It’s not always easy being a fan of an NHL team, especially at this time of year when nearly half the league is left out of the playoffs. Which teams’ fan bases deserve our pity the most?
(Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the 2018 Playoff Preview issue of The Hockey News. It has been updated for online purposes.)
This summer, one NHL franchise will throw a wicked Stanley Cup party. Speeches will be made, someone will accidentally curse, and all the fans in attendance will take the next day off work. It’ll be fun – unless it’s not your team. But not all fan misery is created equal. Some cities have suffered for decades, while others can still remember the good times. Some have no glory to speak of and, even worse, very little hope in the present.
Here’s our ranking of the most- to least-tortured NHL fan bases.
1. St. Louis Blues
The oldest franchise without a Cup hasn’t reached the final since the first years after expansion. And those shouldn’t even count since the playoff format guaranteed an expansion team a final berth.
2. Buffalo Sabres
Buffalo doesn’t just have losses, it has name-brand devastations. “Skate in the crease” is the Sabres’ “Wide Right,” and the current team has been putrid, even with Jack Eichel.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
Old glory is better than no glory, and while “1967” is an epithet to Leafs fans, Auston Matthews and his young lions bring renewed hope to the city. It’s still a half-century drought, though.
4. Washington Capitals
Constant disappointment mars this franchise, which hasn’t even come close to the final recently, despite the high-end cohort of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby.
5. Vancouver Canucks
A couple of gut-punch Game 7 losses in the 1994 and 2011 Cup finals stand as the high-water mark of Vancouver hockey. The team is in a rebuild, but at least Brock Boeser and friends have promise.
6. San Jose Sharks
For the longest time, the Sharks were playoff chum despite regular season success. A recent appearance in the Cup final dispelled that notion, but this group probably missed its window.
7. Florida Panthers
The Panthers have one appearance in the final to their credit, but all those players are execs and broadcasters now. Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad offer hope, at least.
8. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers seem to lose in the final often enough to give fans a sniff, but the franchise is still stuck on two titles. The Eagles found the promised land at the Super Bowl. Could that be an omen?
9. Ottawa Senators
The owner makes threats and the most talented player in team history may leave soon. Now toss in the fact this team hasn’t won a title since entering as an expansion franchise in 1992.
10. Winnipeg Jets
Do Avco Cups from the WHA count? Guess not. Jets fans were ecstatic to get their team back, but now it’s time for actual playoff results. At least they have the roster to do it.
11. Nashville Predators
No titles yet, but the Preds did make the final last season and showed the hockey world just how fun a game can be in Nashville. Don’t be surprised if the party continues this spring.
12. Minnesota Wild
Not only have the Wild failed to win a Stanley Cup in their lifetime, but the NHL’s previous Minnesota tenants won their title after moving to Dallas, giving Texas the glory instead.
13. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets have never won a playoff round, let alone come close to a Cup. Zach Werenski and Seth Jones offer hope on the back end, but this year’s edition was supposed to be better.
14. Arizona Coyotes
No Cups and years of off-ice arena and attendance turmoil don’t make for a fun atmosphere. Clayton Keller looks good, but the fans are waiting for the other kids to step up and take over.
15. New York Islanders
They lay claim to a major dynasty, and there is no denying the bond between Isles alumni and their fans. Building woes have dampened spirits, and what will John Tavares do this summer?
16. Montreal Canadiens
Because Habs fans are so messianic, any stretch without a Cup is agony. Montreal hasn’t won since 1993, and the future looks foreboding. Even Rasmus Dahlin wouldn’t solve all the problems.
17. Calgary Flames
That one title in 1989 is starting to get pretty far in the rearview mirror. This year’s team looked great on paper but has struggled in reality. Can the Flames find the right mix in the ‘Johnny Hockey’ epoch?
18. Edmonton Oilers
Oilers fans were spoiled in the 1980s, but other than a surprise appearance in the 2006 final, modern life has been sullen. Connor McDavid brings excitement, assuming Edmonton can find a proper supporting cast.
19. New York Rangers
One title in nearly 80 years sounds rough, but at least that championship came in 1994. So a lot of Blueshirts fans have seen a parade, even though they know the next one will take time.
20. Dallas Stars
Tyler Seguin’s smile can only go so far. Hockey is growing in the Lone Star State and adding another Cup to the mantle would push things further. It’s not going to happen this year, though.
21. Colorado Avalanche
We’re getting to the point where young Avs fans won’t remember the team’s Cup triumphs, but at least the club is heading in the right direction with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.
22. New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier are making the Devils super-fun to watch, and as they build a winner, fans can stare up at the rafters to remind themselves of the three Cup titles already claimed.
23. Carolina Hurricanes
Canes fans have the mic drop of a Cup win in the past 20 years whenever Canadian fans bug them about attendance. New owner Tom Dundon looks like he’s up for disruption.
24. Anaheim Ducks
Ducks fans can boast one of the most dominating Cup champs ever, and while the current cohort may have crested without another title, at least Ryan Kesler is fun to have around.
25. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts have one Cup triumph and a couple close calls since. But with good ownership, a smart GM and a boatload of talent on the roster, there could be another title coming.
26. Detroit Red Wings
While 2008 may seem like a lifetime ago, at least Red Wings fans can still remember good times. Hopefully the ‘Dead Things’ are temporary.
27. Boston Bruins
It hasn’t been that long since the most recent Cup in Boston, and the top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak is worth celebrating. The Bruins remain one of the beasts in the East.
28. Los Angeles Kings
For a minute there, those two recent titles looked far away. But with coach John Stevens revitalizing the franchise, the Kings are at least back in the mix and playing faster, competitive hockey.
29. Chicago Blackhawks
The team’s future is looking a little murky right now, but with three Cups in the past decade, fans can’t complain. There’s probably still some confetti stuck to the ground of the parade route.
30. Vegas Golden Knights
Imagine if the Golden Knights win it all this year. Vegas fans have been treated to fast, winning hockey, and the savvy ones have made a killing betting on home game wins.
31. Pittsburgh Penguins
Two straight Cups and the possibility of a third coming. From Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to all the best Phil Kessel photos, it’s a beautiful time in Pittsburgh.