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.


Murat said...

This is morbidly fun... but I worry. Oh I worry.

Bruce said...

"Whitney got moved but that's a pretty good starting point."

Whitney got moved for Chris Kunitz. Worked out all right.

Black Dog said...

Yes absolutely Bruce especially where they are all of these years later.