The Last Hurrah: Stanley Cup Contenders Who Fell From the Promised Land

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Throughout NHL history, there have been a number of teams who have made the Stanley Cup Final only to fall into mediocrity for years following their appearance in the “Big Dance”. This list includes teams at the end of their contention window, due to the aging of core players and/or losing key players due to free agency.

In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle takes a look at a few teams who not only missed the playoffs the year after their Stanley Cup Final appearance, but struggled in subsequent years. [NOTE: This list is not all-inclusive.]

2011-12 New Jersey Devils, Stanley Cup Finalist

Since the 1996-97 season, the New Jersey Devils usually found themselves in the upper echelon of the NHL standings, usually finishing first or second in their division and generally earning 100 or more standings points. The club also won two Stanley Cups during that time frame.

Although they had not advanced past the second round since the 2004 postseason, they were still regarded as a serious contender, with stars like Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Patrik Elias. The team also acquired Ilya Kovalchuk in a trade deadline deal during the 2009-10 season.

The 2010-11 season was a down season in Newark, as the Devils dealt with injuries and salary cap issues to finish 38-39-4, with 81 points and a fourth-place finish in their division, ultimately missing the playoffs.

The Devils rebounded in 2011-12, finishing with a record of 48-28-6 under Head Coach Peter DeBoer. While they once again placed fourth in their division (due to the fact that there were so many strong division rivals), they qualified for the playoffs as the sixth seed and advanced to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final by beating the Florida Panthers in the first round, the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round, and the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final.

New Jersey faced the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final, losing  in six games.

Paul Bereswelli/Getty Images North America

In the offseason following their Final appearance, star forward Zach Parise, who was one of the Devils’ leading goal scorers in the preceding years, left the Devils in free agency, signing with the Minnesota Wild. The Devils were able to retain most of their other free agents.

For the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, the Devils finished 19-19-10 in 48 games and out of the playoff picture. Longtime goaltender Martin Brodeur was now 40-years old and not as effective. As a result, the Devils traded their first-round pick to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for goalie Cory Schneider during the 2013 offseason.

During that same time period, Kovalchuk “retired” from the NHL and signed a contract with a team in the Kontinental Hockey League, rather than returning to New Jersey. In addition, forward David Clarkson, who had scored 30 goals during the regular season, departed to the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency.

In the new league division alignment, the Devils were placed in the Metropolitan Division, which consisted of the five old Atlantic Division teams, plus the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Carolina Hurricanes. The end result for the 2013-14 season was another poor season as the Devils finished 38-39-5 and in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Devils’ fortunes remained poor in subsequent years and the club would not make the playoffs again until the 2017-18 season, when they were eliminated in the first round.

2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes, Stanley Cup Winner

In the summer of 2002, the Carolina Hurricanes finished as the Stanley Cup runner-up to the Scotty Bowman-led Detroit Red Wings. However, the club would miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs in both 2003 and 2004, heading into the season-long labor lockout in a seemingly downward spiral.

However, the Hurricanes came storming back after the lockout, posting a 52-22-8 record for 112 points overall, good enough for first in the Southeast Division and just one point behind the Ottawa Senators for the best record in the Eastern Conference.

In the 2006 playoffs, they beat the Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils to make the Eastern Conference Finals, beating the Buffalo Sabres, before advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, where they defeated the Edmonton Oilers.

However, the seeming downward regression that had been present prior to the lockout returned the following season, as the Hurricanes missed the playoffs in 2006-07, finishing with a 40-34-8 record and 88 points.

During the 2005-06 season, three of the team’s primary defensemen, Frantisek Kaberle, Brett Hedican, and Aaron Ward, each reached 32 years of age or older by the time the 2006-07 season was completed.

Ward did not return to the team in 2006-07, while Kaberle and Hedican showed their age that year. Ironically, the club had key offensive players who were over 32 years old who were still productive, such as Rod Brind’Amour, Corey Stillman, and Ray Whitney.

