There's nothing worse for a sports team and its fans than to realize when a championship window has closed. The 2015-16 New York Rangers gave us compelling evidence that their core players aren't good enough or young enough anymore to help them vie for Lord Stanley's Mug.
Vancouver Canucks fans are frustrated with the way ownership refused to rebuild, keeping veterans on for far too long. That slowed down this team's rebuild and now they're years away from competing for championships. Such is life when you focus too much on the old and ignore the future.
However, a number of teams have done a great job making sure their clubs compete for championships in the long-run. Whether it's drafting and stockpiling young talent in the system, locking up stars long-term or making big trades and free agent signings, some teams just keep doing it better than others.
Before we continue, the criteria is based on the age of the team's core players, the prospect pool and how long the top players are signed for. Without further ado, let's take a look at the 15 NHL teams set to dominate for the next five-to-10 seasons.
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15 Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings are coming off of their 25th-straight playoff appearance. As long as Ken Holland remains in charge of drafting, trading, and free agent signings, they'll stay in playoff contention.
After Pavel Datsyuk bolted to the KHL, and Henrik Zetterberg started declining, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar came in to be the next one-two punch goal-scorers. But 2014 first-rounder Dylan Larkin has shown every sign required that he'll be one of the league's craftiest players when he finally reaches his full prime. The Red Wings got a steal in this year's draft with two-dimensional blueliner Dennis Chowlowski, who may finally be their semi-Nicklas Lidstrom replacement. Petr Mrazek, the 24-year-old, has a bright future ahead to be their top netminder.
The point being, Detroit always finds ways of drafting and developing prospects when it appears as though they're in trouble as stars fade. But they have enough talent in all areas to be competitive for the playoffs every year.
14 Dallas Stars
The Stars don't exactly have one of the deepest pools when it comes to talented prospects, but you just need to know that team MVP Tyler Seguin is only 24-years-old. Jamie Benn is 27. Jason Spezza may be 33, but he's taken great care of himself to ensure he's playing at a high level for at least two more years.
Two-way defenceman John Klingberg is only 23, while 20-goal threat Cody Eakin is 25. If 21-year-old Valeri Nichushkin can find the talents he flashed during the 2013-14 season, then Dallas will have another star to play behind the big two. Julius Honka, Brett Ritchie, and Denis Gurianov give the Stars a group of quality prospects to be excited about.
The Stars are set for the long-term, mainly because of how young their core players are. Owner Tom Hicks has shown a willingness to spend when necessary, so that should also ensure that Dallas remains a Western powerhouse for the next five-or-so years.
13 Ottawa Senators
After failing to win a Stanley Cup with a window that was open for a decade-and-a-half, Ottawa slowly tried to replace past stars like Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Martin Havlat, and Wade Redden.
So far, bringing in Mark Stone, Kyle Turris, Erik Karlsson, Mika Zibanejad, Clarke MacArthur, Mike Hoffman, Zack Smith, J.G. Pageau, and Bobby Ryan is a great start. Cody Ceci, Colin White, and Thomas Chabot are all fueled by limitless potential that could carry Ottawa for years. The goalie situation is locked in for the short-term with Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond, but 23-year-old Matt O'Connor has a high upside and should become the full-time starter within a couple of years.
Ottawa's flown under the radar when it comes to finding late-round talent and bringing in new stars, but their core is extremely young. They'll be a top dog in the Eastern Conference before you know it. They just need some more developing from the young guns.
12 Nashville Predators
Like other teams on this list, the Predators aren't loaded with rising talents in their prospect pool, but the core players are young enough to keep this championship window open for a long time.
Pekka Rinne continues to play at a Vezina-calibre level. 33-31-64 man Filip Forsberg just signed a six-year extension and is just 22-years-old. Elite blueliner Roman Josi had a 61-point season and is only 26. 31-goal scorer James Neal is just 28. Shea Weber is 31, but he has plenty of strong years left. He won't be going anywhere any time soon. Franchise centre, Ryan Johansen, should rebound when he plays a full season in The Music City.
Ryan Ellis, Colin Wilson, and Craig Smith are in their mid-20s, so the Predators don't have any veterans that are old enough to the point that their time to win is now or never. Nashville's key players are locked up safely long-term and they're all just in or entering their primes. This championship window is going nowhere but staying open.
11 Vancouver Canucks
GM Jim Benning doesn't get the credit he deserves.
Two years ago, the Canucks had dealt franchise netminder Roberto Luongo while head coach John Tortorella and GM Mike Gillis were fired after this team's worst season since 1999-2000. It was simply an embarrassing time for the organization.
