The Worst Moment in Each NHL Franchise's History
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One thing is certain in the NHL—heartbreak. While one fanbase celebrates, another 29 weep. The ultimate high created by hoisting a Stanley Cup is inevitably followed by an unbearable low. Every team in the NHL has had one of those terribly low moments.
This offseason has been another roller coaster for the fans that desperately want to see their team erase the bad memories of missed opportunities, playoff eliminations or worse.
For a saddening, but comical, venture, skim through the worst moments in each NHL franchise’s history and feel free to add your own.
Seeing Paul Kariya in anything but a Ducks uniform has to sting a little.
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The darkest moment in the history of the Anaheim Ducks came from Hollywood’s production of the third movie in the “Mighty Ducks” series. No, that’s not true at all.
The darkest time in Ducks history came in 2003. Anaheim had just won the Western Conference Championship the year before with its first-ever draft pick, Paul Kariya. Things were looking up for Anaheim.
Unfortunately, Kariya left to join the Colorado Avalanche and the Ducks finished well out of contention for the playoffs with a 29-35-10-8 record. Not only did the Ducks lose their momentum from the previous season, they lost the face of the franchise.
The lights going out in the Boston Garden against the Oilers in 1988 could be the darkest moment in the franchise.
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As an “Original Six” franchise, the Bruins have a proud history full of ups and downs. With that long history, there is always a chance at having one of the darkest moments in league history―literally.
In 1988, the Bruins were flying high, with stars like Cam Neely and Ray Bourque leading the team. The B’s made it to another Stanley Cup finals. Then, the lights went out.
In the second period of game four, the game was tied at three. However, a fuse blew at the Boston Garden, causing the lights to go out and postpone the rest of the game. It really was the darkest moment in Bruins history.
Oh, and the Edmonton Oilers swept the series.
In 2002, the Sabres didn’t have an owner and the league took control of the team. This could have easily been the darkest moment in history, but then Buffalo fans remember how close they were to winning a Stanley Cup in 1999.
Seventh-seeded Buffalo swept Ottawa, beat Pittsburgh and Toronto to face Dallas in the finals. Optimism surrounded the cup-less Sabres―but the hockey gods wouldn’t allow it.
In game six, Dallas’s Brett Hull was credited with one of the most controversial goals in NHL history. Was his foot in the crease? Sabres fans probably still say convincingly, “yes.”
The NHL changed the rule the following season. Coincidence?
The first Canadian stop on the heartbreak tour takes place in Calgary. With one Stanley Cup to their credit (1988-89), the Flames know what it is like to be at the top of the mountain. They have had a few opportunities since that time including one of the most heartbreaking in franchise history.
The No. 2 Flames fell to Vancouver in seven games in 1994, but that was just a hard-fought series that didn’t work out in Calgary’s favor. Ten years later, the Flames faithful suffered a darker moment.
Calgary entered the playoffs as the six seed. They upset Vancouver in seven, top-seeded Detroit in six and second-seeded San Jose in six to battle the Tampa Bay Lightning for the big prize.
The Flames snagged Game 5 in overtime in Tampa to take a 3-2 series lead heading back to Calgary. All they had to do was win on home ice.
Two overtimes later, the Lightning stole the game from everyone in Calgary. Tampa clinched the Stanley Cup in Game 7, extinguishing the Flames and casting a palpable darkness over Calgary.
Martin Gelinas was a part of the underachieving Hurricanes in 2003.
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A relatively young franchise,—moved from Hartford in 1997—the Carolina Hurricanes can also say they are Stanley Cup champions. Just five years after relocating, the Hurricanes made their first finals appearance against the Detroit Red Wings.
Things looked to be going great for Carolina. The ‘Canes weren’t expected to win the Cup against Detroit, but reaching the finals was a great accomplishment. The Red Wings won the series, but Carolina looked like it had a foundation to build on.
That foundation must have been built on swampland. The following season, Carolina finished last in the league with just 61 points—casting a dark shadow over a bright young franchise.
There was light at the end of the tunnel though, as Carolina won their first Stanley Cup three years later.
This moment has erased that bad memories of the seasons past.
Do NHL franchises come any better than the Chicago Blackhawks? Original Six team, four Stanley Cups, 14 division championships and as proud of fans as there is in hockey.
The Blackhawks have done just about everything in franchise history. Even the casual hockey observer could recognize this Chicago sports power as one of the elite franchises in the NHL—but dark times haven’t missed the Hawks.
