Monday, March 31, 2014

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

 If you've been reading this blog for long you will know that the boy started playing hockey last season. He played in a winter league and in a spring league and while he was pretty well a spare part on both teams he was lucky enough that both teams won their playoff championships, giving him more hardware in ten months than I have won as a player over over forty seasons of hockey. Serious the little bas ... never mind.

 He loves the game. He learned a lot and was lucky enough to play in a league and for two coaches who valued the tenets of fair play and sportsmanship and doing things right and so while he wasn't the greatest player he did what he could, the little things that he could manage and was proud, rightly so, of what he accomplished and how he contributed to the team.

 This fall things were different. He was one of the older guys and on a team that had three stars and a handful of players who were very young or very small or not very strong he was one of a handful who fell in the middle of those two groups. He was bigger and stronger and hockey school and practicing his passing and puck handling in front of our house for hours had turned him into a decent player. As his team roared through the league early on he found his niche on the blueline, one of those defensive defencemen types, his game improving quickly enough that he actually struggled at times because he found himself in unfamiliar situations, the puck on his stick suddenly when it had never been before. He had the same coaches as last winter though and so again they guided him and he kept getting better.

 The big difference between this team and last year's team is that last year they had a regular goalie who played every game. This winter there was no goalie and so players took turns. Some did well, some less so. The problem was that the ones who did well included the top three players plus my son and one other of that middle group which was fine except especially in the first case what was gained in net resulted in a big loss out on the ice.

 And so just after Christmas, with his team battling another for first place, the boy announced to me that he thought that he should be the team's starting goalie for the entire playoffs. His logic (and man he is a logical little guy) was that he was pretty good at it (he was) and that if he went in then 'the big three' could skate and this was the best way to ensure that the team went all the way.

 Now there is no history of goaltending in my family with the exception of my wife's uncle and this would seem strange because my family is mental, have been since they came howling out of the moors, naked and dirty, to wreak carnage on the bloody English. And yet despite this NOT crazy enough to play goal.

 I thought about the damage the stress would do to my poor aging heart and then told him to talk to his coach, which he did, and he was told that they would talk about it and think on it, hoping, I think, that another option might present itself because the boy, as noted, was doing a good job on the blue and his coach is a strong believer of a solid D corps.

 And then a few weeks later he was told that it was his to run with.

 His team finished second by a point and had sawed off against their main rivals with a win, a loss and a tie. Their two losses could be explained away pretty easily and so going into the playoff round robin where they would face the other top teams once apiece, top two to move on, I felt that essentially, like Team Canada in Sochi, they were going to be golden unless they played for the championship on a day when the hockey gods were angry. As long as the goaltending held up. :(

 The boy was three and oh going into the playoffs and had allowed nine goals in total. In the first game they played a team with one of the best offensive players in the league, a guy who had beaten him over his shoulder three times in a game earlier. His coach made some suggestions, be big, challenge him, see if you can force him to make the first move. Standard stuff.

 The first period ended with no score and he made a couple of saves which was all that was needed as his team ran rampant in the other end. It was a matter of time, you could see it, and sure enough the dam burst in the second. The other team had a handful of chances after that, the boy stood tall, stopping a breakaway against his nemesis, coming out, taking away the high shot until his opponent ran out of room. By game's end he had allowed one goal as his team romped.

 The next week they needed a win to book a spot in the final. Their opponent had upset them just a few weeks previous, one of those games where all the stars aligned one way. I had been nervous the previous week and was again when the game started. Three minutes in it was three to nothing, I relaxed and had a coffee. The boy had to make one stop (it was a nice one at least) and he got the shutout in an absolute rout. They were through!

 An hour later he told me he was getting nervous for the final, maybe suddenly realizing what he had asked for.

 The third game of the round robin was meaningless now and because it was March Break his team faced their biggest rival shorthanded, missing two of their top three players, icing seven skaters in total.

 They actually jumped to an early lead but when their top player scored his three goals to give them a three to one lead (each player is allowed no more than three goals in a game) the offence was tapped and the foe came in waves. They have an outstanding player, second only to our best player in the league, he scored two but attempt after attempt was turned away as my son had the game of his life. They fell six to three but he stopped over thirty at least and so despite the loss everyone was all smiles. We had the goaltending, it was clear, and with a full roster the result should be a good one a week from now.

 The week before the big game calm prevailed. I talked to the boy now and then, he was nervous, I told him that it was okay to be nervous, that when the game started he just had to concentrate on doing what he knew how to do and to try and enjoy the fact that he was going to be playing in a big game and that he would have the ability to help his team win it all. The morning of the game we arrived early and got him in his gear. Later he told me that as they waited to hit the ice a kid from the other team commented 'hey its the same goalie as last week, we're going to win for sure'. No such thing as bulletin board material in squirt but when he heard this my son got 'really mad' and his nerves went away. So thanks kid with the big mouth!

 His coach ran out the same lineup he did in the first two games of the playoffs. His son (by my eye the best allround player in the league) played in one group and his two other strong players played together. It was a pick your poison. Usually teams started their best player against ours and would get shut down and outscored, meanwhile the other line ran rampant. Their coach chose to do the opposite, running his best player away from our best.

 The game started and it went as well as one would hope really. His team jumped out, scoring one, two and then three goals. Jenn and I, well, we were happy but dying inside. I have never found less pleasure in a game than this one and when the other team threw a puck at the net from the corner and found our son off the post and it bounced in, well I don't think I've ever had a worse feeling. I could just imagine his team losing as everything thrown at him went in.

 But instead the game turned out perfectly. After the slow start their opponents came on strong. They fell behind by three again and then pressed for more. They scored a nice one (the same kid who had scored the first, he fist pumped and danced down the ice after each goal) and so the deficit was two and the boy made some saves and then his team opened up the three goal lead again and then buddy finished his hattrick on another nice play (more fist pumping and grabbing his jersey) and then the other team's best player broke in alone with the deficit only two again ....

 And my boy. Well my boy stopped him cold.

 With about seven minutes left his team scored one more, this time it was our star's sister with a partial break, stopping at the hash marks so her pursuer suddenly slid by and then the puck was in the net and it was three goals again.

 Still no relief as their opponent came on, one rang off the post the boy made more saves and then three minutes left and they pulled the goalie but they didn't get closer, the last shift it was our star and his sister and two other girls and another boy who played great defence all game and then with a minute left an empty netter by our star player and so it wound down, seven to three and then the buzzer and then we could enjoy it, our son dropping his stick and raising his arms and his teammates surrounding him for an extended group hug. 

The trophies presented and his coach calling him up last, making a big deal about him and really it ended perfectly, the team playing as well as it could, beating another very good team and our boy being relied upon to make some big saves, to be a big part of the victory. It couldn't have been any better, the team picture with a huge trophy and him lying down in front of the team, HIS team and reveling in it all.

 For me, more relief than anything at first and then pride, pride in a boy seeing a challenge and having the guts to take it on and see it through. A great day for this Dad. A great day.

 And now he's three for three the little ......!

Mud, Muck and Dead Things

 So here we are.

 Imagine the Edmonton Oilers not being a good team again until Taylor Hall was retired. Imagine if they were not even halfway through the really bad years, that after that they had eight years where they were just mediocre and then another six before they won a Cup. Bam! Stanley Cup! right?

 On other words you are twenty five now and would be pushing fifty when it finally came together. And that's with having already lived through the past eight years of garbage hockey from a garbage franchise.

 In other words for you Oiler fans or Falmes fans or Canuck fans who are crying about two bad months(!!), I guess the phrase would be stop your crying you crying crybabies. Your teams may be the worst team in hockey for the last eight years or a team that waited too long to rebuild or a team whose window has closed but you've nor right to say a damn thing about losing until you suffer the way Wings fans suffered from 1967 to 1983 and beyond.

 The worst of the worst.

Detroit Red Wings 1967 to 1983

Length - 17 seasons

Losing Seasons - 14 (including 12 of 13 after 1970)

Bottom Five - 9 of 13 after 1970

Last Overall  - 2

Worst Season - 1976/77, 16 wins for 41 points, outscored 309 to 183 (!!!!!)

Playoff Appearances - 2

Playoff Wins - 3

Weirdness - oh boy. OK well first of all the Wings only missed the playoffs four times in the thirty five years before this streak began and have only missed twice since it ended. They were the best American franchise in hockey before expansion and have been the premier franchise in hockey since 1991. But for nearly twenty years they were a disaster.

 In 1986 the team actually finished dead last one more time, with forty points!

 From 1968 to 1982 they had fourteen coaches (hello Oilers!)

