In the NHL, a team's goal changes each year.
The Edmonton Oilers want to get better every year but end up with top-three draft selections. The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings only think about a Stanley Cup every year and often mortgage their futures to win now. The Detroit Red Wings play just to make the playoffs each season. The Vancouver Canucks rebuild on the fly instead of tearing it all down at once.
All NHL teams are in different stages. Some teams are built to win now, but not in five years. Some are built to win now and for the next five years. Some are built to be terrible now and then dominate for a decade. Some have no idea what they're doing and others are just trying to find their identities.
Despite all of the differences, each team has the same goal: To win the Stanley Cup. Here is how each team ranks based on how much longer their Cup window is open for.
It may seem ludicrous putting the Sharks on here, considering they reached the Stanley Cup Final a year ago. But 2017 is a make-or-break year for the Sharks. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are already 37 and are set to become fee agents at the end of the season. Even if both re-sign with San Jose, you can bet they'll decline sooner rather than later.
There aren't really a lot of prospects to be excited about, with the exception of Timo Meier. Joe Pavelski is 32-years-0ld, and superstar defenceman Brent Burns is also slated for free agency and could leave for a better pay day on July 1st.
Even if the Sharks keep their core around, this group is too old to withstand another long playoff journey after 2017. This is probably their last chance to win a Cup, and then it'll take years of rebuilding.
It was only a few years ago that the Wild had one of, if not the best, top-ranked farm system in the NHL. But some of those top picks have been traded for past-their-prime veterans like Jason Pominville or Matt Moulson. The Wild also haven't gotten the most out of guys like Matthew Dumba and Jonas Brodin yet. As such, you accept the fact Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are their only stars.
Parise is 32-years-old, a popular time for veterans to slow down. Suter will remain a force on the backend, but the Wild need their young guys to be able to play more minutes before he wears out. Also, Mikko Koivu is turning 34 in March. Alex Tuch and Joel Eriksson Ek give them some prospects to be excited about, but they may not be ready for the big leagues by the time the Wild's Cup window closes.
The Kings have a pair of Stanley Cup wins, in 2012 and 2014. They also reached the Western Conference Final in 2013. But the signs that their Cup window has closed, or is at least close to, have been evident the last couple of seasons. They missed the playoffs altogether in 2015.
In 2016, the speedier Sharks embarrassed them and finished them off in five games with ease...in the first round. The Kings play a very defensive and physical style of hockey that wears guys down quickly. Remember when Dustin Brown was a U.S. Olympian who scored 20 goals every year? My point exactly. Anze Kopitar is 29, Jeff Carter is 32 in January and Jonathan Quick is already 31 and has sustained a serious injury for the second time in four years. This one is to keep him out for several months, too.
The Kings have arguably the worst prospect system in the NHL. Such is life when you trade away your first-round picks and finish high in the league standings every year. The Kings are no longer the dominant force in the playoffs, and a lack of cap space has prevented Dean Lombardi from being able to add more pieces.
There isn't a whole lot for Red Wings fans to cheer, except for their playoff streak to stay in tact. GM Ken Holland admitted during the offseason that this team isn't a Cup contender and it'll be a while until they reach that point. From 2000-01 to 2008-09, the Wings were a top-two seed in the Western Conference every year. They've barely qualified for the playoffs in the last four seasons, not getting in until the last days in 2013 and 2016.
Detroit doesn't have any more starpower. Pavel Datsyuk is retired and Henrik Zetterberg is on his last legs. They haven't drafted well in recent years, because Holland has given away his first-round picks like it's Christmas. Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Dylan Larkin are their best players, and they're second or third liners on an elite team.
The Red Wings really aren't going to contend for championships for a long time. But they will fight for the playoffs.
Many assumed 2016 was the Rangers' last chance to contend for the Stanley Cup with their current core. The Pittsburgh Penguins made that look obvious by finishing them off in five games during round one.
