Here in North America, we are lucky to have access to the NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA, the four biggest and most successful leagues for their respective sports, and although the NHL is the least popular of the four, it is still a billion dollar enterprise. The National Hockey League has seen a handful of competitors over the decades, like the KHL and WHA, but the league has managed to overcome every single competitor thus far thanks to it continuously offering fans the best hockey players that the world has to offer. Just because the NHL is home to the most talented players, does not mean that every single team is competitive and successful, because along the way, every team’s front office makes mistakes that negatively effect the performance of their roster.
We all make mistakes. It is just part of makes us human, but in sports, mistakes are almost always costly, whether the mistake occurs on the field of play, or off the field, via trades, drafts, or free agency. When it comes to hockey, off-ice mistakes can be really harmful to a franchise, because NHL teams rely heavily on trades and the draft to improve their rosters, and since the league has a cap in place, any free agents that fail to pan out can leave a team strapped for cash for when they really need to spend. The NHL has been around for 100 years now, so you can only imagine how many mistakes have occurred over the years, including certain mistakes that were so bad, that it took franchises years to get passed them, and this article will focus on 15 of those mistakes that were truly embarrassing.
15. Montreal Trading Subban
At the time of the trade, P.K. Subban was by far Montreal’s best defenseman, and one of their best point producers, and he has continued to perform while in Nashville, which is something that cannot be said about Shea Weber. When Montreal acquired Weber, they thought they were getting the version from a few seasons earlier, who was considered to be one of the NHL’s top D-men, but as it turns out, Weber’s body has already become slower and more frail thanks to ALL the minutes he had to play while in the rough Western Conference for almost a decade. Worse, he has been unable to help solve Montreal’s immense scoring problems. Essentially, Montreal got rid of a Norris Trophy winning offensive blueliner for an “old man” that will continue to take up $7.8 million in cap space for another eight seasons.
14. The North Stars’ 1983 Draft Bust
When teams relocate, it is either because ownership wants to move somewhere else, or because poor attendance and loss of money forces them too, which is why the Minnesota North Stars eventually moved to Dallas in 1991, as fans did not want to support a team that failed to perform. One of the biggest mistakes that contributed to the team’s relocation was the 1983 draft, where they used the 1st-overall pick to select Brian Lawton, who turned out to be a complete and utter bust. Lawton played in 485 NHL games, where he had 112 goals and 226 points, numbers which would be fine if he was never once thought to be a legitimate number 1 centre. The team may have never moved had the GM decided to draft either Cam Neely, Pat LaFontaine, or Steve Yzerman instead, who were selected in the same round, and who are all Hall of Famers.
13. The Nordiques Skipping On Selanne
Over the decades, Finland has seen a fair number of players make it to the NHL, and for the time being, Teemu Selanne is still the best Finnish-born player to ever play in the league. Over the course of 21 seasons, the Hall of Famer played in 1,451 games, where he scored 684 goals and 1,457 points, and thankfully, he was able to win his one-and-only Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007. The Finnish Flash was drafted by Winnipeg 10th-overall in 1988, and the fact that he went to Winnipeg is a big reason why the Quebec Nordiques were relocated to Colorado in 1995. In that draft, Quebec had the 3rd and 5th overall picks, which they used to select Curtis Leschyshyn and Daniel Doré, two players who combined managed to score just 49 goals and 459 points over the course of both their careers.
12. The Bruins Drafting Gord Kluzak
Usually, when a draft prospect suffers a serious knee injury, teams choose to skip them for precautionary reasons, but the Boston Bruins believed that Gord Kluzak would be able to overcome his injury and live up to his potential. Going into the 1982 draft, Kluzak was viewed as a game-changing defenseman, which is why Boston ignored the knee injury, and drafted him 1st-overall. Kluzak spent parts of nine seasons with Boston, where he played in just 299 games thanks to repeated injuries, injuries that actually caused him to miss two full seasons. Needless to say, the Bruins messed up big time by selecting him, especially since Hall of Fame defensemen Scott Stevens and Phil Housely, who were both REAL game-changers, were selected 5th and 6th-overall in that same draft.
