Some expansion franchises have taken longer than others to fight their way to their first Stanley Cup, but take a look at how long it took each team and the moves they made to reach the top.
The day following the Nashville Predators’ massive Game 4 victory, a win that tied the Stanley Cup final at two games apiece and sends the series back to Pittsburgh, also happens to mark the 10-year anniversary of another modern era expansion squad picking up one of their most crucial wins in franchise history. However, the Anaheim Ducks’ Game 5 victory back on June 6, 2007, carries a bit more significance.
For the Ducks, the victory marked the pinnacle of their 13-season existence and saw the franchise scale the entire league, winning the Stanley Cup over the Ottawa Senators in convincing fashion. It was the combination of top stars and a strong defense, acquired through drafting and savvy trades, that helped the Ducks build a Cup-contending roster.
Also significant about the win was that Anaheim’s Stanley Cup victory marked the third-consecutive year in which a first-time champion had been crowned. The year before, it was the Carolina Hurricanes who took home the franchise’s first title, and the Tampa Bay Lightning, an organization which pre-dated the Ducks by only one year, had carried the Cup around the ice only two years before it was Anaheim’s turn.
The three make up only a small portion of the non-Original Six teams to have won the Stanley Cup. And for those teams that have had to build from the ground up after the league’s inception, the journey to creating a winner can sometimes be arduous.
Here’s how long it took each expansion franchise to win the Stanley Cup and what guided each franchise into the winner’s circle:
Philadelphia Flyers, 1973-74 — Seven seasons
The drafting of Bobby Clarke in 1969, who would go on to become a dual MVP by the 1972-73 season, gave Philadelphia their cornerstone player, and the acquisition of Rick MacLeish from the Boston Bruins gave the Flyers the pure goal scorer that would lead them to their first Stanley Cup, as he scored 13 goals in 17 games. But the hero of Philadelphia’s first title was goaltender Bernie Parent.
After jetting out of the WHA, Parent was brought over to the Flyers by way of a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. And landing Parent was a game-changer. He was, without a doubt, the best netminder in the league in back-to-back seasons once arriving back in the NHL, each of which ended up being Stanley Cup victories for the Flyers. Parent led the way with his outstanding play, capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, adding to a trophy case that also included two Vezina Trophies from those same two campaigns.
New York Islanders, 1979-80 — Eight seasons
Drafted talent was the cornerstone of the Islanders’ success, and it all started with Bryan Trottier. A second-rounder taken out of the Western League, Trottier became an overnight sensation for the Islanders. He burst into the league in the 1975-76 season with a 32-goal, 96-point campaign and captured the Calder Trophy, and by 1978-79, he was winning the scoring title and capturing the Hart Trophy.
But it was easy to rack up points playing alongside Mike Bossy, one of the greatest natural scorers in league history. Bossy debuted with 53 goals and a Calder win, scored 69 goals in his second season and added a third 50-goal campaign in 1979-80. And he was everywhere in the playoffs. In 16 games, he potted 10 goals and 23 points.
The backbone of the win was Billy Smith, but the goaltender came via a different draft. At the expansion draft in 1972, the Islanders plucked the netminder off of the Los Angeles Kings’ roster. Smith’s fiery and feisty play made him a force in goal, and the Hall of Famer would backstop the Islanders to three more Cups after the win in 1980.
Edmonton Oilers, 1983-84 — Five seasons
So, no one is going to say life was easy for the Oilers, but landing Wayne Gretzky from the Indianapolis Racers back during the WHA days certainly put Edmonton on the path to success. Gretzky was, as one would figure, the foundation upon which everything for the Oilers was built upon, but he didn’t do it himself. Outstanding drafting was what made Edmonton so incredible during the mid-1980s.
Looking at a list of Oilers draft choices from their first three years as an NHL club is unbelievable. Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr and Kevin Lowe were first-round choices from 1979-1981. But take a look at the players drafted in the third round or beyond by the Oilers over that same span. Mark Messier was taken 48th overall in 1979. Glenn Anderson was taken in that same draft, but 21 spots later. In 1980, the Oilers drafted Jari Kurri with the 69th pick, and later picked up goaltender Andy Moog with the 132nd choice. Then, in 1981, Steve Smith was added to the group with a sixth-round, 111th-overall selection.
