Ranking the 10 Worst-Managed Teams in the NHL
Several NHL teams currently bear the dubious honor of being among the league's worst managed. For a variety of reasons, these teams have struggled to either improve their overall performance or address glaring roster weaknesses. They've become a near-constant source of frustration for their followers.
Some of the teams on this list have been losers for years, with lengthy absences from playoff competition. Mismanagement plunged two once-dominant teams into rapid decline. Several teams underwent recent management change, raising questions over the ability of the new general managers to implement swift improvement.
In compiling this ranking of the NHL's worst-managed teams, factors such as team performance, frequency of playoff appearances, management changes, draft records, trades and free-agent signings were taken into account.
10. Washington Capitals
Why they're among the worst managed: After building up the Capitals into a Presidents' Trophy winner in 2010, general manager George McPhee oversaw their steady decline out of playoff contention just four years later. At the end of 2013-14, the club opted not to renew McPhee's contract. The Caps hired Brian MacLellan as their new GM and well-respected coach Barry Trotz as their new bench boss.
Yahoo! Sports' Greg Wyshynski cited McPhee's failure to address systematic problems with his roster's core. Wyshynski also noted McPhee attempted to change a team built largely for offense into a more defensively responsible club. That led to two coaching changes in three seasons. The Capitals were left with a porous blue line along with questions about their goaltending and leadership.
Worst moves: CSNWashington.com's Chuck Gormley listed the best and worst moves of McPhee's 17-year tenure. Among the worst since 2010 was shipping goaltender Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche in July 2011 for draft picks.
One of those picks, Filip Forsberg, was dealt to Nashville in 2013 for fading winger Martin Erat. Another blunder was dealing winger Tomas Fleischmann to Colorado in 2010 for aging defenseman Scott Hannan.
Outlook for this season: To address the defense issue, MacLellan inked former Pittsburgh Penguins blueliners Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to expensive long-term deals. The pair will face intense pressure to justify those new contracts. It will take time to determine if MacLellan's moves and Trotz's coaching sparks a quick reversal of the Capitals' fortunes.
9. Vancouver Canucks
Why they're among the worst managed: From 2008 to 2011, general manager Mike Gillis built the Canucks into a Western Conference powerhouse and a Stanley Cup finalist in 2011. Three years later, the Canucks missed the playoffs for the first time in six years and Gillis was out of a job.
A poor draft record since 2008 combined with questionable quick-fix trades and free-agent signings led to the Canucks' rapid demise. CBC.ca's Tim Wharnsby cited an increasingly frustrated fanbase and a decline in season-ticket renewals forced ownership to dump Gillis.
Worst moves: Gillis' indecisiveness led in his bungled handling of goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. Unable to find a suitable return for Luongo for over a year, Gillis instead shipped Schneider to the New Jersey Devils during the 2013 NHL draft for the ninth overall pick (Bo Horvat).
The following season, he dealt Luongo to the Florida Panthers for goalie Jacob Markstrom and center Shawn Matthias. Ultimately, Gillis traded away two of the league's best goaltenders for a first-round pick, a backup goalie and a checking-line center.
Outlook for this season: During this offseason, the Canucks cleaned house in the front office and behind the bench. Jim Benning is their new GM, and he's wasted little time putting his stamp on the club.
Benning signed free agent goaltender Ryan Miller and winger Radim Vrbata, shipped Ryan Kesler to Anaheim for a return that included center Nick Bonino and defenseman Luca Sbisa and acquired depth forwards Derek Dorsett and Linden Vey via trade. The Canucks should improve this season, but time will tell if Benning can quickly turn the Canucks back into Stanley Cup contenders again.
8. Winnipeg Jets
Why they're among the worst managed: Including their final seasons as the Atlanta Thrashers, the Jets last made the playoffs in 2006-07. When the club relocated to Winnipeg, it replaced its management and coaching staffs, but those changes have yet to improve the team's playoff hopes. Current GM Kevin Cheveldayoff continues to practice patience with his current roster.
As the Winnipeg Free Press' Tim Campbell reported in June, criticism of Cheveldayoff has been growing among Winnipeg fans and media. The Winnipeg Sun's Paul Friesen claimed Cheveldayoff was evasive regarding the status of winger Evander Kane, who appears unhappy in Winnipeg. The Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons called Cheveldayoff a “happy just to be here” GM.
Worst moves: Cheveldayoff hasn't made any glaringly bad trades. That's because he hasn't made any significant deals at all. He's also eschewed major free-agent acquisitions, preferring to sign affordable depth players like center Mathieu Perreault this summer.
Perhaps his worst move is sticking with struggling starting goalie Ondrej Pavelec rather than buy out his contract this summer and pursue an upgrade.
Outlook for this season: Cheveldayoff remains stubbornly committed to building his club from within. If the Jets struggle again this season, however, he'll have little choice but to finally make a significant move or two to shake things up.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs
Why there's among the worst managed: Since 2005-06, the Leafs made the playoffs only once (2013). During that time, they changed general managers and head coaches three times. While they've willingly made bold moves via trades and free agency, they continue to ice an inferior product. As The Hockey News' Ken Campbell suggests, the Leafs aren't properly spending their money.
