Long Roads: NHL Teams


Before you take a look at this list, be sure to read the article for the NFL long roads with the link here.

Here are three teams in the NHL that have the longest roads to a winning Stanley Cup.

1. Florida Panthers

Two years ago, the Panthers appeared to be a young team on the rise supported by two icons in Roberto Luongo and Jaromir Jagr. Now the Panthers appear headed for another average season after finishing one game under .500 (35-36) last season. One reason is that the Eastern Conference has evolved into a gauntlet. Another reason is that Jagr is long gone and Luongo is two years older at age 38. He has been on injured reserve since Dec. 4. Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Mike Matheson, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad and Alexander Petrovic were able to work magic two years ago. They have yet to rediscover that magic. It will be difficult with an aging Luongo and so many quality teams in the East. But the Panthers are just talented enough to miss the top players in the draft. General manager Dale Tallon, who helped build the Chicago Blackhawks’ dynasty and this Panthers team, will have to get lucky in the draft and free agency. Otherwise, it looks like a long run in the middle of the Eastern Conference, which is the worst place to be.

2. Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres have made the playoffs just four times since 2000-01, and Lindy Ruff was the last coach to take them there in 2010-11. Ruff’s first season with the Sabres was in 1997-98. Since Ruff, the Sabres have gone through five different head coaches. They haven’t had a winning record in the last six seasons, and they are on track for at least 50 losses for the third time in five seasons. The goalies have been a revolving door with Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson although Lehner does lead the team in point shares. The Sabres haven’t gotten much out of their defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella. Injuries to Zach Bogosian and now Jake McCabe have hurt the depth. They haven’t got what they wanted out of wings Evander Kane, Kyle Okposo, and Benoit Pouliot. Kane and Pouliot are likely gone after this season unless the Sabres want to spend money. Lehner contract is also up, but he’s not an automatic goalie.

The Sabres made recent hires in head coach Phil Housley, who was part of the team’s glory days, and general manager Jason Botterill, who helped build the Pittsburgh Penguins’ dynasty. Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly are as good of a duo to start with as you can find. Eichel’s recent injury will likely keep him out most of the season. The Sabres will have a chance at the worst record. However, unless Botterill can hit in the draft, the ceiling of the team’s defense may only get them eighth best in the East for the time being.

3. Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes were the first successful iteration of the Winnipeg Jets from 1979-80 to 1995-96. Then they made the bold move to Arizona and continued their success by making the playoffs in five of their first six seasons until 2001-02. Since then, they have only made the playoffs three times. This year they are on pace to have the worst record in the NHL and are rumored to possibly be on the move. But if the Coyotes haven’t earned credibility, it is not the fault of ownership and front office. Wayne Gretzky was the head coach for four seasons. Dave Tippett, who had success with the Dallas Stars, led Arizona to the Western Conference Finals, three playoff appearances and five winning seasons in eight seasons. This is the first year for new coach Rick Tocchet, who won Stanley Cups with the Penguins as a player and coach. Second-year general manager John Chayka did his best to revamp the team with young star power. Chayka acquired Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers, Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Chicago Blackhawks and Nick Cousins from the Philadelphia Flyers.

Raanta has done his best, but he can only do so much. Stepan and Cousins haven’t lived up to the hype and Hjalmarsson, and Alex Goligoski has not performed well on the defense. Sometimes the front office can make great moves, but the players just don’t deliver. But while history, fan interest, and possible relocation are obstacles for success in Arizona, the Coyotes could be closer to a turnaround than Buffalo or Florida. The youth on the wings in Clayton Keller, Christian Fischer, and Brendan Perlini are rapidly rising in star power. They lead the team in goals, and they’re all making under $1 million for several years. Stepan, Goligoski, Hjalmarsson, and Cousins are under standard contracts for a while. They should be better though how much better is still to be determined. The important deal will be Raanta next year, but the Coyotes should be able to pay him. The Pacific division is the weakest in the NHL, and the Western Conference is not as strong as the East. The perennial powers of Chicago, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim could be aging or nearing the end of their runs, but not yet.

Be on the lookout for other articles in the next few days on teams in different leagues that have a long road ahead of them.

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Published on 2/20/18 at 12:00 PM EST. Photo credit: WGR 550.
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