NHL Rankings: The Five Worst Franchises
From the GM and players to the coaches and scouts, every member of an organization has a job to ensure both short and long-term success.
Winning is a business in the NHL, and like any business, you have to be better than your competition.
Here's a look at the NHL's most poorly managed franchises based on 4 factors:
Draft History - Many bottom-feeder clubs have tremendous access to young talent and skill, but are unable to realize its potential. Some teams just pick the wrong players, while others have mismanaged and poorly developed promising stars.
Coaching - As an intermediary between management and players, the head coach is one of the most important positions on the team. A head coach is expected to manage his players effectively, keeping their confidence up during droughts and grounding them during the good times. Has management hired someone who reaps the most out of his players?
Squad - An evaluation of a team's roster. Well past the half-way point in the season, the playoff picture is beginning to take form. There are several likely reasons a team falls short of making the post-season, most of which is a poor squad. Has management signed star players? Is there solid depth throughout the lineup?
Fanbase - Fans bring money to the organization. Without ticket and merchandise sales, the team wouldn't exist. Many teams struggle, especially in traditional non-hockey markets, to attract fans and bring in revenue. Has ownership taken the necessary steps to build bridges with the area?
Honorable Mention: Phoenix Coyotes
The Phoenix Coyotes are one of the NHL's most interesting stories. Owned by the league, the Coyotes find themselves facing an uncertain future. According to the The AP's John Wawrow, NHL would like the franchise to stay in Phoenix.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says there are three groups showing "serious" interest in buying the Phoenix Coyotes with the intention of keeping the team in Glendale, Ariz.
There are probably three different groups that are taking a serious look at buying the Coyotes to keep them where they're located," Bettman said in a broadcast that was also showed on the NHL Network. He added that Glendale is also "very much part of the equation," referring to the city, which has paid out $25 million in each of the past two seasons to keep the Coyotes while the NHL operates the team and seeks an owner. The NHL purchased the team out of bankruptcy in 2009.
With the team's solid play over the past few years, fans have had the opportunity to attend playoff games. The organization still has a small footprint in the area, but with Dave Tippett has head coach, the Coyotes play an efficient and physical game. As a winning team, their style of play isn't flashy, but it is effective.
Sitting just outside of the final playoff position, the Coyotes still have an opportunity to make the postseason. As a veteran squad with recent post season experience, the Coyotes are a team most will want to avoid should they grab that eighth-place spot.
No. 5: Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres have drafted well over the past decade with superstars Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, and Brian Campbell starting out in the organization. Other solid draft picks include Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Jason Pominville, and Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers.
Given the makeup of their current roster, the Sabres are an organization that takes time and effort to develop players. Vanek, Roy, and Pominville are the trio expected to drive the team offensively, but none of them have emerged as the leader the organization craves at this point.
In Lindy Ruff's first season (1997-1998), he reached the conference finals. In his second, he led Buffalo to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost to the Dallas Stars. Ruff has been to the conference finals twice since then, but has yet to return to the Cup finals.
Ruff is one of only two coaches to win 500 games with the same team, yet he finds himself on the hot seat. Owner Terry Pegula made a big effort to bring in more talent this past offseason and on paper, it sure looked like he had.
The onus is on Ruff to find the right chemistry for the team on the ice. The Sabres have never been an organization to break the bank for new players, and it appears Lindy Ruff is having difficulty managing a team with a lot of new faces.
The aforementioned trio of Roy, Pominville, and Vanek is expected to put the puck in the net. The offseason acquisition of Ville Leino was intended to add scoring depth. The 28-year-old center signed a six year, $27 million contract this past offseason, but has be ineffective most of the season.
Roy has had a subpar campaign with only 25 points in 49 games; Stafford has also posted dismal numbers. The Sabres have one of the worst offenses in the league, notching a lowly 2.3 goals/game.
Solid defensemen Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff joined the team this season. Buffalo traded for the rights to Regehr's year year, $8 million contract. The Sabres signed the 29-year-old Ehrhoff to a blockbuster 10 year, $40 million contract, hoping his puck-moving play would fit well with the team. Despite these additions, the Sabres have a goals-against of 2.9, good enough for 23rd in the league.
