Table of Contents

    The Stanley Cup was first awarded to the champions of the NHL in 1915, and in the 100-plus years since 21 different franchises have lifted it above their heads. None of the teams in this article have done that, because these are the worst franchises the NHL has to offer.

    Sports are the ultimate equalizer. There is no hiding, there is no running away. You either perform, or you don’t. When a team is bad, especially over the course of years and decades, it’s not a fluke. Piles of Ls, playoff chokes, and a lack of championship contention are all signs of ineptitude, and the teams that find themselves in this article have stuffed their seasons full of them.

    Nobody wants to be here, but some of us have to be. Sports fandom can offer emotional highs that are rare to find elsewhere. It can also crush you, and it usually does. This is for the fans who have been crushed more than most.

    Disclaimer: the Seattle Kraken have not been considered for this contest. The franchise is simply too new. Check back again in a few years, and it’ll have experienced enough success, or lack thereof, to compete.

    All records as of April 19, 2023.

    The NHL’s Worst Franchises: Icy Anguish

    5: Minnesota Wild

    Stanley Cups: 0

    Stanley Cup Finals: 0

    All-time record: 858-646-55-172

    Playoff appearances: 13

    All-time playoff record: 33-58-0-0

    Notable players: Mikko Koivu, Marian Gaborik, Zach Parise

    The Minnesota Wild began their NHL existence in the 2000-01 campaign. They’re currently in the playoffs for the 13th time in franchise history, not bad for a team as young as this one. But what is bad is how the Wild have performed in the postseason.

    Minnesota debuted in the NHL Playoffs in 2003 and made a run, reaching the Western Conference Finals before the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim roadblock. Since then, the Wild have won just two playoff series and have not seriously contended for the Stanley Cup despite continual postseason appearances.

    This franchise has been nicknamed “The Mild” for a reason. Throughout their history, the Wild have positioned themselves perfectly in the middle of the NHL, the absolute worst place to be – not good enough to win the Cup, but not bad enough to draft the players who can get you there. The team lives in purgatory, though 2023 offers another opportunity to crack the playoffs code.

    4. Florida Panthers

    Stanley Cups: 0

    Stanley Cup Finals: 1 (1996)

    All-time record: 989-920-142-122

    Playoff appearances: 9

    All-time playoff record: 25-40-0-0

    Notable players: Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Roberto Luongo

    In their third season of operation, the fourth-seeded Panthers navigated through the entire East to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, winning Games 6 and 7 against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals to stamp their ticket. That was the same season that a funny locker room incident transformed into fans throwing plastic rats onto the ice. The magical playoff run further popularized a tradition that remains today.

    That’s just about all Florida has done since starting in the league in 1993-94. Most of the franchise’s playoff appearances have been in the last few years, and the Panthers finally won their first postseason series since 1996 in last year’s playoffs, defeating the Capitals in six games. Florida was promptly swept in the second round.

    Recent history for this franchise is more redeemable compared to other eras, but most of the Panthers’ existence has been spent in the basement in front of empty seats while opposing fans clamor for the team to move. Even with the on-ice improvements, the outside calls for relocation don’t seem to cease. This is one of the tougher teams to be a fan of in the NHL and one of the worst franchises in the league.

    3: Winnipeg Jets

    Stanley Cups: 0

    Stanley Cup Finals: 0

    All-time record: 809-794-45-167

    Playoff appearances: 7

    All-time playoff record: 17-27-0

    Notable players: Ilya Kovalchuk, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler

    This franchise began as the Atlanta Thrashers, joining the NHL in 1999. In 11 seasons, the Thrashers made the playoffs once and failed to win a single postseason game. The franchise packed up for Winnipeg in 2011, reclaiming the Jets name that had been vacated when the first iteration of NHL hockey in the central Canadian city ditched town for Arizona in 1996.

    The Jets have managed better than the Thrashers. The team is currently in the midst of its sixth playoff appearance and fifth in six seasons, plus it has already won three times as many postseason series as the Thrashers ever did.

    But one run to the Western Conference Finals in 2018 is the best this franchise has produced in more than two decades worth of campaigns. It has otherwise not come close to reaching the ultimate goal. But who knows, maybe 2023 is Winnipeg’s year, and the Jets fans won’t have to see themselves on lists like this anymore?

    2: Columbus Blue Jackets

    Stanley Cups: 0

    Stanley Cup Finals: 0

    All-time record: 740-783-33-175

    Playoff appearances: 6

    All-time playoff record: 15-26-0

    Notable players: Rick Nash, Sergei Bobrovsky, Cam Atkinson

    The Blue Jackets are truly and completely one of the worst franchises in North American pro sports, let alone the NHL.