How’s that for drafting? It was a dynasty that was bound to happen with that much talent.
Calgary Flames, 1988-89 — 17 seasons
The Flames broke up the Oilers’ dynasty on their way to building a Stanley Cup winning club of their own, and it was a pair of fine trades — both with the St. Louis Blues — that guided Calgary to glory. The first was a deal to acquire 40-goal scorer Joe Mullen, which brought the Flames a top offensive threat, and the second was the acquisition of two-way pivot Doug Gilmour. Together, the duo ripped up the post-season for the Flames en route to the team’s first title, combining for 27 goals and 46 points.
Neither captured the Conn Smythe, though, as the honor went to Al MacInnis, who the Flames had selected 15th overall in 1981. The blueline beast with the best slap shot the league has ever seen was a nightmare for the opposition. In the 22 games it took Calgary to win the Cup, MacInnis fired home seven goals and 31 points, including the overtime winner in a pivotal Game 4 of the series.
Pittsburgh Penguins, 1990-91 — 24 seasons
Much like the Gretzky-led Oilers, the Penguins weren’t exactly all Lemieux all the time, but he certainly was the most dominant force in the post-season. After missing all but 26 games during the regular season, Lemieux came along in the playoffs and absolutely throttled every defender and goaltender he came up against en route to a 16-goal, 44-point playoff. But the cast around him was as star-studded as they come.
Second on the scoring list was Mark Recchi, who registered 10 goals and 34 points, followed by Kevin Stevens, Larry Murphy, Joe Mullen, Ron Francis, Paul Coffey and some 18-year-old kid named Jaromir Jagr. From top to bottom, the team was loaded with stars, as it even featured a 34-year-old Trottier, who brought his veteran presence and Stanley Cup pedigree to Pittsburgh.
New Jersey Devils, 1994-95 — 21 seasons
The mid-1990s Devils were a nightmare to play against because of the mixture of offensive-minded defensemen and punishing physical presences on the blueline. The squad also had the perfect mix of veteran talent and young, up-and-coming scorers. But what put New Jersey over the top was adding Martin Brodeur to the mix with the 20th overall pick in 1990.
At 22, the Devils goaltender had already captured the Calder Trophy and had thrown his name into the mix for the Vezina during his rookie year. He was only OK during the regular season as a sophomore, though. That quickly changed in the post-season. On a near nightly basis, Brodeur looked as though he couldn’t or wouldn’t be beaten, and he proceeded to lose only four of 20 games in the entire playoff run, posting three shutouts along the way.
Colorado Avalanche, 1995-96 — 17 seasons
Joe Sakic was undeniably the on-ice leader for the Avalanche, the heart-and-soul captain that could put up monster points, but the biggest difference-makers for the organization were two trades made to land Hall of Fame calibre players.
The first was the deal to land Peter Forsberg. After Eric Lindros decided he would not play for the Quebec Nordiques, the Philadelphia Flyers anted up by throwing together a massive package for Lindros that included, among other things, Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall and two first-round picks. The trade brought the Nordiques, who became the Avalanche in 1995-96, a superstar scorer to play with Sakic.
The second move was the acquisition of Patrick Roy from the Canadiens. Days after being left in goal for a nine-goal thumping, Roy was sent from Montreal to Colorado. Roy guided the Avalanche to two Stanley Cups, putting up spectacular numbers along the way.
Dallas Stars, 1998-99 — 32 seasons
Mike Modano had proven he could be an elite scoring talent in the decade since he had been drafted first overall by the Stars organization and Dallas had built a team around him. But the franchise needed some help between the pipes in order for the Stars to get over the hump and win the Stanley Cup. That finally came when the team went out and scooped up Ed Belfour in free agency ahead of the 1997-98.
Belfour immediately brought legitimacy to the goaltending situation in Dallas and he wasted little time piecing together some memorable performances. In his first campaign, he earned Hart votes and finished fourth in Vezina voting, and he followed it up with an outstanding performance the next year in the post-season.