Then, Benning drafted power forward Jake Virtanen, who could become a Milan Lucic-type player in the future. He got a steal by drafting Brock Boeser 23rd-overall in 2015. He also drafted hopeful Norris-calibre blueliner Olli Juolevi, while trading for 6-foot-5 rearguard, Erik Gudbranson. Vancouver also has Alex Edler, Ben Hutton, and Chris Tanev on defense for years to come.
Thatcher Demko is hyped as one of the NHL's best prospects. The Sedin Twins still have some time left, so they could still be around when the Canucks are elite again. Now their best youngsters are a while away from becoming superstars, but there is a foundation they're following well that should make them contend again in the near future.
10 Minnesota Wild
Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Ryan Suter are in their early 30s, but that doesn't mean the Wild will stop competing for championships. There's a whole lot to love for The State of Hockey. Centre Mikael Granlund (24 years old, 44 points), Charlie Coyle (24, 42 points), Erik Haula (25, 34 points), plus rising blueliner talents Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, and forward Jason Zucker give the Wild a lot of starpower up front in the future.
Devan Dubnyk has shown zero signs of declining and will keep standing on his head. Though the Wild don't necessarily have any upcoming can't-miss prospects, Alex Tuch, Joel Eriksson, and Mike Reilly give them some young talent to work with in the system. The Wild have plenty of depth (current and upcoming) at both ends of the ice, and it should keep them in the championship hunt for many years.
9 Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks have one of the worst prospect pools in the NHL, but that doesn't matter right now.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the core pair of the Blackhawks powerhouse, are just 28 and 27, respectively. Should they stay healthy, they should remain dangerous for five-seven more seasons. Defencemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are 33 and 31, respectively. Judging by Nicklas Lidstrom's Norris-winning season at age 40 in 2011, those two can play the position well for many more years.
Artemi Panarin is just 24, and if he can keep making magic with Kane, will stay a force in the NHL. Also, GM Stan Bowman keeps finding new talents to replace old stars (see Andrew Shaw/Brandon Saad with Dustin Byfuyglien/Andrew Ladd) and Panarin in 2015-16.
The Blackhawks core players are young enough to give them a realistic shot at earning another pair of championships before their window of opportunity closes
8 New York Islanders
Don't worry Isles fans about losing Kyle Okposo and others in free agency. John Tavares, at 25 years of age, will make any winger look great. The constant 30-goal man and captain of New York promises to keep them in long-term contention.
Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, and Ryan Strome support the offence up front. The defence is loaded with Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, and Calvin de Haan. Jaroslav Halak is locked up to ensure the team has a reliable netminder. Also, few teams have a prospect group as crafty as New York's. Michael Dal Colle and Tavares will be a lethal combination when the former matures. Ryan Pulock and Mathew Barzal also strengthen this team's farm system.
The Islanders, after two decades of trying to build a team that could constantly compete for championships, are near that level after making the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. It's only a matter of time until they get far into the playoffs.
7 Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes would rank higher if they didn't lose out on a top-two draft choice in 2014-15. Having Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel to lead the future would have been huge, considering they already have rising star forwards Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. Dylan Strome, however, is their top prospect. He may need a few years until he reaches his full potential, but it will be discovered eventually.
Arizona isn't ranked highly because their overall roster lacks big names aside from 4o-year-old Shane Doan and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Also, the Coyotes ownership situation is always in rocky waters, and they haven't been able to keep most of their star players with financial difficulties. So with that, they can't be placed higher than some of the other teams on this list.
That being said, there is still far too much talent for the Coyotes to be in the Pacific Division basement much longer. They'll soon be rising as high as the Arizona sun in the middle of the desert.
6 Toronto Maple Leafs
This team is only in its second year of full-on rebuild mode. But it's been a great start, to say the least.
They hired Brendan Shanahan as team president and hired legendary Lou Lamoriello to be the general manager. They also recruited hockey's best current head coach, Mike Babcock, to lead the rebuild.
The Leafs have once-in-a-generation star Auston Matthews, along with future stars Morgan Rielly, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Kasperi Kapanen to lead its future core. Trading for goaltender Frederik Andersen could give them the star goalie they've been searching for since Ed Belfour a decade ago. James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri are other quality players to help the Maple Leafs in the long run.
There have been 49 years of pain (and counting) for the Leafs, who have made the playoffs just once since 2005-06, but in just a few short seasons, they'll be laughing at those who've laughed at them for decades.
5 Florida Panthers
Considering the Panthers won the ever-dangerous Atlantic Division without their top young guns even coming close to their primes, The Sunshine State is actually going to have some great hockey outside of Tampa Bay,.
