The Stanley Cup Final is the pinnacle of the professional hockey world. Kids all across the globe -- in Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden -- dream of lifting the Stanley Cup over their heads when they grow up. It's a special club, and a special feeling.
There have been plenty of kids for which that dream does come true, but on the other side of that coin is a much larger group. Even of those that reach the NHL not many make it to the promised land of the Stanley Cup Finals.
We've seen some parity in the Stanley Cup Champions and finalists in recent years, and that should be continuing as we move out of the 2010s and into the 2020s. It's really tough to project when exactly every team will make the finals, because you never know when a team's cup window is going to close. For example, the Ducks may have just lost their best shot at returning to the finals for a while, as Ducks GM Bob Murray has to be losing his patience with his core and may just decide to go younger. Remember when we thought the Oilers were just getting started following their 2006 Finals appearance? Yet, look where they went from there. You really never know when opportunity will knock again.
Let's project each team's next appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.
31 Anaheim Ducks - 2026
The Anaheim Ducks were one of the teams close to reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in this postseason, but their hopes were cut down by the Nashville Predators. The Ducks have one of the most underrated dynamic duos in the league in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and role players like Ryan Kesler make the Ducks competitive.
However, after their current window to compete closes as Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler, and the rest of the core ages, they don’t have much to look forward to. They have a few exciting young players but not enough to give you confidence in them becoming a mainstay deep into May for the next few years.
The Ducks didn’t get there this season, and they may have to wait a few years to get to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
30 Arizona Coyotes - 2022
The Arizona Coyotes are one of the worst teams in the league right now, but it is for a good reason. The Coyotes, after fighting to stay in the desert, are rebuilding the right way. They are shedding their dead weight as their veterans age and decline, and they are bring in fresh, talented youth. Just this past trade deadline they traded away Martin Hanzal for draft picks that will surely result in some great young talent.
The Coyotes have the youngest general manager in the league in John Chayka and soon the young talent will follow. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is already a star, Max Domi is getting there, and they have multiple top prospects waiting in the wings. They have 2015 1st round pick (3rd overall) Dylan Strome, as well as 2016 first round picks (7th overall) Clayton Keller are chomping at the bit to get into the Arizona lineup and make some noise.
You can laugh at the Coyotes now, but Arizona might be the ones laughing in a few years when the pieces of the puzzle all come together.
29 Boston Bruins - 2025
Sorry Boston fans, the days of being competitive are over. The Bruins showed their true colors as they limped into the playoffs and were ousted in the first round this season.
The Boston Bruins don’t look like they will be competing for a Stanley Cup Championship anytime soon. Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2011 and making the Stanley Cup Finals in 2013, the Bruins franchise has taken a step back. They missed the playoffs in two of the last three years and barely made it this season.
Zdeno Chara still has the same frame that has made him a hulking defenseman, but he doesn’t have the skillset or any speed anymore as he pushes 40. Tuukka Rask is still a good goalie, but he’s being asked to do a lot playing behind a subpar team.
The lack of a current core combined with only a few prospects makes the Bruins’ outlook rather bleak.
28 Buffalo Sabres - 2021
The Buffalo Sabres are in a bit of a predicament. They have a franchise player in Jack Eichel, but just a month ago he called for the firing of some of the higher ups in the organization The Sabres looked like they were poised to be contenders after Eichel was drafted, but bad luck and unfortunate circumstances have set them back a few years.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Sabres. While they were one of the most unfortunate teams in recent seasons, their future is looking better and that is centered around Jack Eichel.
The Buffalo Sabres have a solid enough core that can be the aging veterans they need as the kids come up, they just need a few more pieces over the next couple of years and they can become contenders by the early-to-mid 2020s.
27 Calgary Flames - 2027
The Calgary Flames looked like they were primed for success after making the playoffs in 2015 and winning their first playoff series since their 2004 run to the Stanley Cup Finals, but then took a step back in 2016. They stepped it up this season, however, as they made the playoffs yet again for just the second time in eight seasons, but they were doused in the first round.
Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, Curtis Lazar, Dougie Hamilton. All of those players have a chance to be household names and Gaudreau is the "veteran" of the group at 23-years old. As the young core ages the Flames are going to be a dangerous team in the Western Conference.
It's just tough to see Calgary breaking through, knowing they'll have to go through Connor McDavid and the Oilers for the foreseeable future.
26 Carolina Hurricanes - 2021
The Carolina Hurricanes are in a rut. After making the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002 and winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, they have missed the playoffs in 10 of the past 11 seasons, including the last eight seasons overall. Their most recent playoff appearance was in 2009 and they have finished in the bottom-third of the conference for six straight seasons.