 From 1970 to 1973 the team was run by Ned Harkness, this time period was known as 'Darkness Under Harkness'. Harkness is best remembered (by Wikipedia at least) as instituting rules regarding drinking, smoking, haircuts and phone calls. In the 1970s. Lol.

 The Good - In 1971 they drafted Marcel Dionne with the second pick overall. In 1983 they drafted Steve Yzerman with the fourth pick overall.

The Bad - they traded Dionne to the Kings where he would go on to become one of the most prolific scorers of all time

The Bad - Between these two home runs (and before Dionne) their top ten picks were *deep breath* Jim Rutherford (10th), Bill Lochead (9th), Rick Lapointe (5th), Fred Williams (4th), Dale McCourt (1st overall!), Willie Huber (9th), and Mike Foligno (3rd). Good job good effort scouts!

The Bad - Two of the years in this stretch they didn't even have a first round pick!

The End Game - As noted in the introduction the team wasn't all that great for the eight years after the Yzerman draft but because they were in the Norris they began to make the playoffs regularly. They were bad enough though to draft in the top ten five times in those eight years, including 1st overall in 1986 and 3rd overall in 1990. Plus 11th overall two more times. So yeah they were still pretty junky until 1992 when they started a twenty year run where they were basically a contender every year. They won four Cups and would have won a fifth if not for injuries to Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Hossa in 2009 ( I feel pretty comfortable in saying this) plus they made the Finals one more time for six in under fifteen seasons if my math is right. And their roster included a literal who's who of hockey greats during this time.

But if you were middle aged when the run began in 1967 you were either dead or pretty old when they finally won something. That's the definition of sorrow right there.

Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - they're number one! Though what would have been hilarious is if the end game was more or less being the Leafs and not winning anything. The hockey gods aren't that cruel though.

What We Learned - if you are a fan of the Oilers, which I am, or the Blue Jackets or Islanders or Thrashers/Jets the reality is that you have not seen anything yet. Things could get worse and you might be dead before anything good happens for your favourite team. Best to go out and enjoy a beer and a cigarette patio now that spring is here. (looks at weather forecast, shoots self in gut to ensure slow painful death)

Monday, March 24, 2014


So now its down to our final two. Two teams worse than the Thrashers, the Blue Jackets, the Seals, the Oilers, the Islanders. A team that makes the expansion Sens and Pens tank jobs and Chicago's long Wirtz winter look like positively joyful experiences. Awful reminders that no matter how bad you have it someone else can have it worse.

 This was literally almost a coin flip. In the end the difference was the length of one drought compared to the other and the fact that the payoff, as it were, was still a generation away. But honestly you could place these guys at number one and I probably couldn't argue too strongly against it. I almost rewrote this just now I am that unsure myself.

 This team had a run of thirteen seasons in which they had one playoff appearance but even that season they managed to lose more games than they won. They moved TWICE during that period. TWICE! And they finished in the bottom five eleven times including seven times in eight years in a 21 team league.

 Unreal. This is basically impossible

Kansas City Scouts/Colorado Rockies/New Jersey Devils 1974-1987

Length - 13 seasons

Losing Seasons - 13 for 13 (!!)

Bottom Five in the League - 11 

Last Overall - 3

Worst Season - 75/76 12 wins for 36 points, barely beating out the previous year, 13 wins for 36 points

Playoff Appearances - 1

Playoff Wins - 0

Weirdness - Ok where to start. They played two years in Kansas City, two!!, before they pulled the plug. The second season they finished the year 1-35-8.

 Look at those numbers for a second. Still want to complain about your run of tough luck Canucks' fans?

 Once in Colorado they made the playoffs pretty quickly. With a 19-40-21 record. Yep. Of course they were swept.

 In one four year stretch the club had seven coaches and two owners. In 1979/80 future television star Don Cherry, just fired by the Bruins, came to Denver to coach. He lasted one season. In his last game both teams lined up after the game forming an arch with their sticks which he walked through in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots while the crowd cheered.

 After six years the team moved to New Jersey of all places.

 In Jersey they hired Lou Lamoriello in the spring of 1987 after finishing in the bottom five four of the previous five years, a stretch in which Wayne Gretzky, who makes Sid Crosby look like Don Cherry, called the team 'a Mickey Mouse organization'.

*stops typing, suffering from sudden onset of carpel tunnel*

The Good - There is nothing good to say about this franchise during this time.

The Bad - I think their record speaks for itself.

The End Game - Lamoriello came in at a good time, the club had some decent young talent. It took him another eight years but in 1995 the club won a Cup, the first of three it would win in nine seasons. Everybody hated the Devils in those years but they were a top notch franchise, only the Wings had more success in that era.

Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - It was tight, as noted, but their run was shorter than our number one team and their payoff came sooner. A thin line but to me that was the difference.

What We Learned - I don't even know what to say. This franchise was a goddamned disgrace. Any club that would make Wayne Gretzky show that he is an actual human being with real emotions rather than a hockey playing robot built bu John Zeigler to promote the game ... well that says it all.

So I guess that's my takeaway - Wayne Gretzky is human. And also things can always get worse. Indeed in this case there is one more team to go.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thrashing Madly. As Parasites Might In Your Blood

 Top three now. Based on the Oilers' much trumpeted 'improvement' which saw them beaten at home by Buffalo (3-1) and the Falmes (8-1) I am beginning to think that in a few years the Oilers will be here, they are just a Taylor Hall trade request away and my guess is that day is coming.

 But for now they remain in sixth (though with a bullet!!) and so here we are at number three.

 In the seventies the NHL was a lot less patient with franchises that weren't working. The Seals were moved to Cleveland and then folded. Kansas City went to Denver and then to Jersey soon afterwards. And the Atlanta Flames ended up in Calgary because hockey and Atlanta did not mix. The Flames didn't win a playoff series in their eight years but they made the playoffs six times, had a winning record five of those years and were basically the most successful 70s expansion club after the Islanders and the Sabres.

 It didn't matter because they couldn't draw flies.

 Of course the NHL, as its wont to do, did the natural thing and twenty years later, chasing the money as usual, decided to put a new team in Atlanta.

 And the end result, in a league far less eager to move franchises after the go go 90s when half the league seemed to be on the move, a league that has gone to the mat to keep a team in Phoenix of all places, was that after eleven years hockey failed in Atlanta again. And this team, unlike the Flames, deserved the city's indifference.

Atlanta Thrashers 2000-2011

Length - 11 seasons (plus, more on that later)

Losing Seasons - 8  

Bottom Five In The League - 5

Last Overall - 2

Worst Season - 1999-2000, 14 wins for 39 points

Playoff Appearances - 1

Playoff Wins - 0

Weirdness - Their very existence (based on what I noted above). And the fact that unlike Phoenix the franchise was allowed to perish without even a whimper.

The Good - Atlanta had nine top ten picks including two number ones, two number twos, a number three and a number four. And unlike a lot of these failures they drafted pretty well. Of those lottery picks only Patrik Stefan was a real bust and they picked up two superstars in Kovalchuk and Heatley

The Bad - GM Don Waddell had a tough time building around his young core. Despite being in the worst division in the league they only got into the playoffs once!

The Good - When they moved Heatley they managed to get Marian Hossa in return! A future Hall of Famer! All of these years later Heatley is done and Hossa remains a star.

The Bad - Hossa plays in Chicago. Going nowhere is no way to keep your star players (MacT take note). Hossa was gone in 2008 and two years later Kovalchuk followed. The franchise could not get fair return and was doomed, probably when Hossa went.

The Good - Don Waddell is still employed, by USA hockey. This is good news if you are not an American.

The Bad - Don Waddell is still employed, by USA hockey. This is bad news if you are an American

The End Game - The Thrashers moved to Winnipeg which counts for a lot in this exercise. They and the Blue Jackets are equally as abysmal but these guys were so bad they killed hockey in a city. Even if it was Atlanta that is impressive. Also although they have the 21st century inflated winning record in their first two seasons in Winnipeg (and possibly a third) the Jets look to be about to miss the playoffs for the third straight year. You can take the Thrashers out of Atlanta apparently but they're still not that good.

Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - As I noted these guys and the Jackets are at about the same level, which is totally shit, but the two teams remaining had runs as long or longer than them and were even worse. So Oiler fans, it can get worse! Now excuse me while I drink some gasoline and die a painful death which will probably be less painful than being an Oilers' fan.