Henrik Lundqvist remains a force in goal, but the soon-to-be 35-year-old won't be able to carry this team on his back much longer. Rick Nash is 32-years-old, and the chances of him becoming a 30-goal man again get worse each season. Dan Girardi is already 32 years of age and Marc Staal will be 30 in the new year. Though Derek Stepan, J.T. Miller, Jimmy Vesey and Ryan McDonagh are all 27 or younger, the Rangers aren't a speedy team by any means. That's what it takes to win championships.
Like other elite teams over the years, the Rangers haven't stockpiled on prospects very well. 2017 could be their absolute last chance at a Stanley Cup. If it's not won this season, then it may be time for a full-on rebuild, adding years to their existing 22-year Cup drought.
Now, it does seem weird putting the Avalanche this low. Matt Duchene is 25, Gabriel Landeskog is 23, Nate MacKinnon 21 and Tyson Barrie 25. But the Avalanche have been rebuilding since 2008-09 and have two playoff appearances and zero postseason series wins to show for it. Every year is supposed to be a new year, and they find a way to regress more.
Head coach Patrick Roy saw the problems and wanted changes, but resigned due to management's refusal in doing so. Roy knew it best as a Hall of Fame netminder and defensive genius. Now, the Avalanche are back rebuilding again to become a contender. If recent history suggests anything, it's not going to work out in the Mile High City.
Why do I have Colorado this low? Because, I'm expecting one or two more disappointing years until the Avalanche blow it all up. Soon, their young stars will be traded and they'll rebuild once again. It's clear this group isn't going to work out anymore.
The Blues were underachievers in the playoffs, being out in the first round every season from 2013-2015. They finally got to the Western Conference Final last season, but the San Jose Sharks eliminated them in five games. Now, St. Louis tried to get back there without David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliot. That's not going to be easy.
Yes, Vladimir Tarasenko is a superstar, but he's already 25-years-old. Alex Pietrangelo will be 27 in January, though he has plenty of potential. His right-hand man, Kevin Shattenkirk, will be on a new team in 2017 when he hits free agency (or gets traded before then).
Jay Bouwmeester will be 34 in the new year. Alex Steen will be 33 andPaul Stastny 31 in December. The Blues' farm system is also weak, with Robby Fabbri and Colton Parayko already being on the roster now. With head coach Ken Hitchcock retiring after this season, it's now-or-never in St. Louis.
The Penguins are only a few months removed from winning their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history. But a team deprived of young talent is not going to compete for championships much longer. Here's what's happening.
In 2017, Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang will be 30. Evgeni Malkin will be 31. Chris Kunitz is already slowing down at 37, while Marc-Andre Fleury looks to be on a new team. That puts a lot of pressure on Matt Murray. Also, the Pens' rivals have much more promising futures. The Washington Capitals stars are under 27, minus Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin. The New York Islanders are just getting started with John Tavares, Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson, among others. The Tampa Bay Lightning's star players are 26 or under.
Crosby and Malkin have also suffered significant injuries in the past. As they grow older, it becomes harder to bounce back from those. The Pens probably have three prime years left before the window closes
The Devils are in a place no teams wants to be: Not good enough to make the playoffs nor contend for the Cup but not bad enough to secure top-five money draft selections. As a result, there isn't much of a Cup window for this team. But at least Taylor Hall, their new franchise player, is only 25.
Goalie Cory Schneider will be 31 in a few months, but most goalies can play well into their late 30s. He gives them a chance every night. Adam Henrique will be 27 in February, but has plenty of good years left. But New Jersey's drafting hasn't been great, and Pavel Zacha is probably their one can't-miss prospect.
New Jersey's glory days from 1995-2003 are long gone. They haven't had much direction since losing in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. Expect more long-term mediocrity.
It almost seems like there isn't a Stanley Cup window in Vancouver anymore. The Sedin twins are now 36, Alex Burrows is 35 and the likes of Ryan Kesler, Sami Salo, Dan Hamhuis, Roberto Luongo and Manny Malhotra that guided the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 are long gone. The Canucks have had the chance to rebuild since 2013, but their idea of rebuilding has been to trade some veterans then sign ageing guys like Radim Vrbata or Loui Eriksson in order to contend for the playoffs.
