Top 10 perennial playoff contenders since the lockout

Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar

Earlier this week, THN’s Brian Costello raised a great question: What makes a dynasty in this salary cap era? Brian defined it as three titles in five years – at least, before the salary cap was instituted – but admitted maybe that standard needs to be relaxed in the face of today’s flattened NHL playing field.

It’s a timely discussion, what with the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks – Cup champs from the last two seasons – heading into Game 7 of the Western Conference final tonight. One team will go on to the Stanley Cup final as a favourite to win another championship. The other will have to deal with the sting of falling just short of dynasty-level success.

Both teams are as close as it gets to dynasty-calibre potential in the NHL right now, but we simply haven’t seen a team win three Cups in five years since the salary cap was imposed. With salaries spiking at a younger age now and roster turnover inevitable, teams simply can’t stay on top as long. In a league built on parity, staying at the top of the pile and consistently making the playoffs is an impressive feat in its own right.

So which teams have managed that best? Which teams have the most playoff appearances and Stanley Cup wins since the 2004-05 lockout?

These 10 teams have had the most post-season success, counting up the number of playoff rounds they’ve appeared in since 2005, and adding any Stanley Cups on top.

1. Detroit Red Wings – 20 playoff rounds, 1 Stanley Cup

They were a dynasty before the salary cap was instituted. And, while the shine has come off the Winged Wheel in recent years, they’re always in the mix come playoff time. They’re no longer as good as the teams that went to the final in 2007-08 and 2008-09, but their 23 straight post-season appearance streak is the best in pro sports.

But these aren’t Nicklas Lidstrom’s Red Wings anymore, and greatness is behind them. They haven’t been beyond the second round since 2009, and with Boston, L.A., Chicago and Pittsburgh all younger and better right now, Detroit’s spot at the top of this list won’t last much longer.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins – 18 playoff rounds, 1 Stanley Cup

Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins are good, but are they as good as we thought they’d be at this point? The answer, clearly, is no, given that they fired general manager Ray Shero after their second-round exit this year.

When the second-most successful playoff team since the lockout fires its GM, you know the bar is set sky-high. And rightfully so, because five years ago, fresh off their first Stanley Cup win and second appearance in the final, it looked like the Penguins were on the cusp of a dynasty that would last a long, long time.

But it’s been a bit of a struggle ever since that 2009 championship. Sidney Crosby has battled injuries (especially concussions), and his Pittsburgh co-star Evgeni Malkin has had his share of bumps and bruises in that time, too. Crosby has become the Ryan Seacrest of the NHL these last five years, hosting winger auditions seemingly on a nightly basis as the Pens struggled to find the perfect complimentary player for their superstar. That, no doubt, is why Ray Shero got cashiered, along with the Pens’ inability to fill out their depth chart with quality players.

But that’s a lot of pessimism for such a successful team, and in the end, these guys are going to be a playoff threat for as long as Sid and Malkin are suiting up for them.

3. Chicago Blackhawks – 16 playoff rounds (so far), 2 Stanley Cups

What?

Yeah, they’re the only team on the list with two Stanley Cups, but remember, we’re talking playoff rounds here. They simply haven’t been good for as long as the Red Wings or Penguins.

That’s OK, though, because any team would love to have the Blackhawks’ young core of superstars. There’s no better leader in the game today than Jonathan Toews, and with Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, this core is scary. Kane and Toews are signed for one more season in Chicago, and while it’s tough to believe they’d ever bolt, paying those two in 2015-16 will put an even tighter squeeze on a team that’s already tops on the salary cap chart.

But Stan Bowman’s been a magician so far at keeping his best players around and filling out the depth chart with young, productive secondary scoring. Chicago’s still got plenty of time to claim that dynasty title.

4. Boston Bruins – 16 playoff rounds, 1 Stanley Cup

The Boston Bruins have been a model franchise ever since GM Peter Chiarelli came in from Ottawa and brought Zdeno Chara with him. No one wants to play them in the playoffs, and ever since they beat up the Vancouver Canucks to win the 2011 Stanley Cup, many teams have wanted to adopt the Bruins’ hard-nosed approach.

Unlike many of the teams on this list, where it’s easy to credit one factor like drafting, or toughness, or a few high draft picks, the Bruins have built a winning tradition by doing a little bit of everything right. Chiarelli has always had a mix of tough, heavy forwards who can score alongside skilled youngsters and a mostly veteran defensive corps led by Chara.

That’s why it’s tough to point to one part of the Bruins’ roster and say, “They’re done when he’s gone.” Chara and Patrice Bergeron are the Bruins’ best players, but there’s so much depth there, and enough youth, that the Bruins could easily make the playoffs every year for the next decade.

They may win another Cup in that time, too.

