The 50 Biggest Chokers in NHL History

Eron NoreContributor IIIAugust 9, 2011

The 50 Biggest Chokers in NHL History

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    Among other definitions, Merriam-Webster defines "choke" as follows: "to lose one's composure and fail to perform effectively in a critical situation." When this term is used in sports, a fierce debate is sure to follow.

    Does the phrase "choke" get thrown around a bit too liberally in today's instant sports world? Yes.

    Will it be thrown around even more liberally in the 50 slides that follow this one? You better believe it!

    Chances are you will not like some of the players, executives, or teams that turn up on this choke list. That is okay with me.

    There is also a pretty good chance you will disagree or feel that I have missed some "chokes' or was unfair on someone/something. I will disagree there.

    In the "choke slides" that follow, you will find a ranking of the 50 biggest choke moments in NHL history as I see them. To prove no bias, there are seven negative Penguins moments included in the list.

    So grab something to drink and sit back to go through our list of 50 biggest chokers in NHL History. Let me know what I missed, what I got right, and where I'm completely off in the comments. Always good to have a pleasant debate.

Number 50: Carrie Underwood and Hillary Duff

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    Generally, I like to start slideshows with a joke. In this case a joke of a choke.

    Somehow, Carrie Underwood and Hillary Duff are married to Mike Fisher and Mike Comrie. When extremely beautiful women date well below their league, that is a great starting point for "chokes".

Number 49: Kansas City and the Empty Sprint Center

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    So far this has been a choke by the Kansas City region. They built an arena in the Sprint Center and have not been able to lure an NHL or NBA to fill it yet.

    On September 27, 2011 the Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings will play a preseason game there. This is likely a test for the area to get in line with places like Quebec City and Hamilton as potential landing spots for teams like the New York Islanders, Phoenix Coyotes, or Florida Panthers should any of them end up moving in the near future.

    Photo courtesy of

Number 48: NHL Expansion/Relocation Chokes

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    The NHL saw a wave of expansion and relocation starting in the 1990's. This brought NHL teams to the so-called "Sun Belt" of the United States, some of which were stripped from Canadian cities.

    So far it has been hit or miss. While teams like the Anaheim Ducks and Tampa Bay Lightning have raised the Cup, the Phoenix Coyotes and Florida Panthers continue to flounder.

    This past offseason, the Atlanta Thrashers were relocated to Winnipeg to become the Jets again. With apologies to any real fans in Atlanta, this move was a correct one.

    The NHL made it very reluctantly though, seemingly unwilling to admit their many chokes. Despite that, it seems likely that teams such as the Phoenix Coyotes and a few others could end up in another city by the middle of the decade.

Number 47: Columbus Blue Jackets Choke as a Franchise

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets were an expansion team. Despite a beautiful arena and surrounding area, this team has been a total "choke" in terms of the business side of things.

    According to NBC Sports, the Blue Jackets lost $25 million last season and $80 million over a six year period. It does not take Donald Trump to tell you that it may be getting near "do or die" time in C-bus.

    Their management seems to know it, making big deals to get Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski to complement Rick Nash. Will it be enough? For the true fans there that I have personally had the chance to speak to, I hope so.

Number 46: Ottawa Senators

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    Another expansion team that just cannot overcome their choking way is the Ottawa Senators. Despite having a collection of talented players, in the past five seasons the Sens have made one Cup Final and lost, lost to the Penguins twice in the conference quarterfinals, and did not make the playoffs two other seasons.

    The Senators will have to hope that new coach Paul MacLean can rub some of Detroit's success off on this group both in the short and long term. Until then, the chokes will continue.

Number 45: San Jose Sharks

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    When you think of expansion chokers, the San Jose Sharks have to rise to the top of the list. In the past two seasons they finally made the Western Conference Finals, yet lost both appearances.

    In their history, they have made three conference finals, losing each time. They have only failed to make the playoffs five times in their history, yet do not have any Stanley Cup's to show for it.

    This may be an example of a loose definition of choking, but over a period of time the Sharks have had some very talented teams and failed to produce. Sounds like choking to me.