If the Canucks wanted a longer Cup window open, then they would have traded the Sedins and Alex Edler by now to secure draft picks and prospects. Though Jake Virtanen, Bo Horvat, Olli Juolevi and Brock Boeser give them a lot to be excited about, they won't be ready to carry this team for a few years.
Realistically, the Canucks will contend for a Cup again in 2020 or 2021. The "Cup window," of today is closed.
The Senators are in a decent position to win now, but the talent has only come together once in the last few seasons. That was from February-mid April of 2015 when they went on an impressive surge to make the playoffs. 2015-16 was a huge letdown for Ottawa, and the time to win a Cup is over the next few seasons.
This seems hard to believe. Erik Karlsson is only 25, Kyle Turris 27, Derrick Brassard 29, Mark Stone 24, Cody Ceci 22 and Mike Hoffman 27. But here's the deal: If progress isn't made in two or three seasons, the Sens will have to rebuild.
Ottawa's once-strong farm system isn't the force it used to be. A lot of prospects like Curtis Lazar have taken a while to develop. It's even debatable that this squad isn't good enough to win a Stanley Cup. Whatever happens, Ottawa has to make progress in a few years, otherwise it's more rebuilding.
Carolina has a solid foundation in place when it comes to youth, but there aren't any veterans to be excited about. The Hurricanes aren't going to win now, next year or the year after. They might not even be a contender in five-plus years, given how much direction they've lacked since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006.
Their backend is loaded with talent; Noah Hanifin, Ryan Murphy and Justin Faulk round out a solid blueline. However, Hanifin and Murphy are still in development and probably a few years away from being real stars. Victor Rask and Jeff Skinner form a nice group up front, but that's about it. It doesn't help that Carolina plays in the tough Metropolitan Division. Even when their young guys come together, it's possible teams like Washington and the Islanders are even better.
The Bruins don't have much of a shot with this core any more. It doesn't seem that long ago since they won the 2011 Stanley Cup and since they won the President's Trophy. But with Jarome Iginla and Johnny Boychuk long out of the picture, the B's have since tried to rebuild on the fly.
Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara form a nice core, but the latter is on his last legs. Cap problems have prevented this team from adding more depth. You never know, if Boston gets into the playoffs they could get hot and sneak in. But if they're to contend again, it'll be with their prospects.
Jakub Zboril, the up-and-coming David Pastrnak, Sean Kuraly and Seth Griffith give Boston a strong far system. They'll be good before too long.
If the Ducks didn't have a strong farm system, they'd be very low on our list. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf will be 32 in May and Ryan Kesler is now 32 and already showing signs that his best days are behind him. But again, that whole farm system thing keeps the Ducks as a team who'll remain dominant for years.
Before we get to their farm system, we can't overlook Sami Vatanen, Shea Theodore, Hampus Lindholm or Cam Fowler. Those are four bonafide top-pairing defenceman in the making. The Ducks will have the NHL's best defense and possibly the best goalie before long if John Gibson can keep progressing.
Theodore may not be a full-time player this year, so he strengthens the prospect group. Nick Ritchie, Brandon Montour and Nic Kerdiles give Anaheim so much to be excited about. The chance to win with Perry and Getzlaf is running out, but the young players coming up will re-open that window.
The Stars don't really have any can't-miss prospects other than Brett Ritchie. The good news for Dallas is their dynamic duo will keep this championship window for the foreseeable future.
Jamie Benn, the 2015 Art Ross Trophy winner, is only 27-years-old. Tyler Seguin is just 24 and is entering his prime. Jason Spezza is 33, Patrick Sharp will be 35 in December and Dan Hamhuis will turn 34, but the rest of Dallas' top players are young. John Klingberg, who broke out last season, just turned 24. Antoine Roussel is turning 27 shortly. Cody Eakin, who's coming into his own, is only 25.
Again, Seguin and Benn are probably hockey's best duo and they're only getting started. They single-handedly carried Dallas to a Central Division title last year and will only score more and more as the years come by. Dallas will contend for a long time.
