Every NHL team goes through its fair share of ups and downs. As much as people like to belittle the Edmonton Oilers for being a tire fire that seemingly finish every season at the bottom of the standings while racking up first overall picks without ever finding any success, there was a time when the Oilers were the most dangerous team in all of hockey. The Gretzky, Messier, and Kurri led squad of the 1980s dominated teams while picking up four Stanley Cup victories and a fifth one after Gretzky’s departure.
Conversely, the Detroit Red Wings, are a team that has become the NHL’s model franchise, having qualified for the playoffs in each of the last 24 seasons and having won the Cup four times of their own since 1997. However, the Red Wings success came on the heels of a 42-year Stanley Cup drought and the “Dead Wings” era. From 1966-67 through 1982-83 the Red Wings missed the playoffs 15 times in 17 seasons and things got so bad that the team gave away cars at games just to get fans to the rink. That’s a far cry from the Detroit that has become known as Hockeytown, USA.
The main point here is that success in hockey, or any sport for that matter, is cyclical. No one team is going to stay bad forever, just like no one team is going to be great forever. Every team gets its chance in the sun, and when that moment comes and the players, coaches, staff, and fans that have all waited so long for that victory finally get the opportunity to rejoice, they can all look back at their darkest days and realize just how far they’ve come. So let's take a look at each team's darkest hour, here is every NHL team's worst season.
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30 Anaheim Ducks - 1994-95
The Mighty Ducks didn’t have the worst inaugural season of an expansion team, finishing with 71 points in 1993-94, but the following season their play dropped off and the Ducks finished with a 16-27-5 record for 37 points in the lockout shortened 1994-95 season. Led by 18 goals and 39 points from a 20-year-old Paul Kariya, the Mighty Ducks failed to get much offense from anyone else and finished tied for the fourth fewest goals scored in the league.
29 Arizona Coyotes - 1980-81 (Winnipeg Jets)
When the WHA began in 1972, the Winnipeg Jets signing of Bobby Hull away from the Chicago Blackhawks helped bring legitimacy to the league and the team’s trio of Hull, Anders Hedberg, and Ulf Nilsson took the Jets to five WHA Final appearances in seven years, resulting in three Avco Cup victories. However, when the Jets joined the NHL in 1979 they were forced to give up their top three scorers, devastating the team. As a result the Jets finished the 1979-80 season with just 51 points and the following season they fell further down the standings, going 9-57-14 for 34 points. The 1980-81 Jets’ 246 goals were the fewest in the NHL while their 400 goals against were 28 more than anyone else.
28 Boston Bruins - 1924-25
On November 1, 1924 grocery store financier Charles Adams was awarded the first American franchise in the NHL and hired the legendary Art Ross to be the first manager of the Boston Bruins. The team won their opening game 2-1 over the Montreal Maroons, but stumbled through their inaugural season, going 6-24-0 for 12 points and finishing last in the six team league.
27 Buffalo Sabres - 2013-14
Entering the 2013-14 season it was clear that the time for change was nearing for the Buffalo Sabres. Early in the season star forward and pending free agent Thomas Vanek was traded to the New York Islanders. Shortly thereafter, with the team’s record standing at a franchise worst 4-15-1, longtime general manager Darcy Regier and head coach Ron Rolston where both fired with Ted Nolan being named interim coach and former Sabres star Pat LaFontaine taking on the role of President of Hockey Operations.
In January of 2014, Tim Murray was named the Sabres’ new general manager and his first major move was to deal goaltender Ryan Miller, who was also a pending free agent, to the St. Louis Blues. When the season finally dragged to a close, the Sabres had finished with a 21-51-10 record for just 52 points.
26 Calgary Flames - 1997-98
The 1997-98 version of the Calgary Flames featured names like Theoren Fleury, Cory Stillman, Michael Nylander, Jerome Iginla, and Derek Morris, but it was a young squad, led by rookie coach Brian Sutter. Morris was named a rookie All-Star, but he was also only 19 years old. Iginla, who was in just his second NHL season, posted a career low 32 points as a 20-year-old. The 24-year-old Stillman had yet to become an elite point producer and the 25-year-old Nylander struggled with consistency.
Fleury led the team with 78 points in what would prove to be his final full season in a Flames jersey. The Flames went into the season trying to win while also rebuilding on the fly, a risky proposition that resulted in a 26-41-15 record and 67 points.
25 Carolina Hurricanes - 1982-83 (Hartford Whalers)
The Hartford Whalers struggled through their first few seasons in the NHL before plummeting further in 1982-83, finishing with the season with just 45 points behind a 19-54-7 record. The Whalers received a 45 goal season from Blaine Stoughton and another 90 points from a 19-year-old Ron Francis, but the play of Greg Millen between the pipes left a lot to be desired for the young Whalers.