What We Learned - Don't put a team in Atlanta. You might destroy a franchise but in hockey you will always find a job anyhow (see Waddell and Steve Tambellini). And that you might draft a bunch of hotshot kids, actual superstars, but if you don't fill in the pieces around them you are still doomed to failure until finally they make their escape wait why is this sounding familiar and why am I so sad all of a sudden.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Emperor's New Clothes

 A must read for any hockey fan is Gare Joyce's 'Future Greats and Heartbreaks' a look at scouting and the NHL draft from within an NHL organization. Joyce was embedded with Columbus for a year and his stories about the process are fascinating. Phil Kessel's interview, the preferential treatment given to London stars Pat Kane and Sam Gagner (perhaps explaining the latter's coasting through his career in Edmonton so far when it comes to the more difficult parts of his job), the silk scarves favoured by Tom Renney - these are amongst the interesting stories that Joyce tells but my favourite stories are about the man who agreed to allow him in on the process, Doug MacLean.

 MacLean is an Island good old boy, the same as good old boys from everywhere,a grinning, handshaking, story telling salesman. When MacLean is fired at the end of the book his replacement, Scott Howson, is described as 'quiet, keeps to himself, the anti-MacLean'. Howson may have been the 'anti-MacLean' in temperament but when it came to hockey management the two were cut from the same cloth although to be fair to Howson the team he left Jarmo Kekalainen is poised to make the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history this spring. In contrast to the Jackets their sister franchise, the Minnesota Wild have four playoff appearances, a fifth coming, two series victories which led to a spot in the conference finals and a division title.

 The Jackets have nothing.

Columbus Blue Jackets (2001-2013)

Length - 12 seasons

Losing Seasons - 10

Bottom Five In the League - 5

Last Overall - 1

Worst Season - 2011/2012 with 29 wins for 65 points

Playoff Appearances - 1

Playoff Wins - 0

Weirdness - That there is a team in Columbus at all. One of the goalies they selected in the expansion draft, Dwayne Roloson, signed with an AHL team rather than with the BJs. Doug MacLean was their GM and he's horrible

The Good - The BJs nabbed Rick Nash with the first overall pick in 2002.

The Bad - The BJs drafted in the top eight nine years in a row. Besides Nash they selected Rusty Klesla, Pascal Leclaire, Nikolai Zherdev, Alex Picard, Gilbert Brule, Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek and Nikita Filatov.

The Bad - Nash asked to be traded.

The Bad - Howson traded Voracek and another top pick to Philly for Jeff Carter. The Flyers picked Sean Couturier. Carter pouted his way out of Columbus within months.

The Worse - The return for Carter - Jack Johnson.

The End Game - The Jackets almost made the playoffs last season and are in good shape to make it this season. Young centre Ryan Johansen looks like a star in the making. While the team remains weirdly anonymous (try and name a half dozen players on their roster) it seems that the franchise has finally turned the corner.

Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - They were bad but their badness was more of an anonymous mediocrity than a truly disastrous run. Always bad but not bad enough to get those lottery picks (which in itself is a form of badness of course). Plus the team stayed put.

What We Learned - Again, drafting and development (Brule, for example, was rushed into the NHL) trumps all.

The hockey business is an incestuous old boys' club. MacLean was a disaster as a GM and yet now works in hockey media. Of course this tells you all you need to know about hockey media and Rogers specifically, a guy with a big mouth and no sense is front and centre on their broadcasts.

 And meanwhile the second architect of the Blue Jackets' sorry history was hired almost immediately by the Edmonton Oilers, who are working hard to move up this list and catch these guys.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Oh, What A Void There Is In Things

 We're in our top five now. If things don't get better for the Oilers and Islanders they will crack this group soon, as a matter of fact if the Oilers have another disastrous season next year then I would probably move them into this spot. The team here is like a retired hockey player watching his career totals getting passed. They aren't going anywhere.

 Two things work against this team being the worst of all time. First of all while they were bottom five for eight straight years it was in a league ranging in size from 14 to 18 teams so while that is impressive (more impressive is the fact they had no playoff appearances in that time span) its not that big a deal compared to some of their competitors.

 Secondly they had a blip of two years between their first season and the beginning of this streak where they made the playoffs. Those teams were terrible and were helped by the league putting all of their expansion teams in one division but for two seasons at least there was hope before it all collapsed into nothingness. If they had bottomed out right from the beginning they would probably be number one but they finished second in the West in 1969 the bastards.

 The 70s were crazy times man, this team's demise fits right in.

Oakland Seals/California Golden Seals/Cleveland Barons (1971-1978)

 Length - 8 seasons

Losing Seasons - 8

Bottom Five In League - 8

Last Overall - 2

Worst Season - 1973/1974 78 games, 13 wins, 36 points

Playoff Appearances - 0

Playoff Wins - 0

Weirdness - Where to start. The original owner sold the team after two seasons but (shades of John Spano) the new ownership group filed for bankruptcy and it reverted to the first owner. He then sold it to Charlie Finley whom the NHL selected over a higher and more detailed bid. Two games (!!!!!) into the first season under Finley they changed the team name from the Oakland Seals to the California Golden Seals. Three months into the first season under Finley the new GM, some guy named Bill Torrey, resigned, never to be heard from again.

Under Finley they famously wore white skates after first wearing green and gold skates (the style at the time was to wear skates in team colours apparently).

!n 1974 the league took over the team.

In 1976 the team moved to Cleveland.

In 1978 the team folded, the first NHL club to fold entirely since 1942. What remained of the carcass was absorbed by the Minnesota North Stars.

The Good - There is nothing, no goodness to be found, except for those funky uniforms.

The Bad - In 1970/71 the Seals finished last, behind two expansion teams. They had traded the first overall pick in the draft the previous year to Montreal for Montreal's first round pick in 1970 (the Seals picked Chris Oddleifson), Ernie Hicke and money. Montreal picked some guy named Guy Lafleur.

The Bad - When the WHA started up the Seals had improved from dead last to 13th overall (out of 16 clubs). Finley refused to pay higher salaries and five of his top ten scorers bolted for the rebel league.

The Bad - In three consecutive years (1971-1973) the Seals had no first round picks despite being horrible

The Bad - They had seven GMs in eight years

The Bad - After moving to Cleveland attendance was worse than in Oakland. The team drew over 10000 fans seven times out of forty games in their first season. The home opener was not one of those games (8900 fans)

The End Game - the franchise moved and then it died. It disappeared into nothingness.

Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - this was a bit of a tough one because a big part of me thought they could be or should be number one especially seeing as how the franchise actually died. I mean how bad can it get right? In the end there were one thing that weighed against them in my opinion and that was longevity. Their run was only eight years and three of their main competitors were a dozen years or longer and the fourth was eleven years and might be considered longer (more on that shortly).

What We Learned - Unlike Gary Bettman the old time guys weren't afraid to put a sick dog down. NHL owners didn't vet the people who wanted to join their club back then either. And while bad drafting can doom you to a long trek in the wilderness, no first round picks at all will leave you gut shot in the desert, bleeding out for days while the coyotes close in.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I Know A Thing Or Two About Winning! A Flat Circle of Violence and Degradation.

The fun thing about bad teams is that even when they are bad they try and sell hope. They have to, of course, they are in the business of making money and if fans aren't paying for tickets then there is no (or less) money being made. So even when a team sucks the organization sells hope, wrapping that idea in whatever they can to make the shit sandwich that is on the ice more palatable. So its exciting hockey (!!!) or civic pride or loyalty or whatever they can use to keep the paying customer coming back until things turn the corner.

 In Edmonton they add nostalgia to the mix. Team sucks (thanks to Kevin Lowe), don't worry we will build a new team, just like they did in the 80s with youngsters like Kevin Lowe, that will take us back to those glory days. Just never mind that the guy who drove the team into the ditch is still around overseeing everything that  is going on.

 When Kevin Lowe began to dismantle the very nice club he built that came within a break or two of winning the Stanley Cup and some of us would point out that he was a fuckup people would always say 'why do you question Kevin Lowe about hockey? He won six Stanley Cups. He knows what he's doing!' and hilariously last spring when the club was wrapping up its seventh straight season out of the playoffs Lowe fired Tambellini and installed MacT as GM and then when the media began asking him some very pointed questions he went on his famous rant saying just that.

 Like Rustin Cohle says 'Time is a flat circle of violence and degradation'. Or was it 'The thing I like about prospects is that I get older but they stay the same age.' Whichever one it is it fits the Oilers.

