In today's NHL, creating a super team akin to the NBA's Golden State Warriors is near impossible. The league's implementation of a salary cap following the 2004 lockout bettered the prospects of small market teams, but more than anything kept the New York Rangers from making fools of themselves.
The late 90s and early 2000s Rangers embodied the big market greed - and often stupidity - of teams in the NHL. On occasion high-profile free agent signings would work; the Detroit Red Wings acquisition of Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille in the summer of 2001 led to the team winning its 10th Stanley Cup the following season. Yet, more often than not, these attempts at forming a super team failed miserably. We won't focus too much on the Original Six era because, well, every team was a super team in that era.
There are also teams on this list that had incredible regular seasons and seemed poised to win a Stanley Cup, but ultimately fell short in the postseason. Lord Stanley's Cup truly is the hardest trophy to win in professional sports and these failed teams prove exactly that.
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15 Toronto Maple Leafs (2003-04)
The pre-lockout Toronto Maple Leafs would have signed every player in the league if they could - and they likely still wouldn't have been able to win a Stanley Cup. The 2003-04 Maple Leafs had five Hockey Hall of Famers on its roster (Mats Sundin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Brian Leetch, Ron Francis, and Ed Belfour), but they were all in the twilight of their careers, which was a problem for the Leafs for a good 20-year period. The team couldn't draft or develop its own players and as a result handed a boatload of money to aging superstars once they hit free agency. Still, it's surprising the team couldn't make it out of the second round of the playoffs considering, in addition to the Hall of Famers, they also had a strong supporting cast with players like Gary Roberts, Alex Mogilny, Owen Nolan, Darcy Tucker, and Bryan McCabe. Most of those players were considered tremendous leaders, but collectively they couldn't lead the Leafs anywhere.
14 New York Islanders (1978-79)
The 1979 Stanley Cup Finals was supposed to be a showdown between the league's two best teams, the New York Islanders and the Montreal Canadiens. The two teams were separated by just one point in the regular season and won their respective conferences, but the Islanders met a roadblock in the form of the New York Rangers in the semifinals. The Islanders' core group of players (Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Clark Gilles, and Bob Nystrom) were all 25 and under, so perhaps inexperience could be owed to the team's disappointing season. The failure of the 78-79 Islanders, however, is only evident by what the team was able to do in the next four years, certifying themselves as a dynasty by winning four straight Stanley Cups.
13 New York Rangers (1991-92)
The New York Rangers won the Presidents' Trophy in 1991-92, but ran into eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs. The Rangers lost the series in six games, marking the end of a promising campaign. Mark Messier joined the Rangers in the offseason prior and won the Hart Memorial Trophy, while Brian Leetch won the James Norris as the league's best defenseman. The 91-92 Rangers also featured Hall of Famer Mike Gartner and American rookies Doug Weight and Tony Amonte. The Rangers also had one of the best goaltending tandems of all time with John Vanbiesbrouck and Mike Richter. Fortunately, the team was on an upward trend that ultimately culminated in a Stanley Cup two years later, ending a 54-year drought.
12 Detroit Red Wings (1950-51)
I know, we said we would stay away from the Original Six era teams, but the Red Wings were a sure thing in the 1950-51 season, or at least it appeared that way. Boasting a roster featuring six Hall of Famers (Gordie Howe, Sid Abel, Ted Lindsay, Marcel Pronovost, Red Kelly, and goaltender Terry Sawchuk), the Red Wings finished first in the regular season with a record of 44-13-13. The team also led the league in goals for (236) and was second in goals against (139), just one behind the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite that, the Wings lost 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens. Presidents' Trophy teams get upset early in the playoffs all the time, but the Wings loss to the Canadiens remains one of the greatest playoff upsets of all time, especially considering the Canadiens were below .500 in the regular season.
11 Philadelphia Flyers (2005-06)
The 2005-06 Philadelphia Flyers should have made a significant postseason run. The black and orange added eventual Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg to a budding core that included a young Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, not to mention leading scorer Simon Gagne. Since the days of the Broad Street Bullies, the Flyers have had a reputation of being tough to play against and that was the case in 05-06 with bruising blueliners Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje, and physical forwards Mike Knuble and Donald Brashear. In retrospect, the team had the perfect mix of offensive skill, defensive acumen, and physicality, but like every season since the retirement of Ron Hextall, the team lacked a true number one goaltender. Ken Hitchcock was - and is - a great coach, but the defensive-minded bench boss could do nothing with the tandem of Robert Esche and Antero Niitymaki. The Flyers finished fifth in the Eastern Conference and lost to the Buffalo Sabres in the first round of the playoffs.