How about nearly 10 straight years of darkness?
From 1998 to 2008, Chicago made the playoffs just once. The only year they did make the playoffs in that stretch was the 2001-02 season. They were a non-factor in the postseason.
To make things worse, they had made the playoffs every year since 1970 before this rough stretch. It wasn’t a Chicago Cubs-like drought but it was a dark time for Hawks fans.
The Avalanche had two Stanley Cups in five seasons after moving to Colorado in 1996—not a bad start to a franchise. The move from Quebec was a sad one, but all turned to smiles after the Avs picked up the Stanley Cup in their first season.
Early success sparked rivalries for the new franchise and no team is more hated by Avalanche fans than the Detroit Red Wings. These two franchises consistently meet in physical battles that can even take a toll on the fans.
Colorado had won the cup in 2001 and won the Northwest Division in 2002. They were poised for another playoff run, cruising through the first two rounds. In the conference finals, the Avalanche met a familiar foe—the Red Wings.
Colorado was up 3-2 in the series, but was shut out at home (2-0). The series went back to Detroit for a decisive Game 7—which the Red Wings dominated 7-0 to cast darkness over Colorado.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The NHL lockout canceled the All-Star Game in Columbus this season.
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The Columbus Blue Jackets have just one playoff appearance in their history. This offseason has been a time of rebuilding. The Jackets sent longtime captain Rick Nash to the New York Rangers and the rebuilding process went full-steam ahead.
With minimal success, Columbus could have a lot of dark moments in the franchise. The Blue Jackets’ darkest moment is not something that did happen, but something that didn’t—the 2013 All-Star Game.
Columbus was slated to host the season’s all-star festivities. It could have brought worldwide attention, media coverage, new fans to the arena and created momentum for this franchise. But, the lockout didn’t let it happen and as dark as the arenas are throughout the NHL, it may be darkest in Columbus.
Mike Modano, Brett Hull, Brenden Morrow and Joe Nieuwendyk are only a few of the names to grace the Dallas Stars. Hockey certainly isn’t a warm-weather sport, but the Stars have done just fine since moving from Minnesota.
Sometimes the heat can get to players and cast a dark cloud over the franchise. That dark moment came in 2008 thanks to outspoken forward Sean Avery. His comments about his ex-girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert can be read here. They ultimately led to a season-long suspension.
The injury bug bit the Stars and cost them captain Morrow. They went on to finish 12th in the conference. This all led to a rebuild of the Dallas front office.
Detroit Red Wings
Slump over and Stanley Cup in hand helps forget a horrific stretch.
Another one of the “Original Six,” the Detroit Red Wings have 11 Stanley Cups and 19 division championships. Unfortunately, since the Red Wings were founded in 1926, that gives enough time for some down years.
In 1967, the Red Wings kicked off a slump that is almost unbelievable to Detroit fans. They made the finals the season before and looked like a contender heading into the ’67 season.
They finished with 58 points―24 short of the playoffs. From 1967 to 1987, the Red Wings made the postseason only four times―winning just one series in that time (Atlanta, 1978).
Since 1987, Detroit has made the playoffs 21 times so that dark moment can almost be forgotten about.
Talks had stalled between the Oilers and the city of Edmonton leaving fans to wonder if the team would leave.
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Speaking of proud franchises, it’s hard to be a Canadian hockey franchise and not have history. Edmonton may not be synonymous with success to recent hockey fans, but they have won a fair share of Stanley Cups (five).
Some guy named Wayne Gretzky started his career in Edmonton, too.
However, the darkest moment for the Oilers may be news that happened this offseason. The Oilers want a new arena. The Edmonton city council and owner Daryl Katz haven’t come to an agreement on the terms.
This was back in October, but a column written by Edmonton Journal columnist David Staples is wondering if this is the darkest moment in franchise history.
Could it be possible to lose the team that has called Edmonton home for over 40 years?
But, if a hockey-related darkness is requested, how about Steve Smith scoring on his own net against Calgary in the Stanley Cup finals?
It is tough to beat the success the Florida Panthers had in the late 1990s. In 1996, Florida went to the Stanley Cup Finals—three years after joining the league.
The Panthers rode that momentum into the 1997 season and started out undefeated through 17 games. Florida clinched the fourth-seed for the playoffs, but got knocked out by the New York Rangers in five games.
