The history of the NHL is filled with dynasties that helped build the legacy of the league and add to the lore of winning the Stanley Cup.
From the original six era dynasties of the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Red Wings to the Islanders and Oilers of the 80s to the modern era BlackHawks, the league has seen several teams etch their names in immortality.
However, what about the teams that could have won more?
While history will always remember the teams that won several times, what about those that only one once, or never one at all but could have. Whether due to injuries, bad luck, questionable officiating, the era they played in, or the league itself, there have been some pretty good teams throughout history that could have made their mark.
Here are five teams that had a chance to go from good to all-time great.
5. Buffalo Sabres (98-99,01)
While Sabres fans nowadays are stuck in a cycle of missing the playoffs and waiting for their young players to take that next step, they can always look back at the glory days when they had one of the greatest goalies to ever play the game. While the Sabres of the late 90s and early 2000s were never a star-studded team, they had a few years where they just seemed to click come playoff time.
1998 saw the Sabres make the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in the reorganized playoff format and come within two games of the Stanley Cup Finals that year.
With a young core highlighted by Miroslav Satan, Michael Peca, and Curtis Brown, the Sabres beat the Flyers and Canadiens before falling to the Capitals.
That series saw Hašek allow three or more goals only three times, all three of those games ended in overtime, and all three were won by the Capitals. The other loss in the series was a game where the Sabres could not score a goal. While it’s a stretch to say they would have beaten the Red Wings, it still would have been a treat to see Hašek go against that team.
The 2001 playoffs were a similar story as the team was a mix of veterans and young players who lost in the semifinals to the Penguins in seven games.
Again while the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals and the Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Finals would have been a tall task, we have no idea how they would have done due to losing back to back overtime games to lose to the Penguins.
What we can say for sure is that the most realist chance the Sabres had was the 98-99 season.
That season saw Hašek have a 1.87 goals-against average in the regular season and then a 1.77 goals-against average in the playoffs as the Sabres went to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to lose to the Dallas Stars.
This series will always be remembered for the Brett Hulls’ notorious Cup-winning goal in game six where his foot was in the crease, but the goal was allowed.
While that call still gets debated about to this day, it was clear that this play was what ended the Sabres realistic chances of winning the cup.
Even with the slight chance they had in 2001, it was clear that this Sabres had missed their opportunities of rewriting the history of the franchise.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning (04-07)
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While the current incarnation of the Tampa Bay Lighting may find themselves on a list like this one day with their performances in recent years, here we focus on the mid-2000s version of the Bolts. If there was any team that was most hurt by the 04-05 lockout and the results of it, the Tampa Bay Lighting would most likely be at the top of that list.
Now to be clear, the 04-05 lockout was needed for the future of the league in retrospect.
Before the lockout, the NHL did not have a salary cap and many NHL teams were using a lot of their gross revenue on players salary and commissioner Gary Bettman was not pleased.
Fast forward to after the 04-05 season was canceled, a salary cap and teams had to review their rosters.
One of those teams included the 2004 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Led with the veteran presence of Dave Andreychuk, defensemen Dan Boyle and Pavel Kubina, goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, and budding superstar forwards Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, the Lightning won their first cup in team history.
However, the new salary cap cost the team their starting goaltender. Khabibulin, who was coming off a great playoff run that saw him post five shutouts, get a big contract from the Chicago Blackhawks and leave the team.
While Khabibulin never matched the level he played at in Tampa Bay, he was the best goaltender the Lightning had, and it showed.
The following seasons in 05-06 and 06-07 saw the Lightning have to put up high offensive numbers to make the playoffs both years as the eight and seventh seeds respectively.
Ultimately the Lightning missed the playoffs for three straight years after their last two playoff exits, and the team would end up losing critical players in Brad Richards, Pavel Kubina, and Dan Boyle.
While the salary cap was much needed for the league, it proved to hurt the Lightning as they were unable to keep their cup-winning core together and properly be able to defend their title.
Especially the 06-07 season which saw the St. Louis and Lecavalier both break the 100 point barrier and Dan Boyle finish with 63 points and fourth in Norris Trophy voting.
3. Dallas Stars (98-01)
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If there were any team that defines the phrase “being around at the wrong time” in sports, it would be the Dallas Stars in the late 90s and early 2000s.
The only stroke of bad luck the Stars had during this time period was the fact that the Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche, and New Jersey Devils were all at their peaks during the Stars best years.
To put things in perspective, from 1995 to 2003, there was only on Stanley Cup Finals matchup that did not include the Red Wings, Avalanche, or Devils, and that was the 1999 finals were the Stars beat the Sabres.
That alone shows how tough that era was to play in, and the fact that the Stars got to two finals in this time and won one deserves credit.
While the Stars had great players like Mike Modano, Joe Nieuwendyk, Brett Hull, Sergei Zubov, Derian Hatcher, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Ed Belfour from 98-01, the Avs, Wings, and Devils all had several hall of famers on their teams as well.