Number 44: Daniel Alfredsson

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    If the Sens are chokers, then Daniel Alfredsson is King of Chokeville in Canada's capital city. He has spent his entire career with the Senators.

    While it may be unfair to point at him solely, he is now their Captain and was always a pivotal player for them. As a leader, when your team chokes, you must shoulder part of that blame.

    Alfredsson may be destined to be one of those guys that has his name turn up on the "best to never win a Cup" lists.

Number 43: Evgeni Nabokov

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    Another player that spent his entire career (to date) with a choking team is Evgeni Nabokov. He appears to have been the goalie of choice for at least seven of the Sharks playoff seasons.

    A career playoff record of 40-39 will not win you any friends in the "choke" debate, especially after embarrassing himself in the situation with the New York Islanders.

    You can read more on the odds on Nabokov potential to be traded at this article I recently completed.

Number 42: Joe Thornton

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    Joe Thornton has spent roughly half of his career with the Boston Bruins and the other half with the San Jose Sharks. One thing that has been a constant, Thornton can put up individual numbers, but has not dug down and willed his team over the top.

    Thornton is not a goal scorer by trade, but his 18 goals in 109 career playoff games is especially astonishing. At this point, barring a drastic change of events, Thornton may end up on the "Alfie" list as a great player that never won a Cup.

Number 41: Alexander Semin

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    Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals is a good example of a younger guy who could end up like "Alfie" or Joe Thornton. One of the main criticisms of his play, is that he never seems to take it to that next level needed for playoff success.

    In fact, in a 2010 interview, his answer to the following question was curious.

    "Some say you are a playoff choker. What do you think?"

    In part, he responded: "You have to play the same way in every game. Why would you change something in you? I don't understand how you can play one way in the regular season and another way in the playoffs."

    First step to beating your problem is admitting there is one. Caps fans should hope that the new influx of players gets him to that "next level".

Number 40: Jeremy Roenick

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    Jeremy Roenick never was able to capitalize on his many opportunities to win a championship. By definition that could make him an all-time choke artist.

    One thing we should all keep in mind, is that just because someone is a "choker", does not mean they do not care.

    As you can see in the video, seeing the Chicago Blackhwaks win the Stanley Cup caused some real reflection on the part of Jeremy Roenick.

Number 39: Markus Naslund

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    Markus Naslund played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks, and New York Rangers in his NHL career. While he was able to be up excellent individual numbers over the course of that career, team success was never found.

    In fact, in 52 career playoff games, Naslund only had 14 goals. That is a pretty stunning stat for a guy that had six seasons over 30 goals in the NHL and 11 seasons with more than 20 goals.

Number 38: Eric Lindros

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    Eric Lindros had a career cut short by concussions. Despite putting up good numbers in his playoff appearances, Lindros would have to take the title of a choker due to two factors.

    First and foremost would be the massive amount of hype that he entered the league with. When he forced his trade from Quebec to Philadelphia, the pressure rose instantly.

    Secondly would be his size and skills. Lindros was a rare specimen, but in his era the NHL was largely uninterested in the fate of players that suffered headshots.

    Could Lindros have been removed from this list with a longer career? It is possible. But since he did not, he shows up on the choke list.

Number 37: New Jersey Devils and the Ilya Kovalchuk Contract

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    You most likely know the details. The New Jersey Devils tried to circumnavigate the league's salary cap with a clever deal for Ilya Kovalchuk.

    The end result was a stiff penalty from the league, fining them $3 million in cash and taking away two high draft picks from the team.

    You can read more about the front office chokery here.

Number 36: Sean Avery

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    Sean Avery is a player that can best be described as a nuisance. He runs around stirring up trouble at every turn, is not always willing to fight the guys he encounters, and generally does his best to make a mockery of the sport every night he is on the ice.

    There is something else he is pretty good at too. No, not allegedly shoving police officers.

    The guy simply does not win. I dare say a guy like this will never win in the NHL. Good thing he has that intern thing to fall back on.

Number 35: Ryan Miller

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    Ryan Miller seems like the antithesis of a Sean Avery. Nice guy. Polite. Does not cause drama for his team.