    Let me tell you from experience. I was born and raised in Columbus. I have been a fan of the team’s entire 22-season existence. There have been only two truly happy times: the 16-game win streak in 2016-17, and sweeping the Lightning from out of nowhere for the franchise’s first playoff series victory in 2019. That’s it. Everything else – from the 0-8 start in 2015-16 to the myriad of dreadful seasons that bore even more dreadful draft picks, to Jeff Carter throwing tantrums and still getting his way – has been varying levels of embarrassing, uninteresting, and downright soul-crushing.

    It took Columbus eight seasons to make the playoffs for the first time, another five to win a playoff game, and five more to advance a round in the postseason. There are baby steps, and then there’s whatever this is. Now four seasons removed from their last playoff showing, the Jackets have fallen deep down into the NHL’s basement, finishing second-to-last in the league’s 2022-23 standings. The team’s 59 points are the second-smallest season total in franchise history, excluding shortened campaigns.

    Take it from me – you don’t want to be a fan of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

    1: Arizona Coyotes

    Stanley Cups: 0

    Stanley Cup Finals: 0

    All-time record: 1,388-1,558-266-186

    Playoff appearances: 20

    All-time playoff record: 45-83-0-0

    Notable players: Shane Doan, Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk

    This franchise began in 1972 as the Winnipeg Jets, competing in the World Hockey Association (WHA). Upon the collapse of the WHA, the Jets made a move over to the NHL in 1979. From then until 1996, this franchise competed in the NHL from the confines of Canada.

    While north of the border, the Jets 1.0 didn’t do much damage. The team never reached the Conference Finals, and it won just two playoff series in those 17 seasons. Financial trouble pushed the team away despite strong fan support.

    Not much on the ice has changed since moving to the Phoenix area. The franchise has made it to the Western Conference Finals at least – once in 2012, bowing out to the eventual-champion Kings, 4-1 – but that’s all. The only other postseason success came in the Qualifying Round of the 2020 NHL Playoffs when the Coyotes outlasted the Predators, 3-1. Most of the team’s time in the desert has been squandered on the outside looking in.

    The on-ice product is only a portion of what has solidified this as the worst franchise in the NHL. In 2009, the team nearly moved after massive losses led to bankruptcy, and the NHL took over team operations for a period of time. Years of uncertainty loomed over the future of the franchise. Relocation plans were abundant, with the NHL seemingly open to the idea at the time. But ultimately, the Yotes remained in the desert and still represent the Grand Canyon State, albeit with two moves among three different locations in Arizona (downtown Phoenix, Glendale, and now Tempe).

    Until something changes on the ice, Coyotes fans will always have the pressure of relocation breathing down their necks. Columbus might be bad, but at least Jackets fans haven’t had to deal with unending off-ice drama – they’re allowed to lose in peace.

    Dishonorable Mentions: Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Nashville Predators

    The original Ottawa Senators were founded in 1883, but that team is not this one. This one began in 1992 and hasn’t won 11 Stanley Cups as the first version did. It hasn’t even come close to that. The modern Senators have had 30 seasons to win a Cup, and they’ve been unable to do so. They have reached the Stanley Cup Finals once, losing to the Ducks in the ultimate series in 2007. Otherwise, Ottawa has played in just three Eastern Conference Finals and skipped the postseason in almost half of its seasons. That makes it one of the worst franchises operating in the current NHL.

    The Sabres have had 52 seasons to get over the hump, and they haven’t been able to, either. Buffalo has played in two Stanley Cup Finals (1975 and 1999) but failed both times. In all, the Sabres have only competed in five Eastern Conference Finals – that works out to an average of not even one per decade. At this point, Buffalo is on one of the most damning runs in all of sports, not participating in the postseason since 2011. That’s tied with the New York Jets for the longest-active playoff drought in the major North American pro leagues (12 seasons).

    Nashville is the youngest of the dishonorable mentions, becoming an NHL expansion franchise in 1998. The Predators have made the playoffs in better than 62 percent of their seasons, which is pretty solid. The problem is, they haven’t done much with those opportunities. In 2017, Nashville made a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, which represents the only time the franchise has played in the Western Conference Finals, let alone the ultimate series. If you exclude that one postseason, the Predators are 4-14 overall in all of their other playoff series and 40-63 in playoff games. The culmination of those putrid playoff performances deserves mention among the worst franchises in the NHL.

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