Edmonton Oilers 2007 - present

Length - 8 seasons and counting

Losing Seasons - 6 (take out OT and SO wins and losses and certainly its 8)

Bottom Five In the League - 4 (I'm including this season)

Last Overall - 2

Worst Season - 2010/2011 25 wins for 62 points 

Playoff Appearances - 0

Playoff Wins - 0

Weirdness - Unlike nearly every other team on the list the Oilers started from a position of strength, a team full of players in their prime that came within a goal of the Cup. In the ultimate house into a paperclip story management turned a pretty good team into junk very quickly. Everyone associated with the team from the owner to the trainers has changed since the summer of 2006 except the guy most responsible for this mess.

Remarkably paranoid and tone deaf, the Oilers have blocked a critical media member's car in with a Zamboni, clumsily threatened a move from one of the most lucrative markets in hockey to get public funding for an arena for their billionaire owner, publicly spoken of different tiers of fans and used the local media (they make Pravda and Tass look like Now Magazine under the Ford Administration) to deride players who are no longer in the organization's plans.

Have we mentioned that the man responsible for this mess went on a famous rant about how much he knows about winning?

The Good - Somehow in a thirty team league the Oilers have been so bad and so unlucky and so lucky that they finished last over all twice and won the lottery the year they finished 29th thus giving them three straight number one picks overall. They also have had three other top ten picks and will have a lottery pick this year.

The Bad - Much like the Islanders the Oilers have made good picks but have already traded one (after botching his development), have another one who looks totally lost at sea in Nail Yakupov and generally are making a mess of it. Despite all of these picks the team is worse.

The Good - Billionaire owner Daryl Katz continues to sell out his rink and is getting a new one built for him, mostly through public money which is good because the Oilers are already one of the most profitable franchises in the league despite no playoff appearances in eight years wait what were we talking about again?

The Bad - Scott Howson came back to rejoin this management team after a number of years with Columbus. Why is this bad? They are on this list too and haven't shown up yet and we're at number six.

The Bad  - The Oilers have traded away a roster worth of good NHL players of all types and literally have nothing to show for it. Which explains why their roster is an inch deep and why they are garbage.

The Bad - Eight years into it it looks like the Oilers only need two top nine forwards (three if Yakupov continues to struggle), two top pairing D, a power play and a clue as to how to play in the NHL collectively, you know with the team play and the checking and consistent effort and the winning puck battles.

The Good - I think that's it so they should be ok.

The End Game - Still no idea. Its eight years out and the end is not in sight and it all depends on what you think of MacT. You look at Gordon and Scrivens and Perron and think he knows what he is doing and then you hear the Clarkson contract talk and you think about the Islanders and then you get really sad. Right now these guys are in sixth place but they are on the cusp of top five and if Taylor Hall were ever to ask out then the sky's the limit BABY!!

Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - Believe me I think they deserve it except ... well if you want to talk about degradation wait until you see the top five. The Oilers may very well get there but they have a few years to go yet. (In other words we'll revisit this in 2020 when they hit number one)

What We Have Learned - You would think that these truths are self evident but apparently not. If you move out NHL players of quality for nothing but picks that don't turn out and prospects who suck then your team will suck. Success as a player, no matter how much, does not qualify you to run an enormous business.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Alligator Shouldn't Call Hog Long Mout

This next spot may be controversial.

This team had a dozen losing seasons and in eleven of those they finished in the bottom five of the league and this is in the Bettman league, not the 1970s. Amazingly terrible. Whenever anybody points to the Nordiques or Pens and says REBUILD GOOD this club is the automatic counterpoint as despite all of this losing they still suck.

 Why aren't they ranked higher? Because the twelve seasons are actually two sets of season, one of seven and one of five and they are divided by a five season period in which they made the playoffs four times. They did not win a series (and in total only six games) but they were in the playoffs.

 So why not run them as two separate groups? Because its the New York Islanders, the Mike Milbury and Garth Snow Islanders and while they could be divided into two separate entities the fact that this is the rebuild that never ends deserves to be treated as a full body of work.

New York Islanders (1995 - today) (lol)

Length - 19 seasons

Losing Seasons - 13 (including this one)

Bottom 5 in the League - 11 (probably 12 after this season)

Last Overall - 2

Worst Season - 2000/2001 21 wins for 52 points

Playoff Appearances - 5

Playoff Wins - 8

Weirdness - Where to start. The team was sold to a guy who had less money in the bank than me (I have very little money in the bank). If you include John Spano (you really have to as its the most Mickey Mouse story in the Mickey Mouse history of the Mickey Mouse NHL) then the team has had four owners during this span and the latest is Charles Wang. Mike Milbury was the GM forever and his replacement is Garth Snow. Oh between them was Neil Smith, who was GM for a month. There was the Fishsticks logo. There were the thirteen coaches, including two stints by Milbury himself. The Rick DiPietro contract. Oh and apparently both Milbury and Snow each offered up all of their draft picks to a team in order to move up in the draft.

The Good - There were the drafts. In the first go round the Isles drafted Wade Redden, JP Dumont, Zdeno Chara, Roberto Luongo, Eric Brewer, Tim Connollly, Taylor Pyatt and Raffi Torres, all guys who went on to long NHL careers, a couple who will be in the Hall of Fame.

The Bad - They traded all of those guys plus Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe plus the second overall pick who would become Jason Spezza. ALL OF THEM!!

The Good - In their second stint in the basement they have drafted John Tavares, Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome, Travis Hamonic and a number of other promising youngsters.

The Bad - They have already traded Niederreiter after botching his development. They did get Cal Clutterbuck for him though. Lol.

The Good - Tavares is a kid and is one of the best players in the league already.

The Bad - They used their other number one pick overall on Rick Dipietro. And they gave him a fifteen year contract.


The End Game - We don't know yet. The first seven years resulted in a grand total of six playoff wins. The next five years have resulted in two and the team is in the basement again this season. They are unreal bad.

Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - I can't ignore that playoff run in the middle of this shitshow, especially in a thirty team league.

What We Have Learned - When Mike Milbury opens his mouth on TV hit the mute button. He is the man most responsible for this disaster, nothing he says will help you understand anything about hockey or winning.

Number 8 - Washington Capitals

  I originally thought going through the worst teams in the NHL post expansion would be a fun exercise. I wanted to see where the Oilers fit and where some of the other teams that come to mind when you think of bad teams slotted. Much like when I looked at the 72 Summit Series I found that things are a lot more complicated than I believed and that some of the teams that came to mind at first are rank amateurs when it come to being absolutely terrible. As a matter of fact when I first looked at this last week the Capitals were in my top three or four at worst. A little more research and they slid down the list.

 Further making things difficult is the fact that you have two (or even three if you really want to drill down) eras. From 1967 to 1979 you have between a dozen to eighteen teams. From 1980 to the arrival of San Jose you have twenty one. And then the number rises to the present day bloat of thirty.

 Does being bottom five in an eighteen team league as opposed to a thirty team league matter? How about playoff berths? Its far easier to beat out five teams than fourteen. This isn't as easy as I thought it would be.

 And yet as I noted previously there was a clear demarcation between the two groups of eight I have found and there were three reasons for that.

The ones I have looked at so far tended to have shorter periods of being horrible. Three were ten seasons or more, one was nine, the rest were five or less. The shortest in the worst of the worst is eight seasons. Four are over ten seasons with a fifth closing on on that mark.

 The ones I have looked at so far, buoyed by the Canucks and Leafs yes, had some playoff appearances and success. Nineteen appearances in seventy total seasons, forty six playoff games won, three of them won series, one went to the Cup Final. The ones to come have a total of four playoff appearances in eighty five seasons and this includes four teams that competed against the Leafs and Canucks if you're wondering why they didn't even make the top eight. Four appearances! And three total games won!

 And finally there was the success that resulted from the suffering. Our first eight franchises included five that won a Stanley Cup within five years of their disastrous runs and three of those won a second with the core they built and Chicago may not be done yet. Eight Cups in total. In our next group we have a total of zero.


Washington Capitals 1975-1982

 The one thing I have noted is that drafting is pretty well the end all and be all. Surprisingly a lot of top five picks for these clubs don't turn out at all but the clubs that find the real superstars are obviously the ones that do really well. The difference between a Cup (or two) and no Cups may be the pick that you use on Daigle rather than Pronger and all it takes to turn the corner in many cases is one truly elite talent.

 The Capitals picked first overall in the 1974 draft. The Islanders picked up Bryan Trottier (who lasted until the second round) and Clark Gillies. The Bruins drafted Mark Howe. After these three there were a lot of solid NHL players selected, guys who played over a decade here and there including another Islander pick in Bob Bourne. The Caps selected Greg Joly.

