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.