Unfortunately, the following season was a polar opposite. Florida started 7-12-4, fired its coach, added a 15-game winless streak and finished a franchise-worst 24-43-15.
Things may be brightening up in Florida after a division crown last season.
Los Angeles Kings
A Stanley Cup completes a full reversal from the ownership snafus in earlier years.
The darkest moment in Los Angeles Kings history was last season when they won the cup for the first time in franchise history—without Wayne Gretzky. OK, it really wasn’t, but I don’t think the “Great One” was a hundred percent thrilled about it.
Towards the end of Gretzky’s tenure in LA, things started to get a bit murky. They had just made it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in team history (1993), but things took a quick turn to negative-town.
The Kings missed the playoffs the following season for the first time in eight years, owner Bruce McNall defaulted on a loan, was forced to sell and nearly gut the entire team.
LA bounced in and out of the playoffs until the late 2000s.
It's the Minnesota Wild's two biggest gifts and they don't get to play with them.
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In the spirit of the holidays, the Minnesota Wild are probably going through the darkest time in the NHL.
You received two of the newest and best gifts this holiday season. They are unwrapped, staring at you, but you don’t get to play with them. You just keep staring…and staring…and staring until the novelty wears off and you’re more frustrated that you even got the gifts in the first place.
The Montreal Canadiens are synonymous with the NHL. With 24 Stanley Cups, there is no greater franchise than Montreal. Unfortunately, they haven’t won a cup since 1993, but the darkest moment in this franchise doesn’t come from the last 20 years.
On April 20, 1984, Bitter rivals, the Canadiens and Quebec Nordiques, faced off in the second round of the playoffs. Midway through the second period of this internationally broadcasted game, a bench-clearing brawl ensued. Many were penalized and some were ejected―and some were ejected but weren’t notified.
Eventually the dust settled and the teams headed to their respective locker rooms. Unfortunately, some of the players that were ejected from the previous bout weren’t notified and returned to the ice for the third period.
During warmups, the two teams went at it again in what is known as the “Good Friday Massacre.” A total of 252 penalty minutes were handed out.
Michael Farber of the Montreal Gazette said the brawls “disgraced the game.”
The Predators have been a playoff fixture for the better part of the last 10 years. Things haven’t gone as well in the postseason as many in Nashville would have hoped, but they have an impressive record for a fairly young team.
One of the worst playoff moments for the Predators came in 2010. The Preds entered as the No. 7 seed and faced second-seeded Chicago. After splitting the first four games of the series, the Predators had a chance to win the all-important Game 5.
Up 4-3 with less than two minutes to play, Chicago’s Marian Hossa earned a five-minute major for checking from behind. The game was all but won.
Chicago pulled its goalie with less than a minute to play to make it even-strength. The Predators gave up an odd-man rush and allowed Patrick Kane to net the tying goal.
The power play carried over into overtime for another four minutes, but Nashville couldn’t capitalize. Fittingly, it was Hossa that scored the game-winner.
Chicago won the series in six.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils are named after a mythical beast that is said to have roamed the Pine Barrens of south jersey. Probably one of the cooler mascot-origins in the league, but they aren’t without a big blemish on their record.
In 1988, the Devils posted their first winning record in franchise history. They maintained the momentum into the postseason―advancing to the conference finals. The series went seven games, but the Devils lost to the Boston Bruins.
The dark moment came after Game 3. Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld got into a verbal confrontation with referee Don Koharski, screaming obscenities. Koharski slipped during the confrontation and hit the wall. He claimed Schoenfeld pushed him―leading to a one-game suspension.
Schoenfeld appealed, was denied and then appealed to the New Jersey Superior Court. The ruling was reversed before Game 4. In protest, the referees for the game refused.
Game 4 was delayed over an hour before replacement officials could be found. Schoenfeld ended up being suspended and fined.
New York Islanders
It may be harsh to put a franchise’s darkest moment on the shoulders of one player, but the New York Islanders have that in Rick DiPietro.
He signed a 15-year, $67.5-million deal in exchange for a 72-61-23-10 record and hasn’t appeared in more than 26 games since the 2007-08 season.
If an on-ice darkness is requested, the debacle in 1995-96 fits. The Islanders fired their coach, changed their logo and finished 22-50-10. The logo didn’t work out. They switched back to a revamped version of their old logo as quickly as possible.