Length - 8 Seasons

Losing Seasons -8

Bottom 5 of the League -7

Last Overall - 2

Worst Season - 1974/75 - 8 Wins in 80 games (!!!) for 21 points

Playoff Appearances - 0

Playoff Wins - 0

Weirdness - That the Caps survived at all especially considering what happened to the Scouts and the Seals

The good - Its not good but they were an expansion team and not only did they have to compete with the established NHL clubs for talent but also the WHA.

The bad - the above point holds true and three other of the 70s expansion clubs were also dreadful but two others became powerhouses relatively quickly.

As often happens the draft mattered most of all. Note the Islanders' draft mentioned above. With their first round picks the Caps drafted Greg Joly (1st overall), Alex Forsyth (18), Rick Green (1), Robert Picard (3), Ryan Walter (2), Mike Gartner (4), Darren Veitch (5), Bobby Carpenter (3) and Scott Stevens (5). So when they started drafting well then the team turned around (also when they traded for Rod Langway) but when four top three picks net you Joly, Green, Picard and Walter then you're not going very far.

The end game - the Caps would become a solid franchise in the 80s, starting a run of fourteen straight playoff appearances which included three straight seasons of 100 points or more. They never got over the hump though and close to forty years of existence have gotten them one Cup Final appearance and nothing more.

Why they don't rank higher - these teams were awful, their first season is probably the worst NHL season in history. The main reason they aren't higher on the list is the era they played in. There are three teams from the same time and all were worse than the Caps. Our other four contenders were worse for longer and/or posted worse/equivalent results in a bigger league. So for the Caps its eighth overall

What we learned - Not much that we didn't know already. Drafting is everything. Being an expansion team sucks. One thing we learned (that we will see time and again now) is that sometimes you can be terrible for a long time and not even become much of anything.

 Also read this on former Sudbury junior Mike Marson, a member of a great junior team in the 70s and one of the original Capitals.

The Top Of The Bottom - Ranking 9 through 16

 So we're halfway through our worst sixteen and we're about to hit the big boys of losing. I wanted to rank our bottom eight. This is a lot harder than I thought. These teams are truly terrible.

 Your mileage may vary of course but here is what I looked at.

Length of time - the longer the better (or worse I guess). Being horrible for four years is awful but nothing compared to twice or three times that amount of time. Put it this way, would you rather be last place overall for four years and then really good or near the bottom of the league for a decade.

Degree of being bad - Was the team absolutely horrific or just mediocre? Were there playoff appearances? This is what really separates the bottom eight from the top eight by the way. The worst clubs were really really bad for a very long time and had no redeeming qualities at all. The teams we have looked at so far included some that were bad but not abysmal.

End results - What did the suffering result in? In a lot of cases the fans of these teams ended up with championship teams. In others there was an improvement in quality but nothing really great.

Here we go:

16th - 80s Pens - Three really bad years, improvement for three resulting in a playoff spot, then a regression when Lemieux was hurt that netted them Jagr. The tank job saved the franchise and resulted in two Stanley Cups. Not bad for what was really only three disastrous years.

15th - Turn of the century Tampa - Five really bad years which were essentially their expansion pains postponed. Last overall twice which netted them Vinny Lecavalier. Two years after it was over they won the Cup. Big deal.

14th - Oughts Pens - Four years of being really bad that got them Crosby and Malkin. Seriously? Any fanbase would go through that.

13th - 90s/Oughts Chicago - A decade which began with mediocrity and became worse and worse. The team wasn't truly terrible until the end of the run and when Bill Wirtz died they emerged as the best team in the league. Hawks' fans were long suffering but what has followed makes even that decade worth it.

12th - Expansion Sens - The worst four year stretch any team ever suffered through was terrible but they were an expansion team and they were a contender for a decade afterwards. If they'd had Toronto's goaltending they probably would have won a Cup or two and been ranked even lower but they didn't so here we are.

11th - 80s Nordiques - Five years is awfully short when compared with a decade amongst the best teams in the league and two Cups. They would be ranked way lower except the fans in Quebec City never saw the payoff. How cruel is that?

10th - 70s/80s Canucks - over two decades of being bad puts them near the top of this list. They rarely really bottomed out and they had a Cup run in there which separates them from the worst of the worst but the fact that 1994 was the highlight of the decade following means they belong here

9th - 80s Leafs - this club was terrible, absolutely brutal. The only reason they are ranked this low is that they had a bunch of playoff appearances which they ended up with because they were in the worst division in pro sports ever. Horrible, horrible, horrible. And the eight teams that are worse than them are way worse. Seriously.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

You Call This Suffering?

 OK so I'm looking at the post expansion era and trying to determine the worst teams since 1967 and whether or not the Edmonton Oilers fit into this group (SPOILER: THEY DO).

 I've found that essentially there are two groups of eight and in my opinion there is a real difference between the two. The first four I looked at all had one thing in common, they were terrible but for a very brief period of time. What I am looking for here is true degradation and suffering and there were two things that separated the first group from the elite eight of losing. First of all they were lousy for four or five years only and secondly almost immediately after the nadir came the zenith with Cups won two, three and four years after they bottomed out for Tampa, Pittsburgh and The Nordiques/Avs and a decade as a contender for Ottawa.

 I'm sorry but that doesn't cut it here.

 Our next four teams also fall short and in this case we have one pair that have longevity on their side but in both of those cases they were more mediocre than terrible and they also won Cups shortly after they came back to the light. Our second pair actually are probably worse but, partially due to the era they played in, they really can't be considered amongst our worst of the worst. Their fans suffered but not enough although one would probably suggest that being a fan of the Leafs and Canucks is nothing but suffering ;)

The Mediocre But Not Truly Terrible

 Both of these teams had longer runs of incompetence than our first four but while they were bad they weren't absolute garbage like that group. They actually each made the playoffs once and on top of that at the end of their awful runs they were both rewarded with Cups. They deserve inclusion on our list but they're near the bottom of it.


Pittsburgh (1983-1990)

Pittsburgh, like a lot of the franchises added in the 1967 and the 70s expansions, was absolutely mediocre for years but it wasn't until the eighties that they truly sucked it. It worked out for them though as they went from being an afterthought to one of the more famous (and successful) NHL franchises.

Length - 8 years

Losing Seasons -7

Bottom 5 of the League -4

Last Overall - 2

Worst Season - 1983/1984 16 wins in 80 games for 38 points 

Playoff Appearances - 1

Playoff Wins - 7

Weirdness - The Penguins were close to folding in 1984 and the feeling was that without Mario Lemieux the club would fold. So they tanked hard and literally with GM Eddie Johnston once berating the coach at the first intermission of a game they were winning. (They went on to lose that game.) The team they screwed? New Jersey lol.

The good - Well they drafted Lemieux, And the year after that they drafted Craig Simpson, who ended up bringing them Paul Coffey. And while they finally made the playoffs in 1989 Lemieux got hurt the following year and they ended up in the bottom five one more time. Nolan, Ricci, Nedved and Primeau all were drafted and so all they ended up with was Tim Duncan, er Jaromir Jagr.

The bad - in 1983 they finished dead last, same as the following year. While 84 netted them Lemieux in 83 they traded the first overall pick and George Ferguson (?) for Minnesota's first pick (15th overall, this got them Bob Errey) and Ron Meighan & Anders Hakansson (????????). Minnesota picked Brian Lawton (oops), both they and the Pens missed out on Steve Yzerman, Pat Lafontaine and Cam Neely.

From 86 to 88 they selected 4th, 5th and 4th overall and came away with Zarley Zalapski, Chris Joseph and Darrin Shannon.

The end game - A year after they drafted Jagr the Pens won the first of two consecutive Cups. Lemieux (and Jagr) are two of the alltime greats and the Pens would be legitimate contenders pretty well until their next rebuild.

Why they don't rank higher - The last overalls and bottom five finishes in a 21 team league are impressive as is the eight year term but a playoff appearance which includes a series win and the immediate Stanley Cups override it. Cut the term back by two years so the playoff appearance isn't included and its still not as horrifying as what's to come.

What we learned - tanking exists, Steve Tambellini learned at the feet of Eddie Johnston and Lou Angotti (the coach in 1984).


Chicago Blackhawks (1998-2008)

 Under Bill Wirtz and Bob Pulford the great Chicago teams of the sixties had given way to mediocrity on the 70s and 80s. Mike Keenan came along and within a short time the club had finished first in the league in 1991 and made the Cup Finals in 1992. Then Pulford put a knife in Keenan's back and Wirtz refused to pay the core of an excellent club and fans watched Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick, Ed Belfour and Chris Chelios leave through the nineties. All but Roenick would be major parts of Stanley Cup winning clubs. Meanwhile the Hawks ended up going into a death spiral.

