The ultimate goal for professional sports teams is, obviously, winning. But it is not just about winning in any one particular season. Teams want to be consistently good and competitive over several years, and here we are going to look at teams that are best set up for long-term success over the next five years. These rankings are not necessarily about which teams are best THIS SEASON, but who we might look back at five years from now and say had the best five-year run during that stretch.
The defending Stanley Cup champions have been on the upswing for five years now and should be right in the thick of their championship window. They have superstars in the prime of their careers, all signed-long term, and another wave of young talent on the rise. They already have the best defense in hockey led by Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Sam Girard, and Erik Johnson, and now Bowen Byram is on his way to being a star as well. As long as Alexandar Georgiev is solid in goal, they have a chance to win another Stanley Cup very soon, maybe multiple Stanley Cups.
The Hurricanes are where the Avalanche were going into this season. A team that has been on a steady upward trajectory, established itself as a bonafide contender, but has been unable to break through. The core of this team is still very young or in its prime years, and there is still the potential for players like Andre Svechnikov, Martin Necas, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi to still breakout into stardom (or superstardom).
The Lightning have been a powerhouse and the most successful team in the league over the past eight years, consistently reaching at least the Eastern Conference Final and four different Stanley Cup Finals, including three in a row. The salary cap has caught up to them a little bit and cost them a couple of good players, but the core is still in place and still has several good years ahead of it. They are not going away.
In the short-term this season, I think they might take a small step backward, especially with Anthony Duclair set to miss a significant chunk of the season and with some of their offseason departures. But this core is still spectacular, especially with the addition of Matthew Tkachuk on the top line with Aleksander Barkov.
Maybe I am jumping too far ahead with them, but I absolutely love what this team is building. The Kings took a significant step forward this past season to make the playoffs and only strengthened the team in the offseason with the addition of Kevin Fiala. They should also have a much healthier defense after some injuries devastated that unit at the end of last season and into the playoffs. They have an outstanding veteran core in place and one of the league's deepest prospect pools. If players like Quinton Byfield and Arthur Kaliyev break out this season they are going to be a force. I think they win a Stanley Cup within the next five years.
Like the Panthers, I think this is another team that could take a step backward this season while still having a good long-term outlook. They have some flaws with their depth and defense and are still very dependent on goalie Igor Shesterkin, but he is a game-changer and there is some real high-level superstar talent here (Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox). The key will be the development of recent top picks Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, and K'Andre Miller. If those guys pan out, especially Lafreniere and Kakko, this is going to be a dangerous team for a long time,. But those guys have to be stars.
Given that the Flames lost their two best players this offseason (Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk), they have done a great job maintaining a contending roster. I am not going to say they are definitely better than they were a year ago, but getting Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri long-term to replace Gaudreau, Tkachuk, and Sean Monahan is pretty good. They also still have an outstanding defense (which was strengthened in the Tkachuk trade with the addition of MacKenzie Weegar), a strong goalie, and a great defensive coach. They still have a chance, especially with Elias Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli in their top-six with Kadri and Huberdeau.
They are a constant disappointment in the playoffs, and I have some big questions about their offseason moves, but that talent at the top of the lineup is still enticing. The big issue is going to be in a couple of years when it comes time to re-sign Auston Matthews and William Nylander. Will they stay? If so, the window stays open. If not? Could be a problem.
Having Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl masks a lot of flaws. And there are still some flaws here. I do think Jack Campbell can help a lot of things in goal, and keeping Jesse Puljujarvi was a smart move, but they still need to make some tweaks to the roster. But those tweaks are easier to make when you have the two best offensive players in the league.
The Blues do not really have a clear-cut No. 1 defender, and I question if they kept the right goalie (losing Ville Husso because Jordan Binnington is signed long term), but man, is this offense good. Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou are studs, and in the short term they still have Ryan O'Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, and Pavel Buchnevich at the top. They will score enough to be a factor.
There will come a time in the next few years when this team is no longer a contender because Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang have retired or seriously declined. That time is not here just yet. The playoff success has dried up recently, but goaltending has played a significant role in that, especially regarding injuries. Their core of Crosby, Malkin, Letang, and Jake Guentzel is still great, and it is a deeper, better defensive team than it gets credit for being. They still have a few more years of strong, contending hockey ahead of them.
They are in basically the same position as the Penguins and have followed a very similar trajectory as their biggest rivals over the past 25-30 years. They still have star players at the top of the roster and added a big-time goalie this offseason in Darcy Kuemper. The big question is going to be Nicklas Backstrom's future. Fortunately, they still have a top-line center in Evgeny Kuznetsov on the roster.
Fascinating team here. The Stars have a GREAT top line in Jason Robertson, Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz, with all three of them being star-level players. They also have a legit top-pairing defender in Miro Heiskanen and a blossoming star in goal in Jake Oettinger. That is a great core to build around. The problem: They have very little depth and some bad contracts in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Still, the high-end guys are the hardest players to acquire and the Stars have many of them at the most critical positions.
Man, has this team taken a tumble the past year. Their salary cap situation is challenging, they seemingly have no direction in the front office or with their approach, they treat players poorly, and now with Robin Lehner out for the season they have no goalie and limited options to fix that. Not sure they are a playoff lock this season, and not sure how they navigate this salary cap situation in the coming years. They may have peaked in their first three or four years in the league.
Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci coming back for another year is significant. They are going to have some problems at the start of this season due to injuries to key players, but the playoffs should be within reach and if fully healthy they can still make a lot of noise. The elephant in the room though is the future of David Pastrnak. He is an unrestricted free agent after this season, and their ability to re-sign him will have a significant impact on what direction this team takes in future seasons.
