Saturday, March 08, 2014

You Call This Suffering?

 OK so I'm looking at the post expansion era and trying to determine the worst teams since 1967 and whether or not the Edmonton Oilers fit into this group (SPOILER: THEY DO).

 I've found that essentially there are two groups of eight and in my opinion there is a real difference between the two. The first four I looked at all had one thing in common, they were terrible but for a very brief period of time. What I am looking for here is true degradation and suffering and there were two things that separated the first group from the elite eight of losing. First of all they were lousy for four or five years only and secondly almost immediately after the nadir came the zenith with Cups won two, three and four years after they bottomed out for Tampa, Pittsburgh and The Nordiques/Avs and a decade as a contender for Ottawa.

 I'm sorry but that doesn't cut it here.

 Our next four teams also fall short and in this case we have one pair that have longevity on their side but in both of those cases they were more mediocre than terrible and they also won Cups shortly after they came back to the light. Our second pair actually are probably worse but, partially due to the era they played in, they really can't be considered amongst our worst of the worst. Their fans suffered but not enough although one would probably suggest that being a fan of the Leafs and Canucks is nothing but suffering ;)

The Mediocre But Not Truly Terrible

 Both of these teams had longer runs of incompetence than our first four but while they were bad they weren't absolute garbage like that group. They actually each made the playoffs once and on top of that at the end of their awful runs they were both rewarded with Cups. They deserve inclusion on our list but they're near the bottom of it.

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Pittsburgh (1983-1990)

Pittsburgh, like a lot of the franchises added in the 1967 and the 70s expansions, was absolutely mediocre for years but it wasn't until the eighties that they truly sucked it. It worked out for them though as they went from being an afterthought to one of the more famous (and successful) NHL franchises.

Length - 8 years

Losing Seasons -7

Bottom 5 of the League -4

Last Overall - 2

Worst Season - 1983/1984 16 wins in 80 games for 38 points 

Playoff Appearances - 1

Playoff Wins - 7

Weirdness - The Penguins were close to folding in 1984 and the feeling was that without Mario Lemieux the club would fold. So they tanked hard and literally with GM Eddie Johnston once berating the coach at the first intermission of a game they were winning. (They went on to lose that game.) The team they screwed? New Jersey lol.

The good - Well they drafted Lemieux, And the year after that they drafted Craig Simpson, who ended up bringing them Paul Coffey. And while they finally made the playoffs in 1989 Lemieux got hurt the following year and they ended up in the bottom five one more time. Nolan, Ricci, Nedved and Primeau all were drafted and so all they ended up with was Tim Duncan, er Jaromir Jagr.

The bad - in 1983 they finished dead last, same as the following year. While 84 netted them Lemieux in 83 they traded the first overall pick and George Ferguson (?) for Minnesota's first pick (15th overall, this got them Bob Errey) and Ron Meighan & Anders Hakansson (????????). Minnesota picked Brian Lawton (oops), both they and the Pens missed out on Steve Yzerman, Pat Lafontaine and Cam Neely.

From 86 to 88 they selected 4th, 5th and 4th overall and came away with Zarley Zalapski, Chris Joseph and Darrin Shannon.

The end game - A year after they drafted Jagr the Pens won the first of two consecutive Cups. Lemieux (and Jagr) are two of the alltime greats and the Pens would be legitimate contenders pretty well until their next rebuild.

Why they don't rank higher - The last overalls and bottom five finishes in a 21 team league are impressive as is the eight year term but a playoff appearance which includes a series win and the immediate Stanley Cups override it. Cut the term back by two years so the playoff appearance isn't included and its still not as horrifying as what's to come.

What we learned - tanking exists, Steve Tambellini learned at the feet of Eddie Johnston and Lou Angotti (the coach in 1984).