Length - 10 seasons

Losing Seasons - 8

Bottom five of the league - 3

Last Overall - 0

Worst Season - 2003/2004 20 wins for 59 points

Playoff Appearances - 1

Playoff Wins - 1

Weirdness - There was GM Mike Smith and coach Alpo Suhonen. There was an endless parade of washed up former stars who Wirtz paid rather than the core of his last good club. There was Theo Fleury's stop as he descended further into madness.

The good - In 2006 they drafted Jonathan Toews and in 2007 they won the lottery and drafted Patrick Kane. Seabrook was picked in 2003 14th overall. On top of that their drafting in later rounds after 2002 brought in Keith, Crawford, Byfuglien, Bolland, Bickell, Brouwer and Hjalmarsson. Not bad.

The bad - In 2004 ESPN named them the worst franchise in all professional sports. Their third lottery pick, number three overall in 2004, was wasted on Cam Barker (not the reason ESPN named them worst franchise, I think) . In the years before that they were always bad but never bad enough to get into the lottery. On top of that their drafting was terrible, at least in the first round from 1998 to 2002 and despite having multiple picks two of those years - Mark Bell, Steve McCarthy, Mikhail Yakubov, Pavel Vorobiev, Tuomo Ruutu, Adam Munro, Anton Babchuk. Also it took an actual death to turn this thing around. Its not a coincidence that when Bill Wirtz passed away (so despised was he that fans booed his eulogy) one of the first things his son Rocky did was get rid of Pulford. Things turned around quickly after that.

The end game - Chicago went from a laughing stock with the longest Stanley Cup drought to Cups in 2010 and 2013 and are basically considered the league's model franchise now

Why they aren't ranked higher - despite a decade of futility they did make the playoffs once and for the most part they were painfully mediocre rather than absolutely abysmal. And there's the whole best franchise in hockey thing they have going on now.

What we learned - Ownership matters. A bad owner can ruin a franchise. There was no worse owner than Bill Wirtz and if he were still alive I would bet they'd still have no Cups since 1961.


Playoffs Their Salvation

Both of these teams had extraordinary runs of being bad, as a matter of fact in terms of longevity, bottom five finishes and losing seasons they are worse than either the Pens or the Hawks. Its easier to finish bottom five in a league no bigger than 21 teams of course. Its also easy to make the playoffs.

 So then why aren't these teams in the top eight? Well it may have been easier to make the playoffs but there are teams from this era that never did (!!!!!!) and lets face it we're talking suffering here. We're talking disaster. We're talking the loss of hope. If you make the playoffs at the same rate as you do not then you're not bad enough and your fans aren't hurting enough.


Toronto Maple Leafs (1981-1992)

Sandwiched in between the Sittler years and the Gilmour years were the Wendel years. Wonder why Clark is deified in Toronto? He was about the only good thing going on in Toronto for a decade.

Length - an even dozen years

Losing Seasons - 11 plus one season at exactly .500 with a -21 goal differential

Bottom 5 in the league - 8

Last Overall - 1

Worst Season - 1984/85 20 wins in 80 games, 48 points

Playoff Appearances - 6

Playoff wins - 17

Weirdness - I moved to Toronto in the middle of this streak. What a gong show this team was. Harold Ballard (proving what we learned with Bill Wirtz). John Brophy. Al Iafrate. The Leeman rumours. It goes on and on and on and on.

The good - The Leafs drafted Wendel Clark and Vincent Damphousse in 1985 and 1986. Because they played in the Norris division they made the playoffs six times despite not having a winning record in twelve seasons. Because the first two rounds of the playoffs were in the division and all of the other Norris teams were usually bad too the Leafs actually won two series and came with in a win of advancing to the conference finals in both 1986 and 1987

The bad - The Belleville Bulls' draft, the annual high pick spent on a guy who would become a mediocre NHLer, the goaltending, the D, the forwards. This team was horrible. I witnessed it. One time we were at an old hangout called the Morrissey (or Mo for short) and the Leafs were playing the Blues in the opening round. We agreed to have a drink every time there was a shot on net. After five minutes of play and no drinks we decided jokingly to have a drink every time someone touched the puck and one of the guys (it may have been me) said 'we're here to get hammered, Christ we'll barely even have a drink'

 It was sad but true. Norris Division Hockey.

The End Game - Harold Ballard died, Cliff Fletcher came to town and fleeced the Flames and the Leafs went to the conference final two years in a row in what was the most successful stretch in Leafs' history between 1967 and present day. Its the Leafs so its both depressing and hilarious that this is the case.

Why they don't rank higher - one word - playoffs. You don't belong with the big boys when you make the playoffs that much, even if it was easy to do so. And only one last place finish? This team was awful. There are worse. Trust me.

 What we learned - Again, ownership matters. And drafting really matters. Every team we've looked at had big draft misses but the best the Leafs came up with, Clark and Damphousse, were nice players. Chicago, both versions of the Pens and Quebec all drafted multiple hall of famers or probable hall of famers. Even when it comes to being terrible the Leafs can't do it right. Which is why 1967


Vancouver Canucks (1971-1991) !!!!!!!!!

Seriously. Over twenty years of junk hockey. What a franchise.

Length - 21 years (I can barely believe it)

Losing seasons- 19

Bottom five in the league - 13

Last overall - 1

Worst Season - 1971/1972 - 20 wins in 78 games for 48 points

Playoff appearances - 11

Playoff wins - 21

Weirdness - Twenty one years of terrible hockey, terrible jerseys, terrible terrible terrible. Franchise icons - Stan Smyl and Harold Snepsts. You can't make this shit up.

The good - despite a lot of losing they made the playoffs a lot. In 1982 they went to the Stanley Cup Finals, perhaps the most unlikely finalist ever. In 1989 they nearly upset the Flames in the first round. Roger Neilson. Orland Kurtenbach. That's all I've got.

The bad - I don't know who the hell they were drafting but it was nobody good (I'm not looking at over two decades of drafting, go to town if you're up for it). After the run in 82 they didn't win another playoff series, being lucky enough to be in the same division as the Oilers and the Flames.

The end game - Pat Quinn came to town and the Canucks had another burst of respectability that included a trip to the Finals in 1994. After a lean stretch in the late nineties the team became the 'Dys' due to their incredible dynasty of the early 21st century.

All kidding aside the last twenty years have been far better than the first twenty. Almost impossible not to be though.

Why they don't rank higher - all of those playoff appearances and if you make the Finals you don't belong in the worst of the worst no matter how fluky it was. Also while they have 13 bottom five finishes seven of those were in a league of eighteen teams or less. Bad? Yes. Absolutely. Worst of the worst? Not close.

What we learned - why Canucks' fans are so neurotic. What a history.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Losing Losers Who Lose

 I remember when Ryan Smyth was traded in 2007 there was outrage. I mean just an outpouring of vitriol like I have never seen. And over the years as player after player was shipped out and the Oilers got worse and worse each bad move was usually greeted with anger at what the men in charge were doing to our team. There were a lot of bad moves and a lot of anger.

 We've known for a long time that Ales Hemsky was a goner and so on Wednesday when he was finally moved there was some anger, sure, but mostly there was sadness and resignation.

 We give, Oilers. We give. You've broken us.

 Only Smytty remains from the last time the Oilers played a meaningful game. Someone asked me the other night how come my son was a stalwart Leafs' fan. Have I not tried to convince him to be an Oilers' fan? The answer to that is yes. He's watched some Oilers and he loves Ales Hemsky though as a 'bang it off the boards' solid Dman he's about the most opposite you can be to the departed genius.

 You try and convince a kid to cheer for a team that is not only bad but absolutely abysmal, so much so that we're talking historically bad.

 Because that's what they are now. They're going down in history. I was sitting around the other day having a rum watching a little True Detective and I thought to myself that following a bad NHL club is like living a circle of violence and degradation and it was about time I tied this off.

 No wait that's not it.

 What I actually thought was 'Wow my favourite NHL team is garbage. Total garbage. And things are probably going to be bad for a while now unless MacTavish can pull off a miracle this summer' And based on the fact that he apparently tried to sign David Clarkson last summer I have my doubts as to the man is up to it, it pains me to say.


 And so I began to look this shit up.

 And so here is the first post telling you what I found.

