After six grueling years, the Vegas Golden Knights finally won their first Stanley Cup in 2023, but they aren’t the only team to accomplish that feat in recent years. The St. Louis Blues did it in 2019, and the Washington Capitals washed away years of playoff disappointment with a Cup in 2018.
So, which of the 11 teams without a Stanley Cup will be the next to break through and plan their first parade?
There are plenty of good candidates, even though they aren’t all exactly alike. A couple of teams are very much in win-now mode with the end of their Stanley Cup window in sight. On the other side of the coin, a few teams still have work to do on their rosters, but it’s easy to see their championship window being open for quite some time.
Ultimately, between the talent already on the roster and budding stars in the organization, we landed on the four teams below as the most likely to be the next franchise to end their Stanley Cup drought.
Austin Nivison: Last season was something of a step forward for the Sens, especially for a couple of their most important players. Tim Stützle, 21, broke out for 39 goals and 90 points while establishing himself as a legit No. 1 forward in the NHL. Brady Tkachuk wasn’t far behind with 35 goals and 83 points of his own. Those two give Ottawa an elite duo on its top line, and they haven’t even hit their prime yet.
Beyond Tkachuk and Stützle, the Senators have a handful of key players who are 25 or younger. Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Shane Pinto, Jakob Chychrun and Jake Sanderson are all on that list. No. 1 defenseman Thomas Chabot just missed the cut at age 26, but he and Chychrun will make life tough on opposing forwards for at least the next two years. Throw Sanderson in there as well, and that will be an impressive blue line in a year or two.
The Senators look like a team ready to make a leap up the standings in 2023-24, even if they don’t win the Stanley Cup. Making the playoffs and getting experience there would be a good way to kick off their Cup window, which could be extended with a pair of first-round picks in the 2024 NHL Draft.
Chris Bengel: The Senators have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past six seasons, but the 2022-23 campaign was a huge step in the right direction. For the first time in quite a while, Ottawa stockpiled a deep team that possessed ton of forward depth with players like Stützle, Tkachuk, Norris and Claude Giroux.
However, the Senators didn’t completely get to see what that full core would look like after Norris only appeared in eight games due to a shoulder injury. Still, this was a team that was aggressive at the trade deadline and added a top blue-liner in the form of Chychrun. This move helped stabilize a defensive unit that also includes Chabot and the youngster Sanderson, who signed a massive contract extension in the offseason.
After adding veteran forward Vladimir Tarasenko to an already loaded forward group, the Senators are finally ready to make huge strides in 2023-24 after missing the postseason by just six points a season ago. They have youth on their side, excluding Giroux and Tarasenko, so the Stanley Cup window is going to be open for several years to come. It may not happen overnight, but the framework is there for an exceptionally talented roster.
Nivison: After falling just short of its first Stanley Cup last year, Florida will give it another try in 2023-24, and there is reason to believe the team could finish the job this time.
It helps to have Matthew Tkachuk, who I believe is a top five player in the NHL. He carried the Panthers for much of last season while putting up 51 goals and 133 points between the regular season and the playoffs. If he can get some more support from the rest of the roster this year, Florida will once again be a very big problem in the Eastern Conference.
Tkachuk should have plenty of help because the Panthers are still very impressive on paper. Aleksander Barkov‘s numbers came back down to Earth in 2022-23, but he is still an elite two-way center. Sam Bennett adds some strong depth down the middle, while Carter Verhaeghe and Sam Reinhart provide pop on the wings. Brandon Montour had a coming out part on the blue line last year, and he will be back alongside Aaron Ekblad and Gustav Forsling at that position.
The biggest question for Florida will be whether Sergei Bobrovsky can put together an entire season in 2023-24. The Panthers need him to do that to lift the Cup in the near future because they don’t have much draft capital to work with moving forward.
Bengel: The Panthers took the NHL by storm during the 2022-23 season as they advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. As if upsetting last year’s historic Bruins team wasn’t enough, the Panthers also dispatched of the Maple Leafs and Hurricanes en route to their second Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history.
While Florida just missed out on hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, there was still a ton of positives to take from the 2022-23 season. Matthew Tkachuk put together the best season of his career, and would’ve had a Hart Trophy case if it wasn’t for the insane year Connor McDavid had. Tkachuk proved his worth as a gritty forward that was capable of putting the Panthers on his back to the tune of 24 points (11 goals and 13 assists), including four game-winning goals, in the playoffs.
