The Five Most Successful NHL Franchises Since the 2004-05 Lockout

Jiri Hudler Red Wings
Lidstrom, Hudler and Zetterberg helped Detroit ascend to the NHL’s top overall team since the 2004-05 lockout (Icon SMI)

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it— W.C. Fields

If W.C. was right, the Los Angeles Kings would be a roller hockey franchise in San Bernardino, California right about now instead of basking in the sweat-stained glow of the Stanley Cup.

As we all know, success in sports is primarily measured in terms of wins and losses. However, at the same time, success is a relative concept. Is it strictly judged by championships, or should weight be given to regular season results, division championships, playoff appearances, and/or deep playoff runs? The answer varies depending upon one’s perch from which the world is viewed. Up until their remarkable Cup run, the Kings would have been satisfied with simply reaching the second round of the playoffs, given that they had last done so over a decade ago, when Jason Allison, Ziggy Palffy and Adam Deadmarsh didn’t yet resemble walking-wounded participants in Michael Jackson’s Thriller choreography. The Detroit Red Wings, on the other hand, employ riot police for crowd control when they don’t get out of the second round in any given year.

Thus, the fairest evaluation of a team’s on-ice success should weigh all of the above factors. Otherwise, franchises like the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames (eight playoff appearances and three division titles between them since the lockout) would get virtually no love, as they combined for just two playoff series wins in that span. Likewise, a bridesmaid team like the San Jose Sharks — four division titles, seven playoff appearances, two trips to the Western conference finals, and yet no Cups — should get recognition for having had some success, even without achieving hockey’s penultimate prize. Meanwhile, although one of seven different teams to win a championship in the last seven years, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Kings are one of the seven most successful post-lockout franchises. In fact, they aren’t.

The assessment methodology

Let’s start by stating the patently obvious: this analysis is subjective. If every scribe from The Hockey Writers chose to do the same ranking, there would be a myriad of assessments utilized, from tea leaves to tangent half-angle formulas. I’ve chosen to take a fairly middle-of-the-road approach by quantifying seven categories: winning regular seasons (for simplicity’s sake, a winning season is defined as one in which the team had at least as many wins as total losses, regulation plus overtime), division titles, and playoff runs that end in the conference quarterfinals, semifinals, finals, and Stanley Cup finals. Lastly, as to be expected, the most points are given for a Stanley Cup victory.

As for the weightings, each winning season earned one point. Division titles received two points, as they represent a regular season achievement that deserves additional recognition. One-and-out playoff appearances earned two more points, with the other rounds assigned weightings as follows: second (five), third (ten), Stanley Cup loss (20) and Stanley Cup win (45).

Why these numbers? Why not? There’s no perfect way to do this analysis, so there’s no good answer to that question. The greater the success, the higher the point totals, with the Cup worth far more than any other metric. I vacillated between using 40 and 50 for a Stanley Cup victory before finally channeling King Solomon and splitting that baby right down the middle.

The five most successful teams

The most successful franchises have won Cups since the lockout, as well as had multiple playoff appearances (with variable success) and even a random division title or two. No differentiation was made between whether or not the results were further back in time or achieved more recently. Based upon the points system stated above, the five teams at the top of the list are as follows:

Detroit Red Wings.

With five division titles, playoff appearances every single year and two Cup appearances (one win) in the past seven years, the Wings easily outpaced the second-place Penguins as the most successful post-lockout franchise. Granted, Detroit is an aging club that last won the Cup in 2007-08 and hasn’t made it out of the second round since (prompting my characterization of its status going into this season here). However, since the last lockout, nobody has had more overall success.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Evgeni Malkin
(Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE)

Again, not exactly a huge revelation here. The Penguins had just one division title, but enjoyed six winning seasons, a second round playoff appearance, a Cup loss to Detroit in 2007-08 and a Stanley Cup championship in a rematch versus the Wings in 2008-09. Having been in the Finals twice pushes Pittsburgh past the Bruins and into second place on the list.

Boston Bruins

Since the lockout, Boston has secured three division titles, five overall playoff appearances, a berth in the second round and a Stanley Cup victory over Vancouver two seasons ago.

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks missed the playoffs three straight times between 2005-06 and 2007-08. However, since then, they’ve made the playoffs every single year. Furthermore, they won one division title, lost in the conference finals in 2008-09 and won their first Cup in 49 years the following season.

Anaheim Ducks

Teemu Selanne Ducks
(James Guillory-US PRESSWIRE)

2011-12’s implosion notwithstanding, the Ducks made the playoffs five out of seven years, reaching the conference finals in 2005-06 and winning a championship in 2006-07. With four winning seasons and a division title in that span, they eked into fifth place on this list.

The highest ranking non-Cup winning team was the San Jose Sharks, who placed seventh overall due to their seven winning seasons, seven playoff berths and two conference finals appearances.

The five least successful teams

While we’re at it, here’s a quick look at the five teams at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Unfortunately, every list has to have denizens that reside as bottom-dwellers. This doesn’t mean they don’t have financial success, community support or really cool uniforms. Without question, everyone in the world would have placed the Kings here prior to last year’s amazing romp through the playoffs. Although they have now escaped this end of the list, here are the five teams that didn’t fare as well:

Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets

With just one playoff appearance (and a division title) to their name over the past seven years, the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise ranked fifth-lowest overall. After winning the Southeast in 2006-07, the then-Thrashers were swept by the 6th-seeded New York Rangers in the conference quarterfinals. After that — nada.

Florida Panthers

The Panthers missed the playoffs every single year between 2005-06 and 2010-11, and then broke through and won the Southeast last season. However, they lost 4-3 to the Devils in the first round, and with just one winning season (as defined above) over that stretch, ended up with the fourth-fewest number of points.

Columbus Blue Jackets

The future looked so promising for Columbus four years ago when rookie sensation Steve Mason backstopped the team to their first playoff berth. Even though they were torched by the Red Wings in the first round, dreams of multiple playoff appearances danced in their heads. Alas, those dreams turned into nightmares, as Mason melted away and the team finished last in the division every year since.

New York Islanders

Kessel & Lupul (Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE)

The Islanders actually made the playoffs in 2006-07 (losing to the Sabres 4-1 in the opening round), but have otherwise not even cracked 80 points since the lockout. As bad as things have been on the rock, there’s still one team with even less success over that time span.

Toronto Maple Leafs

It’s almost as if the 2004-05 lockout nuked one of the league’s most storied franchises. In the twelve years prior, Toronto made the playoffs ten times and reached the conference finals four times. Since then — nothing. Although they broke 90 points twice right after the lockout, the Leafs just haven’t been able to get anything done since then.