  I used 1967 as a starting point. I've not included pre expansion because its comparing apples and oranges as old Oilogosphere man Doogie noted the other night on Twitter. No draft and only six teams. That said it should be noted that the Rangers had one playoff appearance in a six team league between 1942-1955 and the Bruins had no playoff appearances from 1959 to 1966. In a six team league! (h/t @ursus_arctos59)

 The NHL has changed so much since 1967, it was a twelve team league then and so a lot of what follows is subjective. Originally I had a half dozen teams in mind and then I threw the question out to the Twitter - who is the worst team ever - and I ended up with just under twenty suggestions. A few of these didn't make the cut at all. The early 80s Jets were bad and the Whalers were relentlessly mediocre and the expansion Sharks struggled mightily but here's the thing: there are a lot of terrible hockey clubs from the past half century. Clubs that make the teams that you think of as bad look pretty damn good in comparison.

 In the end I came up with sixteen clubs that stood out and while I would have loved to have had a bottom ten just to make the numbers neat and tidy I couldn't do that. There were eight contenders for the throne when all was said and done and the same number of pretenders and in my mind the demarcation is pretty clear.

 So here is the first set of losers of the loser bracket. These clubs were bad, really bad, but not bad enough to make our final cut. So I would rank these somewhere in the 9 to 16 range.

The Spectacular Flameouts

These four clubs were all absolutely horrible but none of them had the longevity necessary to be considered for the top spots. Three collapsed and one was an expansion team and all four bottomed out absolutely and completely but in two cases it lasted only four years and in the longest it was but five. When they were bad they were terrible but you have to have staying power damnit!


Tampa (1998-2002)

 Tampa went the veteran route with their expansion draft and so they were relatively successful in their first few years and then it all went to hell.

Length - 5 years

Losing Seasons - 5

Bottom 5 of league - 5

Last Overall - 2

Worst Season - 97/98 17 wins in 82 games, 44 points

Playoff Appearances - 0

Playoff Wins - 0

Weirdness - I lived in Tampa at the time and the owner, briefly, was a good old boy, Art Williams, who proclaimed top pick in 1998, Vinny Lecavalier, the 'Michael Jordan of Hockey'. Williams' ownership was shortlived and he was a huge weirdo.

The good - The Lightning drafted Lecavalier

The bad - Despite finishing in the bottom five five times in five years Tampa ended up with Lecavalier, Svitov and Alexeev as their first rounders. In two years they didn't even pick in the first round!!

The end game - With that drafting you would think Tampa would never have gotten out of that funk but they picked Brad Richards later in the draft, added an unknown shrimp Marty St. Louis, made some smart trades and in 2004 they won the Stanley Cup.

Why they don't rank higher - five years is nothing, especially when they were basically an expansion team that postponed their expansion pain. Two years after being terrible they were Cup winners.

What we learned - not much except that you can totally tank and somehow get almost nothing out of the top end of the draft and then somehow still win. What the fuck.


Ottawa (1993-1996)

The Senators came into the league and stunk out the joint. They probably had the worst four year stretch of any team in history. And then they were good.

Length - 4 years

Losing Seasons - 4

Bottom five of the league - 4

Last Overall - 4 (!)

Worst season - their first, 10 wins in 84 games for 24 points

Playoff Appearances - 0

Playoff Wins - 0

Weirdness - Mel Bridgeman was their first GM and lasted one season and their original owner didn't last much longer

The good - The Sens built the foundation of what would be a very good team in those early years, drafting Alexi Yashin (later traded for Zdeno Chara and Jason Spezza), Radek Bonk, Bryan Berard (flipped for Wade Redden) and Chris Phillips with their first picks

The bad - The picked Alexandre Daigle instead of Chris Pronger in 1993 and while Bonk and Phillips became good NHL players they weren't superstars.

The end game - The Sens suffered for four years and then reaped the benefits of excellent drafting, becoming one of the best teams to never win a Stanley Cup.

Why they don't rank higher - they were an expansion team and four years is nothing when you get a decade or more of being a contender out of it

What we learned - Not much. Drafting is a crapshoot even at the top but you knew that, right? I'd say drafting and developing a goalie is pretty important too but that's something they learned much later


Penguins (2002-2006)

 The Pens are actually on this list twice. If there's any team that has figured out this tanking thing they might be it. This team was the result of the final teardown of the 90s club that won two Cups. They barely belong here to be honest but they fit in this group.

Length - 4 years

Losing seasons - 4

Bottom five of the league - 4

Last overall - 1

Worst season - 2003/04 - 23 wins for 58 points

Playoff Appearances - 0

Playoff wins - 0

Weirdness - Almost two decades after Mario Lemieux arrived and turned a joke franchise into a contender the Pens won a lottery and Sidney Crosby became the second coming, so to speak. As a matter of fact despite finishing last overall once they ended up with two number ones and two number twos.

The good - The Pens drafted Ryan Whitney, Marc Andre Fleury, Malkin, Crosby and Jordan Staal with their lottery picks. Whitney got moved but that's a pretty good starting point.

The bad - Fleury isn't very good but he's got a Cup ring and you don't. Also I've lost my pool because of that grinning little bucktoothed bastard the last two springs. NEVER AGAIN *Shakes fist*

The end game - they were in the playoffs in 2007, lost in the Cup final in 2008 and won the Cup in 2009. They have been a contender since but attrition has ruined their depth up front and their blue is meh as well. Still, a Cup. And if Shero ever fixes the back end they'll be in the mix forever essentially.

Why they don't rank higher - See Tampa and the Sens. Four years isn't really suffering, not when you end up with two generational players and a Cup almost immediately afterwards.

What we learned - it literally is sometimes better to be lucky than good


Nordiques 1988-1992

The Nordiques were pretty good in the eighties and then Peter Stastny got old. Then they sucked for five years. Then they were awesome. Then they left Quebec and won Cups. Oops!

Length - 5 years

Losing Seasons - 5

Bottom 5 in league - 5

Last Overall - 3

Worst Season 1989/1990 12 wins in 80 games for 31 points

Playoff Appearances - 0

Playoff wins - 0

Weirdness - The Nords drafted six players in the top five from 1988 to 1992. Curtis Leschyshyn was a solid defenceman for them. The other five players were either relative busts or were traded away before the club won a Cup

The good - Eric Lindros didn't want to play in Quebec but the bounty he brought from Philadelphia helped bring the Avs the Cup. Owen Nolan was traded for Sandis Ozolinsh who apparently is still playing (who knew!)

The bad - Todd Warriner and Daniel Dore didn't help at all. Mats Sundin brought over Sylvain Lefevbre and a broken down Wendel Clark. If they had kept him they might have managed more than two Cups.

Also the Nordiques left Quebec.

The End Game - the Nords went from being really bad to really good really quickly. They didn't win as quickly as the Pens or Tampa but they won in 96 and then again and were a powerhouse for a decade

Why they don't rank higher - pay attention

What we learned - same as Pittsburgh sometimes tanking works. It helps when you draft a guy who you can trade for good players to fill out half your roster though


Next - four other teams that didn't quite make the cut in our search for the worst of the worst.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Why You Heff To Be So Bad?

 Ever wonder why the Edmonton Oilers are horrible? I mean historically bad? Do you?

 Every once in a while you'll see the phrase 'Get good players, keep good players' floating around this part of the interweb or on the twitters. Now its not the most original thought but I'm the guy who coined it around here. Do you want to have a good team? Acquire quality. Hold onto it or move it for other quality.

 The Oilers don't do that. What they do, better than any other club in the NHL (or professional sports most likely) is turn good players into nothing. The opposite of the paper clip into a house guy.

 I've compiled a list of players who were Oiler property for whom they have nothing on their NHL roster to show for. I have not included players who were out of the league within a year or two due to retirement or waivers or who have moved onto Europe (although I'm pretty sure Patrick Thoreson could play in the NHL he doesn't have a gig right now so he is not included). I have included a couple of players who by all accounts were willing to sign with Edmonton for cheap but for whatever reason were allowed to move on.  I have also included players who were traded for picks and / or prospects who have not arrived yet. When Klefbom becomes a regular then Penner comes off the list. Until then, no dice especially seeing as nearly all of these guys were traded for picks or prospects who have never panned out.

I've also included Horcoff because face it if Larsen can't grab a spot on this blueline he is no NHL player. Finally I've made decisions as to value so I have included Lubo instead of Stoll and Greene and Cole over Pitkanen or Lupul although you could substitute any of these guys in over the other if you prefer. In the end all that remained was nothing. They had something and they ended up with nothing.

 Of course there were circumstances and this and that but hilariously all of these guys went on to play for better teams (everybody is better than the Oilers of course). Give this team a goalie and they probably kick the Oilers' ass 99 out of 100 times even though they are a bit thin up the middle. Great on the wings and a solid blueline though.

 Anyhow if you want to know why the Oilers are so bad check this list out.

