Any NHL team can have a poor season; there are so many intangibles that factor into success or failure. Coaches and General Managers are well aware of this: a draft bust or a 4th rounder that ends up on the first line, injuries that plague an entire team, free agency, ending up on the short end of a trade, league wide labor disputes, individual contract disputes, offense, defense, poor penalty killing or a poor power play – there are so many categorical factors that have an impact on a season overall. Even unfavorable schedules can, in some ways, contribute to a poor start, which undoubtedly has an influence on a team’s momentum.
On the other hand, some teams are just plain awful. One look at the roster and the writing is literally on the wall. When revisiting some of the NHL’s poorest teams of seasons past, you needn’t look further than a team’s roster for the evidence that reflects a team’s record.
Even when examining some of the lowliest seasons in NHL history, things have to be almost unbearable for an NHL coach in this article to suggest that he’d rather “find out [his] wife was cheating on me than keep losing.” These are the Top 15 Worst teams in NHL History.
15 1983-84 New Jersey Devils
In their second year in New Jersey, the Devils won just 17 games and lost on 56 occasions. This franchise, although they don’t like to acknowledge it too often, began in Kansas City as the Scouts, moved to Colorado as the Rockies, then to New Jersey as the Devils and it would be several years before they would become a success. The 83-84 Devils were led by Mel Bridgman, the team’s leading scorer, and were backstopped by Glenn “Chico” Resch between the pipes. The Great One actually called the 83-84 Devils a “Mickey Mouse” operation after the Oilers pounded them 13-4 on Nov 19th, 1983.
14 1984-85 Vancouver Canucks
It isn’t often that a team allows over 400 goals in a season. In fact, it’s only happened seven times in NHL history. Well, the 1984-85 Canucks allowed 401 goals on a team that actually could find the net. This roster had players like: Patrik Sundstrum, Stan Smyl, Peter McNab, Cam Neely, Toni Tanti, and 12 skaters in total that netted over 30 points. Other than their Stanley Cup run in 1981-82, the Canucks spent the 80s in the bottom of the NHL, occasionally making the playoffs only to be ousted by the Oilers or Flames in the first round.
13 1982-83 Hartford Whalers
The 1982-83 Hartford Whalers went through three coaches, allowed 403 goals, and won just 19 times. Led by a 19yr old Ron Francis and a proven NHLer in Blaine Stoughton, the 82-83 Whalers weren’t good at all and wouldn’t be for quite some time – and that’s if you consider “good” making the playoffs and losing every time, save once. Management and ownership finally pulled the plug on the Francis era when they dealt him to Pittsburgh in 1991.
12 1973-74 California Seals
Back in the late 60s and early 70s, there were the Oakland Seals, then the California Golden Seals, before they became the much classier California Seals. In 1973-74, the Seals had just 13 wins and a future that looked ominously bleak. The Seals franchise was basically doomed due to poor decision making and a lack of knowledge about the game of hockey, coupled with the struggles of a disinterested fan base in California. Does anyone remember how the Montreal Canadians got Guy Lafleur? The Seals would relocate to Cleveland for a couple of seasons before merging with Minnesota, so the California Seals are technically the present day Dallas Stars.
11 1994-95 Ottawa Senators
The NHL season was shortened in 1994-95 due to the lockout, so fans had to wait to watch Alexandre Daigle's second season in the league. Daigle was drafted first overall and expected to light up the league like Gretzky or Lemieux. When the lockout was over, the NHL and Players Union put a shortened season together for their restless fans and the Sens, with Daigle, managed just 9 wins in 48 games. The Sens would find success in making the playoffs in ensuing years, but it wouldn’t be because of Alexandre Daigle, who is generally considered to be the biggest draft bust in NHL history.
10 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres
With the parity in today's NHL, by way of salary caps, draft lotteries, and a general watering down of a league that now boasts 30 teams, it actually becomes difficult to find present day teams that can’t compete at all. However, with 51 losses and 269 goals against, the 2014-15 Sabres’ spent the better part of the season looking towards its end, which would hopefully see them grab either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the draft. Lady Luck gave the Sabres the second overall pick and they drafted Eichel, who looks like the real deal.
