Ranking the 10 Worst NHL Teams in the Past Decade

Carol SchramFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2013

Ranking the 10 Worst NHL Teams in the Past Decade

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    It's every NHL owner, manager, coach and player's dream for his team to be remembered long after the games are in the history books. But what if a team is memorably bad?

    Sometimes a fall from grace can be pushed along by a general manager who's stockpiling young talent and looking for a good position in an upcoming draft. Sometimes a poor record can result from injuries or other bad luck. Sometimes management simply makes terrible personnel decisions.

    Though they still have plenty of time to turn their fortunes around like the 2012-13 Washington Capitals, we have a few candidates this year that could be heading for a future list of the all-time worst.

    Let's take a look at 10 of the worst teams of the last 10 years, going back to the 2003-04 season before the NHL lockout. Bad teams can take heart—there are plenty of bounce-back stories on this list.

10. 2007-08 Los Angeles Kings

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    Record: 32-43-7 (71 pts, tied for 29th in NHL)

    Less than five years before their 2012 Stanley Cup victory, the Los Angeles Kings were a hockey team that was going nowhere fast.

    Dean Lombardi was hired as president and general manager in April 2006, with an eye toward overhauling the franchise. The results eventually came, but they were far from immediate.

    In the Kings' first season under Lombardi, they finished 28th in the league. Despite a potful of free agent signings the following summer, the team fared even worse in 2007-08, tying for last place.

    The Kings' most important moves during this time came on the scouting front. In 2007, they drafted Wayne Simmonds, Alec Martinez and Dwight King. The following year, they missed out on Steven Stamkos but used their No. 2 pick on Drew Doughty, then picked up Slava Voynov in the second round.

    Simmonds was eventually flipped to Philadelphia in 2011 as part of the Mike Richards deal, setting the core of a championship franchise firmly in place.

9. 2012-13 Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Record: 18-26-4 (40 pts, 28th in NHL)

    Just two years removed from Game 7 of the Eastern Conference championship, the Tampa Bay Lightning were mired at the bottom of the National Hockey League.

    Despite boasting the league's two top scorers in Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, the Lightning were a dismal 6-16-2 on the road in the lockout-shortened season. The team only gave up two more goals than it scored, so if the game was close, the Lightning were likely on the losing end.

    Steve Yzerman made a coaching change in March, handing over the reins to their AHL head coach Jon Cooper. He also acquired a prospective No. 1 goaltender in Ben Bishop at the trade deadline, then used his No. 3 pick at the draft to choose Jonathan Drouin.

    More offseason changes helped bounce the Lightning back to the top of the new Atlantic Division this year, with Stamkos once again at the top of his game. His broken leg on November 11 is a major blow to what had started out as a feel-good season in Tampa Bay.

8. 2011-12 Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Record: 29-46-7 (65 pts, 30th in NHL)

    In 2010-11, the Columbus Blue Jackets got to within four points of a playoff spot before eventually falling to 13th in the Western Conference by the end of the year. Convinced that they were just a couple of players away from taking the next step, general manager Scott Howson signed some free agents and made a big trade that summer, acquiring Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers.

    The 2011-12 season started disastrously. Columbus was 11-25-5 when coach Scott Arniel was fired in January, and only limited improvement followed.

    For one thing, Jeff Carter simply was not a fit in Ohio. He recorded just 25 points in 39 games before being moved on to Los Angeles—where he joined his old pal Mike Richards and went on to win the Stanley Cup. The Jackets received defenseman Jack Johnson and a conditional draft pick in exchange as they limped to season's end in last place in the league, nine points behind the second-worst Edmonton Oilers.

    The Oilers won the draft lottery and selected Nail Yakupov, while the Blue Jackets picked Ryan Murray with the No. 2 selection.

7. 2010-11 Edmonton Oilers

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    Record: 25-45-12 (62 pts, 30th in NHL)

    Back in 2010-11, the Edmonton Oilers finished last in the league with 62 points for the second straight year. This stands out as the worst of their many bad seasons over the last decade.

    The Oilers were hoping for a fresh start when they replaced head coach Pat Quinn with Tom Renney during the offseason. They were starting to stockpile young talent like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi and were developing an identity with an eye towards the future.

    But the team remained bad at both ends of the ice. Ranked 28th in both goals for and against, their differential of -76 was by far the worst in the league. Eberle led the team in scoring with just 43 points, while Nikolai Khabibulin struggled in the starter's role behind a porous defense.

    The last-place finish allowed Edmonton to draft Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall, adding to a rich crop of young forwards who are still struggling to consistently find their way.

6. 2008-09 New York Islanders

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    Record: 26-47-9 (61 pts, 30th in NHL)

    After years of issues surrounding the franchise off the ice, the New York Islanders hit rock bottom in 2008-09, finishing last in the league.

    An up-and-down team for the better part of two decades, the Islanders had made the playoffs just two years before. A combination of injuries and poor personnel decisions coming out of the Alexei Yashin era dropped them to 26th place in 2007-08. At that point, general manager Garth Snow stepped up his rebuilding efforts, moving out veterans and concentrating on draft picks and prospects.