    Yet, there is something they both have in common. Choking.

    Miller is one of the best goalies in hockey, yet when it comes to playoff time he has a 25-22 record. For Sabres fans' sake, hopefully the 2011-12 season will the one where Miller shows his true promise in the postseason.

Number 34: Carey Price

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    Carey Price is another goalie with high potential that just has not been able to make it work in the playoffs. Two seasons ago, he watched as Jaroslav Halak stole his thunder and lead the Canadiens past both the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in giant upsets.

    Last season, after Halak's trade, Price was back in the nets for the Canadiens. In the end it was more of the same.

    Carey Price has an 8-15 career playoff record in the NHL. Sacre bleu!

Number 33: Patrick Stefan Blows It

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    I have been fortunate enough to work this clip in to two separate pieces within a week. You can view the other one here.

    At any rate, all you have to do is watch the clip and you will see some hardcore choking.

Number 32: 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins Lose to the New York Islanders

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    Chalk this one up to whomever you want. The entire team. Tom Barrasso. It does not matter.

    This goal by David Volek knocked out the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champs out of the playoffs. It also happened in a year where this was probably one of the Penguins best teams ever.

    Watching this makes me just as sick now as it did then. That is the definition of a good choke.

Number 31: 1994 San Jose Sharks Shock the Detroit Red Wings

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    The fledgling San Jose Sharks found a way to defeat the mighty Detroit Red Wings in a seven game series. This Sharks team was largely still compiled by their expansion players, so that made it even more shocking as they were a weak number eight seed.

    Most Red Wings fans would likely consider this the worst choke in their franchise history, unless of course they are an old-timer.

Number 30: 1995 New Jersey Devils Sweep the Detroit Red Wings

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    Things did not get any better in Motown in 1995, as the New Jersey Devils trapped the mighty Red Wings out of the Stanley Cup Finals. Luckily for Red Wings fans, it gets better.

Number 29: 1998 Detroit Red Wings Sweep the Washington Capitals

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    Like I said, the Red Wings fortunes have gotten a lot better since then. Here is an example of the choke shoe being on the other foot. The Washington Capitals failed to win a game in the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals.

    They are still waiting for their Cup in DC.

Number 28: Ping Pong Ball?

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    Here is the result of a behind the scenes choke. The Capitals had the Number One Overall pick of this draft because they won the lottery draft.

    Had another twist of fate been in the cards, the team with the mathematically best shot at the pick could have won it. That would have been the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Substitute Alexander Ovechkin for Evgeni Malkin and who know what the current Pittsburgh Penguins would be. All I know is that at the time, when I heard the Caps won the draft lottery, I was crushed and thought it was another omen for a team that seemingly could not catch a break.

Number 27: Chicago Blackhawks

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    From 1961 to 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks did a lot of choking. As an Original Six team, the expectation for greatness is always there.

    Somehow the Hawks managed to not win a Cup in all that time. They also alienated a large portion of their fanbase by shoving them away with crummy television coverage and things of that nature.

    The Stanley Cup win recently seemingly turned that around, but nobody should forget the years of choking that kept this franchise down.

Number 26: Mats Sundin

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    Mats Sundin spent his NHL career with the Quebec Nordiques, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Vancouver Canucks. He is another player that was never able to deliver his teams (mainly the Leafs) to the promised land.

    He put up good playoff numbers, but as is often the case, the leaders bear the brunt of a team's failures. He will go down as one of the best players in NHL history to have never lifted the Stanley Cup.

Number 25: St. Louis Blues

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    The St. Louis Blues have never won a Stanley Cup. Their playoff series record is 23-34. Choke city.

Number 24: Los Angeles Kings

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    A franchise that has included some all-time greats, yet has an 11-23 playoff series record should qualify as chokers. The Kings have only made one appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals in all their years.

    With the addition of talent this offseason, this could become two appearances by 2012. Time will tell, but expectations are high for the team heading in to this season, and rightfully so.

