Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Which fans have lived both the highest highs and lowest lows?

The playoffs are just around the corner, which means it’s time to remember what it feels like to be a fan. If you root for one of the 24 teams that will be taking the ice, you can expect to experience some crushing lows and (maybe) some thrilling highs. It’s the nature of being a hockey fan, and most of us know both sides of the experience well – some of us more than others.

Today, we’re going to warm up for those feelings by trying to answer a simple question: Which NHL fan base has experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows?

Every fan base has its ups and downs, often in the same shift. But there’s being bummed out about a tough loss, and then there’s the soul-destroying misery that comes with seeing your team become a laughingstock. And, at least according to what I’ve been told, sometimes it works the other way, and you get to watch your team ascend to the very top of the sport, winning a championship or even several.

Some fan bases know both feelings well. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not sure it’s either, but at least it’s not boring. Like the old saying goes, may you live in interesting times.

Here’s how this will work. We’ll go back to the modern era (post-1967) for the Original Six teams, and the life of the team for everyone else. For franchises that have moved, we’ll start the clock on when they arrived in the new city, since if you were a diehard Hartford Whalers fan I’m guessing your low was when the team pulled out of town. Winnipeg gets credit for both version of the Jets, because we are not heathens here.

The fun part about this idea is that every fan base is convinced that their personal highs and lows are more extreme than everyone else’s, meaning everyone is going to be mad at me. Awesome, let’s do this. Let’s figure out which teams have covered the entire spectrum of the fan experience, good and bad, with a ranking that starts with the smallest gap and works up to the largest.

31. Vegas Golden Knights

Easy call here. They skipped the whole “miserable expansion years” thing and went to the final in Year 1. Sure, there was a controversial call that helped cost them a playoff round against the Sharks. But they’ve basically been really good every single year of their existence, and it’s OK to hate their fans for it just a little bit.

30. Minnesota Wild

They’ve made one trip to the conference final, had one pick in the top three in franchise history and have had between 81-106 points in every full season since 2002. Even these last few years when their fans made it sound like they were terrible, you look at the standings and inevitably find them hanging around the wild card race. They’re so middle-of-the-road that their logo should be a highway divider. On the bright side, this is the first time I’ve ever made any kind of ranking of all 31 teams and not had the Wild finish 16th.

29. Columbus Blue Jackets

The early days weren’t great, although they never embarrassed themselves. The last decade or so has seen them bounce from respectable to quite good, although it’s only resulted in one playoff round win. Waiting 20 years for a breakthrough wears on you, for sure, but Columbus fans haven’t been too low and have barely ever been high.

28. Nashville Predators

They were bad but not embarrassing as an expansion team, then embarked on nearly two decades of being pretty good most years, culminating with a trip to the final in 2017 that was followed by a Presidents’ Trophy. Without a Cup or any truly terrible seasons, they can’t rank all that high.

27. Winnipeg Jets

Even giving them credit for both versions of the franchise … man, there’s not a lot here at either extreme. We’re not counting the WHA days, so those titles don’t help. The Original Jets had one legitimately terrible season back in 1980-81 (that resulted in Dale Hawerchuk) and a few others that weren’t very good, but otherwise they were a solid 80ish point team that consistently made the playoffs and then politely went out in the first round. The updated version has been better, including the city’s only trip to a conference final, but still pretty middle-of-the-road. I’ll give Winnipeg fans credit for the highs and lows of watching their team leave and return, but in terms of what happens on the ice, they’ve mostly avoided the extremes.

26. Arizona Coyotes

Speaking of the Jets, it’s been nearly a quarter-century since the original franchise arrived in Arizona, and they’ve only made it out of the first round once while averaging less than one playoff game win per season. They’ve also never been especially awful, except for the one year they tried to be and then got burned by the lottery gods. We’ll give their fans some credit for all the off-ice drama they’ve had to endure, though, because it’s been constant.

25. Florida Panthers

The lows include multiple seasons in which they finished in last place overall, with the added bonus that they traded away those first overall picks. Mix in uncertainty over the franchise’s long-term future and non-stop snark from more seasoned markets, and Panthers fans have that end of the scale covered reasonably well. The other half of the equation is dicier, though, with one surprise trip to the final in 1996 and not so much as a single playoff round win since.

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