But it’s not all bad.
After cautiously trying to weather through the storm several years ago, the Hurricanes have brought on a few fresh faces in the front office to send their team in the right direction. The Hurricanes have a few solid veterans, that when combined with their up-and-coming core could result in a dangerous storm for their opposition.
Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk are all still in their mid-20s, and will now be joined by young players like Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Julien Gauthier up front, while Noah Hanifin and Jake Bean look promising on the blue line.
It’s not a traditional hockey market in the southeast, but we’ve seen Nashville do it and it wouldn’t surprise me if Carolina becomes contenders by 2020.
25 Chicago Blackhawks - 2028
It appears that the Chicago Blackhawks era is over. After winning three Stanley Cups in six seasons, the Blackhawks couldn't even score that many goals in their first round series against the Nashville Predators. The Blackhawks mustered just two goals as they were swept out of the playoffs this season.
The Chicago Blackhawks have a lot of money tied up in a pair of players that have peaked, with $21 million per season going to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, and over $5 million until 2021 to the 38-year-old Marian Hossa. Their whole core is getting to the point where they are aging and overpaid, with Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith on the blueline and Corey Crawford in net all in their 30s.
The Blackhawks have had their success, but now they will need to take a few years to rebuild before contending again.
24 Colorado Avalanche - 2022
The Colorado Avalanche looked set up for success after the 2013 NHL Draft. First round pick Nathan MacKinnon helped the Avalanche and head coach Patrick Roy to the playoffs, but they lost in the first round in seven games. It's been all downhill since then. The Avalanche finally bottomed out, or they hope they did, after this season. They finished with one of the worst records in recent history and didn't even receive a top draft pick.
The Avalanche still have their core pieces, and they are still young, but they can’t seem to put it together. MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and veteran Matt Duchene haven’t been enough for Colorado. They should be able to compete in a few seasons, but they might still be a ways away from contending for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
23 Columbus Blue Jackets - 2024
The Columbus Blue Jackets are an interesting bunch. After making the playoffs just once in their first 12 seasons of existence, they have made great strides with two playoff berths in the past four seasons. However, those two playoff berths have resulted in just three playoff wins. The Blue Jackets have yet to win a playoff series as a franchise.
The Blue Jackets aren't setup to compete for the Cup in the near future, but they could compete in a few years or so. Number one defenseman Seth Jones is still just 22 years old, and he was joined this season on the blue line by 19 year old Zach Werenski. Columbus is building up their defense in front of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, but their aging forwards are a cause for concern.
The Columbus Blue Jackets will either need to make a big push in the next few seasons, or they might not have enough offensive firepower to make it past the first round of the playoffs yet again.
22 Dallas Stars - 2020
The Dallas Stars are primed to compete deep into the playoffs right now, but they are just missing a few key cogs. They made the playoffs in 2014 and 2016, but then took a step back this season as they failed to make the playoffs for the seventh time in the last nine seasons.
The Stars are led by two superstars in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin who make up one of the best dynamic duos in the league. That’s the good news for the Stars, along with the fact that those two players are each in their mid-to-late 20s with plenty of great seasons ahead of them. They also have a young defenseman in John Klingberg, and hopefully solved their goalie problems by signing Ben Bishop to a huge contract just a few weeks ago.
If the Stars can piece some role players together and bolster their blue line, they will go as far as Bishop can take them.
21 Detroit Red Wings - 2023
The Detroit Red Wings are in freefall. After making the playoffs for 25 straight seasons, an NHL record, from 1990-91 to 2015-16, they fell off the table and missed the postseason in 2016-17.
Gone are the days of Steve Yzerman and the magic man Pavel Datsyuk, and the days of Henrik Zetterberg’s prime have come and gone as well. Now the reigns belong to 20-year-old Dylan Larkin, 22-year-old Andreas Anthanasiou and a handful of prospects coming up through the system.
It’s going to be a bit of a rebuild for the boys from Hockeytown, but with a proper timeline and good development the Red Wings could compete in the early 2020s. First they have to get back in the playoffs, then get a streak going, then they’ll have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.
20 Edmonton Oilers - 2019
It's almost the Edmonton Oilers' time again. How quickly things change for the Oilers who have gone from the laughing stock of the league with multiple first overall picks not panning out to a franchise on the cusp of greatness with a generational talent.
That generational talent is of course the one and only Connor McDavid. McDavid was drafted in 2015 and in his first full season (after missing parts of 2015-16 with an injury) led the Oilers into the postseason for the first time in over ten years. They even won a playoff series, taking out the Sharks in six games, before falling to the Ducks in the second round.