Current coach Randy Carlyle came under criticism last season for his team's poor defensive game. The National Post's Michael Traikos called the club's decision to re-sign Carlyle for two more years a reward for mediocrity.
Worst moves: Among their mistakes was shipping goalie Tuukka Rask to the Boston Bruins in 2006 for netminder Andrew Raycroft. They also dealt Alex Steen in November 2008 to the St. Louis Blues for Lee Stempniak. Their worst free-agent signing in recent years was inking winger David Clarkson to a seven-year, $36.75 million contract. Clarkson managed only 11 points through 60 games last season.
Since 2005-06, the Leafs have a poor draft record. While Nazem Kadri, Morgan Reilly and James Reimer have promise, it will take time to determine how their careers pan out, let alone if they have long-term futures with the Leafs.
Outlook for this season: The Leafs hired a new president (Brendan Shanahan), a new assistant general manager (Kyle Dubas), new assistant coaches and started a hockey analytics department. It remains to be seen what effect these moves will have on a roster that features a core unchanged from last season.
6. Calgary Flames
Why they're among the worst managed: The Flames last made the playoffs in 2008-09. Former general manager Darryl Sutter stepped down midway through the 2010-11 season, leaving behind what the National Post's George Johnson noted was an aging, expensive roster in disarray.
Sutter's replacement, Jay Feaster, fared no better before he was fired last December. The Flames got steadily worse under Feaster's watch, as he stubbornly tried to rebuild the club around aging stars Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff.
The combined draft record of Sutter and Feaster over this period left much to be desired. Feaster was replaced on an interim basis last season by president of hockey operations Brian Burke, who in June hired Brad Treliving as the Flames' new GM.
Worst moves: Sutter traded defenseman Dion Phaneuf to Toronto in January 2010 for a return that failed to improve the Flames. He also dealt Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust to the New York Rangers in February 2010 for Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins. Sutter failed to re-sign sniper Mike Cammalleri in 2009.
The National Post's Bruce Arthur reported Feaster signed Ryan O'Reilly to an offer sheet in February 2013, forgetting O'Reilly would have to pass through waivers if signed by anyone other than the Avalanche during that season. Feaster was spared embarrassment when the Avalanche matched the offer. He also dealt away Jay Bouwmeester to St. Louis for little in return and overpaid defenseman Dennis Wideman.
Outlook for this season: Treliving hit the ground running in his new job, adding veterans (goaltender Jonas Hiller, defenseman Deryk Engelland and forwards Mason Raymond, Devin Setoguchi and Brandon Bollig) to bring in experienced depth for his rebuilding roster. Time will tell if Treliving succeeds where his predecessors failed. In the short term, the Flames aren't expected to make the playoffs this season.
5. Carolina Hurricanes
Why they're among the worst managed: Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, the Hurricanes have only returned to the playoffs once (2009). General manager Jim Rutherford stepped down in April 2014, replaced by Ron Francis. Over this period, they changed coaches three times, with Bill Peters being their most recent hire.
Rutherford was unable to successfully build upon the Hurricanes' 2006 championship season. While ensuring franchise players Eric Staal and Cam Ward were retained with long-term deals, Rutherford failed to provide them a solid supporting cast. One reason was their weak draft record, with Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk being the only notable selections.
Worst moves: The Raleigh News & Observer's Luke DeCock listed Rutherford's best and worst moves. Among the worst since 2006 was re-signing Alexander Semin to a five-year, $35 million contract and allowing Ray Whitney to depart via free agency in 2010. Other questionable moves included swapping Andrew Ladd for Tuomo Ruutu in 2008 and trading Justin Williams in 2010 to the Los Angeles Kings.
Outlook for this season: Francis inherits a roster that has seen its veteran starting goalie (Ward) often injured in recent years. The Hurricanes struggled at both ends of the ice last season (22nd in goals per game, 21st in shots against). Their power play ranked 28th overall.
Francis scarcely made any significant moves this summer. Promising forward Elias Lindholm and defenseman Ryan Murphy could take on bigger roles this season. Ultimately, it'll be up to pretty much the same roster they had last season. That doesn't bode well for ending their lengthy postseason drought.
4. Buffalo Sabres
Why they're among the worst managed: Over the past seven seasons, the Sabres reached the playoffs only twice. Following a disastrous start (4-15-1) to last season, long-time general manager Darcy Regier was fired. In January, the Sabres introduced Tim Murray as their new GM.
The Buffalo News' John Vogl called Regier's tenure one of hits and misses. Since 2007-08, there were more misses than hits. A number of notable players departed in those years, which Regier failed to sufficiently replace.
Worst moves: Letting Daniel Briere and Chris Drury depart via free agency in 2007 was what Vogl called “one of the darkest days in Sabres history.” Regier also signed underachieving forward Ville Leino to a six-year, $27 million deal in 2011, which Murray bought out just three years later.