24 Chicago Blackhawks - 1927-28 (Black Hawks)
The Black Hawks' second season in existence was not a pretty one. Babe Daye, whose 25 goals had led the team one season prior, was limited by injuries to ten scoreless games. Meanwhile, Dick Irvin – father of the legendary sportscaster of the same name – who was the team’s captain and had led them with 36 points in their inaugural season, missed 30 games and posted just nine points in 12 games. As a result, the Black Hawks finished with a 7-34-3 record totaling 17 points.
23 Colorado Avalanche – 1989-90 (Quebec Nordiques)
Prior to the Oilers, the Quebec Nordiques were the last NHL team to have the first overall pick three years in a row. After finishing with 61 points in 1988-89 and making Mats Sundin the first ever European player ever to be drafted first overall, the Nordiques fell to just 31 points in 1989-90 behind a 12-61-7 record. The Nordiques used seven different goaltenders, giving up a league worst 407 goals with Ron Tugnutt’s five wins in 35 games leading the way. As a result of the team’s bad play, all-time leading scorer Peter Stastny was traded to the New Jersey Devils and Michel Goulet was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks.
22 Columbus Blue Jackets - 2001-02
There’s a chance that when mid-April arrives the 2015-16 season may go down as the Blue Jackets worst season, but for now that distinction belongs to the 2001-02 incarnation. In their second season, the Blue Jackets posted a 22-47-8-5 record compiling 57 points to finish in 29th place, just ahead of the lowly Atlanta Thrashers. Ray Whitney’s 61 points led the league’s lowest scoring team, while former last place Nordique, Ron Tugnutt, and Marc Denis got the bulk of the team’s starts giving up the third most goals.
21 Dallas Stars - 1977-78 (Minnesota North Stars)
The 1977-78 Minnesota North Stars were a young team, whose leading scorer was 23-year-old Roland Eriksson who potted 60 points, while 22-year-old Tim Young led the team in goals with 23. Twenty-year-old defenseman Brad Maxwell chipped in 18 goals and 47 points, but he was also a disastrous minus-57. The team’s goaltending, led by 23-year-old Pete LoPresti and 22-year-old Paul Harrison while also getting three games out of Gary “Suitcase” Smith, also left much to be desired.
The North Stars went through three different coaches throughout the season on their way to a 18-53-9 record with 45 points. Ted Harris began the season coaching the North Stars, but was replaced by Andre Beaulieu, who was later replaced by Lou Nanne after Nanne retired and stepped behind the team’s bench after playing 36 games that season.
20 Detroit Red Wings - 1985-86
The worst season of the “Dead Wings” era came in 1985-86. The Red Wings had made the playoffs in the two seasons prior, only because they played in the awful Norris Division, and then went out and used their financial mite in hopes of becoming Stanley Cup contenders. They signed players like Warren Young, who had scored 40 goals in his first full NHL season alongside Mario Lemieux, and veteran defenseman Harold Snepsts and Mike McEwen. The Red Wings hired Harry Neale, who had taken the Vancouver Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final in 1982, as their head coach and believed they were finally back on the path to success.
Instead what resulted was a disastrous season in which the team went winless in their first nine games, giving up 58 goals. Snepsts missed a large portion of the season with a knee injury, McEwen was a huge disappointment and was traded midseason, and Young’s production dipped to 22 goals and 46 points in his lone season in Detroit before being dealt back to Pittsburgh. Neale was fired after posting a 8-23-4 record and replaced by Brad Park who promised to turn the team around, but fared no better. In the end, the Red Wings finished the season with a 17-57-6 record and just 40 points.
19 Edmonton Oilers - 1992-93
The last few seasons may have seemed like rock bottom for the Edmonton Oilers, but believe it or not they’ve had worse. The Oilers picked up their fifth Stanley Cup victory in 1990, but just three years later the team was left in shambles. Gone were Gretzky, Messier, Kurri and the bulk of the Oilers dynasty and the dreaded Shayne Corson era had just begun. Not a single player reached the 50 point mark for the Oilers, with Petr Klima’s 31 goals and 48 points leading the way to a 26-50-8 record and the team’s first year without a playoff appearance since joining the NHL.
18 Florida Panthers - 2001-02
The Florida Panthers were one of the more successful expansion teams in their early years, picking up 83 points in their first season and making a run to the Stanley Cup Final in just their third season. Since then the franchise has struggled to have much success and their worst season came in 2001-02. Prior to the season the Panthers traded for Valeri Bure in hopes that along with his brother Pavel the pair would form a formidable duo in Florida. That didn’t quite work out. Valeri was limited to just 31 games and 18 points. Pavel continued to produce, scoring a team high 49 points in 56 games, but was dealt at the trade deadline to the New York Rangers.