5. San Jose Sharks – 17 playoff rounds

If the San Jose Sharks had a team motto, it would be “This year will be different, we swear.” For years, the Sharks have been a sexy pick to win the Stanley Cup, and for years they’ve fallen short, despite icing some darn good teams since the 2005 lockout. They looked ready to break out this year and crush the Cup-contending Kings in a sweep. Then they didn’t, and it was more of the same handwringing (and more promises it’ll be different next year).

But if you take a glass-half-full approach, the Sharks are in the top five on this list despite never having won a Cup, or even making it to the final. San Jose may ultimately disappoint, but they’ve been remarkably consistent, making the playoffs every year since the salary cap was imposed and advancing to at least the second round in six of those nine seasons.

They may not have a Stanley Cup title to make them an official capital-D Dynasty, but you can’t turn your nose up at that kind of long-term effectiveness.

6. New York Rangers – 16 playoff rounds (including this year’s upcoming final)

Before the salary cap arrived in 2005, the New York Rangers were bad. Despite the fact GM Glen Sather had the freedom to spend like a drunken sailor on high-priced help ($9 million a year for Bobby Holik?), the Rangers missed the playoffs seven years straight.

Then the 2005 lockout happened, and everything changed. Or to be more accurate, Henrik Lundqvist arrived. ‘King Henrik’ was a Vezina Trophy finalist in his rookie season and has been all-world ever since, leading the Rangers to the playoffs in eight of the last nine seasons and capturing that Vezina in 2011-12.

The Rangers also started icing more homegrown talent when he arrived, as the salary cap prevented them from loading up on free agents. They’ve still handed out some big contracts over the years, but only to add to what they already have. And with a conference final appearance under their belts and a Stanley Cup final berth secured, this team is well-established as a solid, if not spectacular, playoff contender.

7. Anaheim Ducks – 14 playoff rounds, 1 Stanley Cup

As the Los Angeles Kings write their legend in the 2014 playoffs, don’t forget it was the Ducks who did it before them. Anaheim became the first California-based team to win a Stanley Cup when they captured it in 2007, and they’ve stayed fairly strong ever since. With Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf as the backbone of the team, the Ducks have only missed the playoffs twice since the 2005 lockout. They’ve gone down in the first or second round each time since their Cup, but they’ve also managed to retool on the fly with young up-and-coming stars like Cam Fowler, Devante Smith-Pelly and their latest revelation, goaltender John Gibson.

The past is bright in Anaheim, but the future looks bright, too.

8. Philadelphia Flyers – 14 playoff rounds

With all the goaltenders and partial roster overhauls the Flyers have been through over the years, they’ve been remarkably successful in the playoffs, having missed the post-season dance only twice since 2005. Even when they go out in the first round, the Flyers are always a tough out.

In the post-lockout era, the Flyers have gone to the Stanley Cup final once, the Eastern Conference final twice and have been to the second round four times. Driven, it seems, by owner Ed Snider’s aggressive hunger to win, the Philadelphia Flyers organization has a tradition of competing hard, no matter who plays there.

9. Los Angeles Kings – 12 playoff rounds (so far), 1 Stanley Cup

Bow down to the Kings, baby. These guys are positively machine-like. They looked beat in the first round when San Jose had them over a barrel after three games, but they flicked the switch and have been a team of Terminators ever since. Drew Doughty. Anze Kopitar. Jonathan Quick. Jeff Carter. All core guys, all clutch players. And coach Darryl Sutter even makes rental players like Marian Gaborik fit in seamlessly.

Los Angeles is just entering its window for greatness. Otherwise, they’d be much higher on this list. They’ve only made the playoffs the last five years, and that’s nothing compared to other teams on this list. But they go far, and whether they bow out to Chicago tonight or go on, it’s a safe bet to say they’ll be great for years to come.

Oh, and I should mention: this group has never lost a Game 7.

10. Montreal Canadiens – 12 playoff rounds

They’re not quite dynasty material anymore (especially when you consider their history), but Montreal can boast two conference final appearances since 2005. They’ve only missed the playoffs twice since the salary cap was imposed, and while they don’t have as many high picks on their roster as L.A., Pittsburgh or Chicago, they’ve got a gold medal-winning goaltender in Carey Price, and a gold- and Norris Trophy-winning blueliner in P.K. Subban. Both are young and still getting better. You could also argue they’d be higher on this list if Price hadn’t been injured in the third round.

Everyone Else

Honourable mention to the Vancouver Canucks, who also have 12 playoff rounds since the lockout, and who came within one win of capturing a Stanley Cup. They lost the top 10 tiebreaker because the sun has set on Vancouver as a contender right now, while the Canadiens appear better-positioned to add to their playoff successes next year.

And dishonourable mention to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchises, who each have one playoff round since 2005.