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Chicago Blackhawks (1998-2008)

 Under Bill Wirtz and Bob Pulford the great Chicago teams of the sixties had given way to mediocrity on the 70s and 80s. Mike Keenan came along and within a short time the club had finished first in the league in 1991 and made the Cup Finals in 1992. Then Pulford put a knife in Keenan's back and Wirtz refused to pay the core of an excellent club and fans watched Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick, Ed Belfour and Chris Chelios leave through the nineties. All but Roenick would be major parts of Stanley Cup winning clubs. Meanwhile the Hawks ended up going into a death spiral.

Length - 10 seasons

Losing Seasons - 8

Bottom five of the league - 3

Last Overall - 0

Worst Season - 2003/2004 20 wins for 59 points

Playoff Appearances - 1

Playoff Wins - 1

Weirdness - There was GM Mike Smith and coach Alpo Suhonen. There was an endless parade of washed up former stars who Wirtz paid rather than the core of his last good club. There was Theo Fleury's stop as he descended further into madness.

The good - In 2006 they drafted Jonathan Toews and in 2007 they won the lottery and drafted Patrick Kane. Seabrook was picked in 2003 14th overall. On top of that their drafting in later rounds after 2002 brought in Keith, Crawford, Byfuglien, Bolland, Bickell, Brouwer and Hjalmarsson. Not bad.

The bad - In 2004 ESPN named them the worst franchise in all professional sports. Their third lottery pick, number three overall in 2004, was wasted on Cam Barker (not the reason ESPN named them worst franchise, I think) . In the years before that they were always bad but never bad enough to get into the lottery. On top of that their drafting was terrible, at least in the first round from 1998 to 2002 and despite having multiple picks two of those years - Mark Bell, Steve McCarthy, Mikhail Yakubov, Pavel Vorobiev, Tuomo Ruutu, Adam Munro, Anton Babchuk. Also it took an actual death to turn this thing around. Its not a coincidence that when Bill Wirtz passed away (so despised was he that fans booed his eulogy) one of the first things his son Rocky did was get rid of Pulford. Things turned around quickly after that.

The end game - Chicago went from a laughing stock with the longest Stanley Cup drought to Cups in 2010 and 2013 and are basically considered the league's model franchise now

Why they aren't ranked higher - despite a decade of futility they did make the playoffs once and for the most part they were painfully mediocre rather than absolutely abysmal. And there's the whole best franchise in hockey thing they have going on now.

What we learned - Ownership matters. A bad owner can ruin a franchise. There was no worse owner than Bill Wirtz and if he were still alive I would bet they'd still have no Cups since 1961.

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Playoffs Their Salvation

Both of these teams had extraordinary runs of being bad, as a matter of fact in terms of longevity, bottom five finishes and losing seasons they are worse than either the Pens or the Hawks. Its easier to finish bottom five in a league no bigger than 21 teams of course. Its also easy to make the playoffs.

 So then why aren't these teams in the top eight? Well it may have been easier to make the playoffs but there are teams from this era that never did (!!!!!!) and lets face it we're talking suffering here. We're talking disaster. We're talking the loss of hope. If you make the playoffs at the same rate as you do not then you're not bad enough and your fans aren't hurting enough.

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Toronto Maple Leafs (1981-1992)

Sandwiched in between the Sittler years and the Gilmour years were the Wendel years. Wonder why Clark is deified in Toronto? He was about the only good thing going on in Toronto for a decade.

Length - an even dozen years

Losing Seasons - 11 plus one season at exactly .500 with a -21 goal differential

Bottom 5 in the league - 8

Last Overall - 1

Worst Season - 1984/85 20 wins in 80 games, 48 points

Playoff Appearances - 6

Playoff wins - 17

Weirdness - I moved to Toronto in the middle of this streak. What a gong show this team was. Harold Ballard (proving what we learned with Bill Wirtz). John Brophy. Al Iafrate. The Leeman rumours. It goes on and on and on and on.