To be fair the Stars were never an easy out either. They lost the 1998 western conference finals to the Red Wings in six games. They even beat the Avs in the 1999 and 2000 Western Conference Finals in seven games both times.
As aforementioned, the Stars got their lone cup in 1999 before losing to the Devils in six games, where they lost the last three games by one goal, including the last game, game six in overtime.
If a few bounces go differently the Stars could have won back to back cups, and head into the 2001 playoffs with more momentum. Perhaps they wouldn’t have lost in the second round and would have met up with the Avs for a third straight year in the conference finals.
However, to their credit, the Stars at least got their championship, but it’s worth looking back and realizing how close they were to be even better.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (2009-2014)
Unlike the other teams on this list, the Penguins eventually won several Stanley Cups during their best years, but it’s worth revisiting how close they were to being a team filled with unfulfilled potential.
When the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup in 2009, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang were 21 years old, Evgeni Malkin was 22, Jordan Staal was 20 and Marc-Andre Fleury was 23.
The team had just defeated the mighty Detroit Red Wings and the core pieces of their team were not even close to hitting their prime yet.
From there the disappointments began to pile up on the team.
2010 saw the team meet up with the eight-seeded Montreal Canadiens who were riding a wave of momentum that only the 2012 eight-seeded LA Kings would surpass, as the Canadiens knocked the defending champ Penguins out of the playoffs.
2010-2011 saw Crosby suffer from concussion syndromes that saw him miss the last part of the season. Evgeni Malkin also had a season-ending injury as he tore his ACL and MCL.
2011-12 looked to be a comeback year as even without Crosby, the Penguins still made the playoffs as a fourth seed. That season Malkin won the Hart Trophy (league MVP award). Things looked even better when Crosby returned and played well prior to the playoffs but the team lost in the first round.
The 2013 and 2014 playoffs saw the Penguins best shots at winning the Cup again at the time, as the team saw Crosby and Malkin be healthy and surrounded by players like Letang, James Neal, Brandon Sutter, and others.
Both years saw the Penguins fall to the eventual Eastern Conference Champions in both playoffs.
2013 saw the offense get stifled by Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals, as the team only scored two total goals in the series. Then in 2014, leading the Rangers 3-1 in the semifinals, the Penguins only scored three goals in the last three games as the Rangers came back and eventually make it to the finals.
Eventually, things did turn around for the Penguins, 2015-2017 saw general manager Jim Rutherford build the roster through smart acquisitions and build the team up to be able to win back-to-back cups with winning the Cup in 2016 and 2017.
However, one can only wonder if the Penguins could have won more prior had it not been due to injuries and lack of roster depth.
1. Detroit Red Wings (2009-2013)
It is a legitimate statement to say that the Detroit Red Wings have been the third-best ran pro sports organization in the last 20+ years, behind only the New England Patriots and the San Antonio Spurs.
The team won 3 cups in six years from 1997 to 2002. The team added another Cup in 2008 and had a chance to win it all again but failed in 2009, losing to the young Pittsburgh Penguins.
Part of the reason the Red Wings were this good was because of the amazing scouting the had for years, several star players like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were found with late-round picks, and the team was led by general manager Ken Holland who had built the team for over a decade at that point.
The team still had all-time great defenseman Nicklas Lidström, steady goaltending, important veterans and other great players such as Johan Franzén and Niklas Kronwall.
However, things began to change for the Red Wings after their 2009 Cup Finals appearance.
2010 and 2011 saw the Red Wings begin losing players to injuries throughout the season, and eventually fall in the semifinals in both those seasons.
2012 then saw the team lose in the first round for the first time since 2006.
2013 was the last season the team had a shot to make noise in the playoffs as in the semifinals the Red Wings had the Blackhawks down 3-1 in the series.
However, the Blackhawks would go on to win three straight and eliminate Detroit. This elimination not only spelled the end of the Red Wings 2013 playoff run but the end of their window of championship contention.
While the team made the playoffs in 2014, 2015, and 2016, they lost in the first round each time. The roster, once filled with several big-name players no longer had the same amount of star power.
The team no longer was able to attract star players, several prospects the had staggered in development, and the team kept relying on veterans and overpaid for several players that ended up declining, retiring, or being injured.
While it is usually unfair to blame one person, now-former general manager Ken Holland was the one in charge of building the roster that eventually fell off. He chose not to step down as gm which would have allowed Steven Yzerman to take over.
Hollands’ refusal led Yzerman to go to Tampa Bay and build them into a Stanley Cup contender before returning to Detroit at the end of the 2018-19 season.
The first-class organization fell from being the envy of the league to a bottom-tier team. Had some different decisions been made then the Red Wings could have one of the best cores in the league, but that is not the case.
The Red Wings now find themselves rebuilding, trying to get back to the playoffs and eventually be Cup contenders again, but to it’s worth noting that it all could be different and they still could be the class of the league, and potentially have some more championships if one key decision had gone the other way.