Ranking the NHL's Worst Expansion Clubs of the Modern Era
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Various sources, including Yahoo's Puck Daddy, have pounced on the story of Seattle possibly becoming home to an NHL franchise sooner rather than later. The storm of speculation started brewing when Mitch Levy of 950 KJR Seattle Tweeted the following via three separate messages on July 30:
“The short of it is: I'm hearing that the NHL Commish is encouraging the board of governors to make an expansion team available to Seattle. If approved, the new expansion Seattle NHL club would cost approximately $275M. It would begin playing here in the 2014-2015 season. All of this contingent upon 1) a solid ownership coming forward and buying the team and 2) the new arena staying on track to be built."
While NHL expansion is all but a given at this point, sometimes it's easy to forget how difficult it is to take a team from an expansion roster to a playoff contender. The road is long, and the dedication required by all of those involved is taxing at best.
For instance, the Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks have both been searching for the total winning formula since joining the NHL in the early '90s. Both have had great regular season success, but neither have managed to hang its first Stanley Cup banner.
Since 1992—what we're calling the "modern expansion era"—nine teams have joined the NHL. Of those nine franchises, only two have gone on to win the Stanley Cup so far: the Anaheim Ducks and Tampa Bay Lightning.
When ranking these teams, overall records were given top consideration. Another part of the puzzle, albeit smaller, was how the franchises managed to stack their front office and whether or not they added any prominent pieces for the future.
Unless otherwise stated, all statistical data came from Hockeydb.com.
9. Ottawa Senators
Final Record: 10-70-4
Noteworthy Players: Norm Maciver, Mike Peluso, Jamie Baker
Story of the Season: The good news for fans of the Ottawa Senators is that their inaugural year was the worst in franchise history. Then again, there's a lot of room for improvement when a double-digit win total nearly doesn't happen and 70 losses are up on the board.
To make matters worse, the Senators would use their first overall selection the following year to select massive draft bust Alexandre Daigle.
The team joined the league in 1992-93, and owns three separate records from that season: longest home losing streak (11), longest road losing streak (38) and fewest road victories in a season (1).
If Seattle does finally receive another hockey team, it'll have to try pretty hard to achieve these sorts of lows.
8. San Jose Sharks
Final Record: 17-58-5
Noteworthy Players: Pat Falloon, Doug Wilson
Story of the Season: It's tough to think about the San Jose Sharks as being bottom-feeders, but that's exactly what they were for several years after entering the NHL for the 1991-92 season. The biggest highlight of a truly abysmal season was the acquisition of former Norris Trophy-winner Wilson, but not even his presence could prevent the Sharks from sinking.
They suffered through a 17-game losing streak at one point and would lose a staggering 71 games just one season later.
San Jose posted one of the lowest win totals ever during its inaugural year, and would struggle to find footing for a few seasons before finally making it to the level of relevant franchise.
7. Atlanta Thrashers
Final Record: 14-61-7
Noteworthy Players: Patrick Stefan, Luke Sellars, Kelly Buchberger
Story of the Season: Atlanta's second attempt at an NHL franchise ended the same way the first try did—with the team relocating after several seasons of ineptitude. The Thrashers selected Patrick Stefan with their first ever draft pick—a good indication of where the franchise was heading as a whole.
Every player that Atlanta selected in 1999 (prior to its first season) is out of the NHL already, and it's reflected pretty clearly in the team's initial record.
Unlike some other teams on this list, the Thrashers never made much noise during their time in the NHL. While every other franchise on this list has taken the necessary strides to become better after bad inaugural seasons, Atlanta never seemed to get it together.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning
Final Record: 23-54-7
Noteworthy Players: Chris Kontos, Paul Jablonski, Brian Bradley, John Tucker
Story of the Season: The Tampa Bay Lightning's existence started off with a bang, as they buried the Chicago Blackhawks 7-3 in its home opener. Chris Kontos scored four goals that night—still a team record to this day—and things were looking good for the new franchise.
While the momentum from that monumental butt-kicking didn't last long, Tampa still put together a reasonably successful first season. Considering they received more production than expected from the likes of Kontos, Bradley and Tucker, one could even say they bested even the most bullish expectations.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention what Tampa's first season is most remembered for though: goaltender Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play in an NHL game in 1992, when she played one period of an exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues.
