Only one of 30 NHL teams can win a championship in any given year, but some franchises excel at tormenting their fans. We rank the top 10.
Simple mathematics tells us that each year in the NHL 97 percent of the teams won’t achieve ultimate glory and 73 percent won’t even win a playoff round. So it stands to reason the large majority of franchises will deem their seasons failures more often than not.
But there are a handful of clubs who’ve defied even these stacked odds, perpetually disappointing, typically by teasing, only to fall short. Yet again. They’re the teams that make their supporters experience cruel and unusual torture.
Here are our picks for the 10 worst-suffering fans bases in the NHL.
The Sabres are the bride left at the altar, jilted relentlessly by oh-so-close teams and oh-so-promising ownership. They’ve made the Stanley Cup final twice in their 44-year history, the second setback still stinging 15 years later. Western New Yorkers cling to 1999’s no-goal fiasco like a badge of honor, some forgetting that it was Game 6 of a series in which Dallas had been the better team and held a 3-2 edge. Even if Brett Hull’s controversial goal had been disallowed, there was a decent chance the Stars, who’d outshot the Sabres 199-152 through the six games, would have prevailed later in Game 6 or Game 7 in Texas. No matter. The bitter memory understandably gives Sabres Nation something to remain gleefully indignant about.
Fans of the once-superior franchise have a statue of the greatest player ever outside their rink, and five Stanley Cup banners inside it constantly reminding them how good they used to have it. Decades ago. On the ice, they have three first overall picks with so much promise, yet so little delivery in terms of team success. It’s like getting dates with the hottest girls in school, then never even getting to first base. The Oilers have failed to make the playoffs since their heartbreaking Stanley Cup final loss in 2006 and have only gotten to the post-season seven of 20 times since their glory days. To boot, fair or otherwise, Edmonton is oft cited as a dreaded destination for free agents or trade bait, intensifying the ire of a sensitive fan base.
I remember David Volek. Do you? The shocking 1993 triumph over Pittsburgh, won by Volek in overtime of Game 7, is the last time Isles fans celebrated good times. Come on. Rick DiPietro first overall? Dave Chyzowski second? Zdeno Chara and the pick that became Jason Spezza for Alexei Yashin? Ouch. Maybe Brooklyn will bring brighter days for a franchise that used to expect excellence annually. Things can’t be much dimmer than the past two decades, during which time the club has failed to win a playoff round.
The NHL’s version of Ziggy. Will they ever win? Sure, they have 2007, but the flame out in the final against Anaheim was painful to watch. They fell out famously with Yashin, the only player in franchise history to be a Hart Trophy finalist, then when they had to pick between keeping Chara and Wade Redden, they opted for what was behind Door No. 2. Whoops. The real kick to the groin, however, came from Daniel Alfredsson last summer. He owned the city Ottawa, was its favorite son, would retire a Senator and be crowned king of the capital region. Then came the ultimate face slap. Feeling mistreated, Aflie bolted for a better deal in Detroit, a city that had just declared bankruptcy.
It’s tempting to put the Maple Leafs at the top of the list, but they’ve never climbed high enough, at least in the past four decades, to fall very hard. Besides, their fans seem to revel in eternal mediocrity. They fill the coffers consistently and hold impromptu parades when their club wins playoff games or rounds, which we see about as frequently as Halley’s Comet. If the Leafs ever did win, would its die-hard followers know what to do with themselves? Or would it be Shawshank Redemption-esque, a town full of former prisoners who struggle to adapt to a life of freedom?
The Flames got about as close as you can get to the Stanley Cup without winning it in 2004 when, in the third period of Game 6, Martin Gelinas deflected a shot that appeared in some video clips and photos to cross the line. If allowed, the Flames would have broken a tie game and been minutes away from their second championship, assuming they held the lead. Alas, the play was never reviewed, Tampa Bay got the winner in double overtime and clinched it in Game 7 at home. It’s the only playoff success the Flames have had since their title in 1989, a stretch that has seen the club fail to make the playoffs more times than not. To boot, there isn’t much for Flames fans to get excited about. Despite the futility, they’ve had just two top 10 picks since 2003, hampering their chance of improvement through the draft.
7. San Jose
Just consistently good enough to keep fans filling the Shark Tank, but not great enough to get over the hump, the Sharks are the prototypical “we’ll get ‘em next year” franchise. And they continue to fool most everyone. Prognosticators keep selecting them as their sleeper team, the one brimming with talent and depth, making us believe things will finally break their way this year. They never, ever do. The Sharks have won five rounds the past five seasons, which isn’t bad…if that counted for something other than some extra playoff revenue. Alas, Joe Thornton, 34, is watching time tick on him as he approaches “best player to never win the Cup” territory.
While embers of the honeymoon phase with the current incarnation start to extinguish, there remains a small afterglow for the original Jets. The suffering is in the combined reality: the last time a Winnipeg-based team got by the first round of the playoffs was 1987, when the club ousted Calgary in six games. That was 27 years ago, before 15 players on the current roster were even born. Losing hasn’t been the biggest thing in Manitoba, it’s been the only thing.
When your warmest franchise memory involves a rain of plastic rats, it speaks volumes. That came in 1996, the club’s only Stanley Cup final appearance, and one of just four post-season showings since it entered the NHL in 1993. The Panthers might rank higher on our agony list, but the fans have seemed more apathetic than suffering. Attendance at BB & T Center has hovered around the 80 per cent mark for most of the past decade, unlike the large crowds that teams such as Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg still draw.
These are the fans that 29 other markets love to hate. And they’ve won diddly. Squat. Supporters have witnessed three Stanley Cup final appearances, two in which they were a loveable underdog, the other in which they earned a boorish reputation when their favored team came up short. Then they overturned cars, smashed windows and lit the town on fire. That’s true suffering.
Honorable mentions: Columbus, Minnesota, Phoenix, St. Louis, Washington
(Editor's Note: the Vancouver item originally stated the Canucks have made the Stanley Cup final twice. That error has been corrected).