Winning in the NHL is anything but easy. When considering how hard it is to win each individual battle within the game while also trying to come out ahead in the games themselves over the course of a season, the difficulty level increases exponentially. This is why winning a Stanley Cup is something that has eluded so many franchises in the NHL. Only one team can win, and for teams that come close and ultimately lose, there’s no guarantee they’ll ever get the opportunity again. It’s a fickle endeavor, but it’s one that fans of the sport love.
Though four teams are currently battling hard to claim Lord Stanley’s Cup, only one team will come out on top. Out of those four, however, two have yet to taste the glory of winning hockey’s top honor. The Ottawa Senators – in their current iteration and the Nashville Predators have never won the Stanley Cup. They’re not alone, though, as 10 other current NHL teams are still awaiting their first championships
Arizona Coyotes (Formerly the Winnipeg Jets)
Even before the Arizona Coyotes started playing hockey in Phoenix and Glendale, the franchise struggled to compete for a championship. As the original Winnipeg Jets, the franchise never managed to advance past the second round of the postseason. It was a troubling affair as fans in Winnipeg loved their franchise, but with the disappointing seasons adding up, a change was needed.
Since moving to Arizona and becoming the Coyotes, things haven’t gotten much better. The team managed to qualify for the playoffs in each of its first four seasons. Unfortunately, each berth resulted in the same outcome; a first-round exit to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche respectively. After failing to qualify for the postseason in the 2000-01 season, the Coyotes were once again bounced in the first round the following year in five games to the San Jose Sharks. It’s been a rough ride for the Coyotes, who in their 20 seasons, have failed to qualify for the playoffs 12 times and lost in the first-round seven times.
the Coyotes best season came in 2011-12 when the team finished first in the Pacific Division and third in the Western Conference. Winning a playoff series for the first time in the desert, the Coyotes actually advanced to the Western Conference Finals. Unfortunately, they fell short to the Los Angeles Kings – the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
The history of sports in Buffalo have been interesting and full of heartbreak. Since the 1965 AFL championship, it has been 52 years since a sports franchise from Buffalo had won a championship until the Buffalo Beauts of the NWHL did so in 2016-17. For the Buffalo Sabres, the journey has been a roller coaster that has yet to reward the city with a Stanley Cup victory. In the history of the franchise dating back to the 1970-71 season, the team has failed to qualify for the playoffs 17 times and lost in the first round 14 times. The team has had some success, though, as they’ve played in the second round 14 times, advancing to the Conference Finals six times and even playing in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1975 and again in 1999.
The Sabres ultimately lost both of those appearances with the most recent loss coming against the Dallas Stars who claimed their first and only championship to date.
It wasn’t a series that came without controversy, however, as the game-winning goal and subsequent press conferences have become ingrained in the history of the NHL. Though the goal may or may not have been a good one, the history books will forever read that the Dallas Stars won the Stanley Cup that night; Lindy Ruff, then the coach of the Sabres, will likely forever feel the same way about the play.
Though one goal cost the Sabres the Stanley Cup in 1999, the recent trend of the Sabres has been a concerning one. The team has failed to qualify for the postseason in eight of the last 10 years including six consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance starting from the 2011-12 season and continuing to this very day.
Columbus Blue Jackets
One of the NHL’s newest franchises, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been in the league since the 2000-01 season. The team got off to a rocky start, however, failing to qualify for the playoffs until the 2008-0 season when they were swept 4-0 by the Detroit Red Wings. It wouldn’t be until the 2013-14 season when the Blue Jackets would get another opportunity in the playoffs, though the result wasn’t much better as they were eliminated in the first round once again, this time by the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
The Blue Jackets followed that up with another two consecutive missed playoff bids. In the 2016-17 season, the Blue Jackets shocked the hockey world, going from last place in the Eastern Conference and in 27th place in the NHL to a 108-point campaign and a playoff opportunity. Unfortunately, another first-round loss to the Penguins once again, this time in five games, ended the Blue Jacket season once again.
For the Blue Jackets, this season was potentially just a glimpse of what’s to come, however. With a very exciting roster and a ton of young talent just waiting to make the jump to the NHL, the future looks bright in Columbus. Though the 2016-17 season may not have ended the way fans would have liked, change appears to be now and it’s got to be relieving for those following the team and hoping for more each season.
