By now, the entire sports world knows that the Las Vegas Golden Knights will be competing in their very first season this year. The 31st team to be added to the most popular hockey league in the world has already caused a roller coaster of emotions for fans, players, and management alike as they prepare for their premiere season this fall. They’re not the first new team to mess with fans’ emotions, though.
We haven’t had an expansion since Columbus and the Minnesota Wild were added 17 years ago, so it’s no surprise that the announcement of Vegas’ addition has caused a stir. The history of teams in the league has been extensive, dramatic, and sometimes even volatile.
First, we had the Original Six, and then six more were added in 1967. When the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks joined the league in 1970, the total number of teams rose to 14. One team from the south (Atlanta Flames) and one from the north (NY Islanders) were added in 1972, and then two more in 1974. The California Golden Seals merged with the North Stars in 1978, bringing the total number of teams down to 17. In 1979 four teams were adopted from the WHA, raising the number to 21. It wasn’t until 1991 that any more changes were made, and this time it was the addition of the San Jose Sharks. Tampa Bay joined in 1992, the Panthers and Mighty Ducks in 1993, and later the Nashville Predators in 1997. Atlanta tried again with the Thrashers in 1999, and two others popped up in 2000. This brought the tally to 30 official NHL hockey teams.
And now we have the Golden Knights.
Let’s hope they follow in the shoes – um, skates – of these seven awesome teams instead of the eight disappointing ones.
15. Worst: Ottawa Senators
Is it a good thing when your team’s worst year ever was their inaugural season? Their own right winger, Jody Hull, said they were “a bunch of misfits nobody wanted.” Yikes.
For the 1992-93 season, the Sens set the record for the longest home and on-the-road losing streaks: 11 and a whopping 38. They also tied with the Washington Capitals for the fewest total road victories, coming in with just one single triumph. At the end of the season, they’d achieved a dismal 10-70-4 record.
There was much speculation that Ottawa had purposely tanked their season so that they’d be in prime position for the next season’s draft. Chairman Bruce Firestone was quoted as having said that “four players [would get] preferential treatment if they helped lose the game,” referring to the final game of the 1992-93 season. He denied making the remark and still maintains his words were misconstrued, but since he resigned almost immediately after this, it’s hard to believe him.
14. Best: Florida Panthers
Not only were they the best expansion team to come out of the 90s, the Florida Panthers hold the best first-year record (33-34-17) for a new team in all four major leagues in North America. This was undoubtedly due to Roger Neilson’s great coaching and keeper John Vanbiesbrouck’s strength in nets.
The first Panthers game was on October 6, 1993, against the Chicago Blackhawks at Chicago Stadium. The game ended in a 4-4, surprising many with their on-ice prowess. By their third game, they had completely found their groove and the Tampa Bay Lightning were completely shut out, 2-0. Florida finished the season with an impressive 83 points.
10 of the players they picked up in the expansion draft stayed with the team and helped win the Eastern Conference in 1996. They may have lost the Cup to the Colorado Avalanche that year, but they went further than anyone expected for such a new team.
13. Worst: Washington Capitals
In the 1974-75 season, the Caps had the worst inaugural season in NHL history. Their first game, at Madison Square Garden on October 9, 1974, was a 6-3 loss. After that, they experienced a 6-0 shutout against the North Stars, and this was the first of 12 such embarrassments. Twelve in a row, that is.
They were so bad – losing 39 out of 40 games – that they set the record for the most away-game losses for an expansion club (the Senators tied this up in 1993). And if this wasn’t enough, with 17 defeats in a row, they set another record for the longest losing streak. Their record that year was 8-67-5.
When they FINALLY won a game on March 28, they found a green trash can, had everyone sign it, and dubbed it their “Stanley Can.” Ace Bailey then hoisted the treasure overhead and skated around the rink in triumph. Yes. Yes, he did.
12. Best: Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers’ first game was against the California Seals on October 11, 1967, and their first home game was several days later, on the 19th. Bill Sutherland nailed the team’s first every goal in that game against the Seals, but the season’s top scorer was Leon Rochford with 21 goals. Not exactly award worthy, but a solid start.
Making the decision to “build from the goal line out,” the Flyers’ management team had focused on choosing quality goaltenders.
They picked up Bernie Parent and Doug Favell in the 1967 Expansion Draft. This duo combined for eight shutouts that first year and the team won the West Division title. Favell earned third place in Calder Trophy voting that season and years later Parent was awarded a spot in the Hall of Fame. The tending team was so stellar, in fact, that the Flyers were third in the league that season for having allowed the fewest goals (179 total). They finished with a 31-32-11 record.
