By Ryan Stieg, AllPuck.com
The NHL is made up of a wide variety of franchises. Some have numerous Stanley Cup titles and legendary players. Others have had decent histories, but haven’t quite achieved the glories of some of their competitors. Finally, there are teams so bad that they haven’t amounted to anything at all or haven’t accomplished anything in years.
These teams are the ones that fascinate me the most. What is it that keeps some teams at the bottom for decades or causes them to choke whenever an opportunity comes along? There are many teams that could take the top prize of the worst in the NHL, but I’ve narrowed it down to a few.
The first team that comes to mind is the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus came into the league in 2000 and has barely made a blip on the screen. They’ve made the playoffs once – they were hammered by the Red Wings in 2009 – and play in a city that barely acknowledges it. They have two talented stars in Rick Nash and Jeff Carter, but two players don’t make a team. So far this season, the Blue Jackets have fired their head coach and named Minnesota Wild reject Todd Richards interim head coach. Richards was awful as a head coach in Minnesota and doesn’t show any signs of improving any time soon in Ohio. Right now, the Blue Jackets have a firm grasp on the worst record in the NHL at 13-29-6.
Next up is the New York Islanders. At one point in their history, the Islanders were the toast of the league, winning four straight Stanley Cups in the early 1980s. Since then, New York hasn’t done anything of note. They’ve been slotted among the top five of the NHL Entry Draft each of the last three years and don’t seem to be getting any better. The Isles, if you remember, made a colossally boneheaded decision a few years back when they signed goaltender Rick DiPietro to a 15-year contract and have watched him deal with injury after injury every season. Just a few weeks back, DiPietro injured himself while already on New York’s injured reserve list, a feat few have accomplished in their careers. With the Isles currently sitting at 19-22-6, it’s clear that things aren’t going to get better any time soon on Long Island.
The final nominee(s) I offer are any of the teams from Canada. Seriously, no teams have done so little to please their fan bases in the past 20 years than the teams from the Great White North (we’ll give the Jets more than a few months to turn around the Thrashers’ brief history of incompetence before bagging on them). The Toronto Maple Leafs still haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 and haven’t even sniffed one for years. They are having a decent year so far this season at 24-19-5 but, deep down, you know they’ll fall apart when it counts.
Montreal was the last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup back in 1993. Since then, the Habs have made the playoffs on a regular basis, but have little jewelry to show for it. Two years ago, Montreal backed the wrong goaltender. They stuck with the overhyped Carey Price and allowed the underrated Jaroslav Halak, who had just led them on a nice playoff run, to leave for St. Louis where he will most likely lead the Blues to the playoffs this season. While St. Louis is finding success, the Canadiens are woefully underachieving (they sit last in the Northeast Division) and they’ve traded away Mike Cammalleri for criticizing his teammates for their lack of passion. Does that sound like a team that’s going to amount to anything good anytime soon?
Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa have all made the Stanley Cup Finals in the last decade, but have done little since. Calgary should have defeated Tampa Bay back in 2004, but choked away Game 6 at home and fell on the road in Game 7. They are currently in fourth place in the Northwest Division. Edmonton battled back against Carolina, but failed to end Canada’s Cupless streak in 2006 and have basically been in the running for the top draft choice every year since. The Oilers are in last place in the Northwest. The Senators made their brief shining appearance in the Finals in 2007, where they were steamrolled by Anaheim (one of my fiancee’s favorite moments). Despite having a great front line of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, and Jason Spezza, Ottawa was unable to get far in the playoffs from that point on. Even though the rebuilt Senators are in second place in the Northeast behind Boston, fans may wonder if they will get back to the Finals in this decade.
Vancouver is the final Canadian team left and despite making the Finals last season, they belong here just like the rest of their brethren. The Canucks struggled badly in those Finals last season despite having the best offense in the league and, when they choked away the chance to win the title on their home ice in Game 7, it literally caused a riot downtown (which, oddly, inspired some to make out among the chaos).
The Canucks have been good for quite some time, making the playoffs regularly in the last few years, but always find a way to fall apart – no more obviously than in 2003, when they blew a 3 games to 1 lead against Minnesota despite hosting two of the final three games. Its consistent inability to achieve true greatness lands Vancouver on this list.
So there you have it, eight teams who could be considered the worst in the NHL to cheer for due to lack of success, poor financial decisions, or just not achieving their potential. It’s really hard to pick just one, but I’d have to go with the Islanders right now. Getting outshined by both the Rangers and the Devils in the last decade is bad enough, but the fact that voters in Nassau County rejected a proposal last year to replace the ugly Nassau Coliseum shows that maybe they don’t even want the team in town anymore.
The great thing is about the NHL is hockey fans tend to be very loyal. Despite their teams’ faults, they still buy tickets and hope as a group that someday their team will achieve true greatness.
Maybe if the stars align and everything goes right, they will.