Blackhawks and beyond: Best NHL teams of the decade

As 2019 comes to a close, we’re taking a look back at the past decade. We’ll remember the best players and teams, most significant goals, and biggest transactions that have happened since 2010. Let us know your memories in the comments.

Personally, it’s more impressive to see a team mix quality and quantity (winning titles and dominating regular seasons) than it is to merely see one or the other. Only special teams reach the top of the hill and then manage to stay there for a long time.

With that in mind, this list of the decade’s best teams focuses on the best franchises. In my opinion, these franchises put together the best bodies of work since Jan. 1, 2010. In other words, these are the best NHL teams of the decade.

They were the champions

Chicago Blackhawks

  • Three Stanley Cup wins. Lost to the Kings in Game 7 of the 2014 Western Conference Final.
  • Won the 2012-13 Presidents’ Trophy.
  • Collected three division titles.
  • Made it to the playoffs eight times.

Recent seasons sullied things a bit, but what a run for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith. The Blackhawks never faced elimination during that 2009-10 run, and only needed one Game 7 win in each of their other two Cup runs. Combining a Presidents’ Trophy with a Stanley Cup is a rare feat in this age of parity, but Chicago managed that, too.

This list isn’t in order of greatness, except here. The Blackhawks rank as my number one choice on the list of the best NHL teams of the decade.

Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Won Stanley Cups in back-to-back years.
  • Collected two division titles.
  • Made it to the playoffs all 10 years. Finished with zero Presidents’ Trophies.
  • Joined the Capitals as the only teams to generate 1,000+ points during the decade.

Pittsburgh did things the hard way so often over the years, it’s almost surprising that the Penguins won two division titles. Frequent injuries to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang ratched up the drama, but those stars usually pulled through when it mattered. That franchise keeps finding ways to win, even if Crosby and/or Malkin are always part of the formula.

Los Angeles Kings

  • Won two Stanley Cups in a three-year span. Fell to the Blackhawks in Game 5 of the 2013 Western Conference Final.
  • Appeared in the playoffs seven times.
  • Failed to win a division title, and in fact only finished second on two occasions. Naturally, no Presidents’ Trophies, either.

It’s still funny that the Kings won two Stanley Cups without winning a division title. Simply put, their style translated better to rugged playoff battles than dominating the standings. Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty became experts at bringing a ton to the table while taking the least away from it. The Kings are paying for those magical runs now, but you can bet their fans agree that it was worth to finally win it all — twice.

Washington Capitals

  • Won their first-ever Stanley Cup in 2017-18.
  • Collected three Presidents’ Trophies, the most of any team in the decade.
  • Nabbed an impressive seven division titles, winning four in a row.
  • Made the playoffs in all but one season.
  • Joined the Penguins as the only teams to generate 1,000+ points during the decade.

Imagine how obnoxious people would be about the Capitals if they fell short of that glorious, booze-soaked Stanley Cup win. Alex Ovechkin & Co. accomplished incredible things, with only a brief identity crisis mucking things up. From the look of the 2019-20 Capitals, they could start the next decade with a bang.

Boston Bruins

  • Broke their Stanley Cup drought in 2010-11. Also lost to the Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final and dropped Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final to the Blues.
  • Won the 2013-14 Presidents’ Trophy.
  • Managed three division titles early in the decade.
  • Reached the playoffs in eight of 10 seasons.

The Bruins echo the Penguins and Capitals in finding enough talent to essentially have two or more “versions” of great teams. After Tim Thomas retired and Zdeno Chara showed at least some age, the Bruins pivoted to Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak to remain a fixture. As much as people have gotten wise about Patrice Bergeron, it still feels like he deserves even more hype. It’s pretty unbelievable that this franchise could thrive after losing Tyler Seguin and other prominent players, but the Bruins are a remarkable team.

St. Louis Blues

  • Won their first-ever Stanley Cup in 2018-19.
  • Failed to win a Presidents’ Trophy, but took their division twice, and finished second on three occasions.
  • Reached the playoffs in seven of 10 seasons.

How perfect is it that the Blues followed up the Capitals finally winning a Stanley Cup by bringing the glorious “Gloria” to St. Louis? The Blues feel like they were the sultans of snakebitten before the Caps and Sharks took that mantle, so it was refreshing — and stunning — to watch their turnaround. Beyond that win, Doug Armstrong shrewdly guided this team to strong work, usually without the type of premiere draft picks others rely on to form dynasties.

Great teams who didn’t win titles

  • Vancouver Canucks – The team dominated the early part of the decade, winning consecutive Presidents’ Trophies. It’s still a little staggering that Roberto Luongo and the Sedin twins fell just short of a Stanley Cup … but they fit in on this list.
  • Tampa Bay Lightning – My guess is a chill atmosphere and that Martin St. Louis/Vincent Lecavalier Cup win eased excessive “choker” talk following the historic 2018-19 team’s stunning sweep. The “What if?” questions are painful, but shine a light on how great this team has been. The Lightning lost in a Stanley Cup Final, and also fell in three Eastern Conference Final rounds, all in Game 7s. That strikes me as the work of a team that’s merely been agonizingly close to the promised land, not one that chokes.
  • San Jose Sharks – It’s awkward, but thank goodness the Sharks at least made it to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. The seemingly eternal power won two division titles and hasn’t been this-decade-Lightning-level close so often since Joe Thornton came on the scene.
  • Nashville Predators – These last two teams lag behind the others a bit, but deserve a mention. The Predators won a Presidents’ Trophy, receiving a ton of grief for raising a banner. Nashville made it to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final as well. They also collected two division titles and only missed the playoffs twice. David Poile also ranks as one of the shrewdest GMs of the decade, especially in the no titles version.
  • New York Rangers – The rebuilding Rangers enjoyed some nice years during Henrik Lundqvist‘s peak. They won the 2014-15 Presidents’ Trophy before losing in Round 3. The Rangers collected two division titles, and fell in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. It will be fascinating to see if the Rangers’ refreshingly honest rebuild pays off in the next decade.

MORE PHT DECADE IN REVIEW FUN:
• Top NHL players in fantasy hockey
• Most significant goals
• Best players of the decade
• Favorite goals, best/worst jerseys
Best NHL teams of the decade
Biggest NHL trades

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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