November 21, 2009
(No, the first decade of the 21st century doesn't technically end until 2011. Save your bellyaching. But we've had nine NHL seasons and one stolen from us since 1999-2000, and Yahoo! Sports has decided it's time to rank the best and worst of the last "decade." Enjoy, and snark freely in the comments.)
Let's get this out of the way right off the top: This isn't a list of the best individual teams that didn't win a Stanley Cup.
This isn't a list that will feature the 2000-01 New Jersey Devils, 2001-02 Carolina Hurricanes, 2002-03 Anaheim Ducks, 2007-08 Pittsburgh Penguins or 2008-09 Detroit Red Wings -- those four teams (or franchises) got their rings this decade.
This list is about the franchises that have excelled this past decade, but for one reason or another came up short in their quest for a title. Listed here are President Trophy winners, conference champions and annual Cup contenders that couldn't finish the job. They hold the fan bases that had their high expectations dashed by a less than fruitful spring.
With that, our 10 best teams to never win a Stanley Cup this decade are ...
10. St. Louis Blues
It seems so long ago, but the Blues were one of the NHL's best teams at the turn of the century. A President's Trophy winning season in '99-00 ended in shock as the San Jose Sharks knocked out the Blues in seven games during the opening round. The Blues would make the playoffs the following four seasons before three years of hardships and major overhaul occurred which ended a playoff streak that had lasted since 1980. Playing in the Central Division alongside the Detroit Red Wings is never easy, which explains the four straight second-place finishes.
Now under new ownership and with John Davidson as team president, the Blues are stable in the front office and developing an on-ice product around youth.
While the basement days during the middle of this decade might be remembered more by fans, earlier in the decade the Caps were playoff guests two out of the three seasons after their Stanley Cup appearance in 1998. The Jaromir Jagr(notes) acquisition from Pittsburgh should have been a boost for the franchise (especially after the back of pucks sent to the Penguins in exchange), but the Czech native's poor attitude derailed the Caps after just one playoff appearance in his Washington tenure.
Like the lean years seen in Pittsburgh, Washington's tough times paid off in the long run as they were able to draft Alex Ovechkin(notes) and Mike Green(notes) among the rest of the current supporting cast that has brought the franchise back to "contender" status.
Four Southeast Division titles, five playoff appearances, but just once have they advanced past the first round (last season). With a solid core and budding young goaltender, there's good reason to believe that the dark days that haunted the franchise post-Jagr will not return for a long while.
Light in the playoff appearances (three), Buffalo was among the NHL elite for a two-season span in 2006 and 2007. President's Trophy winners in 2007, the Sabres have survived new ownership and the combination of Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff running things in a market that isn't known to be one of the "haves" when talking about economics in sports.
Times were tough for the Flames until Darryl Sutter was hired during the 2002-03 season as head coach and took over the GM responsibilities the following year. Sutter's big move was acquiring goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff(notes) from San Jose, which helped carry the team into the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals against Tampa Bay. Calgary eliminated three division champions en route to the Cup final that season.
The Flames haven't been able to get out of the second round since 2004 and are on their third coach since the 2006-07 season. Just one division title banner hands from the Pengrowth Saddledome rafters, but Sutter has transformed the team who had missed the playoffs seven years in a row up until the 2004 Cup.
It took the hiring of Marc Crawford to being the turnaround of a Canucks team that missed the playoffs three straight seasons heading into the 1999-00 season. The Stanley Cup winning coach with the 1996 Colorado Avalanche molded the franchise, along with Brian Burke's help, into annual contenders and playoff qualifiers. Gone was Pavel Bure, the team's star player and taking up the reigns in the scoring department were Markus Naslund(notes), Brendan Morrison(notes) and an emerging Todd Bertuzzi(notes) - before, you know, this happened.
The decade saw six playoff appearances for Vancouver with the Canucks only advancing out of the first round three times. Vancouver finished with five 100-point seasons, three Northwest Division titles and former GM Dave Nonis and current man-in-charge Mike Gillis have brought in Roberto Luongo(notes), signed the Sedin twins to long-term deals, drafted wisely and set the franchise up to be contenders in the future.
5. Dallas Stars
A year after winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history, the Stars found themselves on the losing end of a heartbreaking series-winning goal by Jason Arnott(notes) as the New Jersey Devils won in 2000. Dallas followed up the loss with five more wins and four more points before getting knocked out by the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference semifinals.
Transition came during the 2001-02 season with Ken Hitchcock being replaced by Ron Wilson for the final 32 games of the season. It would be the first season since '95-96 that the Stars didn't win the division title or make the playoffs. Dave Tippett would take over behind the bench for the 2002-03 season and lead them to the playoffs over the next five seasons.
Most notable about the Bruins regular-season success early in the decade was that it was followed by a first-round exit in the playoffs -- twice by the Montreal Canadiens. Boston was one of those NHL teams that failed to recognize how the "new" NHL was going to play in the post-lockout era. Youth was ignored and old, veteran players were relied upon to carry the Bruins.
Two months into the post-lockout NHL also spelt the end for the Joe Thornton(notes)-era in Boston as he was shipped to San Jose. The struggles Boston went through immediately after the trade paved the way for Tim Thomas(notes) to grab the No. 1 goaltending job. After two seasons at the bottom of the Northeast Division, Boston made their way back to the playoffs in 2008 and followed that up with a 116-point season, third best in franchise history. Even with obstacles in front of him, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has managed to work around the salary cap and pull off shrewd moves to keep Boston competitive for the long-term.
Filing for bankruptcy in the middle of the 2002-03 season didn't hamper the Senators from claiming the President's Trophy, but the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals would deny their run to the Stanley Cup. With the exception of last season, Ottawa has made the playoffs every season and won three division titles.
The Senators were well on their way to a possible Cup in 2006, but Dominik Hasek's(notes) injury at the Winter Olympics in Turin dashed any hopes as the Buffalo Sabres eliminated them in the second round.
Aside from one aberration of a season (2006-07), the Flyers have been in the "contender" category for almost the past two decades. Eight playoff appearances in nine seasons, two-time Eastern Conference finalists, three division titles, and five 100-point seasons. Safe to say, Philadelphia has been able to maintain their success this decade, but have yet to find their way back to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The torch that Eric Lindros(notes) carried into this decade was given to Simon Gagne(notes) for a brief period before Jeff Carter(notes) and captain Mike Richards(notes) ran with it. The "Broad Street Bullies" moniker hasn't left Philadelphia as evidence by the nightly physical play (and numerous suspensions over the years) inside Wachovia Center.
1. San Jose Sharks
Year after the year, the Sharks have been a popular pick to win the Cup. Having been loaded with talent throughout their roster, their shortcomings in April have undermined a decade of regular season success. Four division titles, a President's Trophy, four 100-point seasons and nine playoff appearances make the Sharks the best team to never win this decade.
That's been the consistent thing for San Jose, just when you think they're ready to take a step back, they reload and force their way into contender talk whenever predictions are being thrown around.