Breaking down NHL Stanley Cup droughts

When the Tampa Bay Lightning won the 2021 Stanley Cup, they became just the second team since 1998 to win back-to-back Cups. Winning the Stanley Cup is no easy feat; there’s a reason why the trophy is called the Holy Grail of sports.

The Lightning are one of a few teams fortunate enough to consistently be in the mix to win the Cup for a very long stretch of time. Other teams have not been as fortunate and have not made it to even the Stanley Cup final in their entire franchise history.

Let’s break down the longest playoff success droughts in the NHL by franchise here. Maybe this year we’ll see one of these starving teams finally break their streaks.

Stanley Cup winners

In the past 13 years, just seven different teams have won the Stanley Cup. It’s been an incredible stretch of dominance over this period by the Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, and Pittsburgh Penguins. Going further back, great teams like the New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, and Colorado Avalanche have seen their fair share of success the past few decades. Going further though is a wasteland of mediocrity and disappointment.

For the chart, teams that are blue represent years since winning their last Cup, while teams that are purple show teams that have never won, marking years since their first season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are by far the most disappointing team in the NHL the past half-century. They’re an Original Six team and have been littered with top talent at many times, but have not won a Cup in 54 years.

The second most disappointing pair of teams is the Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres. They’ve been in the league for 50 years now and have not won a Stanley Cup, the longest drought out of teams that joined the league after the Original Six.

Eight teams have not won a Cup in their franchise history: the Canucks, Sabres, Sharks, Senators (this iteration), Panthers, Predators, Blue Jackets, and Wild. The previous version of the Senators did win a Cup all the way back in 1927, but that was a different franchise than the one that currently plays in the NHL.

A couple teams that stand out are the Flyers and Oilers. Philadelphia has had an incredible history of success in the NHL, just not with winning that final playoff series. They’ve been involved in several Cup finals and many conference finals even recently, but haven’t won the big prize in 46 years. The Oilers have done absolutely nothing of note since their run of Cups in the ’80s, and their drought now sits at 31 years.

At the other side of the chart are a collection of teams with recent Cup wins and the Seattle Kraken who obviously have not had any kind of drought since they just joined the league.

Stanley Cup Final appearances

If we break this down a little further, we see several new teams’ droughts fall to a much more digestible number. When compiling this data it was surprising how many teams I forgot made the final in a particular year, which really goes to show that nobody remembers second place, especially in the NHL.

The kings of the chart are here once again, the Maple Leafs. Not only have they not won a Cup in 54 years, they haven’t even made it to a Cup finals. And, what makes this even worse, is the drop off from the Leafs down to the second team, the Coyotes, is a 13 year difference. Disappointing just doesn’t cut it.

Teams are much closer together on this chart. Making the finals is something that 15 teams, almost half the league, has experienced in the past 10 years. Teams that have not made it that far include a few teams with storied pasts like the Islanders, Avalanche, Oilers, and Flames.

A few teams of note here are the Panthers and Sabres. Both expansion teams, both have advanced to a Cup final but have not sealed the deal. The Panthers actually got there in 1996, just two years after they joined the league.

The Coyotes, Jets (current iteration), Blue Jackets, and Wild have all failed to advance to the Cup final in their franchise history. The first version of the Jets that operated between 1973 and 1979 did win three Avco Cups, the championship trophy of the WHA. That doesn’t count on this breakdown.

Teams to watch

The Leafs are the most obvious team to keep an eye on the next few years. With legitimately elite talent, they should be pushing to break their droughts in the next few years. We’ve been saying that for a long time now though.

The next tier of teams includes the Islanders, Jets, and Avalanche. The Islanders have actually been very good the past decade but have run into Eastern Conference powerhouses in the conference finals almost every time they’ve made it that far (they’ve lost to the Lightning in back-to-back ECFs). The Jets have put together a dynamite team and should make some noise in the West, and the Avalanche are the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners and one of the best teams in the entire NHL once again.

Perhaps we’ll see some droughts broken this year, but those teams will have to go through the Lightnings of the world first.

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