Are the Islanders still rebuilding?
New York Rangers
Some of the most memorable franchises in sports history are those that have a “curse” cast upon them. The New York Rangers are one of those franchises.
Called the “Curse of 1940,” the curse presumably began when the Rangers management burnt the mortgage to the Madison Square Garden in the bowl of the Stanley Cup following the 1940 win.
The Rangers did eventually break that curse (1993-94 Stanley Cup). Fans still had to endure years of hardship and playoff disappointments. The team went over 50 years without a championship.
A close runner-up was the acquisition of Eric Lindros.
The first goal in Senators history. The rest of the season didn't go so well.
The Ottawa Senators started off with a bang in 1992. Another Canadian hockey team, in the country’s capital and an inaugural win over powerhouse Montreal, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, just about everything did.
The Senators didn’t win many more games after the season opener and finished 10-70-4―that’s 24 points and just three points above the NHL’s worst team in history (Washington Capitals, 1975).
Ottawa’s owner Bruce Firestone adopted an “aim-low” mentality. He wanted the team to finish near the bottom for the first few seasons so that they could draft high.
Can anything be darker than that mentality?
Eric Lindros is a legend in Philadelphia for the players the team traded away to acquire him.
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Blockbuster trades are rarely as lopsided as the one that put a blemish on the Philadelphia Flyers record.
In 1992, the Flyers traded with the Quebec Nordiques for the first-overall pick in the 1991 draft, Eric Lindros. In exchange, Philadelphia parted ways with Ron Hextall, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci and Peter Forsberg.
The Flyers also sent the 1993 first-round pick and $15 million to Quebec.
Hockey fans know Lindros and his concussion streak. This one may go down as the most lopsided trade in NHL history and the darkest moment in Flyers history.
Not the America West Arena, but a cool moment in Phoenix Coyotes history.
The Phoenix Coyotes were a strong team after moving from Winnipeg in 1996. The team didn’t finish below .500 in each of its first six seasons and made the playoffs in five of those years.
Unfortunately for the Coyotes, and their fans, the Coyotes played at America West Arena. The arena wasn’t designed to accommodate hockey and the fans paid greatly for that. America West Arena was home to the Phoenix Suns and didn’t have the space for a 200-foot hockey rink.
After some careful engineering the rink fit the space, but left part of the seating over the boards and above the ice. This blocked the view of one goal and nearly a third of the rink for some fans.
The Coyotes had an impressive product in the early years of the franchise, but due to arena issues, had the second-lowest capacity in the NHL (nearly 16,000) at the time.
For a team that has never been financially stable, it would have been nice to have the extra 2,000 seats filled for all those playoff appearances.
There is always light at the end of the tunnel, even in the depths of great darkness. The Pittsburgh Penguins know this well.
In 2003-04, the face of the franchise, Mario Lemieux, suffered a season-ending hip injury and Penguins fans seemingly lost interest. Pittsburgh averaged 11,877 per home game—dead last in the NHL that season.
The Penguins went on to finish last in the NHL with a 23-47-8-4 record. This was the end of a tragic downward spiral for Pittsburgh that included bankruptcy, falling attendance and years of rebuilding.
The light at the end of the tunnel came in the form of Alex Ovechkin. But, the Penguins couldn’t even win the draft lottery that season. The Washington Capitals took Ovechkin and Pittsburgh ended up with Evgeni Malkin.
Pittsburgh caught a break the next season. The strike wiped out the NHL in 2004-05, but Pittsburgh won the lottery pick and snagged Sidney Crosby.
There is light at the end of the tunnel.
San Jose Sharks
Things did not start well for the San Jose Sharks. As an expansion team in 1991, the Sharks struggled. The following season was historic, however―but not in a good way.
The Sharks first two seasons were played at the Cow Palace just outside San Francisco. This is the same facility the NHL denied in the late 1960s when the California Seals joined the league.
However, it was deemed playable for the Sharks despite the rink not meeting NHL requirements. The Sharks sold out every game at the Palace, but only 11,000 could fit into the facility.
Those 11,000 fans saw a record-breaking season in 1992-93. The Sharks went 11-71-2―setting an NHL record for losses in a season. They even lost 17 straight at one point.
Things have brightened up in San Jose. The Sharks have made the playoffs in 13 of the last 14 seasons.
St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues have been a consistently good team. They had a streak of 25 straight playoff appearances snapped in 2004―but that’s still an impressive streak.
