preview of what they’re capable of doing.
They’re already making waves, sitting well inside the top eight teams in the East, and there’s nothing but blue skies in their very near future.
Consider this: Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is having the best year of his career and is under contract two more seasons, they have a stockpile of young talent in guys both on the team now and waiting in the wings in the minors and in junior, and they’re holding their own in arguably the toughest division in hockey.
1 Won’t: Washington Capitals
Come at me all you want with talk of Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals’ eight playoff appearances in the past nine seasons and how they’re the best team in the entire league this year. It doesn’t matter. The Washington Capitals will not win a Stanley Cup in the next five years.
If you care to disagree, let me first give you the rundown. The Capitals have existed since the 1974-75 season and have never won a Cup. In fact, they have only once have they made it into the Stanley Cup Finals. Hell, they finished last season as the best team in the league by a whopping 11 points and then promptly bowed out in the second round of the playoffs like it was scripted from the heavens.
There simply doesn’t exist a championship-winning culture in D.C. If the Caps were going to do it, they’d have done it sometime between 2007 and 2011, but Ovechkin’s leadership has proven fruitless over the years, and unfortunately he’s currently locked in for the next five seasons.
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