10 Buffalo Sabres (2006-07)
The 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres weren't quite a super team in the traditional sense. The Sabres didn't have the money other teams had and, if they did, well, let's face it, they play in Buffalo. It wasn't an ideal location for free agents. So the Sabres built through the draft and employed a speedy, free-wheeling style of hockey that made them must-watch hockey on any given night. It also made them successful. Without any likely future Hall of Famers, the Sabres posted a 53-22-7 regular season record and won the Presidents' Trophy. Led by a cast of second-tier stars like Daniel Briere, Thomas Vanek, Chris Drury, and Jason Pominville, the Sabres scored a league-high 308 goals, which was 20 more than the second place Ottawa Senators, who eventually eliminated Buffalo in just five games in the third round of the playoffs. As good as they were, it appeared to be no more than a flash in the pan, as the Sabres missed the playoffs the following year with most of its roster in tact.
9 Detroit Red Wings (2003-04)
While the 2003-04 Red Wings roster didn't come together overnight, in retrospect it might have been the definition of a super team. Assuming Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg enter the Hall of Fame (they will), the Red Wings would have iced a lineup with no fewer than eight Hall of Famers, and that's not including Steve Thomas, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Tomas Holmstrom, and Ray Whitney - all players who had incredible careers. The Wings also had a still-very-good Dominik Hasek and Curtis Joseph split time between the pipes that season, though Hasek played just 14 games after a groin injury. Detroit won the Presidents' Trophy and tied for second in goals for, but had just two players with more than 60 points (Brett Hull and Pavel Datsyuk) due to its deep lineup. After beating Nashville in the first round, the Red Wings lost in the second round to a surprising Calgary Flames team which eventually reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
8 New York Rangers (2002-03)
The Rangers first appearance on this list was more a result of the team's regular season dominance and postseason failure. The 1991-92 Rangers built through the draft and made shrewd trades, but the 2002-03 Rangers were a dumpster fire from the beginning of the season. General Manager Glen Sather did his best to put together an all-star team of big-name free agents and acquisitions, but the result was anything but, as the Rangers failed to make the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. The majority of the team's top players had their best playing days already behind them and with too many big personalities on the team ,the Rangers were doomed from the start. Eric Lindros, Mark Messier, Petr Nedved, Pavel Bure, Brian Leetch, Alex Kovalev, and Bobby Holik were great talents, but they simply couldn't mesh.
7 Detroit Red Wings (2005-06)
With an aging group of future Hall of Famers in Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan combined with a young core, the Detroit Red Wings appeared to have the right mix heading into the 2005-06 season. The team cruised to a Presidents' Trophy win in the regular season with a league-high 124 points, 12 more than the Ottawa Senators, who finished second in league standings. But the Red Wings were handed a colossal upset in the first round of the playoffs as they lost in six games to the Edmonton Oilers. It was the second time in three seasons that a lower seed beat the favored Red Wings and ended up playing until June. Yzerman retired in the offseason and we presume he's over the disappointment of how his playing career ended; he was voted the 2014-15 General Manager of the Year with the Tampa Bay Lightning and has a pair of gold medals as an executive for Team Canada.
6 Vancouver Canucks (2011-12)
Coming off of a Stanley Cup Finals loss to the Boston Bruins, the 2011-12 Vancouver Canucks rebounded nicely in the regular season by winning the Presidents' Trophy. The loss to Boston was a heartbreaking one, but the Canucks returned much of the same team from a year ago and they were looking to put the past behind them. They weren't so much a super team, but they certainly had the best on-ice chemistry, and goaltending was a major strength with Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider equally capable to steal a game on any given night. Yet, there was only cautious optimism heading into the team's first round series against the Los Angeles Kings, a team that could not only skate with the Canucks, but shut them down with physicality. That proved to be the case as the Kings took down the top-seeded Canucks in just five games, limiting Vancouver to just eight goals. Thankfully, the city remained riot-free.
