November 17, 2009
(No, the first decade of the 21st century doesn't technically end until 2011. Save your bellyaching. But we've had nine NHL seasons and one stolen from us since 1999-2000, and Yahoo! Sports has decided it's time to rank the best and worst of the last "decade." Enjoy, and snark freely in the comments.)
As we continue our rankings of the best and worst in the last decade, it's time to look back at the worst teams that the 2000s have produced.
Sixteen teams make the National Hockey League playoffs every spring. Fourteen start their summer vacation early. And of those 14, a handful place their hopes in a ping-pong ball, thinking that if it lands just right, their future fortunes may change. It's an annual rite and for some franchises, the pain of losing and putting a bad hockey product on the ice takes much longer than anticipated.
Some teams have excuses for poor seasons: injuries, declining production in players, and bad luck all play a part in making a bad hockey team.
While there have been a lot of good hockey teams this decade, there have also been a lot of bad ones.
With that, the 10 worst teams of the past decade are ...
10. 2000-01 Tampa Bay Lightning 24-47-6-5 (59 points, 29th in the NHL)
Three years before they won the Stanley Cup, the Tampa core of Vincent Lecavalier(notes), Brad Richards(notes) and Martin St. Louis(notes) began their first season together. It was a third-straight season of progress and the beginnings of a championship team. Midway through the season, head coach Steve Ludzik was fired and John Tortorella was brought in along with a new attitude to the team. Torts didn't bring about immediate change in the standings, but the seeds were planted, even after a stretch midseason where the Lightning managed just three wins in 21 games.
9. 2003-04 Chicago Blackhawks 20-43-11-8 (59 points, tied for 29th in NHL)
With the recent success of the Blackhawks, it seems so long since they were irrelevant and buried under the tight-fist of former owner Bill Wirtz. Highly touted rookie Tuomo Ruutu(notes) made his debut in Chicago in '03 and brought hope that the youth movement on GM Mike Smith's(notes) watch would eventually pay dividends. Ruutu had a successful rookie campaign with 44 points, but the lack of a consistent presence in net saw six goaltenders between the pipes during the season.
8. 2002-03 Carolina Hurricanes 22-43-11-6 (61 points, 30th in the NHL)
Things should have been rosy for the ‘Canes in coming off a Stanley Cup appearance and losing only Martin Gelinas(notes) as a regular from the lineup in the off-season. However, Arturs Irbe took a step back, winning just seven games after a 20-win season in '02 and there was a regular rotation of Carolina players coming in and out of the trainers' room. At one point, the Hurricanes went 1-12-0-3 in a 16 game stretch and lost both Rod Brind'Amour(notes) and Erik Cole(notes) to injury, derailing any hopes of a turnaround.
7. 2003-04 Washington Capitals 23-46-10-3 (59 points, tied for 29th in the NHL)
Deciding to go with youth was the goal for the Caps in '03-04. Jaromir Jagr(notes), Sergei Gonchar(notes), Robert Lang(notes) and Peter Bondra(notes) were some of the big money makers on the roster who were dealt away in order to let the kids play. At the end of the rainbow would eventually be Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green(notes) as two of their three first-round picks in the 2004 NHL Draft. In goal, after three 30-win seasons, Olaf Kolzig(notes) won just 19 games as the talent that was once in front of him slowly disappeared.
6. 2005-06 St. Louis Blues 21-46-15 (57 points, 30th in NHL)
The year after the lockout was a funny one. Teams were dealing the effects of the salary cap floor and ceiling for the first team, and trying to mold their rosters around how the "new" NHL was going to be played. The new style of hockey that was brought on by the lockout was meant for younger, faster players, but the '05-06 Blues went veteran heavy. Eight of their ten leading scorers were over the age of 30, including 38-year old Scott Young and 35-year old Doug Weight(notes) who would be dealt later in the season to the eventually Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes.
St. Louis' 25-year long playoff streak came to an end as a new era was ushered in as Dave Checketts bought the team from the Laurie family. Erik Johnson(notes) was the reward for the Blues' third-worst season in franchise history.
