They like it, they love it, they want some more of it. The Nashville Predators and their fans were able to skate into the national spotlight with a run to the Stanley Cup Final. There was no shame in the Predators losing to the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins but one must wonder if this will springboard the franchise going forward or if this was their best shot for some time.
I ponder this question as we have seen many instances in the post-expansion era where a loss in the first Stanley Cup Final appearance can send a young franchise in either direction. For our purposes, we look at some of those clubs which lost their first time and how or if they ever rebounded.
St. Louis Blues
Coming from the weak West Division, the expansion Blues sporting the likes of “Red” Berenson, Gerry Melnyk and Glenn Hall, reached the Final in 1968. Those Blues were swept by the Montreal Canadiens 4-0. Scotty Bowman’s squad was a glutton for punishment, getting swept again by the Habs the following season and then the Boston Bruins in a Final which featured Bobby Orr’s iconic series winning goal.
While they were spared the “Buffalo Bills treatment” of dropping four straight, the franchise has yet to return to a Final, let alone win one, despite boasting the likes of Brett Hull, Wayne Gretzky, Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger, Brendan Shanahan, etc. St. Louis loves its Blues and the club is usually competitive on a yearly basis but still without a Stanley Cup.
One needn’t look further than NBC’s TV ratings to know what kind of hockey-crazed fan base resides in Western New York. Despite sporting the “French Connection” line of Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert and Rick Martin, the Sabres were stymied by the defending champion Philadelphia Flyers in six games in 1975. It wouldn’t be until the 1998-99 campaign when the Sabres, on the shoulders of Dominik Hasek, would again reach the Final. Buffalo would fall again in six games against the Dallas Stars, with the infamous Brett Hull goal sealing their fate.
Minnesota North Stars
The North Stars ran into the middle of the New York Islanders dynasty in 1981. Minnesota was guided by a then-rookie record of 21 points by Dino Ciccarelli. While the North Stars would avoid a sweep with a Game 4 victory, they would drop the series in five games. Minnesota would reach the Final again in 1991 but would be bounced by the powerhouse Penguins of Mario Lemieux. It would take the team moving to Dallas to eventually capture the Stanley Cup in the aforementioned 1998-99 season.
In 1982, the Canucks didn’t fare any better against the dynastic Islanders, falling in a four-game sweep. Despite housing the likes of Trevor Linden, Pavel Bure, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Roberto Luongo, the Canucks have yet to get over the hump, falling in seven games to the New York Rangers and Bruins in 1994 and 2011 respectively.
Although the Oilers would become the final victim of the Isles dynasty, losing in a four-game sweep in 1983, they would turn the tide in the following season. Edmonton would win five of the next seven Stanley Cup titles with help from Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr.
Originally based in Atlanta, the Flames reached their first Final in 1986. After winning Game 1, the Flames would drop four straight against the Canadiens and rookie goaltending phenom Patrick Roy. The franchise rebounded three years later in a rematch, defeating the Habs in six games. Their championship squad was guided by Lanny McDonald, Jim Peplinski, Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour and Al MacInnis. This marked the first time a team had won a Stanley Cup after moving to a new city.
Unless you believe Brian Burke, Calgary remains a vibrant hockey city to this day.
Los Angeles Kings
This one coincides with the “Gretzky effect.” Their first Final came against (say it with me now) the Canadiens in 1993. Much like the Flames, the Kings won Game 1 and dropped the next four. Even though the club didn’t win with Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, Jari Kurri and Rob Blake and the team would lag for some time in the standings, the fan base remained hooked. In a wild ride as a No. 8 seed in 2012, L.A. captured its first Stanley Cup title in six games over the New Jersey Devils. The Kings would also defeat the New York Rangers in five games in 2014.
In only their third season of existence, the Panthers captured the imaginations of fans in downtown Miami. They became the first Floridian team to reach the Final and were way ahead of schedule as modern expansion squads are concerned. After trapping and terrorizing the high-octane Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche were too much to handle and the Panthers were swept in four contests. Unfortunately, the club hasn’t quite been able to recapture the magic of the loveable group of Scott Mellanby, Brian Skrudland, Ed Jovanoski, John Vanbiesbrouck, etc. Until a couple of recent postseason appearances, a decade’s worth of missing out on the playoffs did not help curb indifference. The franchise does appear to be building a promising young corps so perhaps a revival is coming to Sunrise.
Much like the above-mentioned Predators, the Capitals of Peter Bondra and Olaf Kolzig ran into a buzzsaw in the process of a repeat. While the Caps only lost by a goal in three of the first four games, they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in 1998. D.C. is still a passionate hockey town but despite more than a decade of Alexander Ovechkin, the franchise remains in search of its first title.
After moving from Hartford, the Hurricanes reached their first Final in 2002. Ron Francis’ overtime goal helped the Canes win Game 1 by a final count of 3-2. Yet, the powerhouse Red Wings and their pre-salary cap roster of multiple Hall of Fame players would finish off the series in five games. Carolina would capture the Stanley Cup in 2006, defeating the Oilers in seven games. While there was a buzz surrounding the hockey team in Raleigh, much like the aforementioned Panthers, a prolonged playoff drought hasn’t helped sustain excitement in the Research Triangle.
Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
Riding the Conn Smythe Trophy efforts of goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere and a resilient performance by Paul Kariya, these Mighty Ducks were able to break through longtime Western powers in Detroit and Dallas and reach the Final. While they pushed the series to seven, the Mighty Ducks were downed by a Devils team boasting three Hall of Fame players and in its third Final in four seasons.
With the help of Teemu Selanne, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, the re-branded Anaheim Ducks would win their first Stanley Cup over the Ottawa Senators in five games. While maybe not as much as their California neighbors in Los Angeles or San Jose, Anaheim is still a pretty vibrant hockey market.
The modern Senators christened in 1992-93 reached their first Final in 2007. The Daniel Alfredsson led squad pulled off upsets of the Devils and Sabres but were downed in the Final in five games against the aforementioned Ducks. While the Sens are usually in the postseason mix, despite their most recent run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2017, the club had trouble selling out home playoff games.
San Jose Sharks
When the Sharks burst onto the scene in 1991-92 they sported a hot logo and a dark horse darling pulling off upsets in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Yet, as the club began to move up the ranks they got a taste of their own medicine and became underachievers to an extent. After years of trying Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and company were able to reach the Final in 2016. In the Final, the Sharks would fall to the Penguins in six games. San Jose is still a rabid hockey city.
Judging by the majority of teams on this list it is imperative to win the Stanley Cup when the opportunity is directly in front of you. Looking at some of the expansion clubs which won in their first try, more often than not another title would shortly follow. The Philadelphia Flyers won two consecutive Stanley Cup titles, the New York Islanders may have cemented themselves as the best modern dynasty in the sport with four straight, the above mentioned Penguins went back to back on two occasions with another title in between.
Plus, teams like the New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche were among the more dominant clubs of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s after breaking through with sweeps in their first Final appearances.
While I’m sure Nashville fans will remain passionate, it can be a tall task to harness and sustain a run of excellence after a tough first loss in the Stanley Cup Final.