The St. Louis Blues are Stanley Cup champions, ending more than a half-century of history without an NHL title. To be sure, they’ll be partying in Missouri this week, and perhaps the Blues have given some other fan bases hope for the future. After all, St. Louis fans are no longer part of the ‘Sad Club,’ the designation coined by Vancouver writers Jason Brough and Mike Halford for teams that have never won the Cup.
With St. Louis out, there are now just 11 franchises without a title to their name (soon, Seattle will join them – but I doubt their fans will be “sad” for quite awhile). So who’s next? Here’s a power ranking to kick off the summer.
1. Vegas Golden Knights: Were it not for a botched call that led to a five-minute San Jose power play, the Knights might have won the Cup this year and almost did the year prior as a rookie franchise. With a full season of Mark Stone in 2019-20, Vegas could very well win the Pacific Division and we all know how deadly they’ve been with home-ice advantage. Plus, they really want revenge for that San Jose series.
2. Winnipeg Jets: The Jets aren’t missing anything on paper, but this group hasn’t been able to get to a final yet, despite all the talent. The defense likely gets a new look this summer with Tyler Myers eligible for unrestricted free agency and chatter of a Jacob Trouba trade reaching loud levels, so will Winnipeg be better or worse come autumn? They’ve still got tons of talent from Blake Wheeler to Mark Scheifele to Patrik Laine, so a Cup run would not be a shocker.
3. Nashville Predators: Like Winnipeg, there’s nothing on paper to suggest the Predators can’t win the Cup next season – they just have to put it all together after a disappointing exit to Dallas in the first round. The Predators have a ton of talent, particularly on the blueline, but the window for this current group may be closing soon: Pekka Rinne turns 37 in November, while captain Roman Josi’s salary is going to double in the summer of 2020.
4. San Jose Sharks: The last of the “win now” crowd, the Sharks will probably lose some talent this summer, but still be a strong squad. Is Joe Pavelski gone? What about Erik Karlsson? Those are big names, but San Jose will still have playoff monster Logan Couture, the continually ascending Tomas Hertl and premier defenseman Brent Burns. If Joe Thornton comes back for one more season, they’ve also got all the motivation in the world.
5. Florida Panthers: OK, so this is a real X-factor call: if the Panthers can snag Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky via free agency this summer, they become a real threat. If not, then bump them down a few pegs on this listing. As is, Florida has a true No. 1 center in Aleksander Barkov, a great second-line pivot in Vince Trocheck (when healthy) and some great talent on the wings. Plus, new coach Joel Quenneville is one of the best of all-time, which should do wonders for the team as a whole.
6. Vancouver Canucks: Now we’re getting into “a few years down the road” territory. The Canucks are building a nice machine out West, highlighted by Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes. Bo Horvat is the glue guy and Thatcher Demko gives them hope in net. The Canucks still need some prospects to break the right way (defenseman Olli Juolevi being an obvious one), but there is hope for down the road.
7. Columbus Blue Jackets: It’s likely going to be a painful summer in Ohio, with Panarin, Bobrovsky and perhaps Matt Duchene all leaving via free agency. The Jackets will still be a good team for the next several years – they have Seth Jones and Zach Werenski leading the blueline corps, after all – but they won’t have the horses for a deep run unless some prospects (Emil Bemstrom or Liam Foudy, for example) really take off as difference-makers.
8. Buffalo Sabres: While the Sabres still have a lot of building to do, they already have two of the most important elements necessary to win a championship: a true No. 1 center in Jack Eichel and an elite puckmoving defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin (OK, I’m projecting a bit on Dahlin, but can we all agree he looked pretty good as a rookie?). Jeff Skinner made the big commit the other day and new coach Ralph Krueger is a culture-building master. They’re not ready yet, but the future is promising.
9. Ottawa Senators: Much like their Atlantic Division stablemates from Buffalo, the Senators are years down the line from contention, but at least they’ve got the chips. Thomas Chabot is a legit No. 1 defenseman, Brady Tkachuk is a fantastic power forward and more help is on the way in center Logan Brown and rushing blueliner Erik Brannstrom. New coach D.J. Smith has a ton of potential, too. The Senators will likely struggle for the next few years, but they have the chance to really come together after that.
10. Arizona Coyotes: Coach Rick Tocchet has a scrappy bunch on his hands, but the Coyotes are getting into that dangerous territory of “not good enough to be a threat, not bad enough to get a high draft pick.” They have a No. 1 defenseman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but no top center. Could Barrett Hayton be that guy in a few years? Perhaps, but that’s still a ways off. In the meantime, Arizona is at the point in their build where a playoff berth is needed now.
11. Minnesota Wild: I feel like Minnesota is truly caught in that mushy middle of the NHL right now, where the Wild aren’t good enough to contend for a long playoff run, but they’re too good to fall off the map and rebuild. The long-term contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter embody this vexing problem, as both players are still solid contributors, but can’t be moved for younger pieces (not only because of the length and value of their deals, but also because they have no-move clauses). If GM Paul Fenton can solve this Rubik’s Cube, he’s a genius.