Number 23: Marc-Andre Fleury Sits on the Puck

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    In the 2008 Finals, game six was a fiercely contested battle between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings. At stake was the season. A win by the Red Wings and the Stanley Cup would be awarded on Civic Arena ice for the first time ever.

    Around the 0:50 second mark of the video, a shot gets between MAF's legs and as he tries to sit to freeze it, the bump gives it just enough momentum to nudge over the goal line. This ended up being the game winning goal.

    Marc-Andre Fleury did not lose the Stanley Cup Finals for the team, but this moment smells like choke to me. There have been many times when I replay this moment and wonder what would have been without it.

    Adding to the haunting visions of this was the fact, that I was in the building. My seats were in F29 of the Civic arena so I am basically directly above the goal to the right. From our view, you could see the puck loose and watched helplessly as it took what seemed like an eternity for it to go in to the net.

Number 22: Sidney Crosby 2009 Stanley Cup Finals

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    Penguins fans will likely consider me a traitor for suggesting this, but I firmly believe that without Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins would have lost the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals. Why do I think that, you ask?

    For starters, Sidney Crosby had one goal during this series. Add to that only two assists and Crosby was a non-factor before he was injured in game seven of the series.

    Strangely, Crosby had a much better finals in the series the Penguins lost. Luckily, despite a choke in the 2009 version, the Penguins were able to overcome.

Number 21: Calgary Flames

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    Declaring a team worthy of the label "chokers" is not always a pleasant task. Case in point, the Calgary Flames.

    The Flames are an organization that I have no reason to hold any malice towards. The simple fact is their last Stanley Cup was lifted in 1989.

    Since then, they have also had one of the games best captains in Jarome Iginla. Unfortunately for Flames fans, only one more appearance in the finals has happened and that was before the lockout.

    After the lockout, there were four early exits from the playoffs and the past two season they did not qualify.

Number 20: Buffalo Sabres

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    Much like the last team, I do not include the Buffalo Sabres on the choke list with a smile on my face. They have a strong fanbase, travel well, and know hockey. It just so happens that their team has never been able to get the job done.

    Since the inception of the team, they have made it to two Stanley Cup Finals, coming up short in both. Since 1970, they have missed the playoffs 11 times. You would think that with this type of consistency, a team would get over the hump eventually.

    So far it has not been the case, but a certain new owner has a few billion ways to try to end this streak of futility.

Number 19: Washington Capitals Aginst the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Playoffs

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    Back before the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins rivalry was manufactured by the Alexander Ovechkin against Sidney Crosby hype machine, there was still a rivalry. It was just very one-sided.

    From 1990 until the lockout season, the Caps were 1-6 in playoff series against the Penguins. This included multiple times where the Caps held a two game series lead.

Number 18: Alexander Ovechkin Era Washington Captials

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    The Washington Capitals in the Alexander Ovechkin era would have to be considered chokers because of their tendency to dominate in the regular season, yet flame out early in the playoffs. This is Choking 101.

    In their four playoff seasons with Ovie, the Capitals have not made it farther than the second round. GM George McPhee has revamped the lineup heading in to the 2011-12 season, so perhaps their status on this list will be short-lived.

Number 17: 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Coach Al Arbour brought his 1975 New York Islanders back from a 3-0 series deficit to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins. A great recap of the action can be found at Light House Hockey.

    Unfortunately for the Penguins, the defeat put them in a very exclusive club at the time. In fact, there still are not many teams in any sport that have blown series leads of 3-0. If that is not choking, what is?

Number 16: 1942 Detroit Red Wings

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    The 1942 Detroit Red Wings held a 3-0 series lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs. By intestinal fortitude and some good old fashioned choking, the Leafs were able to win the series and Stanley Cup 4-3.

Number 15: Pittsburgh Penguins (1993-2002)

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    Since I live in Pittsburgh, I feel compelled to include a group of years for my beloved flightless birds. The 1993-2002 seasons witnessed some of the best talent in the NHL complied on a Penguins roster (like Luc Robitallie), yet produced no additional Stanley Cups.

    During this time, the team only made it to two Easter Conference finals. One was lost to the New Jersey Devils. The other saw the team lose a game 7 to the hands of Tom Fitzgerald (he now works for the organization).

