As the sports world was gripped by the Chicago Cubs’ World Series victory, their first in 108 years, fans from many of the NHL’s fan bases no doubt watched on thinking, “Hey, one day, that’ll be us!”
It’s hard not to hope for that, too. No matter how jaded a fanbase may be or how defeated another early summer or unexpected post-season exit may leave them, there’s always that glimmer of hope that a new season brings that this year could be the one that a franchise catches lightning in a bottle and wins the Stanley Cup.
Over the past 25 years, the NHL has seen some of its longest droughts in history come to an end. In 1993-94, it was the New York Rangers who ended a 53-year dry spell, the longest in league history. The Chicago Blackhawks followed suit in 2009-10, ending a drought that was, at the time, the second-longest in history and dated back to 1960-61. The very next year, 2010-11, the Los Angeles Kings ended a 43-year drought that began with the franchise’s birth.
So, who will be next? Here are the five clubs who have waited the longest to hoist a championship:
Toronto Maple Leafs — 48-season drought
Here’s the thing about great stocks of prospects: it’s not always a lock that the group, as assembled, will bring success. Throughout history, there have been teams with great stocks of prospects that haven’t had that incredible talent bring a franchise a Stanley Cup. One of those teams can be found on this list, actually, in the Washington Capitals.
That said, it’s really hard to look past the Maple Leafs as a team that can be a serious contender in the next two to three years. Does that mean a Stanley Cup winner? Maybe not, but the pieces are there, and Toronto’s chances were helped along significantly when they landed the top pick and scooped up a potential franchise center in Auston Matthews.
It’s not a player that’s the secret weapon in Toronto, however. It’s the coach. Some may be sick of the hype heaped upon Mike Babcock, but the simple fact is that he has won everywhere and he’s already turned a young Maple Leafs team into an advanced stats darling. The correlation between underlying numbers and success has been all but proven, too, and if the Maple Leafs can continue to trend in the right direction, it could mean great things for Toronto.
Outlook:Cautious optimism would be the best way to approach the Maple Leafs. It’d be hard to give them the best odds on the list, but they’re definitely middle of the pack.
St. Louis Blues — 48-season drought
Unlike the Maple Leafs, with whom the Blues have shared misery over an excruciatingly long drought, St. Louis can’t look back to the success of the past as any consolation for their current Stanley Cup drought. Despite three consecutive final appearances from 1967-68 to 1969-70, the Blues have never won the Stanley Cup.
Not in a long time has it felt quite like the Blues were so close, though. After finally exorcising the first-round exit demon, St. Louis went on the Western Conference final before being ousted by the San Jose Sharks. And despite some early season woes, the Blues once again look like a formidable foe.
The window of opportunity for the Blues looks wide open, too. It’s hard to argue anyone other St. Louis is the class of the Central Division, especially with the rival Chicago Blackhawks retooling, the Nashville Predators still growing and the Minnesota Wild finding their footing under new coach Bruce Boudreau. The Blues have an excellent mix of young, talented forwards and rearguards mixed with enough veteran savvy to fight through any frustration during a long season.
Ken Hitchcock has his team clipping along, and there’s a real possibility the veteran bench boss exits coaching on a high note. And even if that doesn’t come to pass, there’s a legitimate four- or five-year window for this Blues squad.
Outlook: Consider a parade route, at the very least. The Blues were devastatingly close to getting into the final last season and the team is arguably just as good this season. The West looks more wide open than recent years, and that could allow for the Blues to make some magic.
Buffalo Sabres — 45-season drought
Buffalonians agonize to this day about the 1998-99 final and Brett Hull’s controversial Stanley Cup winner, but whether he had broken the crease rule or not, the Sabres would already be staring down another 17-year drought.
For the most part, the years that have come since the Stanley Cup defeat haven’t been pretty, either. By 2001, the club started a three-year streak of missing the post-season, and while that was followed by two consecutive Eastern Conference final appearances, it has been nothing but lean years since. In the past nine seasons, the Sabres have made the post-season twice and haven’t won a series.
The Sabres’ talented group of forwards, which includes Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Ryan O’Reilly, is the most promising aspect of the club. It’s really a group you could put up against just about any other in the league and have some serious success. That said, there are still more questions than answers on the back end and in goal.
Robin Lehner was injured for most of his first season in Buffalo, and that he hasn’t been signed on beyond this year makes one wonder if he’s really seen as the guy for Buffalo. And, outside of Rasmus Ristolainen, the defense isn’t all too inspiring. It’s not as if GM Bob Murray is afraid to make moves to beef up his roster, though, and the Sabres could be just one or two savvy moves away from being a real contender.
Outlook: On paper, Buffalo might look closer to competing for a Stanley Cup than they actually are. There are some things to be ironed out and it could be prime-aged Eichel and Reinhart that really start to get the job done.
Vancouver Canucks — 45-season drought
Sorry, Canucks fans, but the chances you see your beloved team hoist the Stanley Cup in the next several seasons is remarkably slim, and that’s incredibly disappointing given how painstakingly close the franchise has come over the past 25 years.
The 2010-11 team really looked like they were destined to break what was then a 40-year drought before they ran into white-hot Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas in the final, and the disappointment of that loss was only compounded by the fact it was the second time in 20 years the Canucks had lost a seven-game final.
With the Sedins nearing the end of their careers, an aging core and a prospect pool that is absent that one, can’t-miss player, it’s hard to know when the Canucks will get their next good shot. The expectation is that Vancouver will finish far down the standings this season, though, and that could be what brings a blue-chip prospect into the system.
As for the current window, it’s as good as closed for the Canucks. It’s not a rebuild quite yet, but when the Sedins are gone, one has to wonder what direction Vancouver will take. As of right now, the Canucks’ next several years don’t appear as if they’ll end with a Stanley Cup.
Outlook: It’s not great. In all likelihood, it’s going to take a refresh of the system before the Canucks can really start thinking about bringing a title home. Here’s hoping when that time does come, the city doesn’t have to go through another seventh-game defeat.
Washington Capitals — 41-season drought
No matter how good Olaf Kolzig was during the 1997-98 run to the Stanley Cup final, it was going to be hard for the Capitals to hang with the incredible Detroit Red Wings. The series was over as quickly as it began, too, as the Red Wings swept the Capitals to win the Stanley Cup in 4-0 fashion for the second straight season.
However, unlike other clubs, the Capitals have managed to stay continuously competitive since their final appearance, but getting over the hump has been near impossible for the franchise. The Capitals have played a total of 16 rounds since their Stanley Cup final appearance in 1997-98, and the team has won a grand total of five rounds, never once making it back to the Eastern Conference final.
For the past few years, though, it has seemed like that was destined to change. The Capitals have a dynamite roster and a group that has both offensive talent and defensive acumen, and there’s some serious hope that this could be the year in Washington.
Alex Ovechkin has proven he hasn’t lost a step, Nicklas Backstrom somehow feels underrated and Evgeny Kuznetsov wowed last season. None of this is to mention the stellar defense that includes Matt Niskanen and John Carlson or the goaltending the club has gotten from Braden Holtby over the past two seasons.
Outlook: It’s harder than ever to call the Eastern Conference, but Washington has to eventually break through, right? Ovechkin is eventually going to get the job done, and Barry Trotz is a tremendous coach that has more talent at his disposal that ever before. The Cubs and Indians made some magic in a drought vs. drought series, so maybe the Blues and Capitals can square off and replicate that.
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