5. 2001-02 Columbus Blue Jackets 22-47-8-5 (57 points, 29th in the NHL)
Progress was hoped for in Columbus' second season in the NHL, but their poor showing was rewarded with selecting Rick Nash(notes) No. 1 overall the following June, so it wasn't all bad in the end. Ron Tugnutt and Marc Denis(notes) kept the net warm while '01 first-round pick Pascal Leclaire(notes) finished out his junior career. Led by younger versions of Ray Whitney(notes) and Mike Sillinger(notes) (only on his eighth team back then), the Blue Jackets started out of the gate very slow, winning just one game in their opening 13.
4. 2006-07 Philadelphia Flyers 22-48-12 (56 points, 30th in the NHL)
The summer of 2006 saw plenty of turnover for the Flyers, as they lost Keith Primeau, Kim Johnsson(notes), Michal Handzus(notes) and Eric Desjardins. New team captain Peter Forsberg(notes) was limited by that pesky foot and played just 40 games. Eight games into the season saw turnover in the management sector as GM Bobby Clarke resigned and head coach Ken Hitchcock was fired. The current head coach/GM battery of John Stevens and Paul Holmgren took over, but it wasn't enough to save the Flyers from their worst season in franchise history where they declined 45 points from the 2005-06 season.
3. 2003-04 Pittsburgh Penguins 23-47-8-4 (58 points, 30th in NHL)
Three key stats to point out: Rico Fata(notes) minus-46. Dick Tarnstrom(notes) minus-37. Mario Lemieux coming off a 91-point season: 10 games played. This Penguins team was dubbed the "X-Generation", but the Ramzi Abids, Matt Bradleys and Fatas would not see a long future in Pittsburgh and weren't the seeds that helped grow the franchise into a Stanley Cup winner. Before there was success, there were a bevy of bumps.
Most memorable about the '03-04 season, besides 2003 No. 1 overall pick Marc-Andre Fleury's(notes) NHL debut, was the 18-game losing streak the Penguins went on from Jan. 13 to Feb. 25. Half of those games saw Pittsburgh allow five goals or more.
Yeah, the defense was pretty bad.
2. 2000-01 New York Islanders 21-51-7-3 (52 points, 30th in the NHL)
A busy summer in 2000 still haunts the Islanders to this day. First, the previous spring saw new owners Sanjay Kumar and Charles Wang of Computer Associates fame take over the team. Next, at the NHL Entry Draft, with the Islanders brass in love with Rick DiPietro(notes), general manager Mike Milbury decided to trade Roberto Luongo(notes) to the Florida Panthers and thus Mad Mike's legend grew. This season would also be young Zdeno Chara's(notes) last in an Islanders uniform, as he was shipped to Ottawa in a deal for Alexei Yashin(notes) at the 2001 Draft.
Islander fans saw eight losing streaks of three games or more, including separate eight and seven game streaks. They finished out of the playoffs for the seventh straight season and had twelve players finish in double digits as a minus.
1. 2001-02 Atlanta Thrashers 19-47-11-5 (54 points, 30th in the NHL)
There was a lot of promise on this Thrashers squad. Dany Heatley(notes) and Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) led the team in scoring as rookies, but the supporting cast couldn't find the back of the net often when the duo weren't on the ice. Like with all bad teams, goaltending was the key issue. Milan Hnilicka(notes) was "the man," but only could win 13 games in 60 appearances. He'd played in just 23 more games in the NHL. Of the 44 skaters who wore a Thrashers uniform, only two, Yuri Butsayev and Ben Simon(notes), recorded plus ratings. The power play was especially brutal finishing 29th in the NHL with a 12 percent success rate.
Falling behind was also a knock against Atlanta who was 1-26-5-1 when trailing after the first period and 0-38-5-2 when having to come from behind after two periods.
Heatley and Kovalchuk combined for 55 of the Thrashers' 187 goals. If either of those two were having an off night, might as well close the curtain.