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The daunting task of contending in the NHL after being a Stanley Cup Finalist

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The season after not winning the Stanley Cup has a tepid history with how far teams go next season.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning's efforts of 2014-15 and roster moves of the offseason have given fans little to no reason to cast doubts upon contention for the 2015-16 season. The biggest changes for the club have been elected moves - not re-signing forward Brenden Morrow or defenseman Mark Barberio - while a long-term organizational move has been painted as the move to make during the summer months of 2015 (hello, Steven Stamkos, how are you today?).

After last season, though... After that great run and falling just short -- losing in the Stanley Cup Finals -- expectations are so much higher now, at least among fans. The impatient variety will not accept the Bolts simply repeating by falling short, while the more cautiously optimistic will point to making the playoffs (because that's the first accomplishment necessary to achieve on a grander scale).

Expectations are whatever they will be from fans, but what does history show regarding Stanley Cup finalists accomplishments in the season that followed their near-miss? It may or may not have an effect on your own personal expectations for the Lightning this season; it shouldn't dim your hopes, but I reviewed the past 23 Stanley Cup finalists and what they did the next season.  It's in the table below.

Before we go to it, a little foreword: Things have changed in the NHL with titles to playoff rounds; it's happened twice in fact (at least from what I saw while going through Hockey Reference). The early 1990's didn't feature Conference Quarterfinals or Semifinals; they were Division Semifinals and Division Finals (like they're set up now). More confusing with the names, Hockey Reference didn't use either round title for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 playoffs.  It was Round 1 and Round 2.  This is all relevant because I invoked the longer running playoff round names (Conference Quarterfinals, Conference Semifinals, Conference Finals) for consistency sake.

Teams competing in the league have expanded from 22 to 30 in this time span, though this piece is not about how expansion has had an affect on competition.

Another foreword note on this chart is the odd season total is by way of the 2004-05 lockout and lack of season (thanks Gary and Bob).

Years Finalist Next season result
1990 Boston Bruins Eastern Conference Finals
1991 Minnesota North Stars Western Conference  Quarterfinals
1992 Chicago Blackhawks Western Conference Quarterfinals
1993 Los Angeles Kings Out of playoffs
1994 Vancouver Canucks Western Conference Semifinals
1995 Detroit Red Wings Western Conference Finals
1996 Florida Panthers Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
1997 Washington Capitals Out of playoffs
1998 Philadelphia Flyers Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
1999 Buffalo Sabres Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
2000 Dallas Stars Western Conference Semifinals
2001 New Jersey Devils Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
2002 Carolina Hurricanes Out of playoffs
2003 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim Out of Playoffs
2004 Calgary Flames 2005: Lockout
2006: Western Conference Quarterfinals
2006 Edmonton Oilers Out of playoffs
2007 Ottawa Senators Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
2008 Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup Champions
2009 Detroit Red Wings Western Conference Semifinals
2010 Philadelphia Flyers Eastern Conference Semifinals
2011 Vancouver Canucks Western Conference Quarterfinals
2012 New Jersey Devils Out of playoffs
2013 Boston Bruins Eastern Conference Semifinals
2014 New York Rangers Eastern Conference Finals
2015 Tampa Bay Lightning ???

Six of the 23 finalists didn't even make the playoffs the next season; that's just under 1/4th of the clubs listed (the worst situation, post-Cup finals, belongs to the Edmonton Oilers, who haven't made the playoffs since their 2006 Finals berth). And while only one team that failed in the previous Finals won the Cup the next season (the Pittsburgh Penguins) what doesn't show on this chart is the fact several near-miss teams had won the Stanley Cup the previous season (the Dallas Stars in 1999, the New Jersey Devils in 2000 and the Detroit Red Wings in 2008) or contended for and won the Cup more than a year later (with Detroit and New Jersey being the usual suspects).

Losing in the 1st round of the playoffs the next season has been the most common result for finalists, while making it back to the Finals and losing again is the rarest of feats. Four clubs won the Presidents' Trophy in the season after their Cup Finals berth, with three of the four being in the past four seasons (Rangers in 2015, Bruins in 2014, Canucks in 2012 and Red Wings in 1996.

In the end, every season is its own lengthy story of trials and tribulations, accomplishments and disappointments with less connectivity to the previous season than we'd like to accept. Regardless of talent on the roster at the moment and what the club accomplished in 2014-15, the Lightning has's daunting task for the road ahead is to buck the trend in NHL history. Tampa Bay will likely vie for Lord Stanley's Cup in seasons ahead but the 2015-16 season shall be a daunting task which has historically come up short for other clubs.