The good - The Leafs drafted Wendel Clark and Vincent Damphousse in 1985 and 1986. Because they played in the Norris division they made the playoffs six times despite not having a winning record in twelve seasons. Because the first two rounds of the playoffs were in the division and all of the other Norris teams were usually bad too the Leafs actually won two series and came with in a win of advancing to the conference finals in both 1986 and 1987

The bad - The Belleville Bulls' draft, the annual high pick spent on a guy who would become a mediocre NHLer, the goaltending, the D, the forwards. This team was horrible. I witnessed it. One time we were at an old hangout called the Morrissey (or Mo for short) and the Leafs were playing the Blues in the opening round. We agreed to have a drink every time there was a shot on net. After five minutes of play and no drinks we decided jokingly to have a drink every time someone touched the puck and one of the guys (it may have been me) said 'we're here to get hammered, Christ we'll barely even have a drink'

 It was sad but true. Norris Division Hockey.

The End Game - Harold Ballard died, Cliff Fletcher came to town and fleeced the Flames and the Leafs went to the conference final two years in a row in what was the most successful stretch in Leafs' history between 1967 and present day. Its the Leafs so its both depressing and hilarious that this is the case.

Why they don't rank higher - one word - playoffs. You don't belong with the big boys when you make the playoffs that much, even if it was easy to do so. And only one last place finish? This team was awful. There are worse. Trust me.

 What we learned - Again, ownership matters. And drafting really matters. Every team we've looked at had big draft misses but the best the Leafs came up with, Clark and Damphousse, were nice players. Chicago, both versions of the Pens and Quebec all drafted multiple hall of famers or probable hall of famers. Even when it comes to being terrible the Leafs can't do it right. Which is why 1967

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Vancouver Canucks (1971-1991) !!!!!!!!!

Seriously. Over twenty years of junk hockey. What a franchise.

Length - 21 years (I can barely believe it)

Losing seasons- 19

Bottom five in the league - 13

Last overall - 1

Worst Season - 1971/1972 - 20 wins in 78 games for 48 points

Playoff appearances - 11

Playoff wins - 21

Weirdness - Twenty one years of terrible hockey, terrible jerseys, terrible terrible terrible. Franchise icons - Stan Smyl and Harold Snepsts. You can't make this shit up.

The good - despite a lot of losing they made the playoffs a lot. In 1982 they went to the Stanley Cup Finals, perhaps the most unlikely finalist ever. In 1989 they nearly upset the Flames in the first round. Roger Neilson. Orland Kurtenbach. That's all I've got.

The bad - I don't know who the hell they were drafting but it was nobody good (I'm not looking at over two decades of drafting, go to town if you're up for it). After the run in 82 they didn't win another playoff series, being lucky enough to be in the same division as the Oilers and the Flames.

The end game - Pat Quinn came to town and the Canucks had another burst of respectability that included a trip to the Finals in 1994. After a lean stretch in the late nineties the team became the 'Dys' due to their incredible dynasty of the early 21st century.

All kidding aside the last twenty years have been far better than the first twenty. Almost impossible not to be though.

Why they don't rank higher - all of those playoff appearances and if you make the Finals you don't belong in the worst of the worst no matter how fluky it was. Also while they have 13 bottom five finishes seven of those were in a league of eighteen teams or less. Bad? Yes. Absolutely. Worst of the worst? Not close.

What we learned - why Canucks' fans are so neurotic. What a history.




3 comments:

Doogie2K said...

Leeman rumours?

Black Dog said...

Allegedly he was sleeping with Iafrate's wife.

Milton Welch said...

One thing about the Pens poor drafting you mention from 86-88. The Pens were willing to cut bait on some of their high picks before the rest of the league found out about them, so they turned Chris Joseph into Paul Coffey, Darrin Shannon into Tom Barrasso and Zarley Zalapski into Ron Francis. They were lucky in getting Mario Lemieux, but they also made some cagey trades and proved sometimes it's better to let the young guys go rather than hold onto them until they prove they were busts (or, in other words, let them go bust for another team).