There was a lot of drama surrounding Milan Lucic's hit on Ryan Miller that left the star net minder concussed. Since the collision, Buffalo's season has derailed. Sitting near the bottom of the Eastern conference, this roster is clearly not worth what Peluga is paying. With expensive and ineffective additions signed to long-term contracts, the poor play may be there to stay in Buffalo.
Buffalo is a small market by NHL standards, with a blue collar population of around 250,000. The franchise has never won a Cup, but continues to have a strong presence in upstate New York. With one of the best atmospheres in the NHL, Buffalo is a great hockey city that champions its players. Despite great attendance figures, ownership has been historically frugal.
Under new owner Terry Pegula, the Sabres are finally spending near the cap. It's unfortunate for fans his spending has not resulted in wins.
No. 4: Montreal Canadiens
For an organization to win 24 Stanley Cups, there needs to be a considerable eye for talent. Some noticable selections over the past decade include PK Subban, Carey Price, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov, Jaroslav Halak, and Mark Streit.
Montreal has not drafted a superstar, but they have made consistent selections and developed their players relatively well.
Randy Cunneyworth was hired two summers ago as head of the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Canadien's minor-league affiliate. The Bulldogs fell just short of making the Calder Cup last year, and it took the dismal play of the Canadiens and subsequent firing of Jacques Martin, for Cunneyworth to be named head coach.
Under Cunneyworth, the Canadiens continue to under-perform. Montreal sits at the bottom of the Eastern conference. The whole province of Quebec is enraged with Cunneyworth's hiring, because he does not speak French.
The Canadiens have been know for their quick forwards and lethal power-play. Scott Gomez came to Montreal three seasons ago, but has continued to struggle in his role. At first glance, the 32 year old center appears to have lost a step. With a $7.3 million contract, the American forward is expected to produce and lead the Canadiens. Unfortunately, the burden of these expectations has weighed Gomez down.
Creative forwards Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta, and Mike Cammalleri led the Canadiens in scoring last season. Cammalleri was kicked out of town last month for comments made about the team. Montreal was able to deal the sure-shooter to the Calgary Flames for Rene Bourque. Bourque has earned a reputation recently for reckless play, but the left-winger can score. Other standouts include Erik Cole, PK Subban, and Max Pacioretty
The Montreal Canadiens are one of the league's historic franchises. Regardless of the team's performance, fans will always make it down to Bell Centre. Despite this year's horrible play, Montreal still hosts the second largest crowd in the NHL.
No. 3: New York Islanders
The New York Islanders draft history is a quandary. Over the past 15 years, the Islanders have picked three super-star players in John Tavares, Zdeno Chara, and Roberto Luongo. If all three players still skated for the Islanders, they'd be perennial contenders.
Instead, management traded Chara and a first round pick to the Ottawa Senators for Alexei Yashin. Ottawa used their pick on Jason Spezza the following draft. In another horrible deal, the Islanders traded Luongo and Olli Jokinen to the Florida Panthers for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha.
Rick DiPietro is another sour point in the Islander's draft history. As the first overall selection in the 2000 draft, DiPietro was touted as the franchise netminder the team always needed. Despite contributing little after five years, the Islanders signed DiPietro to a 15 year, $67.5 million contract in 2006. Since his extension, DiPietro has been plagued by injuries and inconsistent play.
Jack Capuano was named head coach a month into last season, replacing embattled coach Scott Gordon. The Islanders finished the season 26-29-10 and Capuano was kept on board for this year. There has been speculation of a coaching change, but the Islanders young core of players seems to respond well to Capuano.
The Islanders first line is one of the best in the league, led by the explosive pairing of John Tavares and Matt Moulson. P.A. Parenteau has stepped up and made plays at right-wing, leading the team with 34 assists. Other notable contributors include Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, and Frans Nielsen. The offensive production has not been consistent, as the Islanders sit 24th in the NHL at 2.4 goals/game.
Mark Streit anchors a similarly inconsistent and under-performing defense. Young defenseman Travis Hamonic does show promise, while veterans Milan Jurcina and Steve Staios have experience and toughness.
The Islanders goalie situation is interesting. GM Garth Snow signed Evgeni Nabokov last year on top of Al Montoya and Rick DiPietro. Nabokov and Montoya have played well in net, splitting the time share since DiPietro's most recent injury.
