Monday, December 30, 2019

Weekend rankings: Who were the 5 worst NHL teams of the decade?

Last week, we celebrated the best of the decade by running down my picks for the five top teams of the 2010s. It spurred plenty of debate, some fun discussion, and a few angry fans who were convinced their team should be higher. Good times.

A lot of readers asked why I was being uncharacteristically positive, focusing on the best without also doing an all-decade bottom five. The rest of you, I’m presuming, realized there was one more Monday left in 2019. That Monday is here, and yeah, we’re doing this.

But fair warning: This is going to be even tougher than coming up with the top five. One of the themes we had to wrestle with last week was Cup wins, and how heavily to weigh those in the final order. Did the Hawks automatically get the top spot because they had more championships, or could the Penguins sneak past them due to better overall consistency? Did the Kings have to be in the top three despite their recent misery, or could somebody like the Caps or Bruins pass them?

It made for some tough calls. But having Cups in the mix still helped, because it gave us somewhere to plant a flag. You win a Cup, we all agree that matters. A lot. With a bottom five, we don’t have that to hang our hat on. We can look at who finished dead last, of course, but the difference between 30th or 31st and, say, 27th probably isn’t all that big a deal.

So we’re going to have to focus on the forest for the trees here. I’m going to be looking at overall record, as well as playoff appearances (and success). We’ll give bonus points for those miserable rock bottom years, the kind that sap the will to live out of a fan base.

A few teams are going to be obvious. The Oilers have to be on the list; no team (apart from the expansion Knights) won fewer games, and they only made the playoffs once. And not only did they finish dead last twice (in 2010 and 2011), but they rebuilt from that, drafted Connor McDavid, made it back to respectability, and then fell almost all the way back down to the bottom again. They at least won a round, but otherwise, it was an agonizing decade, which isn’t great for a team that was already four years into a decade of darkness when the 2010s began. The Oilers were probably the first team that came to your mind for top spot.

Or maybe your first thought was the Sabres. They won fewer games than everyone apart from the Oilers, made the playoffs just twice without ever winning a round, and finished dead last three times. Granted, at least one of those last-place seasons seemed to be on purpose. I’m not sure if that should help their case or hurt it.

But yeah, the Sabres and Oilers are on the list. And that offers up a reminder of the paradox of NHL misery because my guess is there are plenty of fans in Buffalo and Edmonton who would look at high picks like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin and whoever else and say that they’re perfectly happy to have had a miserable decade. Sometimes, like it or not, losing pays in this league.

Who else makes the cut? The Panthers had the next fewest wins, didn’t win a playoff round in two tries, and were dead last once. The Coyotes had the fifth-fewest wins, although they did make the playoffs three times and had one run to the conference final. So did the Hurricanes, whose run last spring was their only playoff appearance of the decade; they also had the fourth-fewest regular-season wins. Neither team finished dead last, although the Coyotes sure seemed to want to back in 2015.

A few other teams are in contention but have weaker cases than you might think. The Leafs were a joke for the first six years of the decade and finished dead last in 2015-16, but they did make the playoffs four times (although they went oh-for-four once they got there). The Devils only made three playoff appearances, although one resulted in a trip to the final, so I’m not sure they’re really in the running. The Stars and Jets also made just three postseason appearances. So did the Flames, and they only won six playoff games, which is actually the fewest among Canadian teams, trailing even the Oilers and Leafs. The Blue Jackets, Islanders and Senators all had more lows than highs, although all three put up better records for the decade than I would have thought.

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