Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Sharks vs. Blues: Which franchise holds the crown for making its fans miserable?

We may be just a few days away from deciding the most important title in the NHL.

No, not “Stanley Cup champion.” Those come and go. This is something bigger and more enduring. We’re talking about the title of the most miserable franchise in the entire league. Which team has done the most to torture its fan base over the years?

For a long time, there was a fairly easy answer. It was the Washington Capitals, a franchise that had built a reputation for finding new and exciting ways to raise expectations and then brutally crush them. Whether it was blowing 3-1 series leads, or losing quadruple overtime game sevens, or winning Presidents’ Trophies only to lose to a hot goalie or to the Penguins or to a hot goalie on the Penguins, the Capitals were the undisputed kings of hockey misery.

But then last year, it all came crashing down. They actually went out and won a Stanley Cup. It was confusing and even a little frightening. And it left the hockey world wondering: Which team has the best claim to the vacated throne?

The Canucks certainly have a strong case, one bolstered by nearly a half-decade without a title that includes two heart-breaking Game 7 losses in the final. The Sabres would be right there with them, with a Cup-losing goal that shouldn’t have counted highlighting their resume. The Maple Leafs could be in the mix too since their last Cup came before most of today’s fans were alive. Maybe you work in some consideration for fans in places like Winnipeg, Minnesota or Ottawa.

But the two teams that have to be near the top of just about any list are the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks. Those two teams have spent the last few decades doing what miserable teams do: Being pretty good just about every season, convincing their weary fan base that this just might be the year and then having something horrible happen to crush those hopes and dreams.

As a lifelong Maple Leafs fan, I know a thing or two about misery. And I think there’s a strong case to be made that when it comes to taking over the Capitals’ crown, the Sharks and the Blues are the two best candidates we have. But which one should earn the honors? That’s a tough call. As we wait for the two teams to face off in Game Six of the Western Conference final, let’s compare their cases in a head-to-head battle with even bigger stakes.

How long are we talking about?

True misery isn’t a short-term game, but a slow drip that builds over time. It’s not about a moment or a series or even a season. We’re looking for decades here.

The Sharks: San Jose entered the league as an expansion team (sort of) back in 1991, which doesn’t seem like all that long ago to some of us but actually puts the Sharks right around the middle of the current league in terms of longevity in their market. We are all so old.

They were historically awful for their first two years. But when you’re talking about their history of misery, you’re really starting the clock right around 2001, when they crack the 90-point mark for the first time and start heading into the postseason with expectations. That kicks off a long run of regular season success that’s still going to this day, with only two playoff misses in nearly two decades. But of course, no Cup.

The Blues: The Blues came into the league in the 1967 expansion and were the first quasi-success story among the half-dozen new teams. They won the all-expansion West Division in each of its first three years, earning trips to the Cup final each time but never winning. They didn’t have much success in the 1970s but had turned things around by the start of the 1980s.

That’s when the Blues really became the Blues – which is to say, a perfectly respectable regular season team that never seemed to do all that much in the playoffs. From 1979-80 through to the 2005 lockout, the Blues made the playoffs every year. That’s 25 straight seasons, the same as what the Red Wings pulled off in their much-hyped streak. And yet I’m guessing some of you may have never even heard of the Blues streak because it didn’t deliver any Cups or even any final appearances and only two trips out of the second round. The St. Louis Blues: Just kind of there™.

Misery edge: This one’s a pretty easy call as (furiously punches numbers into his calculator) 52 years is more than 28. The Sharks’ case here is that they may have had more seasons with serious expectations; they’ve had nine 100+ point seasons since 2001, compared to eight for the Blues since 1980. But St. Louis still takes this one.

Signature heart-breaking moment

Every truly miserable fan base has a few of those plays that they still can’t watch without wanting to whip the remote through the TV.

The Sharks: This ends up being a tougher call than you might think, for reasons we’ll get to down below. But for sheer hands-over-head disbelief, it’s hard to beat the way they were eliminated by the Canucks in the 2011 conference final.

That’s just the hockey gods toying with you right there.

The Blues: It’s the opening round of the 2000 playoffs and the Blues have just captured their first and only Presidents’ Trophy. They’re heavy favorites over the eighth-seeded Sharks, but the underdogs have stretched the series to a seventh game. And then, with seconds left in the first period in front of 19,000 stunned fans, this happens:

That ends up being the winning goal and the best season in franchise history ends in Round 1.

Misery edge: For creativity, it’s the Sharks for sure. But for actual psyche-scarring misery, the Blues get the nod here.

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1 comment:

  1. Great post, but from a longtime Blues fan, nothing will touch the heartbreak of this moment for me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRoNqiiY6Lg