Over the past two seasons, fans have had the pleasure of adding two new teams to the Stanley Cup winner list, first with Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in 2018, and most recently with Alex Pietrangelo and the St. Louis Blues. These championships were not without their pain and suffering for each franchise, taking 45 and 52 years, respectively, to win the Cup. As they say, third time’s is the charm, and that’s why we could see another Cup-less team win in 2020. Below are the rankings of the teams that have yet to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup over their heads entering the 2019-20 NHL season.
It’s a competitive field, don’t get us wrong. That being said, here are the rankings.
1. Florida Panthers
Quite honestly, the only thing that has been holding the Panthers back in recent years is their goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky, though inconsistent at times, should be a great fix for the issue that an oft-injured Roberto Luongo and underperforming James Reimer concocted.
With the now not underrated Aleksander Barkov at the helm, along with Jonathan Huberdeau, a fully healthy Vincent Trocheck, and Aaron Ekblad anchoring the defense, this team looks to be primed for a long run in 2019-2020. If not, they may be in for a lot of changes prior to the 2020-21 season.
2. Vegas Golden Knights
Bringing up anything with the word “playoffs” to a Golden Knights fan would send chills down their spine thanks to the number three team on this list. Luckily for them, however, they are only looking up. A full season of Mark Stone, along with the possible inclusion of prospects Cody Glass could put this team over the top for a small cap hit, which is really needed by Kelly McCrimmon and his staff.
Making it to the Cup Final in your first season sets lofty expectations, but with their current roster, along with Marc-Andre Fleury performing at a high level, this team could be the fastest to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup sooner rather than later.
3. Nashville Predators
The 2017 Western Conference and 2018 Presidents’ Trophy winners seemingly have hit a wall in terms of team development. A tough Winnipeg Jets team took them out of the playoffs in 2018, but in 2019 a stingy Dallas Stars team outplayed them at their own defensive game. Big free agent signing Matt Duchene should help with the offensive struggles they faced last season. If everything goes well on the back end, Boston University product Dante Fabbro should slide in well into their top-four spot where P.K. Subban called home for the past three seasons.
Fabbro, along with Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and captain Roman Josi make up one of the top defenses in the league, with room to grow. This team is super talented, but all hands need to be on deck to have them work through a tough recent playoff regression. If Juuse Saros can split the regular season with Pekka Rinne and keep the latter fresh, they should be in good shape come April.
4. San Jose Sharks
The $11.5 million cap hit that is Erik Karlsson, along with the departure of captain Joe Pavelski, may look to have the Sharks trending in a downward direction when it comes to room and talent to build for the future. That being said, there is still much to like about general manager Doug Wilson’s team. Kevin Lebanc’s $1 million deal gives this team both a bargain, we are looking at you, Kevin Hayes, and more cap flexibility than anyone could have believed.
If Karlsson can stay healthy, and forwards such as Timo Meier and Thomas Hertl can continue to develop and produce offensive numbers, the Sharks have the potential to do some serious damage in the postseason. Remember, this is a team that made it to the Conference Finals without Pavelski in the lineup most of the way. They may be an older squad, but expect Martin Jones to bounce back and have the Sharks be a dangerous team come April 2020.
5. Winnipeg Jets
The big story around the Jets this offseason has to do with the future of budding stars Patrick Laine and Kyle Connor. Similar to teams such as the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks, they have these marquee restricted free agents to sign before the season begins. Outside of these two, the Jets are banking on Connor Hellebuyck bouncing back to his performance from the 2017-18 season which saw him finish top three in the Vezina Trophy voting.
Similar to the Predators, they are hoping to bounce back from the first round defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Blues. Their defense, now sans Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers, has a lot of questions marks. Look for Neal Pionk, the defenseman acquired in the Trouba trade, to step up and look to fill the gap that Trouba left.
6. Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes are an interesting team to look into. New majority owner Alex Meruelohas has a much-needed bite to him and has pledged to keep them in Arizona, regardless of where that is. The biggest hurdle this team has is quite frankly, themselves. They lost over 400 man-games to injury and still were able to almost sneak into the postseason with stellar play from goalie Darcy Kuemper.
Look for them to have one of the most formidable goaltending duos once Antti Raanta is off the shelf. Getting Nick Schmaltz back, along with hot dog lover Phil Kessel, will definitely have this team firing on all cylinders offensively. Though not an overwhelming favorite, look for the Coyotes to make some noise this season and potentially sneak into a wild card spot.
7. Buffalo Sabres
If anyone else was doing this list, the Sabres may be much higher. They have been retooling their defense all offseason, adding key blueliner Colin Miller from the Golden Knights and stealing Henri Jokiharju from the Blackhawks. That being said, the Sabres have the longest postseason drought of any team in the NHL at eight seasons.
Last December they won 10 straight games and were leading their division, only to miss the playoffs by 22 points. They have made a lot of nice moves this summer, but just as important is the culture of the organization. Are they ready to take the next step? Only time will tell.
8. Vancouver Canucks
Ever since their playoff series loss at the hands of the Calgary Flames in 2015 the Canucks have been in the mushy middle. Four years outside of their last playoff appearance, things are beginning to look up for the squad.
2019 Calder Trophy winner Elias Petterson, 2018 Calder finalist Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes, Olli Juolevi, and Thatcher Demko give the Canucks one of the better prospect cores in the NHL.
9. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are by no means a bad team, but when you lose your two best players and still don’t have one of your best defenders signed by mid-August, it’s a bit concerning. The acquisition of Gustav Nyquist will help to fill the offensive hole that Artemi Panarin left, but their goaltending leaves a giant question mark around the team. Will Joonas Korpisalo play well enough to start? If not, who steps in?
It was a valiant effort by GM Varmo Kekealienen to go all in and have his team win their first playoff series ever, but will the temporary glory be worth the long-term repercussions from going all-in? This writer doesn’t think so. Key blueliner Zach Werenski is also still without a contract, which seems to be the theme of the summer with RFAs holding out. The Blue Jackets have a lot of questions about their roster, and it will be interesting to see how many answers they have.
10. Ottawa Senators
Colin White and Brady Tkachuk lead the youth charge in Canada’s capital this upcoming season. Along with top-flight defensive prospects Erik Brännström and Thomas Chabot, the Ottawa Senators have a bright future when it comes to the on-ice product.
As a team, offensively they fared well for a team that finished last in the league by seven points. They placed 17th in goals scored, in front of playoff teams such as the Predators, New York Islanders, and Dallas. Their issue last season was their goaltending, as they let in the most goals in the entire league. The tandem of Anders Nilsson and Craig Anderson looks shaky at best, so while the offensive firepower is there, their goaltending and defense behind the top two prospects are a bit lackluster.
11. Minnesota Wild
From the Paul Fenton hiring, and subsequent firing 14 months later, to the Mats Zuccarello signing, it seems that the Wild have no direction. Sadly, it’s been this way for a while. Not good enough to make a run, the farthest they have made it in the playoffs was the second round in 2015 before they were swept by the eventual Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, but not poor enough to get a top draft pick, as the highest the Wild have selected over the past 10 years was Matt Dumba at seventh overall in 2012.
Perennially stuck in the middle, it makes you wonder if the Wild will ever make any noise, that’s why they are at the end of the list. Prospects such as Ryan Donato, Jordan Greenway, and Joel Eriksson-Ek do have this team looking to build a strong core, but that may not be enough to push them past any other of the Cup-less teams.