It was another free agent signing that was the final piece of the puzzle, though, as the Stars picked up Brett Hull ahead of the 1998-99 campaign. He fired home 32 goals and 58 points in his first year as a Star and scored the biggest goal of his career in Game 6 of the final, ending a marathon overtime and handing Dallas their first Stanley Cup.
Tampa Bay Lightning, 2003-04 — 12 seasons
The drafting of Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards in 1998, along with the trade for Nikolai Khabibulin in 2001, were all integral to Tampa Bay building a Stanley Cup contender. But one has to wonder if the Lightning would have ever captured the sport’s top prize if it wasn’t for a little known and remarkably underrated signing in the summer of 2000.
Tampa Bay went out into the free agent market that July and signed diminutive forward Martin St-Louis to a contract after he had failed to stay on with the Calgary Flames. The first year in Florida, St-Louis put up 40 points. The next year, an injury-riddled campaign, St-Louis put up 35 points. And then be broke out with a 33-goal, 70-point year, followed by a 38-goal, 94-point campaign. It was the start of what became an amazing career, and in 2003-04, with an Art Ross, Hart and Lester B. Pearson Award already heading for his trophy case, St-Louis paced the playoff with 15 assists and put up 24 points as the Lightning captured the Stanley Cup.
Carolina Hurricanes, 2005-06 — 26 seasons
Everything about the Hurricanes made them the ultimate underdog in the 2005-06 post-season. Many of the team’s best players were in the twilight of their careers, the defense corps left much to be desired and the goaltending situation wasn’t exactly rock solid during the regular season. The hope, however, was Eric Staal, the first-round pick two seasons earlier, would be able to carry the offense to some playoff success.
Who really led the charge, though, was the Hurricanes’ first-round pick that preceded Staal: goaltender Cam Ward.
Taken 25th overall in the 2002 draft, Ward had seen some time during the regular season but his numbers were far from impressive, but he was dominant throughout the playoffs. It seemed as though anything Ward could see, he could stop, and backstopped Carolina past the Edmonton Oilers in the final, capturing the Conn Smythe for his play.
Anaheim Ducks, 2006-07 — 13 seasons
With a roster consisting of Teemu Selanne, Chris Kunitz, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the Ducks were on their way to assembling quite the attack. But what was lacking in Anaheim was a pair of standout rearguards who could shut down the opposition. So, the Ducks set out to rectify that problem.
The first major piece the Ducks added was Scott Niedermayer, the smooth-skating star defender who had his share of Stanley Cup experience from his time with the New Jersey Devils. Niedermayer’s impact was instant, and Anaheim went to the 2005-06 Western Conference final one year after missing the post-season altogether.
What put the blueline head and shoulders above the rest of the league, though, was the addition the following off-season of Chris Pronger. Adding Pronger from the Oilers, who had defeated the Ducks in conference final only weeks earlier, gave Anaheim’s defense a brand new look. And with a reinforced backend and ever-improving attack, the Ducks were a force in the playoffs, losing only five games in the entire playoffs.
Los Angeles Kings, 2011-12 — 44 seasons
The Kings’ Stanley Cup victory was as much about the players as it was about a stylistic change. But let’s start with the major additions.
The Kings had the likes of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez and Jonathan Quick, but what Los Angeles sought to add was a bit more scoring punch and someone with a history of winning. As such, the team saw a chance to land Mike Richards in the off-season and jumped at the opportunity. And while Richards brought some elements the Kings were after, what really helped come the playoffs was reuniting the former Flyers captain with his former teammate Jeff Carter. A late-season trade did exactly that.
In the post-season, Carter chipped in eight goals and 13 points, while Richards four goals and 15 points were good for fourth in scoring on the Kings. Meanwhile, Quick turned in an all-world performance to capture the Conn Smythe.
None of it may have been possible without coach Darryl Sutter, however. While his preferred style of play wasn’t always the most pleasant to watch, the grinding, hard-nosed, puck possession game that the Kings played suffocated their opponents. Add in some timely scoring, fresh faces and clutch goaltending, and the Kings took home their first Stanley Cup.
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