10 greatest second seasons by expansion teams
The Vegas Golden Knights were the first NHL expansion team to reach the playoffs in their inaugural year since 1967-68. But not since 1973-74 has a new franchise seen Stanley Cup action in Year 2.
Yes, the Edmonton Oilers and Quebec Nordiques both made a playoff splash in their second NHL season. But those teams had been absorbed by the defunct WHA.
Among pure NHL expansion franchises, one has won a playoff series in both its first and second season. Regardless of their first impression, only three have gone deep in their second campaign.
Given those lofty standards, merely matching one’s results from the inaugural season can be impressive enough. Even if that means barely missing the postseason.
But in Vegas, where the Golden Knights fell three games short of the 2018 title, the ideal encore has loftier standards. The top three teams in this ranking are the company the 2018-19 Golden Knights really want to join. Anything less should still help them contend for the top 10 follow-ups.
All statistics are according to the Internet Hockey Database.
10. 1927-28 Detroit Cougars
With a .500 record (44 points in 44 games), Detroit barely missed a six-team playoff in a 10-team league. The Pittsburgh Pirates finished the regular season with 46 points, claiming the American Division’s last postseason berth.
If nothing else, the Cougars surged with a 16-point improvement on their inaugural season, when they finished 10th overall.
9. 1925-26 Boston Bruins
Before the NHL assumed full custody of the Cup in 1927, only three of its teams qualified for every playoff.
After an unremarkable 6-24-0 finish to their first year, the Bruins missed the 1926 tournament by one point. Going 17-15-4, they placed right behind third-place Pittsburgh (19-16-1).
8. 1994-95 Florida Panthers
The Panthers lost their 1994-95 season series to the Rangers, 1-2-1. Had they claimed the majority of the head-to-head points, they would have made the playoffs at the defending champions’ expense.
As it was, after finishing one point behind the eighth-place Islanders in 1994, Florida had the same agonizing close shave behind New York’s other team in 1995. The Rangers went on to upset the first-place Nordiques in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
7. 1973-74 Atlanta Flames
After missing the postseason by 11 points and three slots in their inaugural campaign, the Flames secured the fourth and final West Division seed by a nine-point margin.
Facing the first-place Flyers was an expectedly tough draw, though. Atlanta managed only one goal in each of the first round’s first three games while surrendering 13 in that span.
Facing elimination, the Flames forced overtime by drawing a 3-3 regulation knot. But the eventual champions from Philadelphia finished the sweep in sudden death.
6. 1968-69 Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers made a sound first impression in 1967-68, finishing first in a West Division comprised of all six new teams. But they had faltered in the first round of the playoffs, losing Game 7 to St. Louis.
Compared to that, 1968-69 was not much better for Philadelphia. It finished third in the West and lost its first-round rematch to the Blues in a sweep.
5. 1968-69 Oakland Seals
A playoff pratfall is all that is keeping the Seals from ranking any higher. After failing to close out the Kings in Game 6, they lost Game 7 of the opening round at home, 5-3.
That put a mild damper on a marked regular-season improvement from their freshman campaign. In 1967-68, Oakland finished dead-last in the West with 47 points, 19 fewer than the league’s second-worst team from Detroit.
With 69 points the next year, the Seals finished second in their division and fifth overall in the 12-team NHL.
4. 1968-69 Los Angeles Kings
Of the six teams in the 1967 expansion class, the Kings had one of the more decisive downturns from Year 1 to Year 2. With that said, they finished the regular season with a seven-point cushion in the race for the last playoff spot.
They made good on that fourth-place finish in the West, pulling the aforementioned upset of Oakland. That would be the franchise’s first postseason series win, although it would be their last for a while. L.A. lost the division final to the mighty St. Louis Blues, and did not return to the tournament until 1974.
3. 1968-69 St. Louis Blues
On the surface, St. Louis stagnated in its sophomore season. It fell short of the sport’s ultimate goal by losing the Cup to Montreal in a sweep, just as it had in 1968.
But consider everything the Blues achieved before that déjà vu downer. They improved on their 1967-68 point total by 18 and jumped from third place to first in the West Division.
To punch their 1968 Stanley Cup Final ticket, the Blues needed to win back-to-back Game 7s. Conversely, in 1969, they swept Philadelphia and Los Angeles in the division semifinals and final, respectively.
2. 1927-28 New York Rangers
If more than six teams had qualified for the 1927 playoffs, the Blueshirts would have made the dance in their debut campaign. As it was, they missed by an eight-point margin.
The next year, they improved to the tune of second place in the American Division, one point ahead of Pittsburgh. That gave the Rangers home ice in the opening round, where they won a 6-4 goal total.
Facing the favored Bruins in the division final, the Rangers tied Game 1, then clinched the series in a 4-1 upset at Boston Arena. From there, they traveled further north for the best-of-five Stanley Cup Final, where they edged the Montreal Maroons, 2-1, in the rubber match.
1. 1925-26 Montreal Maroons
Six years after the Wanderers folded, the Maroons arrived to fill the void as Montreal’s English franchise. They performed like most NHL expansion teams in their first year, but then had the ultimate sophomore surge.
In 1925-26, the Maroons jumped from 20 points to 45. After finishing fifth out of six NHL teams, they placed second in an eight-team circuit. From there, they edged the first-year Pirates in the opening round to meet the first-round byes from Ottawa.
With a 2-1 total-goal upset of the Senators, the Maroons represented the NHL in the last multi-league Stanley Cup Final. In the best-of-five series, they vanquished the WHL-champion Victoria Cougars in four games at the Forum.