Ryan Smyth
Dustin Penner
Curtis Glencross
Raffi Torres
Shawn Horcoff
Kyle Brodziak
Ales Hemsky
Andrew Cogliano
Erik Cole
Radek Dvorak
Colin McDonald (thanks Bruce)
Jan Hejda
Sheldon Souray
Tom Gilbert
Lubo Visnovsky
Ladislav Smid
Mark Fistric

Too much.

Am I missing anyone?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Thanks Ales

 Ales Hemsky was the best thing about the Edmonton Oilers for almost a decade. A highlight reel of his goals would be better than almost any other player's in the league. He was an entertainer and an artist and he could lift you out of your seat, make you shake your head and gasp in amazement. He was underrated by fans and media alike and its too bad. After the dynasty days only Doug Weight and Ryan Smyth rank with him as players in Oilers' history.

 The goal pictured above is one of the great goals in Oilers' history and sits with the Marchant goal and the Pisani OT shortie in the holy trinity of Oiler goals post dynasty. And he scored it minutes after tying the game against the Wings and shortly after scoring the goal that put the Oilers in the playoffs and keyed that beautiful run.

 Only Ryan Smyth in his second goround remains from the last good team the Oilers had. When he is gone (maybe later today) all we will have is a bunch of losing losers who lose. Hopefully this will change some day.

 Good luck to Ales Hemsky. He deserved better and hopefully he will see success and good health over the remainder of his career. Thanks for the memories you beauty.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Ode To Ales Hemsky Redux

I wrote this two years ago, the last time Ales Hemsky looked to be a goner, along with two other posts, one on why I would extend him and one on why Oiler fans seemed indifferent to the idea of trading one of their franchise's all time greats for a pick or two.

 This time Ales Hemsky is almost certainly about to become what all Oilers become, an ex Oiler. If it were me I would extend him if he wanted to stay, you can never have enough good hockey players and Ales Hemsky remains a good hockey player. My guess is that Ales Hemsky doesn't want anything more to do with this laughing stock franchise and who could blame him. Its the worst franchise in hockey, one of the worst in professional sports. He's done his time and like Andy Dufresne he is almost through the river of shit. 

  What I wrote below is dated (note the references to Iginla and Alfredsson) but it still holds true. Ales Hemsky was a great Oiler and deserves to be remembered as such. Life isn't fair of course but I hope that Ales lands in San Jose or St Louis or some such team and in June when they hand out the Cup he raises it over his head and takes it for a spin. I would cheer for that with all of my heart.

 Thanks for the memories.

This is the last I will say about Ales Hemsky. What is about to happen is something we are used to as Oiler fans. A good player, in this case the best of the last decade, is about to be shipped out. The move is being met with indifference or, worse yet, happiness from the fans. The media is complicit in the move. So is the organization. The end result is a good player is going to be gone, the team will be worse and blame will fall on the player (not good enough, greedy, he was going to test UFA anyway, bad body language) and the city (nobody wants to play here).

Despite the fact that plenty of players have signed in Edmonton and Ales Hemsky, as well as others, has spoken about how much he enjoys playing in Edmonton and most likely if he were offered a fair deal he would sign it.

Its the way of professional sports and in Edmonton more than anywhere fans are used to waving goodbye to their players. In the old days players stayed with the same franchise forever except for maybe a last gasp cup of coffee in another city by guys desperate for money or the life or just unwilling to believe it was over. Look at a Chicago roster in the early 70s and you see a collection of guys who either played their entire career with the Blackhawks or stayed with them once they arrived early in their careers or stayed with them until that last cup of coffee elsewhere. And this was the same wherever you went.

Those days are no longer but some guys still play their entire careers with one club. Usually its the franchise icons - Yzerman, Sakic, probably Brodeur and Alfredsson and Iginla. Sometimes its a guy like Ken Daneyko. With the Oilers well the list of guys who should have been lifelong Oilers is a long one but only Randy Gregg and Fernando Pisani have come close.

(The irony is that the guy who finally may be a lifetime Oiler is a guy the fans despise, the captain, Shawn Horcoff, an honest workmanlike player doomed to be disliked because of a contract that he was offered and signed in good faith. Horcoff has suffered injuries and has been asked to do more than he is capable of, playing huge and difficult minutes on a team which has gotten progressively worse. He could do with a lesser workload and its likely that day is coming. Its also probable that at his age and with that contract that he cannot be moved and that he will retire an Oiler, the first of any note to go wire to wire in Edmonton.)

Of course that should have been Ryan Smyth who engineered his trade BACK TO EDMONTON last summer but that ship sailed long ago thanks to EIG and Kevin Lowe.

And now it could be Ales Hemsky. But as is the Oiler way it will not be.

Hemsky's departure is sparking little outrage in many quarters but there is some anger out there and its not the dull smouldering type but white hot, similar to (if not as intense as) what happened when Smyth was moved years ago.

Why is this? Well Ales Hemsky is, along with Horcoff and Smyth, the last connection to those little teams that could, that era that began with Todd Marchant blowing by a stumbling Ledyard and burying the Dallas Stars and ended on June 19th when they fell barely short of the Stanley Cup. Those clubs were nearly always short of talent and the best they could hope for was a first round loss to Dallas but they worked hard and laid a beating on their opponents and the cobbled together rosters always were greater than the sum of their parts. Most of them have hung them up now, showing how quickly time passes. Joseph and his glorious save on Nieuwendyk, Tommy Salo whose game sadly fell apart, Jussi Markannen who almost gave us glory and then suffered such tragic loss. Jason Smith, whose departure changed the club's identity for the worse. Janne 'Spaz' Niinimma who wept when he was dealt. Eric Brewer and Roman Hamrlik, still carrying on, and Tom Poti and poor Cory Cross, booed out of town and Igor Ulanov, one of the toughest men to ever wear copper and blue. And of course Steve Staios, an unwanted journeyman who became a hard rock top four dman through hard work and guts.

Dougie Weight and Bill Guerin and that fucking midget Mike Comrie, who was pretty accurate about Communism and the Oilers, it turns out. Anson Carter and speedy Marchant and Mike Grier and Rem Murray and Ethan Moreau before it turned sour for him. And of course enormous Georges Laraque and Jason Chimera and Mike York and Dan Cleary rediscovering his game and his career. And joyful Marty Reasoner and the underrated Radek Dvorak. And Smytty who defined the whole wonderful era and a team that usually fell short but always gave the fans their money's worth, playing with speed and passion and an elan that had always been the signature of a great franchise. And San Fernando Pisani and Shawn Horcoff, two lower round picks, unknowns who through hard work and determination became very good NHL players and key members of the 2006 squad that captured out hearts.

The heirs to this legacy were Stoll and Torres and Hemsky, the kids on that 2006 squad and all three were big parts of that club, none moreso than the young Czech. He led the club in scoring and was very good in the playoffs. He scored one of his virtuoso goals in G1 of the Finals to tie the game in the third after the Canes had roared back and of course against the Wings, well against the Wings he showed that he was special.

Game six a must win and the Oilers flat and down two going into the third, the Wings choking the life out of them, ready to haul them back to Detroit and finish them. Pisani scoring two (2!) to tie the game, the Wings coming right back to take the lead.

And then Hemsky in on top of the goalie, scoring the ugliest goal imaginable, the puck bouncing off his gut and in. And then the dagger that did the Wings in with time winding down, blowing by Steve Yzerman in what would be the last game of his career, heading to the net, making no mistake.


And from there through the years, the artisty, the magic, the stickhandling and passes that you'd want have sex with (hat tip Dave Berry). On a team that got progressively worse Hemsky became the only guy worth watching. Every night the other club only had to shut him down and he took a beating but he came back for more every time, most notably against Robin Reghyr. And he still produced year in and year out, never complaining, putting his head down and working.

He could be maddening with his preference to pass instead of shooting and his turnovers and his stubborn desire to play the game his way.

But damn his way has been worth the price of admission in itself for years. Perhaps he was born in the wrong time, the solo dashes and fantastic puckhandling more fitting for days of yore when players like Richard and Mikita and Perreault and those old Oilers played with flair and elan, the way the game was meant to be played, the way we play it on Wednesday nights on the outdoor rink beside the train tracks on Queen Street or on a lake north of Peterborough scraped off and turned into a shrine to the game. A boy playing a man's game, a genius of sorts.

Its a sad day coming and while I doubt it will happen when Ales Hemsky returns to Edmonton he deserves a long roaring ovation for the memories he gave us. He deserves nothing less than that, one of the best players the franchise has seen, certainly the best of this last decade.

And then I hope he fills the net behind Khabibulin and rides his stick to centre ice pointing at Tambellini and Lowe. ;)