Jaromir Jagr, as long as he stays with Florida, will probably keep posting 20 goal and 50-point seasons until he's 60. That means they have him for 14 more years (Gordie Howe style?). Defenceman Aaron Ekblad will be competing for the Norris from here on out. Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Aleksander Barkov, Reilly Smith, and Nick Bjugstad are all in their early 20s and will become stars sooner rather than later. The Panthers have perennial superstar Roberto Luongo in goal to lock up the net for a long time.
The Panthers have been rebuilding since, well, being swept by the Colorado Panthers in the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. However, Dale Tallon has stocked so much talent on this team to keep them in contention for the next 10 years.
4 Calgary Flames
At first glance, the Flames prospect pool doesn't scream "elite," but that's because their best players are already great, in their early 20s or early 30s, and most haven't even reached their primes yet. So here's the deal.
Johnny Gaudreau is a top-10 pure goal-scorer in the NHL and he and Sean Monahan will soon be the next Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane duo. It's only a matter of time. Sam Bennett shined with 18 goals and 36 points in his rookie season. Now, they've added power forward Matthew Tkachuk after taking him sixth-overall.
Veterans Michael Frolik, Mikael Backlund, and Joe Colborne also add integral offence. The blueline is loaded with Norris-calibre player Mark Giordano, his partner in crime, T.J. Brodie, and rising star Dougie Hamilton. The addition of Brian Elliott in goal makes the Flames a complete team. Did we mention Monahan, Gaudreau, Hamilton, and Bennett are 21, 22, 23, and 20, respectively? The Battle of Alberta is about to be hockey's most entertaining rivalry.
3 Edmonton Oilers
Okay, so it's probably been ongoing for 10 years where folks have ranked this team in the top-five teams with the brightest futures. But we absolutely promise on the selection of Connor McDavid from 2015 that their time is coming. We absolutely, positively guarantee it.
McDavid is going to be the league's top player soon. Give it three years (or less) until he overtakes Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin as the league's best player. Luckily for Edmonton, the talent grows well beyond No. 97. Leon Draisaitl, Jesse Puljujarvi, Griffin Reinhart, and Darnell Nurseremain other stars in the making. Taylor Hall is already a star. Same with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. Even if those two are traded, they'll bring great pieces to Edmonton.
Should Cam Talbot get an above-average defence in front of him once-and-for-all, he will be the man to lead the crease for the foreseeable future.
2 Buffalo Sabres
The 2015 second-overall pick Jack Eichel is enough to give any team a bright future. How scary is it that the Sabres have so much other talent to support him?
The inconsistent Evander Kane could still see his career change for the better. Franchise blueliner Zach Bogosian is coming into his own, while centre Ryan O'Reilly does the same. Sam Reinhart is another star in the making, coming off a 23-19-42 season. Those numbers will only grow. Zemgus Girgensons is another full-time roster player that'll be dangerous for years to come. Goalie Robin Lehner, should he continue to improve, will solidify the team's crease for years.
Their prospect pool is also one of the best, with Jake McCabe, Justin Bailey, and Nick Baptiste being the big names. Buffalo has been rebuilding since 2012, but under new owner Terry Pegula and GM Tim Murray, everything is looking upright for the long-suffering Sabres fans.
It's a matter of when, not if, they start competing for championships again.
1 Winnipeg Jets
Brace yourselves. A dynasty might be coming.
The Jets looked good enough in 2015-16 to compete in the long-term. Blake Wheeler led the team in scoring with 26 goals and 78 points. 2011 first-rounder Mark Scheifele finally broke out with 29 goals and 61 points. Dustin Byfuglien had 19 goals and 53 points.
Bryan Little (17 goals), Drew Stafford (21 goals), and Nikolaj Ehlers (15 goals) provided crucial secondary scoring. Meanwhile, Jacob Trouba, Tobias Enstrom, and Tyler Myers helped Byfuglien round out a deep core.
Oh yeah, and the Jets have the best prospect pool and it's not even close. Second-overall pick of this year's draft, Patrik Laine, is hyped as the next Alex Ovechkin. 50-plus goals a season is pretty good. Kyle Connor and Nic Petan are considered stars in the making, rounding out their prospect group. Josh Morrissey, Joel Armia, and goalie Connor Hellebuyck are other stars on the horizon.
So the Jets have a great mix of established veterans (most in their mid-to-late 20s or early 30s) and the deepest prospect pool in the NHL. There should be no doubt that by 2026, they could have a few Stanley Cup titles. Don't be surprised if we see a dynasty that has resemblance to the Blackhawks of the 2010s.
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