5. Minnesota Wild
Final Record: 25-39-13-5
Noteworthy Players: Marian Gaborik, Wes Walz, Darby Hendrickson
Story of the Season: The Wild ushered in a new era of puck for the State of Hockey. After Minnesota lost its franchise to Dallas after the 1993 season, it took several years and plenty of noise (and money) before the NHL finally granted them a franchise again.
After entering the league along with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2000, the team started building for the future. They drafted Gaborik with the first pick in Wild history and he went on to score the team's first goal and is still the franchise's all-time scoring leader.
Not a bad way to kick things off.
While the team finished outside of the playoff picture in 2000, there were several important pieces in place moving forward. Walz, Gaborik and Hendrickson gave the team a solid young core to build around, and the presence of Jacques Lemaire behind the bench would be a boon (depending on who you ask) for the franchise moving forward.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets
Final Record: 28-39-9-6
Noteworthy Players: Geoff Sanderson, Ron Tugnutt
Story of the Season: The Columbus Blue Jackets came into the league in 2000 and performed better than expected during its inaugural year. Tugnutt tied a 74-year-old record for most wins by a goaltender playing for an expansion club with 22 and the franchise had some positive momentum heading into year two.
Despite the solid showing, the franchise selected Rostislav Klesla with the fourth-overall selection at the 2000 draft. They also used the top selection of the expansion draft to take Rick Tabaracci from the Colorado Avalanche.
These two selections represent what would hold the Jackets down for the next decade: bad drafting.
Still, they had several key players in place on the roster and would eventually use Tugnutt to maneuver all the way to the top spot of the 2003 entry draft, where they would select Rick Nash.
3. Nashville Predators
Final Record: 28-47-7
Noteworthy Players: Cliff Ronning, Greg Johnson, Mike Dunham, Tomas Vokoun
Story of the Season: After an attempt to bring hockey to Nashville in 1995 via relocation of the New Jersey Devils, Tennessee finally landed a hockey team in 1998. The squad performed as well as any other modern era expansion team, finishing second-to-last in the Western Conference.
The big difference between the Preds and the other teams on this list is that they managed to hire the correct front office people right out of the gate. Barry Trotz was the franchise's first coach and you'll still find him behind the bench in Nashville to this day.
David Poile was also named the general manager in team history—he's also the only GM in team history. When considering the turmoil and turnover that usually surrounds front offices around the NHL, it's pretty remarkable to consider that Nashville got it right on its first try.
2. Anaheim Ducks (AKA Mighty Ducks of Anaheim)
Final Record: 33-46-5
Noteworthy Players: Guy Hebert, Stu Grimson, Sean Hill
Story of the Season: The Anaheim Ducks came into the league in 1993 and did it with all the subtlety of your typical Michael Bay movie (which is to say explosions were everywhere, there may or may not be tanks around somewhere and there's bound to be a robot or four, just for the sake of robotics.)
The franchise was famously owned by the Walt Disney Corporation when it entered the NHL and it had the cash to prove it. They paid the L.A. Kings $25 million for encroaching on their territory and spent nearly $500,000 on the opening ceremony for the first home game ever.
Anaheim made it all to way to February before falling out of playoff contention. The next time they'd take the ice for a full season in 1995, they'd have Paul Kariya on the roster and the beginnings of a respectable franchise was in place from the get go.
1. Florida Panthers
Final Record: 33-34-17
Noteworthy Players: Scott Mellanby, Rob Niedermayer, John Vanbiesbrouck
Story of the Season: Proving how difficult it is to have a successful inaugural season, the Florida Panthers are considered the best expansion team ever and they were almost a .500 team. They fell just shy, but not before showing that they were already a team to be reckoned with.
Coach Roger Neilson knew his team's strengths—solid defense and an outstanding goaltender in Vanbiesbrouck—and he played to them heavily in 1993. He implemented the (dreaded) neutral zone trap, and teams typically had a tough time scoring goals.
Despite being new to the whole hockey thing, the Panthers also drafted extremely well in '93. Ten players that they selected would be a part of the 1996 team that won the Eastern Conference and lost in the Stanley Cup Final to a loaded Colorado Avalanche Team.