    Many in the local media talk of the "country club" atmosphere that permeated the team during these years. Stars like Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr helped introduce an atmosphere where practice was a bad word and the team tried its best to get by on the overwhelming offensive talent that most of these year's rosters had on it.

    Now that the team has won a Stanley Cup again, it does not make me as angry as it once did. Though in a completely unbiased way, there was a lot of choking going on at the Civic Arena during those years.

Number 14: New York Rangers

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    The New York Rangers last claimed the Stanley Cup in 1994. Before that you have to go back to 1940 for their last win. Typically, the Blue Shirts are spending near the top of the league in salary.

    One problem with the Rangers spending is that they have seemingly become similar to the New York Mets, a place where certain free agents go to die. See also, Chris Drury.

    The Rangers will try again with newly signed Brad Richards. With so many strong teams in the Eastern Conference, only time will tell if the Rangers end up on the choke list for another year.

Number 13: Philadelphia Flyers

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    With zero Stanley Wins since 1975, the Philadelphia Flyers unfortunately find themselves in the position of choking a lot over the past 35 years. The franchise has been to six Stanley Cup finals since that last win, but in each case came up short, much to the dismay of their rabid fanbase.

    This past offseason the Flyers took some drastic steps to reshaping their roster in attempt to end the Cupless streak. While it remains to be seen if it makes any impact on the 2011-12 season, the players returned to the Flyers should still have them in a solid position a few years down the road.

Number 12: Barry Melrose

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    Barry Melrose was unable to win a Stanley Cup with Wayne Gretzky in Los Angeles. While "The Great One" did not have the hop he did in Edmonton, he still had plenty left in the tank.

    I think of this as one of the greatest (or worst) coaching chokes in the history of the sport, especially whenever someone refers to Melrose as an "expert".

Number 11: Marian Hossa

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    Marian Hossa has won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks. But during a two year stretch, he was personally one of the biggest chokers in the history of the sport.

    First was when he was traded to the Penguins and the team lost to the Red Wings in the Finals largely  without a grand contribution by him. This did not really dispel the "Maid Marian" playoff chatter from his days with Ottawa.

    A year later, after he snubbed the Penguins by saying Detroit offered him a better chance at winning, he was again on the loser's side as the Red Wings fell in Game Seven.

Number 10: Alexander Ovechkin

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    As a Penguins fan, I try to be as fair as possible when it comes to dealing with Alexander Ovechkin. He is a dynamic talent, and frankly I think his team's failures have a lot less to do with him and a lot more to do with those around him.

    Regardless, as I've mentioned earlier in the slideshow, when you are a team's leader, the burden of choke falls on your shoulders. Whether that is fair or unfair is another debate, but to be the world's greatest player, Ovechkin needs to bring team success to Washington, DC.

    Perhaps the new look Caps will change all of this, but for now, Ovie has to live with the fact the has not lead his team to any real post-season success.

Number Nine: NHL Discipline

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    Concussions were on the rise last season in the NHL and a study conducted midway through the season determined that it was due to "accidental hits". While this may be true in some cases, such as the well-publicized Sidney Crosby and David Steckel hit, there are plenty of avoidable injuries and incidents.

    The league continues to send mixed signals on supplementary discipline. Some hits are long suspensions, some are small. Hits like Steckel's are accidental (I would at least agree there was likely no true malice on his part, though he certainly skated through Crosby), yet other times guys are nearly killed like Max Pacioretty and there still is no suspension despite an obvious awareness of the action.

    Legend Brendan Shanahan will take over Colin Campbell's role as "Dean of Discipline". Perhaps this will make things better, perhaps it will not. One thing is for certain, continued inaction on the part of the NHL in terms of supplementary discipline will continue to choke players careers.

Number Eight: Gary Bettman

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    NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman can certainly be consider one of the biggest chokers in the sport. Not only has he remained mildly committed to the "headshot" issue in the sport, he has undertaken some true blunders.

    For starters he was hellbent on having NHL teams in the southern parts of the United States. This has worked in some spots, and in other it has been a disaster.