It will be McDavid leading the charge as the face of the franchise, and potentially the league, in the coming years and if the Oilers can add some pieces around him they could be a force to be reckoned with.
19 Florida Panthers - 2022
Will hockey in Florida ever pan out again? Who knows. What we do now is that the Panthers have regressed after finishing first in the division in 2015-16. It was a disappointing 2016-17 campaign for the team from Sunrise as the sun set on their season.
The face of the Panthers is arguably Jaromir Jagr, who seems to gain fans by the day, but the 45-year-old takes the attention away from a talented, much younger bunch. Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, 23 and 21 respectively, are 20 years younger than Jagr but they share the ice a lot of the time. Add in 21 year old Aaron Ekblad and it's a young trio that is growing quickly.
Look for the Panthers to compete as their young guns develop and they add pieces alongside them.
18 Los Angeles Kings - 2027
The Los Angeles Kings? More like the Lost Angeles Kings. The Kings are a team searching for an identity after missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. It’s a long, hard fall for the franchise that recently won the Stanley Cup two times in three years and made the postseason in five.
However, the Kings’ core is aging and declining rapidly. Anze Kopitar is the only member of the offensive core still in his 20s as he hangs on at 29, but Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik are all into their 30s with long, expensive contracts on the books. Even Jonathan Quick is over the hill a bit at 31 years old with a $5.8 million cap hit until 2023. Drew Doughty is the "youngest" of the bunch at 27 years old, but they could be losing him to free agency after the 2018-19 season.
It gets worse for the Kings who lack any top prospects of note, so it could be a long time before the Kings get a chance to wear the crown.
17 Minnesota Wild - 2024
One of the NHL's newest teams has yet to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, and it doesn't look like they are primed to anytime soon. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter became the faces of the franchise when the childhood friends both signed with the Minnesota Wild in 2012, but the 13 year contracts look more like a burden than a bargain for the Wild.
The Wild went all in for this postseason when they traded multiple picks for Martin Hanzal and Ryan White, but a first round exit was all they got. They are still set up for some success in the short-term, but the long-term outlook is not as bright Parise and Suter are now 32, with captain Mikko Koivu entering the final year on his contract as a 34-year-old. Charlie Coyle is the young buck at 25 who could give the Wild some life.
Minnesota is a great hockey town, and they deserve playoff success, but they might not get it for a while if it doesn’t happen soon.
16 Montreal Canadiens - 2026
Long gone are the days of the Montreal Canadiens competing for, or winning, the Stanley Cup in nearly every season. The winningest team in NHL history with 24 Stanley Cups has yet to win one in over two decades and will hit 25 years since their last one this coming season. In fact they haven’t even reached the Stanley Cup Finals since their last win in 1993.
The Montreal Canadiens rebounded this season thanks to Carey Price and made the playoffs yet again despite firing their coach midway through the year. An offseason trade of P.K. Subban for Shea Weber benefitted them in the short term, but the ramifications of the deal have yet to fully sink in. Weber is older, and on a longer contract than Subban, and Subban will still be in his prime while Weber declines.
The Canadiens are going through some changes and I can’t see them competing for the Stanley Cup anytime soon.
15 Nashville Predators - 2018
The Nashville Predators are doing the thing. After sweeping the dominant Chicago Blackhawks, taking care of the St. Louis Blues in six games, and taking down the Ducks in six, they're in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. This is already their best playoff run as a franchise, and we think they can do it again next year.
The Predators are built on the blue line and their defense is the main reason for their success so far. The newly acquired P.K. Subban joined a corps with Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis to form a formidable foursome. Add in solid goaltending and a few key goals from their forwards and you have playoff success.
Peter Laviolette knows what it takes to get a team to the promised land. The Predators have peaked at the right time and are finally playing like we felt they were capable of earlier in the season. The entire core is under contract next season and after another year of developed chemistry, we can see them repeating as Western Conference champions.
14 New Jersey Devils - 2022
The New Jersey Devils looked to be stuck in limbo after reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012. Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk left, Martin Brodeur retired, and the team was a shell of itself in the coming years. However, they’ve finally caught some good luck again as they won the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery and will be selecting first overall in the 2017 NHL Draft.
This draft doesn’t have a generational talent like Connor McDavid or even Auston Matthews, but the Devils will get their choice of likely either Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier at the top of this year’s draft. Both players provide an instant jolt to the New Jersey franchise and will be top-six forwards right out of the gate.
