Certainly, the hardest thing for an NHL team to do is win the Stanley Cup. If there's anything more difficult than that, it is winning the Cup two years in a row. Back before the days of free agency and expansion to 30 teams, winning multiple Cups in a row was commonplace. However, since the league switched to six divisions in 1998-99, no team has repeated as Stanley Cup champions. Why has this been the case? Let's see who (or what) has prevented each of the last nine defending champions from keeping the Cup. Pay close attention, Detroit Red Wings, as you guys could easily be the next team on this list.
1999 DETROIT RED WINGS
The Red Wings saw a 10 point drop off in the standings from 1997-98, a season that resulted in their second straight Cup. Their goals for and goals against averages were almost the same, but the Wings simply did not win as many close games as they had the previous year. Detroit still managed to win the Central Division in 1999, and started off the playoffs with a blistering 6-0 record, sweeping the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and jumping out to a 2-0 series lead on the Colorado Avalanche. From that point on, however, the Wings simply played terrible hockey, losing the next four games to the Avs by a combined score of 19-7. Detroit fans needed not worry too much, as the Wings would be hoisting the Cup again in three years.
2000 DALLAS STARS
This Dallas Stars team was one of two in this time period to make it back to the Finals a year after winning it all. Despite a 12 point drop from the previous year, Dallas still finished with 102 points and their fourth straight division title. The Stars made it back to the Finals with a 12-5 record in conference play, defeating Edmonton, San Jose, and Colorado. Unfortunately for Dallas, they ran into a red hot New Jersey Devils team that had just rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Devils held Dallas to just 9 goals in the series as they won in six games for their second championship in franchise history. New Jersey would have a great chance of winning it all again the next year.
2001 NEW JERSEY DEVILS
New Jersey actually had a better regular season in 2001 than the year before, earning eight more points in the standings and leading the NHL in goals scored. The Devils made it back to the Finals by beating Carolina, Toronto, and Pittsburgh to the tune of a 12-6 record. The only team standing in the way of a second straight Cup was the Colorado Avalanche, the President's Trophy winners from this season. The Devils actually led the series 3-2 after five games, but were unable to penetrate Patrick Roy with any regularity in the final two games. Colorado won Games 6 and 7 by a combined score of 7-1 to win their second Stanley Cup, with Ray Bourque finally getting to hold hockey's holy grail after 22 seasons.
2002 COLORADO AVALANCHE
The Avs suffered a massive drop-off in team performance in 2002, recording 19 fewer points and scoring 58 fewer goals. For the most part, their eighth straight division title was a result of the Vezina-caliber play of Patrick Roy, who also earned a nomination for the Hart Trophy that year. Colorado made the Western Conference Finals for the fourth year in a row and sixth time in seven, but did so in the most difficult way possible. The Avs went all the way to seven games against both the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, which put them at somewhat of a disadvantage against the much better-rested Detroit Red Wings. Colorado still managed to build a 3-2 series lead before totally running out of gas in Games 6 and 7, losing those two by a combined 9-0. The Avs have not been back to the Conference Finals since 2002.
2003 DETROIT RED WINGS
See, Red Wing fans? I did not lie when I said that your team would win the Cup again. Expectations were very high for Detroit once again in the 2003 playoffs, as the Wings finished the regular season second in the West. Detroit just happened to run into one of the best goalies in NHL playoff history in Anaheim's Jean-Sebastian Giguere in the first round. Giguere held Detroit to just six goals in the first round as the Mighty Ducks completed a shocking four game sweep of the defending champs. Anaheim parlayed this momentum into a playoff run that took the Mighty Ducks all the way to Game 7 of the Cup Finals, where they lost to the New Jersey Devils.
2004 NEW JERSEY DEVILS
New Jersey was cruising along in the first half of 2003-04, posting some defensive numbers that were simply unbelievable. This all changed after Scott Stevens was injured with a concussion after 38 games, as he would never play in the NHL again. The Devils' defensive prowess dropped off significantly after the loss of their captain, to the point that they lost the Atlantic Division race to the Philadelphia Flyers by a single point. This proved crucial as the two teams met in the first round of the playoffs, with Philly taking the series in five thanks largely to winning all three home games. Since Stevens retired, the Devils have not even come close to winning another Cup. Coincidence? Certainly not.
2006 TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Considering that Tampa Bay had to defend their title after a year off due to the lockout, it was understandable if the Lightning struggled to do so. However, part of this struggle was their own doing, as they let goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin go to the Chicago Blackhawks and replaced him with a platoon of John Grahame and Sean Burke. This tandem just barely got Tampa Bay into the playoffs in eighth place, where they were outscored 23-13 in losing their first round series to the Ottawa Senators in five games. Two years later, the Lightning sank to being the worst team in the NHL, but the prize for that was Steve Stamkos, so things are not all bad for Lightning fans.
2007 CAROLINA HURRICANES
I have often thought that Carolina's 2006 Stanley Cup championship was somewhat of a fluke, and their performance as the defending champs seemed to validate my thoughts. In 2006-07, the 'Canes became the first defending champions since the 1995-96 Devils to miss the playoffs. Carolina went from second in the East in their title season all the way down to 11th the next year. Considering the Hurricanes missed the playoffs again in 2007-08, my conclusion is that they were one of the worst champions of all time, if not the worst.
2008 ANAHEIM DUCKS
Anaheim had a bit of a drop-off from their Stanley Cup-winning season, but not too much, as the Ducks still finished with over 100 points. Unlike in 2007, this version of the Ducks had a lot of trouble scoring goals, a trouble that continued into their first round playoff series against the Dallas Stars. Anaheim scored 9 goals in their two wins, but just four total in the other four games, all losses that allowed Dallas to advance. It certainly did not help the Ducks' cause that they took a multitude of dumb penalties. The grit and toughness from their Stanley Cup run became recklessness the next year, and as a result Anaheim's title defense did not last very long.