It’s been a rough tenure for the Florida Panthers franchise. In the team’s 23 seasons, they’ve failed to qualify for the postseason 18 times. In four of the five seasons that the team qualified for the postseason, they were eliminated in the first round. To be fair to the Panthers, their first trip to the postseason was about as successful as it gets for a team that was in just its third season at the time.
Fresh off of the franchise’s first 40-plus win season, the Panthers eliminated the Boston Bruins in five games in the first round of the playoffs to win their first playoff series, in their first playoff appearance no less. They weren’t done there, however, as they went on to eliminate the Philadelphia Flyers in six games to qualify for the Eastern Conference Finals.
A seven-game series win against the Pittsburgh Penguins catapulted the Panthers into the Stanley Cup Finals for the first and only time to date in the history of the franchise. Unfortunately, the fun ended there. A sweep at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche ended the Panthers season and they have yet to get past the first round of the playoffs in the years since.
Ottawa Senators (1992)
One of two teams still fighting for their first championship in franchise history, the Ottawa Senators have yet to win the big one in their 25 years as a franchise. This hasn’t always been the case, however, as the original Ottawa Senators founded in 1883 won 11 Stanley Cups and played in the NHL for 17 years from 1917 until 1934. The current iteration fo the Senators – though still young, have had their fair share of successful seasons as well.
In the late-1990s to mid-2000s, the Senators were one of the better teams in the NHL in the regular season. Unfortunately, that didn’t necessarily translate to postseason success. In the history of the franchise, the team has failed to qualify for the postseason only eight times – including in each of its first four seasons. With 16 playoff berths – including a run of 11 straight appearances from 1996-97 until 2007-08, the Senators have consistently made the playoffs. In fact, the team has never gone consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance – one of hockey’s most impressive streaks.
The Senators have played in the Conference Finals three times in franchise history, including the 2006-07 season when the team advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals before eventually losing to the Anaheim Ducks. History could be different this time around as the two teams could potentially play again this season with the Senators seeking their revenge, one decade later.
The second NHL franchise to grace the state of Minnesota following the movement of the North Stars to Dallas, the Wild are still a very young franchise. In 16 seasons, the Wild have qualified for the playoffs eight times while missing the playoffs eight times. The team has been bounced from the first round five times while playing in the second round in three different seasons including a trip to the Conference Finals in just their third season, resulting in a sweep to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
Yet to play in a Stanley Cup Finals series, the Wild had their best season as a franchise in 2016-17 with a 49-25-8 record, good for 106 points and second-place in the Central Division. Competing in one of the toughest divisions in hockey against the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and the up-and-coming Winnipeg Jets, the Wild will have their work cut out for them each and every year as they look to compete for their first championship.
The Nashville Predators are one of four teams still competing in the NHL playoffs. Appearing in the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, the goal for the Predators from the very start of the season has been the Stanley Cup. Making history with a Conference Finals appearance is a nice goal to have achieved, but the end-game for every franchise is winning a Stanley Cup and the Predators can already taste the opportunity.
After missing the playoffs in each of the franchise’s first five seasons, the Predators have actually had a solid run from 2003-04 up until the present day. Only missing the playoffs three times since 2003, the Predators have qualified for the postseason 11 times. The team unfortunately lost in the first round in six of those seasons, though they’ve also played in the second round four times in history. Starting the 2016-17 postseason off in decisive fashion with a sweep of the first-place Chicago Blackhawks, the Predators have proven that they can compete with the best in the league.
San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks were one of the best teams in the NHL for nearly a decade. With seven 100-plus point seasons from 2003-04 until 2013-14 – despite the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, the Sharks proved to be a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, however, the story for the Sharks has been regular season success and failures in the postseason. To the credit of the franchise, they’ve only missed the playoffs six times compared to the 19 playoff berths since the 1991-92 season. In that time, they’ve qualified for at least the second round 12 times and have competed in the conference finals four times. Despite this, the Sharks have only appeared in one Stanley Cups Finals series, ultimately losing in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015-16.
Despite the success that the franchise has experienced in their 25 seasons, the Sharks remain the only current California-based team to have never won a Stanley Cup. The Los Angeles Kings have two championships – both coming in after the 2010 season, and the Anaheim Ducks won their first and only championship to date in 2007.
