Remember the parties the Washington Capitals took part in last summer after winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history? Yeah, now the hangover part is starting to kick in.
On Wednesday, the Capitals were eliminated in the first round by the Carolina Hurricanes in double-overtime of Game 7, becoming the first defending champion to get eliminated in the first round since the Chicago Blackhawks bowed out early in 2016. It was far from a bad season for the Caps, finishing first in a tight Metropolitan Division with 104 points, but for a team that didn’t show any signs of slowing down throughout the regular season, Washington hit a wall early in the post-season against a team that only narrowly squeaked into a wild-card spot.
The pressure is always on to repeat as champions, but only the Pittsburgh Penguins have won back-to-back titles – the 2015 and 2016 crowns – since the league hit 30 teams. Still, very few teams go on to have an early playoff exit, or miss the post-season altogether, the following season. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most notable Stanley Cup hangovers in NHL history:
Toronto Maple Leafs, 1967-68
Let’s get the low-hanging fruit out of the way: yes, it’s been a 52-year Cup drought for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs were the last team to win the Cup during the Original Six era, beating Chicago and Montreal on the way to a 13th league title. The Leafs had 75 points that season thanks to a 32-27-11 record and bested it the following campaign. The difference? There were now 12 teams in the league, and while Toronto’s 76 points might have been enough to make the post-season in the West Division (the group with the six expansion clubs), it wasn’t enough to beat Chicago’s 80 for the final spot in the east. Of course, Toronto has yet to win the Cup since, but if you ask fans today, the Leafs are a true contender again these days – that is, if the Boston Bruins aren’t involved in the playoffs. Toronto is going to need to speed up, though: they’re 12 years away from becoming the only active franchise to win the Stanley Cup and not have their name on the trophy anymore.
New Jersey Devils, 1995-96
The New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings were two of the most dominant franchises in the 1990s, battling it out in the 1995 Cup final. The 1994-95 season was shortened due to a lockout and New Jersey finished with a 22-18-8 record during the regular season in a weak Atlantic Division. The Devils went on to win the Stanley Cup with a roster consisting of Stephane Richer, Neal Broten, Claude Lemieux, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens and Martin Brodeur. They Devils swept the Red Wings in the final, too, giving the New Jersey momentum heading into the 1995-96 season. So, how did the two finalists fare the next season? Detroit broke the all-time record for regular season wins with 62 (the Tampa Bay Lightning tied the record this season) before losing to the eventual Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference final. New Jersey missed the playoffs by two points.
Detroit Red Wings, 2002-03
Speaking of Detroit, the Red Wings were unstoppable in 2001-02, going 51-17-10-4 with 116 points before defeating Carolina in five games in the final. Unlike the rest of the teams on this list, the Red Wings actually made the playoffs the following season, finishing with 110 points and were favorites for the Cup once again as the Western Conference’s second seed. The Red Wings met up with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the opening round, though, and were brick-walled by Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who went on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy in a losing effort the Devils in the final. It was a shock seeing the defending champions get swept in the opening round, especially since the Red Wings won three of the four meetings between the two teams during the regular season.
Carolina Hurricanes, 2006-07
Carolina’s huge run this season is just the team’s second post-season appearance since they took home Lord Stanley’s prize in 2006. Led by rookie goaltender Cam Ward, the Hurricanes beat the Edmonton Oilers in a thrilling Game 7 to win the Cup. The Hurricanes’ historic season did wonders in helping grow the sport locally in the short term, but they followed their first championship with a dismal 88-point campaign in 2006-07, missing the playoffs by four points. With much of the same core, the Hurricanes made the playoffs again in 2009, but didn’t play in the spring again until this season, with the team currently in the midst of its second-round series against the New York Islanders.
Los Angeles Kings, 2014-15
A dominant performance by Jonathan Quick during the 2012 final, followed up by magical efforts by Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Jeff Carter two years later, helped give the Los Angeles Kings two Stanley Cups in three seasons. But as the Kings fell flat on their faces as they eyed up another long playoff run in 2014-15. Off-ice drama and a higher threshold to make the playoffs – the Dallas Stars made the playoffs with 91 points in 2014, while Winnipeg took the final wild-card spot with 99 the following year – got in the way as the Kings’ 95 points, the same amount they complied before their 2012 Cup win, wasn’t enough to book them a ticket to the dance. Los Angeles hasn’t won a playoff series and has only won on playoff game since their 2014 Stanley Cup run, missing the post-season in three of the past five years.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.