Stanley Cup Final Struggles for Expansion Teams

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Since the San Jose Sharks joined the National Hockey League as the 22nd franchise, Stanley Cup Final struggles for expansion teams of the 1990’s have been the norm.

Beginning in the 1991-92 NHL campaign, nine teams have entered the NHL as brand-new franchises:


Inaugural Season

San Jose Sharks


Ottawa Senators


Tampa Bay Lightning


Mighty Ducks of Anaheim


Florida Panthers


Nashville Predators


Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets)


Columbus Blue Jackets


Minnesota Wild



The results of these franchises are mixed overall. Some have played for the Stanley Cup twice (Anaheim and Tampa Bay), while another played only four postseason games in franchise history (Atlanta) before it was moved. But all now have at least 10 years of play in the NHL under their belts, not counting the lockout season of 2004-05.

Only one team on this list is now defunct: the Atlanta Thrashers, who were sold to True North Sports & Entertainment following the 2010-11 season and moved to Winnipeg to become the Jets again. Their time in Atlanta is under consideration, but the accomplishments of the Arizona/Phoenix Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes, or Colorado Avalanche will not be as these teams relocated to their new markets.

Florida Panthers Lose In the Year of The Rat

The Florida Panthers were the first of the recent expansion era to play for the Stanley Cup. A rag-tag group of misfit hockey players stunned much of the hockey world in their march to the Stanley Cup. The Year of the Rat was a sign to behold with the likes of Scott Mellanby (the first man credited with a “rat trick”), Dave Lowry  and Bill Lindsey, along with a 19-year-old Ed Jovanovski and the stellar goaltending of John Vanbiesbrouck. The magical run to the Cup Final was not a long one. The Colorado Avalanche, itself in the first year of existence after playing the 1994-95 season as the Quebec Nordiques, would sweep the Panthers in four games of bad ice and a rain of rats from the rafters onto Patrick Roy.

Ducks Bow to the Devils

It would take another 10 years before the next of the expansion team would appear in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim benefited from what might have been the greatest goaltending performance in the last 25 years. Netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere was stellar in the first two rounds of the postseason and then went lights out during the Western Conference Final against the Minnesota Wild, allowing only a single goal to Andrew Brunette in the final game of a four-game sweep. The Ducks would run into a nearly as hot Martin Brodeur and battle the New Jersey Devils to a deciding Game 7. In the final game of the season, Brodeur would shut out the Ducks en route to the third Stanley Cup championship for New Jersey. For his outstanding play during the Ducks Stanley Cup run, Giguere was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, only the fifth and so far last Conn Smythe recipient from the losing team.

Tampa Bay First to Hoist the Stanley Cup

Only a year following the Ducks Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning became the first of the 90’s expansion teams to raise the Stanley Cup in their first appearance. Captained by 40-year-old Dave Andreychuk, the Lightning had their hands full with the upstart Calgary Flames and Miikka Kiprusoff, whom Calgary acquired from the San Jose Sharks on November 16 of that season after Roman Turek was injured. The two teams mirrored each other for the first six games with an uncanny ability. The teams split the first two games at the “Thunderdome” with the winning side each recording a 4-1 victory. As the series shifted to Calgary, the teams again split the two games, the winner in each pitching a shutout. Games 5 and 6 were split again, this time by a 3-2 win for each squad. Finally in Game 7, Tampa Bay’s Ruslan Fedotenko would score both goals and Nikolai Khabibulin would turn away 14 of 15 shots as the Lightning would win the final game by a 2-1 score.

Ottawa loses in Five Games to the Ducks

The Ottawa Senators, the only Canadian team added to the NHL during the 90’s expansion era, arrived in the Stanley Cup Final after winning each of their first three series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Devils, and the Buffalo Sabres four games to one. Facing off against the Ducks the Senators quickly found themselves down two games to none, as the Ducks won both games at the Honda Center. The Sens would bounce back in Game 3 with a 5-3 victory in front of a wild crowd in Ottawa, but the series would end in only five games. The Ducks appearance in the final would also mark the first time one these expansion teams would play for the Stanley Cup a second time, winning hockey’s biggest prize in their return to the Finals four years after losing to the Devils in 2003.

The San Jose Sharks were the first team to usher in the 90’s expansion era and now become the latest to make their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. As younger and relocated franchises have played for and won the Cup, it has taken San Jose 25 years to arrive at this juncture. Looking back on the history of teams making their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance, the Sharks will have to overcome both the Pittsburgh Penguins and some history as well.


Main Photo: 28 Nov 2001:  Left wing Paul Kariya #9 of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim skates on the ice with the puck against the Edmonton Oilers during the NHL game at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California.  The Oilers shutout the Mighty Ducks 2-0.Copyright notice: Copyright 2001 NHLI   Photo Credit:  Robert LaBerge/Getty Images/NHLI