They even made three straight Stanley Cup Finals appearances in the late 1960s. Unfortunately, that brought about the darkest moment in franchise history.
St. Louis finished at the top of the Western Division with 86 points and handled division opponents in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Boston Bruins awaited the Blues in the Stanley Cup Finals―led by Bobby Orr.
Boston dominated the first two games in St. Louis, putting the Blues in a big hole. Boston snagged Game 3 to push the Blues to the brink of elimination.
Game 4 was the closest of the series. Tied at three going into overtime, it was Bobby Orr and his famous “flying goal” that closed out the series.
St. Louis hasn’t been back to a Stanley Cup Finals since.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning faithful are probably still bleeding from the heart break suffered in 2011. The Bolts pulled all the right strings to set themselves up for success.
Starting goaltender Mike Smith got injured and general manager Steve Yzerman brought in an aging Dwayne Roloson. That string worked out well.
The Bolts led the Southeast Division the majority of the season, lost it in March, but still tied a franchise record with 46 wins. The Bolts finished fifth in the Eastern Conference and faced the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round of the playoffs.
Tampa fell behind three games to one with the series headed back to Pittsburgh. It seemed like the magic would run out. The Lightning put on a clinic and won Game 5, 8-2.
The Bolts won Game 6 at home and completed the rally with a 1-0 win over Pittsburgh in Game 7.
Tampa swept the conference-champion Washington Capitals in the next round to face the Boston Bruins. There was magic in the air.
The Bolts had scored 21 goals in six games of the series―including four five-goal contests. The offense was clicking. Was this a repeat of 2004?
Nope. The Lightning got shut out in Game 7 and Boston went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs have the second-most Stanley Cups in NHL history (13). Leafs fans know their last Cup came all the way back in 1967. There have been too many near-misses in recent years―most memorably, 2002.
The Leafs were in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Leafs were down 3-2 in the series and trailed 1-0 late in the third period of Game 6. It was score or be eliminated.
Who else but Mats Sundin could come through for the Leafs? Sundin scored with 22 seconds left to send the game to overtime and bring the fans to a new level of excitement.
Unfortunately, that sheer excitement became a demoralizing heartbreak. Carolina’s Martin Gelinas scored just over eight minutes into overtime to end the Toronto season.
Similar to the Tampa Bay Lightning heartbreak in 2011 that may still have fans upset; the Vancouver Canucks can one-up the Lightning.
It may have been the most famous riot in sports history and is the ultimate darkness in Vancouver.
The Canucks had advanced through the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994.
The home team won every game in the first six of the series. With the series headed back to Vancouver, optimism was at an all-time high. Could this be the year the Canucks win their first Stanley Cup?
Boston’s Patrice Bergeron opened the scoring almost 15 minutes into the game. The Bruins added two more in the second period and crushed the hopes in Vancouver with an empty-netter in the third period.
Vancouver was shutout 4-0 and the fans took to the streets, literally.
Alex Ovechkin brought a heightened since of optimism to the Washington Capitals―none greater than from 2009-11. The Capitals won the President’s Trophy in 2009-10 and finished atop the Eastern Conference in 2010-11. In 2009-10, they did so with an astonishing 54-15-13 record―eight points ahead of Western Conference Champion, San Jose.
Things were going great for the Caps, up 3-1 on the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs. Montreal rallied to take the next three games―including two in Washington―to steal the series. After the series, Nicklas Backstrom said it best, “It looks like we’re not good enough.”
The following season, Washington was at it again. This time they slid into the President’s Trophy and even advanced through the first round against the New York Rangers in five games.
The Caps squared off with division rival Tampa Bay in the second round and forgot to show up. Tampa scored three goals or more in every game of the series―including a 5-3 contest to sweep the series.
Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers
Patrick Stefan was the first pick in the history of the Atlanta Thrashers.
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The Winnipeg Jets have been in Winnipeg for just one season and finished eight points out of the playoffs. It is unfair to put a dark moment on that franchise―even if it is the second version of the team.
Instead, the dark moment comes from the Atlanta Thrashers that became the Jets.
Atlanta joined the league for the 1999 NHL Draft―that was about as good as it got.
The Thrashers picked Patrik Stefan with their first pick―enough said. It gets better
Every player the Thrashers drafted that season was no longer in the NHL by the team’s last season.
All 11 selections. Done.