The Predators have what you need in a Stanley Cup contender: An elite goalie (Pekka Rinne), a great defence (P.K. Subban, Roman Josi), and guys who can score (Ryan Johansen, Colin Wilson, Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg). But the Preds have sold many of their top prospects over the years to win now. Luckily for them, this core is fairly young, giving them a nice Cup window.
Subban, a consistent Norris Trophy contender, is just 27-years-of age. Given how guys like Nicklas Lidstrom remained elite into their 40s, the Preds could have Subban at a high level for almost a decade. Josi is coming off a breakout year and is only 26. Johansen is 24, Forsberg is 22 and Wilson is 27. Oh, and that James Neal guy is 29 and has several more 30-goal seasons left in him.
The Predators were one win away from the Western Conference Final last year, and these young guys are only going to get better. The time to win a Cup is now and for the next several years.
The Jackets probably deserve to be higher on this list, but it's pretty hard to rank them this high when John Tortorella is head coach. He almost ruined the careers of Rick Nash and the Sedin twins and forced Ryan Johansen out of Columbus. A star-studded U.S. team looked like a country that doesn't have a hockey team in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Columbus has limitless potential all across the board. They have 2016 first-rounder Pierre-Luc Dubois who'll be this franchise's top centreman. Seth Jones, 22, will also be a force on the blueline for years to come. Hard not to like Brandon Saad (24), Cam Atkinson (27) and Boone Jenner (23). Sergei Bobrovsky mans the goal and he's only 28.
But really, when do they find a coach who can actually help these guys maximize their potential instead of blocking shots every day? Once they find a new bench boss, Columbus will be a top-10 team here.
The Canadiens haven't been able to stock up much on prospects over the years, but 2016 first-rounder Mikhail Sergachev will take care of the backend for years to come. As we've seen the last few seasons, Carey Price is the NHL's best goalie and he alone gives the Habs a great chance to win. Price is only 29, which isn't old for goalies. Seriously! Look up 37-year-old Roberto Luongo or 40-year-old Martin Brodeur in 2012.
Price has so much time to dominate the crease in Montreal. Aside from that, 31-year-old defenceman Shea Weber won't be slowing down any time soon, given how older defenders throughout the years have played well into their late '30s or even '40s. Max Pacioretty, a sure bet for 30-plus goals a season, is only 28. Rising star centre Alex Galchenyuk turns 23 in February, and Brendan Gallagher just turned 24. Gritty winger Andrew Shaw is just 25.
The Habs time to win is now and the next five years, but after that, things may get concerning if they don't build up in the farm system.
The Islanders have been rebuilding since the lockout, but everything is finally on the horizon for them. John Tavares (26) is just getting started as a constant 80-point guy and will lead the Isles to greatness for years to come. But Tavares isn't a one man show anymore. He has so much help on Long Island, it's scary for other teams.
Ryan Strome is 23 and started to come into his own a year ago; he can only get better. Travos Hamonic withdrew his trade request as the 26-year-old blueliner will form quite a tandem with veteran Johnny Boychuk on defence. 25-year-old blueliner Calvin de Haan is also going to be a top player on the Isles for years to come.
The painful days on Long Island are over. It's time to start winning Cups again.
It was tempting to put the Flames higher on this list, but their slow start to this season and the disastrous 2015-16 season suggest they really aren't as close to contending as we all once though. A pity, indeed.
But the Flames have one of the most star-studded young cores in the NHL, it's just going to take him until they all mesh together. Sean Monahan (22) and Johnny Gaudreau (23) are already 30-goal scorers. Even if they don't get better (which they will) they're already good enough to lead this Flames squad for years to come.
Sam Bennett (20) should also be a significant contributor to the scoresheet. But it's Calgary's defence that can't be overlooked, either. Mark Giordano is 33, but has a good number of years left. His partner, T.J. Brodie, just turned 26. Dougie Hamilton, who's almost ready to be a Norris Trophy winner, is just 23.
Oh, and that 18-year-old power forward, Matthew Tkachuk, should be pretty good too, right?