11. Boston Trading Seguin
We return to Boston for yet another terrible mistake, except this one is a lot worse, as the Bruins were lucky enough to draft Tyler Seguin, a great player, who they ultimately shipped off for Loui Eriksson, who signed elsewhere three seasons later. Seguin was the 2nd-overall pick in 2010, and he helped Boston win the Stanley Cup in 2011, while also being a presence in their 2013 Finals appearance. Thanks to off-ice issues, Boston decided to trade Seguin to Dallas during the 2013 offseason, where he has flourished as a goal scorer, and it is quite clear that Boston misses his skill, because even though they have been marginally competitive in recent years, they have not been nearly as competitive, or successful since trading him away.
10. The Flyers Signing Bryzgalov
Every single hockey team needs to have a good goalie in order to win games, seeing as a goalie’s performance usually determines the outcome of a game, and for the longest time, the Philadelphia Flyers have needed such a goalie. When he was with the Coyotes, Ilya Bryzgalov played great between the pipes, which is why the Flyers jumped at him in free agency in 2011, signing him to a nine-year deal worth $51 million. The intent was for Bryzgalov to be the team’s new number 1, but the experiment lasted for just two seasons, as he played incredibly poorly during that time, which caused him to receive a great deal of hate from the Flyers’ fanbase. Due to the size of the contract, Philadelphia could not trade Bryzgalov, so they ended up buying out the last seven years of his contract, a contract that also forced them to trade Jeff Carter, who at the time was one of their best players.
9. The Islanders Signing Yashin
No matter the sport, there are always athletes who appear to only care about making money, athletes who decide to not put in any real effort despite having the skills to make a major impact. When it comes to the NHL, Alexei Yashin is the perfect example of such a player, as he was clearly skilled, but became despised within the league for essentially only playing when he wanted to. He started his career with Ottawa, who eventually had enough of him, and traded him to the New York Islanders in 2001, and for some reason, the Islanders re-signed him to a 10-year $87.5 million contract. Yashin’s lack of effort continued, and it greatly hurt the franchise, which is why they finally decided to buy him out in 2007, a move that caused the Islanders to reshape their entire franchise, as they were forced to pay him over $17.6 million over the course of eight years.
8. Minnesota Passing On Price
The 2005 draft saw the likes of Sidney Crosby, Anze Kopitar, and James Neal enter into the NHL, but that year also saw the selection of Carey Price, who is still amongst the best goalies in the world. 2015 proved just how great Price is when he is healthy, as he won the Vezina, Ted Lindsay, and Hart Trophies for his performance with the Montreal Canadiens, who are literally nothing without him. The Minnesota Wild now have Devan Dubnyk as their number 1 starter, and he has been fantastic, but he is still no Carey price, and the Wild only have themselves to blame for that, as they could have avoided years of mediocre goaltending by drafting Price with their 4th-overall pick. Instead, they took Benoit Pouliot who is at best a 3rd-line player, while Price was taken with the very next pick.
7. Columbus’ 2003 Draft Mistake
Zach Parise, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns, Shea Weber, Loui Eriksson and Patrice Bergeron; these were just some of the All-Star names from the 2003 draft, which is why that draft is considered to be the best in NHL history. That year the Columbus Blue Jackets held the 4th-overall pick, and used it to select Nikolay Zherdev, a Russian winger who only played with the team for parts of four seasons before being traded to the Rangers in 2008. Although the Blue Jackets are a pretty good team now, they have lived in mediocrity for most of their existence, and selecting Zherdev was one of the reasons why they stayed bad for so long, because with all the talent available in that draft, Columbus managed to select one of only three players from the 1st round who turned out to be a complete and utter bust.
6. Toronto Taking Schenn Over Karlsson
At the beginning of the Brian Burke era, Toronto was expected to be a highly competitive team, but that expectation quickly dissipated with the team becoming a joke around the league. In 2008, the Leafs traded up to get the 5th-overall pick to make sure that they could draft the quality defenseman that the team desperately needed, and that pick turned out to be Luke Schenn, who turned out to be a major disappointment. Looking back, Burke probably wishes that his scouts did a better job, because if they needed a franchise defenseman, they could have taken Erik Karlsson instead, who was drafted by Ottawa 15th-overall. Karlsson is one of the best blueliners in the league, with two Norris Trophies, 120 goals, and almost 500 points under his belt, while Schenn is a low-tier defenseman who has scored under 30 goals and under 150 points.