11. Worst: San Jose Sharks
The Sharks franchise is barely 25 years old, but they’ve come a long way. They played – and lost – their first ever game on October 4, 1991, against the Vancouver Canucks, with Craig Coxe scoring the franchise’s inaugural goal. At one point, they cycled through a brutal 17-game losing streak, and even their leading scorer, Pat Falloon (with 25 goals all year), couldn’t save them.
All of this was despite the fact that former Norris Trophy-champ Doug Wilson was playing for them. He was even named an All-Star that year. But his teammates definitely weren’t. The team’s record that year was 17-58-5.
They played their first year in Daly City’s Cow Palace arena; it wasn’t exactly close to San Jose, it wasn’t even regulation sized, and it smelled of rodeos and agricultural events. Maybe the horrible arena name (and location, and smell) contributed to the team’s low spirits and therefore low success rate?
10. Best: L.A. Kings
The Kings are one of the very few teams to have been offensively successful in their very first season. So successful, in fact, that they made it to the playoffs in both their first and second years. This also tells you how strong their defense was; goalies Terry Sawchuk and Wayne Rutledge worked magic, with Sawchuk later becoming a Hall of Famer.
The Kings won their very first game, played on October 14, 1967, beating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2. Although it was a home game, the Forum construction hadn’t been completed yet and the nearby Long Beach Arena hosted this inauguration. The “Fabulous Forum” finally opened on December 30th and the Kings experienced a an opening night defeat of 2-0 to Philly.
The head coach, Red Kelly, was a Hall of Famer too and he led them to second place in the Western Division that year, and later the playoffs. Los Angeles’ had a 31-33-10 record for their premiere season.
9. Worst: Atlanta Thrashers
Ted Turner decided he wanted to own a hockey team, and so 20 years after the Flames moved to Calgary, the Thrashers were born. Their first game was on October 2, 1999, against the soon-to-be Stanley Cup winners, the New Jersey Devils. The franchise’s first goal – and the only one for that game – was scored by team captain Kelly Buchberger, and the team lost 4-1.
Even though their lead scorer, Andrew Burnette, scored a commendable 50 points that season, the Thrashers ended the season in last place, with a record of 14-61-7. This did set them up for a number two pick for the next draft, but even that wasn’t enough to make much difference.
While most expansion teams suffered through a few bad seasons then grew to greatness, the Thrashers did not. They never could get their ducks in a row and the team moved to Winnipeg in 2011. Every single one of their 1999 picks no longer play for the league. That says a lot.
8. Best: Anaheim Mighty Ducks
Let’s try and forget that they were owned by the Walt Disney Corporation AND named after a Disney movie because their expansion year was anything but juvenile. Their 33-46-5 and 71 points record included 19 wins on the road, which was actually the first time a brand new team had reached that number. And if that’s not impressive enough, they were one of only eight teams in the NHL to have a GAA under 3.00 and a save percentage above .900.
The defense was so impressive, in fact, that it took the attention away from the Ducks’ less-than-stellar offense. The goaltending tandem of Guy Hebert and Ron Tugnutt were fantastic together, and poor Paul Kariya tried his best, but really didn’t come into his own until his second season.
7. Worst: New York Islanders
New York’s second NHL team debuted on October 7, 1972, with a close 3-2 loss to the Atalanta Flames (incidentally, it was also the Flames’ first ever game). They quickly rallied, though, and five days later earned their first win: 3-2 against the Los Angeles Kings.
With a dismal 347 goals-against, the Islanders had the misfortune of setting the record for allowing the most goals in one season, surpassing the previous record by 27 and passing the year’s league average by almost 100. It won’t surprise you to hear that they finished the 1972-73 season in last place with a sad, sad record of 12-60-6.
6. Best: Minnesota Wild
Minnesota had been without a team since the North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993, and the State of Hockey was getting pretty anxious. On October 6 of the year 2000, the Minnesota Wild played their inaugural game in Florida against Anaheim’s Mighty Ducks. Gaborik scored the first ever goal – and he still holds the record as the franchise’s leading scorer. The team’s most memorable game that year was when the Dallas Stars came to town in December. Fan and players alike had an emotional night as the Wild triumphed 6-0.