St. Louis Blues
For the St. Louis Blues, the Stanley Cup has been an elusive goal that the franchise has simply been unable to attain since their debut in 1967. To the credit of the Blues, they were one of the best teams in the league very early in the tenure of the franchise. In fact, the Blues qualified for the playoffs in each of their first six seasons, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in each of the first three. A red-hot Montreal Canadiens team swept them in the Finals in their first two seasons followed by the Boston Bruins sweeping them in 1970 courtesy of the heroics of Bobby Orr, however, leading to a 0-3 Stanley Cup record just three years into their existence.
hFast-forwarding to the present day and the Blues are still looking to claim their first championship in franchise history. In 50 years, the Blues have made the playoffs 41 times, missing the postseason just eight times – five seasons of which coming in the first six following the 2004-05 lockout season. The Blues have been incredibly consistent in making the postseason, but a total of three Stanley Cup Finals appearances and no rings to show for it have left the franchise looking for answers for decades. What’s been disappointing for the Blues hasn’t necessarily just been their inability to win the championship, but rather, their inability to return to the Stanley Cups Finals after making it there in their first three seasons in the league.
The Vancouver Canucks have seen their fair share of ups and downs throughout the history of the franchise. Though the Canucks have missed the postseason 19 times, they’ve also qualified for the playoffs 27 times. While they’ve made the playoffs and competed in competitive hockey more often than not since their debut in the 1970-71 season, that success may have also caused even more heartbreak to the fans in Vancouver. With three Stanley Cup Finals appearances, the Canucks have failed to hoist their first Stanley Cup. A sweep to the New York Islanders in 1981-82 followed by consecutive game-seven series’ losses to the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins in 1993-94 and 2010-11 respectively have left an entire city longing for more.
In the defense of the Canucks, the team has strung together successful seasons in recent years that have put the in prime positions entering the playoffs. From 2003-04 until 2012-13, the Canucks finished first in their division in seven out of nine years including five straight seasons from 2008-09 until 2012-13. Multiple 100-plus point seasons and President’s Trophy wins weren’t enough, however, as the Canucks have failed to win the championship thus far.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights have yet to even select a team, so their inclusion in this list is simply a formality. Without a single game played in the NHL, it’s impossible to tell how long it could be before the franchise receives its first championship. Whether it’s at the end of their first season in the league, or whether they have to wait as long as some of the other expansion teams who are still vying for the glory of the Stanley Cup, nothing is certain. What is known, however, is the fact that the team will be doing their very best to put together a competitive team right out of the gate – something that should excite fans in Nevada.
When the Washington Capitals debut in 1974-75, they proved to be incredibly consistent. Unfortunately, the consistency shown wasn’t one that fans were hoping for. In fact, the Capitals failed to qualify for the postseason in each of their first eight seasons. No team has put together a worse season than the Capitals did in their debut year either, putting up an 8-67-5 record with just 21 points. 181 goals against and 446 goals for made the season a tough one to watch. Fortunately, the Capitals were able to find their stride as of 1982-82, qualifying for the playoffs in the subsequent 14 seasons and 18 of the next 21 seasons.
Multiple President’s Trophies later, however, and the Capitals are still yet to…capitalize on the situation by winning a championship. It’s been one of the most frustrating situations to watch unfold over the last decade but the Capitals have failed to get past the second round in each of the last 12 playoff attempts. With one Stanley Cup appearance in the 1997-98 season resulting in a sweep to the Detroit Red Wings, there has been very little hockey to enjoy late into the month of May since the start of the millennium.
Winnipeg Jets (Formerly the Atlanta Thrashers)
Between the Atlanta Thrashers and the current Winnipeg Jets franchise, there hasn’t been a lot of meaningful hockey played. For the Thrashers who debuted in the 1999-2000 season, failed to make the playoffs in each of its first six seasons. In fact, the team only qualified once for the postseason, resulting in a 4-0 loss to the New York Rangers, while failing to qualify in the other 10 seasons. Upon moving to Winnipeg and getting a fresh start, things haven’t gone much better. The Jets have been in the NHL for six seasons and have only qualified for the postseason once in a 4-0 series loss to the Anaheim Ducks in the first round.
For those keeping score, the franchise has combined for 17 seasons with 15 missed-playoff bids and two first-round exits courtesy of sweeps between Atlanta and Winnipeg. Fortunately, the Jets have a slew of young talent on the roster as well as even more talent on the way. The franchise has never come close to a Stanley Cup, but fans would likely settle for just a playoff opportunity at this point.
Honorable Mention: Toronto Maple Leafs – Zero Stanley Cups since 1967, though they’re far from the only team with a lengthy drought.