Monday, March 10, 2014

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.


RageTwit said...

Caps had the misfortune of playing at a time of some dominant teams. The Habs didn't lose to anybody (can you imagine a defense so deep that they could afford to trade Rod Langway?) and the conference was just stacked.

Bruce said...

"their first season is probably the worst NHL season in history"

The 1974-75 Caps set a still-extant NHL record of 446 GA in 80 games. But weird coincidence it is the exact same number as the GF record, 446, set by the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers. Both in 80-game seasons. So they're interesting to compare, good vs. bad.

Those Oilers were one of the great teams of the expansion era, winning the Presidents' Trophy by 15 points and powering to their first Stanley Cup. Over the course of that season, they allowed 314 GA, for a goal differential of +132, better than the second place Islanders by 40 goals so pretty exceptional.

Compare that to the 1974-75 Caps, who scored all of 181 goals on the season, for a goal differential of -265. Literally double the differential of the record setting Oilers. The Caps ended up with 21 points, while the '83-84 Oilers collected all but 41 points. Good as those Oilers were, you could make the statistical argument that the 1974-75 Caps sucked TWICE as much!

One other note, that Poor Ron Low got all 8 of the Caps wins. 8-36-2, doesn't sound too good eh. Except his backups Michel Belheumer (0-24-3) and Johns Adams (0-7-0) had 34 decisions, and didn't win a one of them.

So yes, I agree with the statement cited up top, other than "probably" seems an unnecessary qualifier. They were The Worst.

Milton Welch said...

One other thing about the 73-74 Caps and their goal differential. Nowadays it's considered catastrophic if your goals against average is over 3.00 a game. The Caps GAA was not only over 3.00 a game, they averaged LOSING by over 3 goals a game. They're not only the worst NHL team ever but probably the worst team ever in any major league team sport. It's hard to compare football with other sports because they play so few games, so losing all 16 games like the Detroit Lions did a few years ago puts them in a special category, but how can you compare them to a team that wins only 8 of 80? I believe the Philadelphia 76ers won only 9 games in an NBA season in the early 70's (and the NBA has no ties, so all the other games were losses). In baseball, there's never been a team close to being as bad in winning percentage, the legendarily bad 1962 Mets winning 40 of 160 games for a .250 winning pct. (and that's not the worst in MLB history—the Philadelphia A's went 36-117, .235 winning pct. in 1916 (what is it about Philadelphia, city of losers?) One team that CAN compare, though they won more games over the whole season, was the next year's KC Scouts, who hold a special distinction in winning only one game over the second half of the season, going 1-35-8 over the last 44 games and ending the season with 26 straight winless games. But I assume you'll get to them later in your list.