According to ESPN, the Islanders are next to last in NHL attendance. Given the struggles over the years, and the Rangers recent success, it has been difficult for the Islanders to attract fans. Despite being the least popular professional team in New York, the Islanders do have a footprint in the area.
No. 2: Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers have arguably the worst draft pedigree in the NHL. The Panthers have never drafted a superstar despite picking at or near the top of the draft each year. The only stand out selections include Nathan Horton (2003, third overall), Jay Bouwmeester (2002, third overall), and Stephen Weiss (2001, fourth overall). Of these three, only Weiss still calls south Florida home.
In addition to horrible drafting, the Panthers have developed players in a similar manner. Horton can score 30 goals, while Bouwmeester is a solid top pairing defenseman. Both skaters are no longer on the team. Roberto Luongo is another key member that left town. The super-star goaltender played five seasons in Florida, posting great numbers. He was inexplicably traded to the Vancouver Canucks in 2006 for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Allen, and Alex Auld.
Head coach Kevin Dineen is in his first year with the Florida Panthers. Prior to joining Dale Tallon's staff, Dineen coached the Portland Pirates. During his tenure with Portland Pirates in AHL, affiliation switched from the Anaheim Ducks to the Buffalo Sabres. Regardless, the teams Dineen coach often made the post-season. He has had a solid start to his NHL coaching career as the Panthers currently sit atop the Southeast division.
Following last season, Dale Tallon was brought in as General Manager of the Panthers. With Tallon at the helm, Florida spent a whopping $67.6 million on nine new players. Key additions to the organization included Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, and Brian Campbell. All three have found their game in Florida, with Campbell recieving an All-star nod and early Norris consideration.
The Panthers have a winning record and appear to be on the cusp of making the playoffs. Over the past month or so, the team has regressed as the Capitals have caught up. It will be interesting to see if the Panthers can gather themselves and win down the stretch.
Hockey is not a popular sport in Florida, a state with not one, but two NHL teams. Similar to many other Southern markets, the Panthers have to create an exciting and wining atmosphere to attract fans. Unfortunately, the team has difficulty getting fans to turnout to the game, annually near the bottom of the league in attendance.
No. 1: Columbus Blue Jackets
This being their 12th year in the NHL, The Columbus Blue Jackets have yet to win a playoff game. During their short tenure in the league, the Jackets have drafted ten top-10 picks. Despite this unheralded access to young talent, Columbus has failed to assemble a successful squad.
Notable busts - Pascal Leclaire (2001, eighth overall), Nikolai Zherdev* (2003, fourth overall), Alexandre Picard (2004, eighth overall) and Gilbert Brule (2005, sixth overall). Top picks Nikolai Zherdev and Nikita Filatov have left the NHL, returning to Russia.
The Blue Jackets fired head coach Scott Arniel last month. Arniel was replaced by Todd Richards on an interim basis. Management has made it clear a decision will be made at the end of the season.
Jeff Carter and James Wisnewski joined the club over the off-season, but the pair did not get off on the right foot. Carter has been unable to play long stretches this season, suffering both foot and shoulder injuries. The Blue Jackets brought in Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers and, as a talented centerman, expected him to complement Rick Nash. This has not been the case, leaving many, including Aaron Portzline, to speculate Carter could be on the block:
Multiple sources confirmed to The Dispatch that Carter has been put on the trade block by the Blue Jackets, barely seven months after he was acquired from Philadelphia and deemed the No. 1 center the club has always needed. Said Carter:
There’s not much I can do about that. That’s something I can’t worry about or control. My main focus right now is just getting healthy and getting back into the lineup.
There’s talk about a lot of guys (in here) right now. Our team, with the way the season has gone — the injuries, the standings, and stuff — I don’t think it should come as a surprise to anybody on our team if they end up (in rumors).
If Carter does leave town, Rick Nash will once again be the lone offensive bright-spot. Nash was drafted 1st overall by Columbus back in 2002. The star winger has certainley lived up to the hype, producing at a near point-per-game pace. Off the ice, Nash has embraced the Blue Jackets, having made it clear Columbus is home.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have a difficult time attracting fans to the arena. The main reason the Blue Jackets are ranked 26th this year in attendance is the poor performance of the team. The location of the franchise doesn't help either. Columbus is a football town and Ohio is a football state. The Winnipeg Jets will have fans regardless of how their team plays, while the Jackets have to manufacture interest in their team.