Measuring the objective awfulness of an NHL team is a difficult thing. Because of the steady league expansion and the legacies that the Original Six — for those of you playing along at home, that would be the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and New York Rangers — laid down well before the inclusion of more than half of the league as it stands today, measuring things like winning percentage, total number of losses, and the like don’t capture the full depth of what makes one team better than another, or, more specifically, why some teams just aren’t as good as their peers.
So, some baseline criteria. Using data from Hockey Reference, we took a look at the teams in the NHL that have losing records over the lifetime of the franchise. That’s step one and an essential element in determining whether teams are in contention for the worst team ever. Then, we compared their points percentage — essentially, how many times they scored compared to how many times they could have scored — and their overall playoff success. If you’re making it to the postseason or even winning the Stanley Cup, that’s got to factor into the equation.
In other words, science, numbers, and some subjectivity have all been considered. Here, then, are the five worst NHL teams of all time.
5. Carolina Hurricanes
Formerly the New England Whalers and then the Hartford Whalers before undergoing a geographic shift as well as an identity makeover, the Carolina Hurricanes, an NHL team under one moniker or another since 1979, when the WHA merged with the league, have not been very good. While the ‘Canes do have one Stanley Cup to their credit and 13 playoff appearances with varying degrees of success to their name, their lackluster point percentage (0.475) and their overall record of 1,334-1,271 with 263 ties hurts them, too.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning
Consider the fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning, who came into the league nearly two decades after the Carolina Hurricanes, have already scored more than half of the points of the older franchise. So why rank the team so low? Not only are the Lightning the second-worst team in the league when it comes to point percentages, their playoff successes, and even appearances, are scant — although they’re saved (a bit) by a Stanley Cup victory.
3. Florida Panthers
The closest club on this list to go an even .500, the Florida Panthers are generally regarded as an also-ran squad, given the team’s pathological inability to make it into the playoffs. Since joining the NHL in 1993, the Panthers have just four postseason runs to their credit and just a single year at the top of their division. That is not the stuff that dreams are made of — that’s the stuff of nightmares. Their record, by the way, is 655 wins to 706 losses.
2. Winnipeg Jets
Helping to confirm a pet theory that all sports teams with the nickname “Jets” are destined for a lifetime of decrepitude and decay, the second-youngest team on our list — coincidentally, the newer franchise holds the No. 1 spot — has been nothing short of not good for what feels like its entire existence, making the playoffs just once, in 2007, when the Jets were still known as the Atlanta Thrashers.
1. Columbus Blue Jackets
Youch. The Columbus Blue Jackets, welcomed into the NHL at the turn of the century, are the worst team in the league (in our estimation). Managing to barely scrape 450 wins in 15 years as a franchise, the Blue Jackets have the lowest points percentage in the entire NHL at .467. While the Blue Jackets are a young franchise and can look forward to the hope of better years ahead, they’re still a team that’s only finished better than fourth in their division once. Ever.
All data courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com