Duane Sutter was replaced by Mike Keenan as head coach in midseason and general manager Bill Torrey retired with Chuck Fletcher assuming the role on an interim basis. The Panthers finished the season with 60 points and a 22-40-10-6 record.
17 Los Angeles Kings - 1969-70
Hall of Fame defenseman turned centre Red Kelly retired following the Toronto Maple Leafs 1967 Stanley Cup victory and became the first head coach of the expansion Los Angeles Kings. Kelly led the Kings to a playoff birth in their first season and despite a 14 point drop in the standings with two extra games the following year, the Kings picked up their first playoff series victory.
Prior to the Kings third season in 1969-70, Kelly left to coach the Pittsburgh Penguins and was replaced by Hal Laycoe. The Kings play dropped even further and Laycoe lasted just 24 games behind the bench, winning only five of them, before being replaced by Johnny Wilson. The Kings finished the season with a 14-52-10 record and just 38 points, while scoring the fewest goals and giving up the most.
16 Minnesota Wild - 2000-01
In the relatively short history of the Minnesota Wild, the team has never looked very bad. In fact, the Wild have never sunk below the levels of their inaugural 2000-01 season in which they finished with 25-39-13-5 record, posting 68 points. Manny Fernandez and Jamie McLennan did well enough between the pipes, but not surprisingly goals were difficult to come by for the Jacques Lemaire coached squad.
Marian Gaborik, Willie Mitchell, and Pascal Dupuis were still youngsters and the rest of the team provided about what you would expect from an expansion team. The Wild finished last in the league with 168 goals and Scott Pellerin’s 39 points led the team.
15 Montreal Canadiens - 1939-40
In the more than 100 year history of the Montreal Canadiens, bad seasons are hard to come by and none can top their 1939-40 campaign. The Canadeins tied the Red Wings with a league low 90 goals scored and their 168 goals against were 28 more than the next closest team and more than double the 77 goals given up by the Stanley Cup Champion New York Rangers. Toe Blake's 36 points led the team to a 10-33-5 record and 25 points.
14 Nashville Predators - 1998-99
Much like the Wild, the Nashville Predators are a team whose limited history features much regular season success. The Predators lowest point also came in their first season. Like many expansion teams the Predators failed to score many goals in 1998-99, finishing 24th out of 27 teams in goals scored, led by 53 points from Cliff Ronning and 25 goals from Sergei Krivokrasov. Tomas Vokoun had yet to establish himself as an elite NHL goaltender, with only one career game on his resume heading into the season.
Vokoun and Mike Dunham, who had only played 41 NHL games before joining the Predators, split the majority of the team’s starts and gave up the second most goals in the league, behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning. When the season came to a close, the Predators sported a 28-47-7 record and 63 points.
13 New Jersey Devils - 1975-76 (Kansas City Scouts)
The Kansas City Scouts joined the NHL as an expansion team for the 1974-75 season. Given that there were 30 teams between the NHL and the WHA and the shallow depth of the talent pool, there were not many quality players available to help the Scouts. They posted a 15-54-11 record in their first season, but were even worse in their second.
Hoping to make a playoff appearance, the Scouts briefly found themselves in the hunt, but lost all hope after winning just one of their final 44 games to finish with a 12-56-12 record and 36 points while going through three head coaches.
12 New York Islanders - 1972-73
Roughly 30 years before he retired as general manager of a bad Panthers team, Bill Torrey was named the first GM of the New York Islanders. Torrey picked up some key pieces in the expansion draft, including future four time Stanley Cup winning goaltender Billy Smith, but the Islanders stumbled through their first season. Smith and Gerry Desjardins played the bulk of the team’s games, giving up a league worst 347 goals, while 1972 first overall pick Billy Harris’ 50 points led the league’s lowest scoring team. The Islanders finished the season with a 12-60-6 record and 30 points.
11 New York Rangers - 1943-44
The New York Rangers picked up their third Stanley Cup victory in 1940, but by the time the 1943-44 season arrived, a large chunk of their team had left to serve with the Canadian armed forces in World War II. As a result, the Rangers had to ice a team consisting of players who had previously retired, minor leaguers, and guys who were unable to serve in the war. They began the final 20 games of the season with a 15-0 loss to the Red Wings and never won another game, going 0-16-4 down the stretch. The Rangers only picked up 17 points that season with a 6-39-5 record.
10 Philadelphia Flyers - 2006-07
After reaching the 100 point plateau for the fifth time in six seasons in 2005-06, the following season was a disaster for the Philadelphia Flyers. Eric Desjardins and Keith Primeau had both retired and a chronic foot injury limited Peter Forberg’s effectiveness all season. After a 1-6-1 start to the season, head coach Ken Hitchcock was fired and Bob Clarke resigned as general manager. Antero Niittymaki struggled as the team’s starting goalie and the team’s futility resulted in a 22-48-12 record with 56 points.
