I’ve lived in Vancouver for nearly 12 years, but grew up in southern Manitoba as a fan of the Winnipeg Jets. I ended up working at Jets games while attending the University of Manitoba from 1991 to 1995 – for anyone who went to Jet games in those days, I was one of the few young guys wearing those awful blue blazers that ripped tickets at the door and guarded exits. But I digress.

As I’m sure occurs in many professional sporting cities, the local fans feel particularly aggrieved at the lack of success achieved by their team. But which NHL franchise has actually proven to be the least successful? When looking at the important data, the answer is rather obvious.

What drives the satisfaction of sports fans is, ultimately, winning championships. But long playoff runs are also thrilling, a fact easily observed by the continued fond remembrances of Vancouverites at the Canucks’ 1994 run to the 7th game of the Stanley Cup final (as well as their 1982 final appearance).

So teams can satisfy their fans either by winning championships, or going on long runs. The memory of a championship lasts longer, of course, before the general level of dissatisfaction rises again. So let’s say that the thrill of a Stanley Cup lasts for 40 years, the thrill of going to the final lasts for half that long (20 years), and the thrill of going to the final four lasts half that time again (10 years). Which franchises have truly been successful in satisfying their fans?

Let’s start with franchises that have won the Stanley Cup in the last 40 years…

  1. Carolina (2006)
  2. Tampa Bay (2004)
  3. New Jersey (2003/2000/1995)
  4. Detroit (2002/1998/1997)
  5. Colorado (2001/1996)
  6. Dallas (1999)
  7. New York (1994)
  8. Montreal (1993/1986/1979/1978/1977/1976/1973/1971/1969/1968)
  9. Pittsburgh (1992/1991)
  10. Edmonton (1990/1988/1987/1985/1984)
  11. Calgary (1989)
  12. Uniondale (1983/1982/1981/1980)
  13. Philadelphia (1975/1974)
  14. Boston (1972/1970)
  15. Toronto (1967)

You might ask if the Leafs’ last Cup in 1967 is still giving any satisfaction to Toronto fans. Well, probably not much as they will be outside the 40-year window once the current season is over, but at least older fans have the memories of a championship that can be passed down. That’s something that nearly half of the league’s teams can’t say.

(By the way, Carolina’s Cup win last year meant that a majority of the 30 teams in the league have won the Cup. In addition to the 15 listed above, Chicago last won it in 1961. There have been a lot of first-time winners in the last dozen years – New Jersey, Colorado, Dallas, Tampa Bay, and Carolina. A 17th franchise could have a championship after this season if either Ottawa or Anaheim wins.The next criteria for satisfying fans is an appearance in the Stanley Cup final in the last 20 years. In addition to the 15 teams that have won the Cup, these teams have been in the final in the last 2 decades:

  1. Anaheim (2003)
  2. Buffalo (1999)
  3. Washington (1998)
  4. Florida (1996)
  5. Vancouver(1994)
  6. Los Angeles (1993)
  7. Chicago (1992)

So a total of 22 of the NHL’s teams have either won the Stanley Cup in the last 40 years or been to the finals in the last 20 years.

The final criteria for satisfying fans is appearing in the final four in the last 10 years. Franchises that have done this without going to the final are:

  1. San Jose (2004)
  2. Ottawa (2003, and going to the final in 2007)
  3. Minnesota(2003)
  4. St. Louis (2001)

That makes 26 out of 30 teams that have either won the Cup in the last 40 years, been to the finals in the last 20 years, or been to the semifinals in the last 10 years.

There are 4 teams that have failed to achieve any of these targets. But a final consideration is the grace period that is due an expansion team. It’s reasonable for teams to have at least a decade to reach the final four, so the following three teams haven’t been around long enough to cause their fans serious heartache:

  1. Columbus entered the NHL in 2000, only 7 years ago.
  2. Atlanta re-entered the NHL in 1999, only 8 years ago.
  3. Nashville entered the NHL in 1998, only 9 years ago.

So that makes 29 teams whose fans should be at least a little satisfied at the performance of their squad.

Which leaves the only NHL franchise that has NO Stanley Cup championships in the last 40 years, NO appearances in the Stanley Cup final in the last 20 years, and NO semifinal appearances in the last 10 years, and is not a new expansion team. The loser is….

…the Phoenix Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets. They have existed in Arizona only since 1996, so you could argue that the desert honeymoon is just ending, but consider the franchise’s NHL history since 1979, when the Jets entered the NHL. They have advanced past the first round of the playoffs only twice in 27 seasons and have NEVER been a serious threat to advance past that point.

There is no question which NHL franchise is the least successful…

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