The Devils seemed like they were caught in no man's land, even after trading for Adam Hall last summer, but this injection of the first overall pick as well as a stud goaltender like Cory Schneider speeds up their rebuilding process.
13 New York Islanders - 2030
The New York Islanders look like they have everything going for them on paper, but in reality it is a completely different story. The New York Islanders have made the playoffs in just three of the past 10 seasons, including missing the postseason this year despite a strong push at the end of the season under new head coach Doug Weight.
The Islanders have a superstar caliber center in John Tavares, a solid defense corps led by Travis Hamonic and Nick Leddy, and a few good role players, but they can never seem to piece it all together.
The Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups (and five straight appearances) over 30 years ago, but they haven't been to the finals since. And unfortunately for the Islanders it doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards anytime soon. Obviously things can change on a dime and they could make a huge trade or splash in free agency, but the Islanders seem destined for mediocrity. If they don't re-sign Tavares, you may want to add another 10 years to our projected number.
12 New York Rangers - 2029
The New York Rangers are always able to go as far as Henrik Lundqvist will carry them, but recently the team in front of him has been too much of a burden on ‘The King.’ They finally made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014, but they lost to the Los Angeles Kings and haven't been back since. In fact they've regressed in ever year since then.
The Rangers made the conference finals in 2015, then got ousted before then in the last two seasons. Lundqvist is getting up there in age, but he has four years left on his contract. Unfortunately so does Marc Staal, and Dan Girardi is right behind him also carrying a heavy cap hit.
It appears as if the Rangers’ window for competing has slammed shut, but perhaps there is still a slimmer of hope for Rangerstown with Hank in net.
11 Ottawa Senators - 2023
The Ottawa Senators shocked the world this postseason when they took out not only the Boston Bruins but also the New York Rangers on the way to the Eastern Conference Final. They again surprised everybody by pushing the heavily favored Penguins to seven games before falling in double overtime.
It was a great run, and changes the outlook for the Senators both internally and how they are viewed from around the league.
Erik Karlsson proved himself as one of the best defenders in the world thanks to his performance in these playoffs and Cody Ceci hopes to follow in his footsteps. They aren't a flashy team, they might not always be all that exciting, but Guy Boucher makes sure that his guys get the job done. However, with the stiff competition existing in the East, Ottawa will still have to wait a few years before reaching the top of the mountain.
10 Philadelphia Flyers - 2020
Will the Broad Street Bullies ever shed that moniker and win with a new style of play? Perhaps. If they do the time could be now as they have everything in place for a playoff run, they just need to wait for a few more pieces to develop. The Flyers already had one of the best prospect pools in all of hockey, as well as a good core with Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, and they too lucked out and moved up 11 spots in the NHL Draft Lottery. They will have the second pick and likely select whoever New Jersey does not out of Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.
The Flyers have a great core, a group of young players in the NHL and a handful more ripe for the picking. Adding a top prospect from the second overall pick to that almost doesn’t seem fair. They are set up for success in both the short-term and the long-term.
9 Pittsburgh Penguins - 2019
The 2016 Stanley Cup champions managed to make it to back-to-back finals and we don't think Sidney Crosby is done yet.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could very well get another ring and lift the cup again for the Pittsburgh Penguins, with sidekick Phil Kessel in tow.
It was Marc-Andre Fleury’s team, but now it’s Matt Murray’s team. It just seems that whoever the Penguins put in net is able to will them to victory. They have looked like the best team in the league for quite some time now and it would be a huge upset if they don’t make the Stanley Cup Finals this year.
After a slight drop off next year, due to the amount of hockey they've had to play, we have the Pens rebounding in 2018-19 and getting a meeting with Connor McDavid and the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final.
8 San Jose Sharks - 2023
The San Jose Sharks stumbled into the postseason this year and then they were promptly disposed of in the first round by the Edmonton Oilers after reaching the Stanley Cup Finals last season. It is largely the same team for the Sharks as the one that made it all the way to the finals last year, so there is no reason to believe that they can’t do it again despite some of their players aging a bit.
The Sharks are still led by Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski up front, but Jumbo Joe Thornton is a free agent and could be leaving town after this year's disappointing exit. However, Brent Burns is as strong as ever on the blue line for the Sharks as he heads a defensive corps of veterans alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
The Western Conference seems to be getting more and more parity every year with two new teams making the final this season, and the Sharks could be right back in the thick of things in the coming seasons. But making it all the way back could be a while.
7 St. Louis Blues - 2022
The St. Louis Blues seem to always be the team right on the cusp of greatness. They've burst onto the scene in recent years and finally made the Western Conference Finals in 2016, but were ultimately beaten out. This year they beat the Minnesota Wild in the first round, but they could not get past the pesky Nashville Predators in the second round.