    Secondly, he can easily be accused of failing to understand the importance of teams remaining in Canada or returning there. His tone at the Winnipeg Jets return press conference was laughable at best.

    Lastly, he has been stubborn on the issue of TV exposure via ESPN in the US, opting to stick with Versus (to be renamed NBC Sports) on a 10-year exclusive contract.

    Overall, the state of the sport seems strong, but if not for a certain choke artist at league headquarters, perhaps it could be a lot stronger.

Number Seven: New York Islanders as a Franchise

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    In the early 1980s the New York Islanders had some of the best talent and teams that ever graced the sheets of ice the NHL has called home. In recent years the Islanders have rivaled the Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Clippers, and Pittsburgh Pirates as one of the worst run franchises in all of sports.

    Mismanagement counts as choking too. Think back to GM Garth Snow's 15-year contract that Rick DiPietro signed. It is a tribute to the long suffering fans in the area that people still care about this team.

    Recently, a vote on Long Island denied funding for a new arena for the team. This team has been choking for so long that maybe the locals are apathetic. Maybe they are just overtaxed. Either way, the team should hope that they can end up in the Brooklyn Nets arena and not in Kansas City, Quebec City, or some other destination.

Number Six: Toronto Maple Leafs Playoff Push Chokes

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    Despite one of the best fan bases in all of sports, the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to choke every year and not make the playoffs. The last time they made the playoffs was prior to the 2004-05 lockout.

    Their long and proud history has been sullied a bit due to the fact that they have not lifted the Stanley Cup since 1967. Perhaps they can take solace in the fact that the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins have recently snapped long droughts.

    Perhaps, soon will be time for the Leafs to rise again.

Number Five: Cupless Canada

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    No Stanley Cups have been won in the birthplace of hockey since the 1992-93 Montreal Canadiens. Sure for a long time, there was an economic disparity between the Canadian dollar and the US dollar, but in recent years that has evened out and still no Cup.

    Canadian fans have suffered a few losses since 1993, with the Vancouver Canucks (twice), Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, and Calgary Flames each coming up short. It will be one heck of a party up north when one of these teams finally lifts the Cup again.

    Maybe the return of the Winnipeg Jets will be the good luck omen the nation needs.

Number Four: Bobby Clarke as an Executive

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    Bobby Clarke was a legendary NHL player. As a GM and in other front office capacities, he has to be described as a choker.

    The key piece of evidence behind that statement is the fact that he has consistently been with the organization, yet the last Stanley Cup the team won was in 1975.

    Maybe their recent slew of moves will set them up for a Cup win in the next five seasons, but for now Mr. Clarke has to bear the responsibility of the city's dreams for the Broad Street Bullies potential parade.

Number Three: Boston Bruins Blow a 3-0 Series Lead to the Philadelphia Flyers

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    In the 2010 playoffs, the Boston Bruins took a 3-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers. Then they lost that same series 4-3.

    This is the definition of a choke. But to the Bruins credit, they rebounded in the 2011 playoffs and were able to win the Stanley Cup.

    Gee, I wonder if the next slide has anything to do with that...

Number Two: Roberto Luongo

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    After the many ups and downs of the 2011 playoffs, Roberto Luongo would have to be near the top of any current "choke" list. It seemed that he was an emotional yo-yo during the playoffs.

    At times he looked stellar. Other times, he seemed timid and afraid of the puck. There is no doubt that his entire 2011-12 season will be about getting the Vancouver Canucks back to the finals in an attempt for redemption.

    Maybe he will eventually overcome this persona as the current NHL's biggest choker, but until then he is second only to a classic all-time NHL moment.

Number One: Steve Smith

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    Call this a choke, a flub, a gaffe, whatever you will. But when Steve Smith accidentally put the puck in off Grant Fuhr in game seven against the Calgary Flames in the third period, it helped derail another potential Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup win.

    This was certainly not intentional, but the failure to perform a routine maneuver at a crucial moment make this the NHL's all time greatest (or worst) choke in my opinion.

    Let me know what you think the worst moment should have been in the comments.