Other bad deals included shipping out defenseman Brian Campbell in 2008 to San Jose, trading winger Clarke MacArthur to the Atlanta Thrashers for draft picks in March 2010 and swapping Andrej Sekera with Carolina last year for Jamie McBain.
Outlook for this season: Regier began rebuilding with youth in 2012-13, which Murray has continued. The new Sabres GM also added some veterans (Matt Moulson, Josh Gorges, Brian Gionta, Andrej Meszaros) to provide experience and leadership for his young roster. Still, it's going to take some time for the Sabres to return to playoff contention. How long could define Murray's legacy.
3. Edmonton Oilers
Why they're the among the worst managed: The Oilers haven't made the playoffs since 2006. During that time, they've changed general managers twice. In July 2008, Steve Tambellini took over for team president Kevin Lowe. Tambellini was fired in April 2013 and replaced by current GM Craig MacTavish. Since 2009-10, they've lacked stability behind the bench, changing coaches four times.
Since 2010, the Oilers have been committed to rebuilding with young talent. While acquiring players with varying degrees of skills and promise (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Justin Schultz), management has struggled to provide those players with a solid supporting cast.
Worst moves: Most occurred under Tambellini's watch. As CBC.ca's Doug Harrison observed, there were far more misses than hits for Tambellini. Among the notable misses was trading Erik Cole for Patrick O'Sullivan and Ales Kotalik in 2009. Others included dealing away Lubomir Visnvosky for Ryan Whitney in 2010 and shipping out Andrew Cogliano for a second-round pick in 2011.
Outlook for this season? MacTavish bolstered the goaltending by adding Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth, acquired a scoring left wing (David Perron) and brought in more experienced depth at forward (Benoit Pouliot) and defense (Andrew Ference, Nikita Nikitin, Mark Fayne).
However, neither Scrivens nor Fasth are proven starters, the Oilers still lack a true top-two defenseman and trading away Sam Gagner this summer for winger Teddy Purcell leaves them thin at center. The Oilers still seem a long way from playoff contention. MacTavish has a lot of work ahead of him to avoid Tambellini's fate.
2. New York Islanders
Why they're among the worst managed: Since 1988-89, the Islanders have made the playoffs just eight times. In the past nine seasons, they've qualified just twice for the postseason. Garth Snow has held the position of general manager since 2006-07. Current coach Jack Capuano's been in the job since 2010-11.
Islanders ownership kept payroll near the league minimum for most of Snow's tenure. In 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12, their payroll was the lowest in the league. Last season, it was second lowest. That's hampered Snow's ability to build up the the roster with experienced talent.
Worst moves: Snow may be hamstrung by a low payroll, but that doesn't excuse his notable blunders. As Sportsnet's Mike Johnston noted, there was his signing Rick DiPietro to a 15-year contract in 2006, which Johnston called among the worst in NHL history. Snow acquired Ryan Smyth from Edmonton at the 2007 NHL Trade deadline, but the winger played only 18 games for the Isles.
Snow's worst decision involved winger Thomas Vanek. Early last season, Snow shipped Matt Moulson, a first- and a second-round pick in 2015 to Buffalo to acquire Vanek. Unable to re-sign Vanek, Snow dealt him at the March trade deadline to Montreal for a prospect and a conditional second-round pick in the 2014 draft. Johnston reported Snow was widely criticized for those moves.
Outlook for this season: Despite Snow's mistakes, the Islanders enter this season stocked with promising young talent, led by superstar center John Tavares. Snow also improved the goaltending by acquiring Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson, plus added some veteran experience to his forward lines via free agency in Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin.
However, the Islanders still lack a skilled top-two defenseman. It may be asking too much, too soon of their kids to carry them into playoff contention this season.
1. Florida Panthers
Why they're among the worst managed: Since their inaugural season in 1993-94, the Panthers have made the playoffs only four times. Over the past 13 seasons, they've clinched a playoff berth just once (2011-12). Since 2000-01, they've changed general managers seven times and head coaches nine times.
This mismanagement has resulted in a history of bad trades, weak drafts and questionable free-agent signings. It's kept the Panthers among the NHL's worst teams for years. It's no wonder they've been a poor draw at their home arena.
Worst moves: When you've been a badly run team for as long as the Panthers, it's not hard to find a lengthy list of bad decisions. Over the years, they dealt away Pavel Bure, Roberto Luongo, Olli Jokinen, Jay Bouwmeester and Nathan Horton for little in return.
In the summer of 2011, current GM Dale Tallon went on a spending spree, acquiring 10 players (including Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Ed Jovanovski and Scottie Upshall). That massive turnover helped the Panthers reach the 2012 playoffs, but they failed to qualify in the next two seasons.
Outlook for this season: Tallon, like his predecessors, has put his faith in promising youth. Forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Drew Shore and Brandon Pirri, along with defensemen Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov, Dylan Olsen and Aaron Ekblad, are 23 or younger.
While many of these players could have bright futures, it's likely too early to expect them to carry the Panthers into the playoffs this season. It will take time to determine if this young core can improve this club over the long haul.