Friday, June 11, 2010

Stanley Cup Droughts - the Top 5 Active Streaks in the NHL


Perhaps Tom Petty said it best, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

Now that the Chicago Blackhawks have the fourth Stanley Cup victory in their franchise’s history, they can happily remove themselves from a list that no NHL team wants to be on - the consecutive seasons between Stanley Cup victories. They appeared in the Finals five times since 1961, but they always went home empty-handed. The Blackhawks’ streak reached 49 years, a lifetime for many of their fans.

Three teams are the new owners of the streak, The Toronto Maple Leafs, the Los Angeles Kings and the St. Louis Blues. All three have waited 42 seasons for their Stanley Cup parade; but at least Toronto has their name on the Cup, Los Angeles and St. Louis has never had that honour. For several NHL teams on the list, not only have they never won the Cup, they have not even been to the Stanley Cup Final.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The last time the Maple Leafs lifted the Stanley Cup was in 1967, a date etched on the minds of every Leaf fan. Perhaps even more painful then not winning the Cup is the fact they have not reached the Finals even once during their 42-season drought. After years of mismanagement at the hands of owner Harold Ballard, the Leafs are slowly returning to respectability under the guidance of General Manager Brian Burke. One lesson learnt by watching the Blackhawks’ victory is that incredible depth is required for a team to compete for, and win the Stanley Cup. The Leafs are certainly not there yet, but they are on the verge of becoming competitive in the Eastern Conference.

The Leafs have their name on the Stanley Cup 13 times, second only to the Montreal Canadiens and they have reached the Conference Finals on several occasions, but they remain the only Original 6 team that has not won the Cup since the league expanded after the 1966-1967 season concluded. During the early nineties, the Leafs came painfully close to returning to the Final, losing in the Conference Final to the LA Kings in ‘93 and the Vancouver Canucks in ‘94. A trip to the Finals in 1993 would have given hockey fans a Canadiens/Maple Leaf Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1967.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings have had many great players on their team over the years; including Hall of Fame members and hockey superstars Marcel Dionne and Wayne Gretzky, but they have never brought the Cup home to Los Angeles; putting their drought at 42 seasons as well. Their best chance came during the Gretzky era, defeating the Maple Leafs in the Conference Finals, only to meet yet another “Team of Destiny” from Montreal. The Canadiens won the series 4-1 and the downward spiral for the Kings began.

The Kings have quietly been stockpiling some tremendous young talent in the past few seasons and made a return to the post season this year, their first appearance since 2002. With future Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty anchoring their defence, Anze Kopitar up front, and several good prospects in the AHL, the future looks bright in LA. Bright enough to win their first Stanley Cup any time soon? Perhaps not... but they are certainly a step closer then they were a few seasons ago.

St. Louis Blues: Fans in St. Louis have been singing the Blues since 1970, the last time their team made an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. In fact, the Blues reached the Finals in their first three seasons in the league and have never been back. When the NHL expanded, the new teams formed the Western Conference, so the Blues were battling other newcomers in the league for the right to compete for the Cup. When they did reach the Finals, their reward was facing the Montreal Canadiens (‘68 and ‘69) and the Boston Bruins (‘70), all losses.

Some big names have donned the St. Louis sweater, Chris Pronger, Al MacInnis, Brendan Shanahan, Doug Gilmour, Brett Hull and even Wayne Gretzky to name a few, but none of these superstars could bring the Cup to St. Louis. Currently in a “rebuilding mode”, the Blues surprised many hockey analysts in the 2008-2009 season, emerging from the bottom of the Western Conference to finish the season in sixth place, only to be swept aside by the Canucks in the first round. The Blues are gathering some great young talent, but they are yet to land the one or two superstars needed to become regular contenders; it will be several more seasons before the Blues can start thinking their Stanley Cup drought will end. The Blues’ Stanley Cup drought is equal to that of the Leafs and the Kings - 42 seasons.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres entered the NHL in time for the 1970-1971 season and have yet to win the Stanley Cup, putting their “drought” at 39 seasons and counting. Buffalo reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1975, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in six games; this series marked the first time two expansion teams battled for the Cup. Led by Sabres’ legend Gilbert Perrault, Buffalo was the second victim of the “Broad Street Bullies” (Boston was the first), as Philadelphia won the Cup for the second consecutive year, which coincidentally, was there last Stanley Cup win (34 seasons and counting).

Buffalo’s best chance for their franchise’s first Cup victory was 1999 against the Dallas Stars. The Hull “foot in the crease” goal that won the Cup for the Stars in Game 6 has been well documented, so let’s no open that wound. However, if you ask any Sabres fan, they will tell you that part of the ‘99 Cup belongs in Buffalo.

Buffalo has the depth and the stellar goaltending of Ryan Miller, but they are lacking in the superstar department. Tyler Myers will be a force on defence for years to come but the Sabres are in need of adding a top-six forward that can score on a consistent basis. It should be said though, that in the weaker Eastern Conference, with Head Coach Lindy Ruff and his ability to preach a total “team concept”, the Sabres could ride the hot-hand of Ryan Miller and end their drought before any of the other teams on this list.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks joined the NHL at the same time as the Sabres, so their streak sits at 39 seasons as well. Stanley Cup finalists in 1982 (steamrolled by the New York Islanders dynasty), and in 1994 (a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers that ended the Rangers 54 year drought), Vancouver is poised to be contenders for the next few seasons.

The question plaguing the Vancouver franchise is how to turn regular season success into post-season success. With each passing year, the pressure on the franchise’s top players to bring home the Cup mounts. The Sedin twins have emerged as legitimate NHL superstars and Roberto Luongo is one of the best goaltenders in the game and all three are signed to long-term contracts, but they are yet to gain any momentum in the playoffs. The Canucks have built great depth at the forward position but they have been thin on defence at times, an element that played a factor this season. Getting through the Western Conference in the playoffs is no easy task, but with the some help on the blueline, the Canucks could be the next team to remove their name from the dreaded Stanley Cup Drought List.

These are the top-five active streaks, but several teams have not sipped champagne from the Stanley Cup in a long, long time, or ever in some cases:

Boston Bruins (38 seasons), Washington Capitals (35 seasons), Philadelphia Flyers (34 seasons) and the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise (30 seasons). Although they did not have a team for decades, the fans that have waited the longest for another Stanley Cup are in Ottawa; the original Senators last won the Stanley Cup in 1927.


Photo by jvh33 on Flickr.com

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