Three of the 16 franchises in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs have yet to win it all: Presidents’ Trophy-winner Florida Panthers, the Minnesota Wild, and Nashville Predators. All three of these teams are some of the newest franchises in the NHL, so they have had much less time to build a team that could win it all. Added to that is the fact that they have had to compete with at least 25 other teams from the moment they came into the league.
The Panthers became a franchise in 1993, along with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, and were teams 25 and 26, respectfully. The next expansion came in 1998, when the Predators were the lone franchise added to the NHL. The Atlanta Thrashers joined next, followed by the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets, who in 2000 became teams 29 and 30, respectfully.
If your favourite team didn’t qualify for the playoffs this season, or gets knocked out, it’s never a bad option to cheer for a franchise that hasn’t won the Cup yet and mix things up a little. Seeing the same teams go all the way each season gets old, so here are the chances of the three Stanley Cup-less teams this season.
The Panthers, as I stated above, are the Presidents’ Trophy winner for finishing first in the NHL in points this season. They scored at a ridiculous rate, and despite having to come back from multiple goals behind a number of times to win, they are one of the highest-scoring first period teams in years. They set franchise records in wins (58), points (122), and goals (340), while many individual players set career highs.
Everything came together, and even when Joel Quenneville stepped down after a 7-0-0 start, interim coach Andrew Brunette finished the season 51-18-6. The Panthers had a 13-game win streak snapped with four games remaining in the season, around the time they locked up first in the NHL and elected to sit their top players in the final few games.
Along with having the second-highest scorer in the NHL this season in Jonathan Huberdeau, they have four lines that can score and spread the wealth around very well. This is the season they are going for it considering they are without a first-round pick in the next three years, and brought in Claude Giroux, Ben Chiarot, and Robert Hagg at the trade deadline.
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Their first-round matchup against the Washington Capitals shouldn’t prove too much of a challenge, but the East is very good, and they would then have to play either the Toronto Maple Leafs or Tampa Bay Lightning. Whoever gets out of that series will likely be the toughest opponent the Panthers have to go through this playoffs if they want to win the Cup. They are the second favourite team to win, behind the Colorado Avalanche, and the Panthers have backup Spencer Knight who is able to step in again if Sergei Bobrovsky struggles. Aaron Ekblad is also expected to make his return for the first round, so he should be able to get in some games and get back up to speed before they advance.
To kick things off with the first of two teams without a Stanley Cup coming out of the Central Division is the Wild. Since they don’t match up against the Predators in the first round there is the chance of seeing both Minnesota and Nashville in the second round, and from there one could even make it to the Western Conference Final.
The Wild’s path to the Stanley Cup Final won’t be easy. They kick off the first round in what is expected to be one of the best, if not best series against the St. Louis Blues, who are just three seasons removed from their first Stanley Cup. They are also a very good team that is one of the hottest in the NHL over the final months. The Blues had their 16-game points streak (14-0-2) snapped in game 81, but are still headed into the playoffs going 14-2-2 over the past 18 games.
The Wild are considered a dark horse in the playoffs, and have the best goaltending tandem in the NHL. That can play a large effect into how they go into games after a loss, and ensure they have a hot, elite goaltender in net every game. The Wild also have a 100-point scorer and one of the most dynamic players in the NHL, Kirill Kaprizov, while a number of their players have stepped up this season to create great depth.
The Wild have what many consider as one of the best third lines in the league, consisting of Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, and Markus Foligno. This line is big, physical, solid defensively, and can produce offence. On top of that, they have many players having career years. Home ice advantage should play a factor going into the first round considering they are 31-8-2 at home this season and are 19-2-3 in the final 24 games.
The Predators surprised many people this season with the success they had, despite trading Ryan Ellis and Viktor Arvidsson. They had some top players have resurgences, and the Norris Trophy favourite Roman Josi play at an elite level to drag them into the eighth spot in the West.
Their season hinges on Juuse Saros returning from a late-season injury, which saw him sit out the final two regular season games. The Predators say he is still being evaluated and they are hopeful about his playoff availability. With Saros, one of the best and most underrated goaltenders in the NHL, the team has a chance to knock off the top seed Avalanche and advance. Without him, the Predators will have to choose between David Rittich, the backup, and Connor Ingram who would be thrown into the fire well before he is ready.
This Predators team may be the best they’ve put together, despite finishing with the eighth-most points in a season in their history. If they have Saros in net, he is already comparable to Pekka Rinne, who won the one and only Vezina Trophy for the Predators. This is only comparable if Saros is able to play this season. Without him, I think the Predators will have a very difficult time even winning one game.
Next is the best defenceman to play for the Predators, Josi. He has taken his game to another level this season, which nobody thought would happen at age 31. He won the Norris Trophy two seasons ago, and was the first defenceman to accomplish that for the franchise. That was during a season where he scored 16 goals and 65 points in 69 games, and this season he toppled that with 23 goals and 96 points in 80 games. At the level he is at, it is an advantage to have possibly the best defenceman in the NHL on your team.
Multiple franchise records were broken this season, including the most points in a season by Josi. The other one included the constant leapfrog played between Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene for the franchise lead in goals. Forsberg originally broke the record earlier this season, but Duchene had a late-season surge, and finished with the most (43), and set the franchise record at season’s end. Both of these players are well above their career highs, and reached new levels playing with one another this season. They’ve received contributions from young players like Tanner Jeannot, Alexander Carrier, Eeli Tolvanen, Dante Fabbro, Luke Kunin, and Philip Tomasino who just add to the physicality and skill this team possesses. They will not have an easy road to the Cup, but no team can be counted out, especially when it comes to playoff hockey and how the game changes.
None of the three teams in the 2022 Playoffs will have an easy time winning the Stanley Cup this season, but all have very good teams with key factors in their favour. Considering the seasons each had and the teams that would be in their path, I would rank the Panthers as the most likely, then the Wild, followed by the Predators.
Who’s your choice of the most likely among the teams? Let me know in the comments.