Some may think that the Maple Leafs should be higher on this list, but the reality is they probably aren't Stanley Cup contender for another three or so years. The painful rebuild is just beginning in Leaf Land.
Veterans Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak have taken steps back, putting a lot more pressure on the young guns in Toronto to step up. Mike Babcock is the right head coach to lead the rebuild, but he's inheriting an awful team. Brendan Shanahan even admitted there will be many years of pain before this team becomes elite.
The Leafs are headed in the right direction. 19-year-old Auston Matthews promises to be a top-five NHL player once he enters his prime. Also, William Nylander (20) and Mitch Marner (19) give the Leafs so much promise. Morgan Reilly (22) also solidifies the back end.
Once everything comes into place, the Leafs will dominate for years. But it's a little early to think about that right now.
Alex Ovechkin is 31 and some might want to think the Capitals' time to win is now, but there are many years beyond 2017 to compete. Ovechkin's scoring 50 goals a season. Even when he's past his prime in a few years, he's probably still scoring around 30 goals to remain an All-Star. After Ovechkin, the next franchise player is Braden Holtby. The 2016 Vezina Trophy is just 27-years-old. He's just getting started and will challenge Carey Price as the NHL's top goalie for the long run.
And the Capitals have Evgeny Kutnetsov to be excited about. He scored 77 points last year and the 24-year-old is just entering his prime now. Nicklas Backstrom is 29 but also has plenty of good years left. Rising blueliner Dmitry Orlov is just 25.
So don't let Ovechkin's age deceive you. The Capitals are built to win during and after Ovechkin.
The Flyers have begun a rebuild on the fly, which works out just fine. Their core players are just getting started or will be elite for a while. But prospects Samuel Morin and Ivan Provorov ensure their blueline will be slick for years to come. Travis Konecny and Nick Cousins give them a pair of centres to be excited about for the long run.
With Claude Giroux turning 29 in January, he's no longer a young man. But there's no reason the perennial Hart Trophy candidate can't stay in his prime for a few more years. Ditto for 28-year-old power forward Wayne Simmonds. Jakub Voracek, who nearly won the scoring title two seasons ago, just turned 27. Sean Couturier is turning 24 in December and rising defencean Shayne Gostisbehere is only 23.
Brayden Schenn is improving each year, and he's just 25. There is so much talent for the Flyers all across the board, and their up-coming stars and current stars mean this Cup window will be open for a long time.
The Coyotes may have the best prospect pool in hockey, given how the Jets' top young guns are already on the roster. But Arizona's top players do have a lot of developing to do, and the Pacific Division won't make it easy for them to blossom right away.
Also, rebuilds are usually sped up with the additions of veterans, but the Coyotes are asking for 40-year-old Shane Doan to be their lone standout in that area. It's hard not to like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, however. The constant 20-goal blueliner is just 25-years-old and is entering his prime. He will be the face of this franchise for years to come. The Coyotes have a trio of forwards that'll dominate the NHL for years: Dylan Strome (19), Max Domi (21) and Anthony Duclair (21).
But once the Coyotes stars finally enter their primes, this will be a long-term Cup contender. Maybe fans will even watch Coyotes games and give the NHL reason for keeping this team in the desert.
After basically rebuilding for over a decade, the Panthers young stars are finally coming together. The Panthers won the Atlantic Division last season yet haven't even reached their full potential. You have Aaron Ekblad, who's just a few years away from being the NHL's best defenceman. He just turned 20 and is probably a couple years away from reaching his prime, even though he's already an All-Star.
Jaromir Jagr is 44, but he's probably playing until he's 60 anyway.
Centre Aleksander Barkov is going to be a consistent 30-goal scorer and he just turned 21. Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trochek are both 23 and Nick Bjugstad just turned 24. It's ridiculously unfair how many stars the Panthers have who aren't even in their primes yet.
Even though the Panthers don't have much of a winning tradition, they will be winning a lot of games for a long time.
The Lightning have reached the Eastern Conference Final the last two years and were in the Stanley Cup against Chicago in 2015. But there's no reason to think that this team will be running out of playoff magic soon.
