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.
30 Anaheim Ducks - 1994-95
29 Arizona Coyotes - 1980-81 (Winnipeg Jets)
28 Boston Bruins - 1924-25
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.
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.
25 Carolina Hurricanes - 1982-83 (Hartford Whalers)
24 Chicago Blackhawks - 1927-28 (Black Hawks)
23 Colorado Avalanche – 1989-90 (Quebec Nordiques)
22 Columbus Blue Jackets - 2001-02
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.
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.
19 Edmonton Oilers - 1992-93
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.
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.
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.
15 Montreal Canadiens - 1939-40
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.
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.
12 New York Islanders - 1972-73
11 New York Rangers - 1943-44
10 Philadelphia Flyers - 2006-07
9 Pittsburgh Penguins - 1983-84
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.
7 San Jose Sharks - 1992-93
6 St. Louis Blues - 1978-79
5 Tampa Bay Lightning - 1997-98
4 Toronto Maple Leafs - 1984-85
3 Vancouver Canucks - 1971-72
2 Washington Capitals - 1974-75
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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