5 Pittsburgh Penguins (1992-93)
The Pittsburgh Penguins were as close to a super team as the early 90s offered. In addition to Mario Lemieux, who posted an absurd 160 points in 60 games, the 92-93 team had three other 100-plus point scorers: Kevin Stevens, Rick Tocchet, and Ron Francis. Oh, and they also had a kid named Jaromir Jagr, who, by some modern miracle in health and fitness, is still playing today. They also had puck-moving defenseman and Hockey Hall of Famer Larry Murphy on the roster, while Ulf Samuelsson provided grit and physicality on the backend with 249 penalty minutes. The Penguins won the Presidents' Trophy with ease, finishing with a league-high 119 points. They met the New York Islanders, who barely finished above .500, in the second round of the playoffs and lost in a memorable Game 7. Despite the Penguins firepower, it was the Islanders' David Volek who scored the series-clinching goal. You're not alone if you're asking, 'Who?' Volek was a 10th round pick in 1984 and was out of the league a year after securing the Islanders one of the biggest upsets in the playoff history.
4 Washington Capitals (2009-10)
In the playoffs, Alexander Ovechkin has been about as clutch as an automatic transmission, but even he can't be blamed for the Capitals collapse in the 2010 playoffs. Ovechkin's Capitals haven't made it out of the second round in eight attempts, but the Great 8 has unfairly received the bulk of the blame. The 2009-10 team looked near unbeatable heading into the playoffs and featured a high-octane offense that scored a league-high 318 goals; Vancouver was second in goals for that year with 272. Nobody expected the eight seed Montreal Canadiens to offer Washington a challenge in the first round, and really, the team didn't, but its goaltender did. After falling behind 3-1 in the series by alternating Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak, the Canadiens made a controversial decision to put Halak back in for Game 5 and the Slovak allowed just three goals in the next three games as the Canadiens pulled off the incredible upset. For his part, Ovechkin had five goals and five assists.
3 San Jose Sharks (2008-09)
Though the Sharks might have put the "chokers" label behind them with a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals this past season, the franchise will forever lament its numerous missed opportunities. The 2008-09 Sharks won the Presidents' Trophy with 117 points and did so with solid offense and a league-best defense. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Milan Michalek, Ryan Clowe, and Devin Setoguchi comprised the best top-six in the league, but the Sharks also had added veteran leadership in Jeremy Roenick and Claude Lemieux. On the blue line, Dan Boyle, Rob Blake, Christian Erhoff, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic made up a top-four that couldn't be matched. Still, the Sharks couldn't get out of the first round and fell in six games to the Anaheim Ducks. Before last year, the team had a 10-year span of disappointing playoff performances, but 2009 was the worst.
2 New York Rangers (2003-04)
Surely it couldn't have gotten much worse for the Rangers than the 2002-03 season. That year proved attempts at creating a team of individual stars simply didn't work. But rather than taking a different approach, General Manager Glen Sather decided to double down midway through the 2003-04 season by acquiring Jaromir Jagr from the Washington Capitals. At the time, Jagr was the NHL's highest paid player, making $11 million a season, but even he couldn't help the Rangers into the playoffs. It was a desperation move by the Rangers that turned out so bad that, by the trade deadline, the team finally gave in to retooling its roster and traded five of its top seven point producers. All totaled, the Rangers shipped out Alex Kovalev, Martin Rucinsky, Brian Leetch, Matt Barnaby, Petr Nedved, Chris Simon, Vladimir Malakhov, and Greg De Vries.
1 Colorado Avalanche (2003-04)
This is a slam dunk. As we mentioned, it isn't as easy to form a super team in the NHL like it is in the NBA. Not only is the salary cap restrictive, but one or two players can't change a team's outlook like it can in the NBA. Yet, long before LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Kevin Durant chased championships by joining powerhouse teams, Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne set the standard by taking discounted deals to join the Colorado Avalanche, who were perennial contenders in the league at the time. The Finnish Flash took a slight pay cut to sign in Colorado, despite being able to garner more if he wanted, but Kariya took a massive $9 million pay cut, signing for 1.2$ million. By the start of the season in October, it was a given that the Avs were a lock to win their third Stanley Cup in eight years. Yet, a roster consisting of multiple Hall of Famers and superstars was unable to get it done in the playoffs, as the Avalanche lost to the Anaheim Ducks in the second round.
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