9 Pittsburgh Penguins - 1983-84
Having finished the 1982-83 season with just 45 points, the Pittsburgh Penguins are often accused of tanking the 1983-84 season to draft Mario Lemieux. Star defenseman Randy Carlyle was traded to the Winnipeg Jets and goaltender Roberto Romano was demoted to the minors in favor of Vincent Tremblay after Romano had put together several strong late season starts. The Penguins posted 3-17-1 record to end the season and a 16-58-6 record overall, giving them 38 points and the right to draft Super Mario.
8 Ottawa Senators - 1992-93
The Ottawa Senators inaugural season in 1992-93 is among worst seasons played by any team in the history of pro sports. Led by 63 points from defenseman Norm Maciver the expansion Senators compiled a 10-70-4 record for just 24 points. The team’s road record was an embarrassing 1-41-0 with the lone win not coming until their third last road game of the season.
Much like the Penguins nearly a decade earlier, the Senators were accused of tanking their season to get the first overall pick and the right to draft Alexandre Daigle. Unlike the Penguins, the Senators are probably wishing they hadn’t.
7 San Jose Sharks - 1992-93
While the Senators where busy getting destroyed in the basement of the Prince of Wales Conference in 1992-93, the San Jose Sharks were doing the same thing in the Clarence Campbell Conference. The Sharks record was equally as bad at 11-71-2 for 24 points. The Sharks gave up a league high 414 goals - 19 more than the Senators - and finished slightly ahead of the Senators in goals scored, led by 78 points from Kelly Kisio. The Sharks 71 regulation losses remains an NHL record.
6 St. Louis Blues - 1978-79
The St. Louis Blues haven’t had a lot of poor teams in their history, but their worst season came in 1978-79 when they finished with an 18-50-12 record and just 48 points. The Blues were led by a 31 goals and 94 point season from Bernie Federko and also got 41 goals out of Brian Sutter, but that didn’t keep them from finishing with the second worst record in the league, ahead of only the Colorado Rockies. This would mark the second consecutive year and third in franchise history that would end without a playoff appearance. Luckily for the Blues, the following season would mark the beginning of 25 straight trips to the postseason.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning - 1997-98
The early years of the Tampa Bay Lightning were filled with disappointment, but the team reached its lowest point in the 1997-98 season when they finished with a 17-55-10 record, picking up 44 points, while going through three different coaches. The Lightning, featuring a mix of youngsters such as Darcy Tucker, Pavel Kubina and Daymond Langkow and veterans like Stephane Richer and Dino Ciccarelli, were shutout 11 times and used five different goaltenders throughout the year, while Paul Ysebaert's 13 goals and 40 points led the team in scoring.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs - 1984-85
The Toronto Maple Leafs may be mired in a 48 year Stanley Cup drought and are the butt of many jokes, but the truth is they haven't had a lot of embarrassingly bad seasons. Their worst campaign came in 1984-85 when they finished with 48 points and a 20-52-8 record. Th Maple Leafs entered the season as a rebuilding club, with only five players over the age of 25 playing more than 60 games for the team that season. Each member of the top line of Rick Vaive, John Anderson, and Bill Derlago potted 30 goals, but the Maple Leafs overall finished last in the league in goals scored.
3 Vancouver Canucks - 1971-72
Like many teams, the Vancouver Canucks were at their worst in their early years. In their second season, coached by Hal Laycoe, who has previously coached the awful Los Angeles Kings, the Canucks finished the 1971-72 seeason with a 20-50-8 record for 48 points. The last place Canucks were led in scoring by Andre Boudrias and Orland Kurtenbach who each contributed 61 points, while Dunc Wilson, George Gardner, and Ed Dyck combined to give up the second most goals in the league with 294.
2 Washington Capitals - 1974-75
When it comes to bad seasons, none can match that of the Washington Capitals first year. The Capitals joined the NHL at the same time as the Kansas City Scouts and like the Scouts, there wasn't much talent available for the Capitals to choose from. Led by 58 points from Tommy Williams – the only Capitals player to surpass the 35 point mark – the team finished with an 8-67-5 record and only 21 points. The Capitals' 446 goals against was 105 more than the second most given up by the Minnesota North Stars. Their eight wins are the fewest by a team in season of 70 or more games and their .131 winning percentage remains the worst in league history.
1 Winnipeg Jets - 1999-00 (Atlanta Thrashers)
The 11 seasons played by the Atlanta Thrashers were filled with disappointment, but no season was worse than their first one. After drafting arguably the biggest draft bust of all-time in Patrik Stefan first overall in 1999, the Thrashers then posted a 14-57-7-4 record in 1999-00 finishing with just 39 points. Andrew Brunette’s 50 points were tops on the league’s lowest scoring team and five goaltenders combined to give up a league worst 313 goals.
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