The lineup also featured Erik Cole who was in his late 20’s, and younger players like Eric Staal and Justin Williams, who also performed well. They improved slightly in 2007-08, posting a 43-33-6 record and 92 points, but missed the playoffs due to a late charge by the Washington Capitals.

The Canes made the playoffs in 2009 with a 45-30-7 record and 97 points and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. However, the team didn’t see playoff action again until the 2019 postseason.

2005-06 Edmonton Oilers, Stanley Cup Finalist

During the 2003-04 season, the Edmonton Oilers missed the playoffs with a record of 36-29-12-5 and 88 points. In the seasons prior, the Oilers normally finished with around 92 standings points, and would make the Stanley Cup Playoffs only to be eliminated in the first round.

The Oilers had better fortunes during the 2005-06 regular season, compiling a record of 41-28-13 for 95 points overall. The team upset the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs, and followed that up by beating the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost a seven-game series to the Carolina Hurricanes.

However, their fortunes fell after that. Defenseman Chris Pronger, who was acquired two seasons prior, requested a trade from Edmonton and was ultimately traded to the Anaheim Ducks, while Center Michael Peca left the team in free agency.

With the loss of personnel, the Oilers finished fifth place in the Northwest Division with a 32-43-7 record and just 71 points. They did not make the playoffs again for over a decade.

2013-14 Los Angeles Kings, Stanley Cup Winner

The Los Angeles Kings captured the Stanley Cup in 2012 against the New Jersey Devils, entering the playoffs as the eighth seed, with a record of 40-27-15 and 95 points. They followed that by finishing in second place in the Pacific Division during the post-lockout season with a 27-16-5 record, advancing to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.

In the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Kings won their second Stanley Cup in three years after a regular season in which they compiled a record of 46-28-8, with 100 points and a third place finish in the Pacific Division out of seven teams. After falling 3-0 in their series against the San Jose Sharks in the first round, they won all four of the remaining games to advance.

Following their opening round series against the Sharks, the Kings defeated the Anaheim Ducks to advance to the Western Conference Finals, where they eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions. They would go on to capture the Stanley Cup by beating the New York Rangers.

LOS ANGELES, CA- JUNE 16: Justin Williams #14 of the Los Angeles Kings speaks during the 2014 LA Kings Stanley Cup Championship Parade and Rally on June 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

Things began to turn down for Los Angeles during the 2014 offseason, as defenseman Slava Voynov was arrested for domestic violence, served time in jail, and was ultimately deported back to Russia.

In 2014-15, the Kings posted a 40-27-15 record for 95 points but finished fourth in the Pacific Division and missed the playoffs. They made the playoffs in 2015-16 with a record of 48-28-6 and 102 points, good enough for second in their division. However, there was no postseason magic and they were eliminated in the first round.

They missed the playoffs in 2017, but returned in 2018 and were once again eliminated in the first round. The Kings have been a bottom feeder in the league ever since, finishing last in the division in 2018-19 and seventh in 2019-20.

Teams Considered but Not Included

1997-98 Washington Capitals – The Capitals were the Stanley Cup runner-up in 1998. While they missed the playoffs for the 1998-99 season, they finished first in their division the following two seasons (1999-2000 and 2000-01) and also made the playoffs in 2002-03, so they did not meet the definition of a “last hurrah: team.

2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks – The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup that season and made the playoffs the following two seasons (2015-16 and 2016-17) but were eliminated in the first round both times. In 2016-17, they had the best record in the regular season but were shockingly swept in the first round. They fell to the Central Division cellar in 2017-18 and have been near the bottom since then, but qualified for the playoff play-in series for the 2020 postseason.

1966-67 Toronto Maple Leafs – The Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup that season. While they missed the playoffs in 1967-68 and have not made it back to the Stanley Cup Finals since then, they returned to the playoffs in 1968-69 and again in both 1970-71 and 1971-72, although, admittedly, they would be eliminated in the first round.

By Diane Doyle

About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
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