The team’s defense was beyond solid, allowing only 210 goals which was the 12th fewest of all 30 teams. Manny Fernandez was a between-the-pipes hero on skates, earning a .920 save percentage and 11th place in Vezina voting. Darby Hendrickson, Wes Walz, and Marian Gaborik all ended with 18 goals, and Scott Pellerin led with 39 points that year.
5. Worst: Kansas City Scouts
Since their arena was already booked, the Scouts debuted in the NHL with a nine game road trip in 1974. The inaugural game saw Scouts were squashed 6-2 in Toronto, followed by losses to the Islanders, Flyers, Flames, and Blackhawks. They finally tied the Golden Seals with 4-4. A desperately-needed win happened on November 3rd when they beat the Washington Capitals 5-4.
They managed to nab Simon Nolet in the expansion draft from the Philadelphia Flyers, who had recently earned a Stanley Cup. Nolet was the Scouts’ first captain, but even his leadership couldn’t save them; they finished in last place with a 15-54-11 record. In 1976 the team relocated and became the Colorado Rockies.
One of the reasons that the Scouts didn’t last was the shortage of fans. The fact that the team wasn’t winning, coupled with an economic decline in the Midwest, meant that the Kemper arena rarely saw 8,200 supporters in the stands, despite being able to hold about 17,000.
4. Best: Columbus Blue Jackets
On October 7, 2000, at Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets started their very first game with a 3-0 lead against the Chicago Blackhawks. Right winger Bruce Gardiner scored the inaugural goal for Columbus, and although they lost that game 5-3, their first victory wasn’t long after. The Blue Jackets defeated the Calgary Flames 3-2 on Canadian ice.
They finished their rookie season with a 28-39-9-6 record, which didn’t put them anywhere near the top of the league, but it allowed them to snatch up Rick Nash in the 2002 draft. Nash became the franchise’s first legit superstar, skating in five All-Star games, scoring more than 50 points every season (except his rookie year), and filling the fans’ hearts with joy.
They may have only made it to the playoffs three times since that first puck drop in 2000, but this doesn’t mean they didn’t get off to an electrifying start. In fact, Columbus sits in eighth place on the list of top first-year expansion team stats.
3. Worst: Boston Bruins
Along with the Montreal Maroons, the Bruins were the first ever expansion and first US-based team, starting out in 1924. Boston played the Maroons in their debut game on October 1, 1924, with an incredible 2-1 victory. Fred Harris and Carson Cooper both scored, which was pretty impressive for a couple of tradesmen on skates!
The rest of the season didn’t go so well. In fact, they suffered through an 11-game losing streak before triumphing again on January 10, 1925. They won only six out of 30 games all year, three on the road and three at home. The NHL’s first American team was forced watched two Canadian teams battle for the Stanley Cup. The Bruins’ record was 6-24-0.
The Bruins’ then-home was the Boston Arena and is now the world’s oldest indoor ice facility that’s still being used for its original sport. Stanley Cup winner Art Ross was the Bruins’ coach and GM, eventually leading them to first place in the league 10 times, as well as three Stanley Cups.
2. Best: St. Louis Blues
St. Louis defied all odds and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals as a first-year team. In fact, they are the only first-year team to have ever achieved this. Not only did they play in the Finals that season, they earned a spot there for three seasons in a row, from 1968 to 1970. It should be pointed out though, that the NHL stacked the deck to favor expansion teams, placing them all in one conference, while the much tougher Original Six had their own conference. Hence, it was set up for any expansion team to get smashed in the finals.
The city of St. Louis’ love for hockey was born on October 11, 1967, when the Blues skated against and tied the game with the Minnesota North Stars. This game was held at the old St. Louis Arena which was often called “The Barn” at the time and later christened the “Checkerdome.”
Keeper Glenn Hall was a force to be reckoned with, as evidenced by the fact that he won the Conn Smythe that year even though he was on the losing side. He’s one of only a handful of players to win the trophy without having won the Cup.
1. Worst: Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning began their franchise with a 7-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on October 7, 1992, and they brought the house down. Their 10,425-seat Expo Hall, located at the Florida State Fairgrounds, was full and all watched as Chris Kontos nailed four goals and set a franchise record.
Although initially more successful than most expansion teams, Tampa road a roller coaster of emotions and success in their first year. They lost 11 out of 12 games at one point and they ended up at the in last place for the division. With a record of 23-54-7, the season didn’t end as exuberantly as it began.
Playing the league’s first woman during an exhibition game in September, 1992, also garnered the Bolts some attention. Manon Rheaume played in nets and stopped seven out of nine shots. Maybe if they’d kept her there all year, things would have been different. Maybe.
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