Yes, Ben Bishop will almost certainly not be with Tampa in 2017, but 22-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready to take over the reigns in goal. On defence, Victor Hedman is ready to become a Norris-caliber defenceman, and he's turning 26 in December. Steven Stamkos, the league's best goal-scorer not named Ovechkin, will be 27 in the new year. He has many prime years ahead.
But it's also the Lightning's depth that's scary. Nikita Kucherov is only 23, Ondrej Palat is 25 and Tyler Johnson, 26. Jonathan Drouin is also only 21 years of age. The sky is really the limit for this Lightning team. They have a long Cup window open.
You see, the Blackhawks don't have any elite prospects to be excited about. But the team with three Stanley Cups and a playoff berth every year since 2009 have something special: A ton of core players who have so many years left to dominate.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have been the NHL's most dominant two-some since 2007-08, leading Chicago to greatness. These two guys are only 28 years old. But there's no reason to believe they won't remain in their primes for at least five more years.
Artemi Panarin is only 25 and Artem Anisimov is just 28. Both guys will stay forces on offense for years to come. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith are only 31 and 33, respectively. Defenceman like them should stay elite for several more years. It doesn't matter who's in goal, anyone will dominate between the pipes.
Chicago is the NHL's model organization and they easily have another five years to contend for Cups. After that, it may be rebuilding time.
While the Oilers won Connor McDavid, the Sabres got themselves Jack Eichel, the skilled 20-year-old who also promises to be the face of his franchise. Eichel gives Sabres fan every reason to believe a Stanley Cup is on the horizon within the next five-or-so seasons. But any superstar needs a lot of talent around him. The Sabres have done that with Eichel.
Ryan O'Reilly, who'll be 26 in February, has emerged as a dangerous force and will be a stud on the Sabres for years to come. Sam Reinhart, 21, will also provide so much scoring up front. Nobody's going to stop this Sabres big-three unit up front.
Zemgus Girgensons also figures to contend for 20-plus goals each season. He's only 22 years of age. Tyler Ennis, a skilled veteran, is just 27. Zach Bogosian and Dmitri Kulikov are each just 26 years old, and will be this team's dominant defenceman pairing for years to come.
It'll be another year or two of rebuilding in Buffalo, but after that, it's a championship window open for at least a decade.
Some of the Jets veterans are getting up there in age. Bryan Little will be 30 in the new year, Dustin Byfuglien 32, Blake Wheeler is 30 and Tobias Enstrom is nearing 32. But what if we told you that this franchise has three upcoming icons.
One of them is Mark Scheifele, who broke out last season with 29 goals and 48 points. He's just 23 right now. Patrik Laine, the second pick of this year's draft, is hyped as the next Alexander Ovechkin. He's only 18 years of age. Kyle Connor, another prized prospect, is turning 20 in December.
Connor Hellebuyck, this team's franchise netminder, is only 23. Tyler Myers is just 26, and they'll surely get a nice return if they trade Jacob Trouba, which seems inevitable at this point. Nic Petan is only 21 and also considered one of hockey's top prospects. With their core players all entering their primes, the Jets will be a juggernaut for years to come. Enjoy it.
Not going to lie, this was an easy call.
Connor McDavid, who'll probably win the Art Ross this year, hasn't even turned 20 yet. He's going to be the NHL's top superstar for the next 10 years. Easily and no question about it in any way, shape or form.
But it goes beyond that for the Oilers. Can't-miss scorer Jesse Puljujarvi hasn't even made the full-time roster and he's just 18. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who remains a solid second line centre, is 23. Jordan Eberle is 26, Darnell Nurse is 21, Leon Draisaitl is 20 and Milan Lucic is 28. We're not even done. Stay-at-home defenceman Adam Larsson is 24 and will mature more and more with time. Griffin Reinhart, Laurent Brossoit and Caleb Jones haven't even made the team yet.
The main point is simply this: The Oilers have the most star-studded team in the NHL, looking down the road in the next couple of seasons. Most of these guys are under 24. They haven't entered their prime yet. We could see another dynasty in Edmonton like we did in the '80s. With ease.