5. The Devils Signing Kovalchuk
Over the past decade, there have been some pretty bad contracts dished out across the NHL, but one of the worst is without a doubt the 15-year, $100 million contract that the New Jersey Devils gave to Ilya Kovalchuk in 2010. When the Devils made the deal, Kovalchuk was still in his prime, and he was a potent threat on offense, which is why no one expected him to leave that kind of money behind to go play in Russia. Kovalchuk “retired” from the NHL in 2013, which initially left them on the hook for $77 million, which the league generously reduced to a $250,000 penalty every year until 2025. Other than being left high and dry, New Jersey had to pay a $1.5 million fine and give up a 1st-round pick in order for the NHL to validate the contract, so you can see why it has taken them so long to properly rebuild.
4. The Islanders Signing Rick DiPietro
After the Yashin debacle, you would think that the Islanders would have learned not to give out such insanely long and expensive contracts, and they did learn, just not until after signing Rick DiPietro. The Isles took DiPietro in 2000 with the 1st overall pick, and early on in his career, he showed qualities befitting a stating goalie, but New York thought he was one of the best in the league, which is why they gave him a 15-year contract extension worth $67.5 million in 2006. He did great in the fist year of the deal, but following that All-Star performance, it was all downhill, as he could never stay healthy, and when he was, he did not play very well. In 2013, with eight years left on his deal, the Islanders were able to buy him out, but not before experiencing several losing seasons in the process.
3. Vancouver Drafting Antowski Over Brodeur & Tkachuk
Over the course of 100 years, the NHL has seen many Hall of Fame goalies come and go, but there are two individuals who are considered to be the best netminders of all time, and Martin Brodeur is one of them. Over the course of 21 seasons, Brodeur won 691 games, which included 125 shutouts, and he also won three Stanley Cups and four Vezina Trophies, not too bad for someone who was a 20th overall pick. Keith Tkachuk is another future Hall of Famer, and he is one of the best American-born players to ever play in the NHL, and he shares one thing in common with Brodeur: they were both passed over by the Vancouver Canucks in the 1990 draft. Instead of taking either one, Vancouver took Shawn Antoski 18th-overall, a winger who barely had an NHL career, so imagine how the 1994 Stanley Cup Final could have played out if either Brodeur or Tkachuk were on the Canucks’ roster.
2. The Flyers Passing On Jagr
Jaromir Jagr is one of the best players in NHL history, as the ageless wonder currently sits 3rd all-time in goals scored, and 2nd all-time in points, achievements that go hand-in-hand with his five Art Ross Trophies, one Hart Trophy, and 2 Stanley Cups. Jagr started his career with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who stole him with the 5th pick in 1990. Now, Flyers’ fans have hated Pittsburgh for a long time, but what will make those fans fume even more is the fact that Philadelphia literally gave the Penguins Jagr, because Philidelphia had the 4th pick that year and took Mike Ricci instead, a forward who scored over 1,300 fewer points than Jagr. Granted, the Flyers signed Jagr in 2011, but at that point, he was past his prime, and could not lead the team to a Cup like he did with Pittsburgh in back-to-back seasons.
1. The Phil Kessel Trade
We return to the Brian Burke era in Toronto, and if you thought that drafting Luke Schenn was a terrible mistake that set the franchise back, then you likely forgot that it was Burke who made the trade for Phil Kessel. As far as goal scoring goes, Kessel has always produced, the problem though, is that while he was in Toronto, he never lived up to the players he was ultimately traded for. When Burke made the trade, he thought the Maple Leafs would be Cup contenders who would be drafting late, which is why he gave Boston two 1st round picks in exchange. Toronto failed miserably in the following two seasons, and those picks turned out to be Tyler Seguin (2nd-overall, 2010), and Dougie Hamilton (9th-overall, 2011), players that Toronto would have loved to build their franchise around, but instead, they went to Boston, and the Maple Leafs looked as though fools were running the franchise.
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