Luckily for the Blues, Russian forward Vladimir Tarasenko has become a household name around North America for his highlight reel plays and goals, and he is still just 25 years old.
The St. Louis Blues don't have many top prospects, but they are built to win now with Tarasenko leading the way. He, Paul Stasny, Alexander Steen, and Jaden Schwartz are the Blues stalwarts up front with Alex Pietrangelo (the captain), and Jay Bouwmeester still holding down the blue line.
It could go either way for the Blues.
6 Tampa Bay Lightning - 2018
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been unable to catch a break recently and surprisingly missed the playoffs for the first time in four seasons despite a great late push for the postseason. They even did all that without captain Steven Stamkos, who lightning has struck more than twice with unfortunate injuries.
It looks like things could be lining up for the Lightning down in Tampa Bay though. Stamkos is now joined by Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, and budding young star Jonathan Drouin. Viktor Hedman continues to be a beast defensively for Tampa Bay as well. With Ben Bishop now gone, the reigns will be handed over to the 22-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy in net, and he has shown signs of brilliance early in his young career.
Nothing has gone Tampa Bay’s way recently and they have hit some hard luck. However, if everything lines up as it should they could be a force in the Eastern Conference.
5 Toronto Maple Leafs - 2020
The Toronto Maple Leafs are itching to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final. After sitting through years of mediocrity and then a few years of tearing it up and building it back up, they are finally ready to peak. Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, and William Nylander led the rookie charge for the Leafs in the 2016-17 season. Since drafting Matthews with the first pick in the 2016 NHL Draft it was evident that things would soon be coming together for the boys in blue from Toronto.
The Maple Leafs are set up beautifully in every facet. They have the firepower up front with those three rookies, they have the role players on expiring contracts this season, and then they will have plenty of space under the salary cap to either re-sign those role players or make a big splash via trade or free agency.
Toronto is a hockey town, and they hope they can celebrate a championship soon.
4 Vancouver Canucks - 2028
The Vancouver Canucks will have another year or two before they start finally seeing their rebuild pay dividends. Twin leaders Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin will be free agents after the 2017-18 season and will open up a world of potential and possibilities for the Canucks' front office.
It looks like Bo Horvat is turning into a player for the Canucks at least, but they will still need pieces to complement him. They certainly hope that their prospects and draft picks can turn out to be as good as promised so they can have some talent coming up through the system.
The Canucks barely missed out on glory in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals and have been tumbling ever since. They have hit rock bottom and are ready to rebuild to compete once again. As we've seen with rebuilds though, it could take a lot of time.
3 Vegas Golden Knights - 2027
Building an expansion team sounds like fun, and it very well might be fun at some points, but it is also a lot of hard work and a lot of losing. The Vegas Golden Knights have a good front office with good, smart hockey minds, but it will still take a while for them to be real competitors.
A goal of any expansion team should be to build in the first few years, make the playoffs by the third to fifth season, and finally compete for a championship within 10 years. I fully believe that we could see that from this Vegas group. They will draft smart in the expansion draft and have great talent come out of that with good potential in the draft and free agency as well.
Hop aboard the Golden Knights bandwagon, there’s plenty of room for everyone.
2 Washington Capitals - 2031
“It’s now or never” should pretty much be the Washington Capitals franchise slogan by this point. The Capitals have looked like the best team in the Eastern Conference year after year after year, yet they always seem to choke and lose when it matters most.
Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have been surrounded by plenty of talent up front, and the blue line has been bolstered via trade after trade.Even Braden Holtby has come up big with fantastic numbers for the Capitals, but they haven't gotten it done.
It’s tough to ever count on the Capitals, especially given their track record recently, but it has to come to an end at some point. They have too much talent, and have won too many games in the regular season for it to be a fluke. It doesn't seem like this core will get it done, so we'll have to wait for the next generation to see if the Caps have a shot.
1 Winnipeg Jets - 2025
The Winnipeg Jets have made the playoffs just twice in franchise history (including once as the Atlanta Thrashers), and just once since moving to Winnipeg in 2011. They seem to be stuck in the mud, with their wheels spinning but going nowhere. They can’t get their wheels off the ground for take off.
Mark Scheifele broke out as a star for the Jets this season, and he is joined by Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault up front. They are great on paper, as is their blue line. The aging Dustin Byfuglien is joined by Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba and the young Josh Morrissey.
We have to see something out of the Winnipeg Jets before we can count on them for anything, and there’s nothing in their system to make us believe that they can seriously compete anytime soon.