9 1983-84 Pittsburgh Penguins
In the final year before Mario Lemieux would rescue this franchise, the Pittsburgh Penguins of 1983-84 wanted to be the worst team in the league and they were. In remembering the Pens situation in 83-84, there were rumors of the team tanking, especially in the second half of the season, in order to finish in the basement of the NHL and grab Lemieux in the draft. Well, they ended up finishing last, drafting The Magnificent One and he was able to turn the franchise around.
8 1992-93 Ottawa Senators
Other than the fact that a team was back in Canada’s capital, there was very little in the way of positives for the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators. 10 wins, 70 losses, and 395 goals against places the Sens in select company when examining the NHL’s worst teams. An ‘A’ Division Beer League team could have given the Sens a run for their money back in 92-93.
7 1972-73 New York Islanders
The 1972-73 New York Islanders were stuck in the Valley of Ashes and plugged away for 12 wins and 170 goals as a team. Their inaugural NHL season was a tough one, highlighted only by Billy Smith minding the net in his first year in the NHL. In the grand scheme of things, the Islanders would build incredibly quickly and win often. They made the playoffs in 1974-75 and 14 ensuing years thereafter – winning four Stanley Cups in a row between 1980 and 1894.
6 1985-86 Detroit Red Wings
In allowing 415 goals during the 1985-86 season, the Red Wings had the second most goals allowed in NHL history. In looking at this roster, some pretty big names stand out: Steve Yzerman, Danny Gare, John Ogrodnick, Ron Duguay, Adam Oates, Bob Probert, and Kelly Kisio. Yzerman only played 51 games in 85-86, which may explain things somewhat. The Red Wings obviously missed the playoffs that year and again in 1989-90, but that’s it, they’ve been a playoff team for 24 consecutive years and won four cups during that time.
5 1975-76 Kansas City Scouts
The present day New Jersey Devils were once the Kansas City Scouts and made their NHL debut in 1974. Their second season was worst than their first, as the Scouts lost 56 times and had just 12 wins. What makes this season particularly bad, aside from a roster of nobodies save perhaps Wilf Paiement (who hadn’t even made a name for himself by wearing the number 99 at this point), was that the Scouts actually began the season in respectable fashion. However, they would only win one of their last 44 games that season. The Scouts packed up and moved to Colorado, where they would be renamed the Rockies, the following season.
4 1980-81 Winnipeg Jets
The 1980s were generally a good decade for Winnipeg Jets’ fans, as once Dale Hawerchuk and Randy Carlyle arrived on the scene they were a legitimate playoff team and, had it not been for having to play the Oilers and Flames so often, they likely would have reached a few conference finals. However, in 1980-81, the Jets skated to just nine wins and allowed 400 goals. You may remember the names Dave Christian and Morris Lukowich as being the only decent players on an otherwise forgettable roster.
3 1989-90 Quebec Nordiques
Sporting a roster that had Joe Sakic, Peter Stasny, Guy Lafleur, and Michel Goulet, you have to wonder what happened in La Belle Province in 89-90. The 89-90 Quebec Nordiques had just 12 wins and 31 total points, which amounted to the Nordiques ending the season in dead last. Lafleur, in particular, who signed with Quebec in order to finish his career close to home, was still producing around a point per game, but only saw the ice 38 times in 89-90.
2 1992-93 San Jose Sharks
The NHL record for losses in a single season belongs to the 1992-93 San Jose Sharks with a dreadful 71. Their roster, although not spectacular, was littered with a fair amount of known and proven NHers – they even had a Norris Trophy winner in Doug Wilson on the blueline. That said, the 92-93 Sharks were always swimming against the current and, by season’s end, they had allowed 414 goals. The ensuing year would prove to be much better as the 94-95 Sharks made the playoffs and even won their first round match up again the Red Wings.
1 1974-75 Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals entered the NHL in 1974 and were absolutely woeful. A guy named Tom Williams led the team in scoring with 58 points and Ron Low, who backstopped most of the games, had a GAA of 5.45. The 74-75 Caps had just eight wins and skated to an abysmal 67 losses while allowing 446 goals in the process – the worst in NHL history. When their first head coach, Jim Anderson, spoke about the disillusionment of his team, he said, “I’d rather find out my wife was cheating on me than keep losing like this. At least I could tell my wife to cut it out.” Now, it doesn’t get any worse than that.
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