While Barkov had a little bit of a drop in production, he still proved to be one of the top players at the center position in the league. The core group includes talented forwards like Tkachuk, Barkov, Verhaeghe and Reinhart, while also having a talented back end featuring Forsling.
The Panthers went from barely qualifying for the postseason to nearly winning it all. The question remains whether they can build upon that and have a repeat performance in the seasons to come. There’s no doubt the talent is there.
Nivison: An absolutely electric group of forwards led to the Sabres being the most entertaining team in 2022-23, and they are all back with another year of experience. Athletic freak Tage Thompson, 25, put up 94 points, but he wasn’t alone in his excellence. Veteran Jeff Skinner added 82 points, but younger players like Alex Tuch, Dylan Cozens and Casey Mittelstadt all turned in strong performances.
On the blue line, Rasmus Dahlin finally came into his own and looked like a true No. 1 defenseman, totaling 73 points while improving his defensive game and earning Norris Trophy votes. Owen Power, another former No. 1 overall pick, had his ups and downs as a rookie but showed a boatload of promise. Those two will be tent poles on the back end for a long time, and I look forward to seeing them get even better.
Like some of the other teams on this list, Buffalo has a goaltending problem, but it also has a possible solution in Devon Levi. The 21-year-old impressed in limited action at the end of last season. If Levi does work out, the Sabres will end their playoff drought in the very near future as they continue their ascent.
Bengel: It’s been a rough stretch for the Sabres as they’ve missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 12 consecutive seasons. However, the franchise began the process of turning things around in the post-Jack Eichel era. Forward Tage Thompson has developed into one of the more entertaining goal scorers the league has to offer. Thompson has produced back-to-back 30-goal seasons, including a career-high 47 goals in 2022-23.
Having two legitimate star defensemen in the form of Dahlin and Power is huge for the direction of the team. Dahlin has completely taken his game to the next level, becoming an All-Star and Norris Trophy contender in each of the past two seasons.
If Buffalo can find a franchise goaltender at some point, the sky is the limit for what this team can accomplish.
Nivison: When building a contender, having the reigning Calder Trophy winner as your No. 1 center tends to be a good sign that things are headed in the right direction. That’s what the Kraken have in Matty Beniers, who won the award after tallying 24 goals and 57 points as a rookie. Beniers will be a cornerstone player for the Kraken, and their situation down the middle will only improve if Shane Wright pans out after being selected No. 4 overall in the 2022 NHL Draft.
Outside of Beniers, Jared McCann finally broke out for 40 goals last year after showing a lot of potential earlier in his career. Behind him, Seattle has one of the deepest rosters in the NHL. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Yanni Gourde, Andre Burakovsky, Jordan Eberle and Jaden Schwartz give the Kraken a lot of versatility. Add in the fact that Vince Dunn broke out and looked the part of a top-pairing defenseman, and the Kraken will be competitive once again.
Looking beyond 2023-24, the Kraken will have the salary cap flexibility and draft capital to improve its roster. The depth is there. Now, it’s just a matter of using those resources to find high-end talent.
Bengel: It’s hard for every expansion team to follow the Golden Knights’ blueprint, but the Kraken weren’t too far behind. After a mediocre inaugural campaign, the Kraken rebounded in a big way as they qualified for the postseason in 2022-23.
The Kraken have a strong core to build around, and it all starts with Beniers. Beniers, who was the team’s first Round 1 pick as a franchise, burst onto the scene with a Calder Trophy-winning season to the tune of 57 points (24 goals and 33 assists), good for the fourth-highest total on the team. Playing on a line with a veteran like McCann brought out the best in Beniers’ game and took a lot of pressure off of his shoulders.
Seattle’s back end was a rather large question mark following the 2021 Expansion Draft, but Dunn has really helped to solidify that position. Dunn had a career-best 64 points (14 goals and 50 assists) in 2022-23, which was second on the team. The 26-year-old showed flashes of talent during his time with the Blues, but he finally appears to have taken his game to the next level.
The Kraken possess a very talented forward group consisting of Beniers, McCann, Eberle, Schwartz and Gourde. Seattle is definitely set up for the future and hasn’t spent a ton of money since its inception. The Kraken have their first playoff series win under their belt now, and they could be one of the top teams in the West this coming season and beyond.