    It worked. The draft lottery odds fell in the Islanders' favor and they were able to select can't-miss prospect John Tavares with the No. 1 pick, anchoring their latest attempt at building a contender.

5. 2003-04 Chicago Blackhawks

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    Record: 20-43-11 (59 pts, tied for 28th)

    The Chicago Blackhawks' current success is often attributed to the core group of talented prospects that the team was able to accumulate through many losing seasons. That turnaround didn't happen right away.

    For the early part of the millennium, the 'Hawks were perpetual cellar-dwellers, ruled by the penny-pinching ways of owner Bill Wirtz. The team hit bottom right before the lockout, finishing one point out of the NHL basement. Tyler Arnason led the team in scoring with 55 points.

    In a draft year where Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin were the top two picks, Chicago chose Cam Barker at No. 3 then followed up with Jack Skille at No. 7 in 2005, after the lockout.

    The next two years, Chicago's scouting improved. The team drafted Jonathan Toews at No. 3 in 2006 and Patrick Kane at No. 1 in 2007 after winning the draft lottery. They proved to be the foundation of a team that looks set to compete for years to come.

    Bill Wirtz passed away in October 2007, and the team's ownership was assumed by his son, Rocky. Within three seasons, the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 50 years. Just three years later, they were able to repeat the feat.

4. 2003-04 Washington Capitals

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    Record: 23-46-10 (59 points, tied for 28th in NHL)

    In 2002-03, the Washington Capitals finished 13th in the NHL standings with 92 points but blew a two-game lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning to get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.

    With all their high-priced talent getting them no closer to the Stanley Cup, the team decided to hit the reset button. Over the course of the season, Washington traded Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Peter Bondra and Sergei Gonchar.

    The Caps finished the year tied for 28th, won the draft lottery and picked Alex Ovechkin, setting the team's course up to the present day.

3. 2005-06 St. Louis Blues

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    Record: 21-46-15 (57 pts, 30th in NHL)

    The St. Louis Blues came out of the 2003-04 NHL lockout with a veteran-heavy lineup. They weren't well suited to the league's new speed game as many of their players had lost a step during the cancelled season.

    After making the playoffs for 25 straight years, St. Louis fell from 14th place in the NHL before the lockout to the very bottom, dropping 34 points and ending the third-longest playoff-appearance streak in pro sports.

    Unstable ownership was the primary cause of the Blues' woes at this time. In March of 2006, Bill and Nancy Laurie completed the sale of the team. That summer, John Davidson was hired as president of hockey operations and a proper rebuild began.

    The Blues won the 2006 draft lottery and chose Erik Johnson with the first overall pick. 

2. 2006-07 Philadelphia Flyers

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    Record: 22-48-12 (56 pts, 30th in NHL)

    This season isn't the first time we've seen the Philadelphia Flyers in free fall. Going into the 2006 Olympic break, the team was at the top of the NHL standings and boasted a dynamic top line of Peter Forsberg, Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble.

    Keith Primeau had already suffered his career-ending concussion earlier in the year, then Forsberg hurt his foot during the Olympics. He was never the same again.

    Philadelphia limped to the end of the season with a first-round playoff loss to Buffalo, then plummeted down the standings the following year. Thanks to their 1-6-1 season-opening record, GM Bobby Clarke and coach Ken Hitchcock were fired eight games in, with Paul Holmgren and John Stevens taking over. Forsberg was limited to just 40 games due to his injury, and the Flyers finished 45 points lower in the standings—a record single-season drop for any team in NHL history.

    The Flyers lost the draft lottery, then chose James van Riemsdyk with the No. 2 pick.

     

1. 2003-04 Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Mario Lemieux played just 10 games in 2003-04
    Mario Lemieux played just 10 games in 2003-04

    Record: 23-47-8-4  (58 pts, 30th in NHL)

    The Pittsburgh Penguins are a team of great highs and lows. They struggled after joining the league in 1967, then won back-to-back Stanley Cups in the Mario Lemieux era of the early 1990s.

    With Lemieux's various health issues and the Penguins' financial difficulties, the team's worst days were in 2003-04. The Penguins finished last in the NHL, allowing 113 more goals than they scored. Lemieux played just the first 10 games before missing the rest of the season with a hip injury, leaving Ryan Malone to lead the team with 22 goals and defenseman Dick Tarnstrom to top the scoring parade with just 52 points—and a whopping minus-37.

    The Penguins couldn't even succeed in their futility. With Alex Ovechkin the consensus No. 1 prospect in the 2004 draft, Pittsburgh lost the lottery to the 28th-place Washington Capitals. They didn't make out too badly with their No. 2 pick, choosing Evgeni Malkin, then got lucky enough to win the 2005 lottery and pick Sidney Crosby.

    After the lockout, the Penguins built the kind of team that could thrive in the new NHL. Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in 2009 and has remained among the league's elite ever since.

     

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