It is time for the Red Wings to take a big step forward. They have the young core led by Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond, Dylan Larkin, and Jakub Vrana, and they spent the offseason adding around them with some significant free agent and trade additions. They might not be a playoff team THIS season, but their window should be opening. If they do not make significant progress over the next couple of years something has gone very wrong here.
It has been a long road for the Devils over the past decade, and they are playing in the wrong division to make serious progress. But Jack Hughes is ready to emerge as a superstar and they have seen players like Jesper Bratt and Yegor Sherangovich take big steps. They made some excellent additions this offseason with Ondrej Palat, John Marino, and Vitek Vanecek. Will that all be enough to get them closer to the playoffs?
The Wild have built an incredibly exciting team and have a bonafide superstar in Kirill Kaprizov. The problem they are facing now is that for the next three seasons, their salary cap situation is going to be an absolute mess following the buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Those two buyouts are going to eat up between $12 and $15 million of salary cap space over the next three seasons, meaning the Wild are going to be operating on their own salary cap hit in the mid-high $60 million range instead of the $82-85 million range the rest of the league will be working on. That is going to be a huge problem.
Say this for the Senators: They really tried this offseason. They already had a good core to start with in Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson, Josh Norris, and Thomas Chabot, and then they went out and added an elite goal scorer in Alex DeBrincat, another star in Claude Giroux, and a solid starting goalie in Cam Talbot. If nothing else, they will be a ton of fun in the short term.
This is a team that could quickly climb these rankings depending on what happens with some of their young guys. If Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, and 2022 No. 1 overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky become stars this suddenly becomes an interesting team. There are still a ton of holes here and a bit of a rebuild ahead, but there are some real pieces here and I love the potential of Martin St. Louis as a head coach.
I never have any idea what to make of this team, and I still do not know what to make of them now. They really put things together under Bruce Boudreau, and they get him for an entire season now, but will they be keeping J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser long-term? Can the new front office build a winner around Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes? There are still a lot of questions here.
This team has a brighter future than some might think, especially with the addition of Johnny Gaudreau and the re-signing of Patrik Laine. They have two bonafide star forwards, have an outstanding defenseman at the top of their blue line in Zach Werenski, and some intriguing young players around them as a result of the Seth Jones trade that netted them two top-12 picks. The big question will be whether they can get the goaltending situation straightened out and if Cole Sillinger (part of that Seth Jones trade) becomes a star and a legitimate No. 1 center to build around.
The Predators have trouble escaping the league's middle ground. It was only about a year-and-a-half ago this looked like a team that needed a major rebuild, but then Jusse Sarros became a star in goal and some of their big-money players had huge bounce-back years. They re-signed Filip Forsberg, made a couple more big additions this offseason, and still look like a playoff team. But what can they do when they get there? Can Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen repeat that? Does Ryan McDonagh have enough left in the tank to make a big impact on defense?
Trevor Zegras, Jamie Drysdale, and Mason McTavish are their future, and for the first time in a few years give the Ducks some real reasons for long-term optimism and must-see players. But they still have a lot of holes around them and we have to see if John Gibson can still be an elite goalie.
There is some optimism in Buffalo after the way they finished the 2021-22 season, and they do have some really intriguing prospects, including recent No. 1 overall pick Owen Power on defense. But do not get fooled by the late-season surge. That rarely translates over to the next season, and this team is still overflowing with holes and question marks, especially in goal and at forward. This is still going to take a few more years.
I hated how Seattle handled the expansion draft and thought they missed many ample opportunities. Their goalie plan also backfired in the first year. But Matt Beniers and Shane Wright as their first two first-round picks give them a potential dominant 1-2 punch at center, and I really like their other offseason moves to add Oliver Bjorkstrand and Andre Burakovsky. They might not be a contender right away like Vegas was, but they are piecing things together here. We forgot what an expansion team is supposed to look like.
The Winnipeg Jets are the most consistently mediocre team in the NHL and there is no sign of that changing anytime soon. Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Connor Hellebuyck are all great, but they have so many problems around them and not much of a farm system to help fix that. They are not a bad team by any means, but I do not see them winning a Stanley Cup in the next five years either. Or even getting close to that level.
This has been a dramatic decline in a short period of time. Just a couple of years ago, they were in their second straight Eastern Conference Final. Now? They are coming off an ugly non-playoff season, have had a brutal offseason that saw them miss out on every potential impact forward that could have helped, and the roster is getting older and more expensive and still short on star power. They need Ilya Sorokin to carry them.
The Sharks have a new front office and coaching staff and already traded a core veteran in Brent Burns. They are not rebuilding yet, but they soon will be. The Sharks have been one of the most consistent contenders for 25 years, but after three straight non-playoff seasons and more on the immediate horizon, they are quickly headed for their first real rebuilding phase in franchise history.
There is not much to be excited about here if you are the Flyers. The short-term outlook is bad because the roster stinks. The long-term outlook is terrible because the front office seems to have no idea what kind of team it is, what sort of path it needs to follow, or what sort of direction to take. This team needs to rebuild, but it still seems to think it can be a playoff team. That is a problem.
The Coyotes at least have a direction, but it will take a while to get to where they want to be. They are absolutely loaded with draft pick assets and do have some good young prospects, but this is a long-long-long-long-term rebuild that is still years away from reaching its end goal. They can get there. But their fans are going to need a lot of patience.
If your rebuild does not have room for an in-his-prime, elite goal scorer like Alex DeBrincat, then you are telling the world you will be lousy for a long time. The Chicago Blackhawks are going to be lousy for a very long time. It is only a matter of when, and not if, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are playing for different teams, and the roster is completely torn down. This is going to be a significant, major rebuild.
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