Every NHL team has a more immediate goal when a new season begins before they can think of winning a Stanley Cup. Making the playoffs. After 82 regular-season games, about half the pack is immediately disqualified from moving on. It’s a challenge.
The criteria for making the playoffs have changed over time. For instance, between 1939 and 1942 there were seven teams in the NHL. Back then, it was difficult to not make the playoffs as six out of seven teams qualified, a whopping 85% of the league.
For the first time in 1979-80, 16 teams made it through to the quest for Lord Stanley’s Holy Grail. It has remained that way ever since, except the number of teams in the NHL has gradually increased from 21 to 30. In this era of league parity and a salary cap, just making the playoffs, let alone winning a Cup, has never been tougher.
Some NHL franchises have had a lot more success than others in their history at getting to the post season. Here are the top ten active NHL franchises that have qualified for the playoffs the most often as a percentage of the years they have been in the NHL:
10. Detroit Red Wings, 69.88%
– Active franchise for: 83 years.
Including 2010, the Red Wings have now made the playoffs 19 years in a row. That’s fantastic considering the bar for post-season eligibility has been raised. The franchise survived the “Dead Things” era between 1967 and 1983 when they missed the post season 15 out of 17 times and today sit as the 10th best team in NHL history at making the playoffs.
9. Colorado Avalanche, 70.00%
Active franchise for: 30 years.
Made the playoffs in: 21 years.
The Avalanche began their NHL history as the Quebec Nordiques and have enjoyed more success in Colorado since relocating in 1995, including a pair of Stanley Cup victories. Colorado has only missed the playoffs twice in the past 15 years. Just a real good team to be a fan of.
8. Calgary Flames, 70.27%
Active franchise for: 37 years.
Made the playoffs in: 26 years.
The franchise began in Atlanta with the 1972-73 season and transferred to Calgary in 1980. It has been relatively successful in terms of making the playoffs, except for a stretch of seven consecutive dark years between 1997 and 2003. Nevertheless, the Flames have three trips to the Finals to show and one Stanley Cup in team history. An upstanding 8th place member on the all-time NHL post season list. In fact, the Flames have actually been more consistent than their Alberta counterparts, the Oilers, in terms of making the playoffs.
Active franchise for: 17 years.
The Senators don’t stay away for long anymore. They experienced the expected growing pains when the franchise started up in 1992 and missed the playoffs their first four years. Since then, only once have they have been on the platform waving to the passengers of the playoff express. So far, so good for Senators fans.
6. Buffalo Sabres, 71.79%
Active franchise for: 39 years.
Made the playoffs in: 28 years.
In their 39 year history, the Sabres have yet to win a Stanley Cup, but they do have two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals to boast. Their longest playoff drought was the three years just before the 2005 lockout. Sabres fans have been blessed with a consistently good team.
5. San Jose Sharks, 72.22%
Active franchise for: 18 years.
Made the playoffs in: 13 years.
Fans of the San Jose Sharks have been spoiled and they probably don’t know it. Yes, there have been a few early playoff round disappointments, but the franchise is relatively new and they’ve only been barred from the post season five times in their young history. Could this be the year they win it all? By the way, before Sharks fans complain, they should glance over at how little some teams like the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs have accomplished lately. The San Jose Sharks have been one very successful club.
4. Boston Bruins, 76.47%
Active franchise for: 85 years.
Made the playoffs in: 65 years.
Boston holds the NHL record for most consecutive years in the playoffs, a record that will be tough to beat. Between 1968 and 1996, the Bruins qualified for the “season that counts” an incredible 29 straight times. If you discount the 1960’s era just before the arrival of Mr. Bobby Orr, the Bruins have been a very respectable, consistent contender.
3. Philadelphia Flyers, 80.95%
Active franchise for: 42 years.
Made the playoffs in: 34 years.
Since 1968, the Flyers have only missed the playoffs 8 times. Remarkable! The franchise had its dry spell in the early 1990’s, missing the show five times in a row. Before and after that bleak sequence, Philly fans have been treated to lots of playoff action. They have one fewer Stanley Cup victory than their Pennsylvania partner, the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the Flyers have been much more consistent when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs.
2. St. Louis Blues, 83.33%
Active franchise for: 42 years.
Made the playoffs in: 35 years.
Surprise! I bet you weren’t expecting this one. The Blues franchise got off to a great start, making the Stanley Cup Finals in their first three seasons of operation between 1968 and 1970. Although it is true that the NHL lumped all of the expansion teams in one Division in those days, the Blues were the early best. More admirable was the club’s 25 year streak of making the playoffs every single year between 1980-2004. No Stanley Cups yet, but overall, St. Louis hockey fans have had a great winning team to cheer for.
1. Montreal Canadiens, 84.78%
Active franchise for: 92 years.
Made the playoffs in: 78 years.
The Habs have been the best in so many ways, and here is another one. Regardless of the era, the Canadiens have almost always made the playoffs. Even since the 2005 lockout, they’ve been post-season participants four out of five years. In the 46 year period between 1949 and 1994, Montreal missed the playoffs once. It’s no wonder their fans have such high expectations. In their 92 year NHL history, the Habs have never missed post season play more than three years in a row. In total, they’ve been left on the outside looking in just 14 times. The only other franchise that has been around as long in the NHL is Toronto. In comparison, the Leafs have missed the playoffs exactly twice as often, a total of 28 times. In Montreal, missing the playoffs has simply been unacceptable.