Worst expansion seasons in NHL history

The Seattle Kraken are the NHL's most recent expansion franchise, but where do they rank among the worst expansion teams in league history? (Getty Images)
The Seattle Kraken are the NHL's newest franchise, but where do they rank among the worst expansion teams in league history? (Getty Images)

Written by Staff

Every so often, the NHL expands its reach by introducing newly constructed teams to cities where no team exists. Sometimes, magic happens, and an expansion team like the Vegas Golden Knights dominates the competition right out of the gate. But most of the time, teams don’t gel right away, and the whole expansion seems like a huge mistake. Unlike Vegas’ charmed first season, these teams took some time to get going.

1. The Seattle Kraken (2021-22)

People were excited when the NHL announced a new team for Seattle in 2018. The buzz surrounding the 2020 expansion draft gave the impression it could be a competitive team. After locking in established players, including Phillip Grubauer, Mark Giordano and Jordan Eberle, fans of the new club were happy about their chances.

But the Kraken’s first season was more of a dud than anyone expected. The team finished 27-49-6, placing eighth in the Pacific Division and failing to make the playoffs. Seattle’s defence was solid, but its offence and goaltending was a mess.

The Kraken is off to a better start this season. And it doesn't seem like the sting of inaugural season jitters drove fans away from this base.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning (1992-1993)

After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups and making the finals for the third year, it’s easy to forget the Tampa Bay Lightning started out in the basement. They didn’t fare as badly as others on this list, but their first season was a dud. First taking the ice in the 1992-93 season, the Lightning finished 23-54-7 in their opening year.

That season started with a bang, as the Lightning buried the Chicago Blackhawks 7-3. But then the team lost steam and finished in the middle of their division. Tampa does have the distinction of being the first team in which a woman played in the NHL when goaltender Manon Rheaume played one period of an exhibition game.

3. Ottawa Senators (1992-1993)

The early 1990s also saw the Ottawa Senators return to the city after about 60 years. Fans were treated to a first-game win, only to see the team lose 20 of their next 21 games. The Senators’ inaugural team was built with journeymen like Sylvain Turgeon, Brad Shaw and Mark Lamb.

Putting together a winning season would have been a tall order, but people weren’t expecting the newly minted Senators to hold records for the longest home and road losing streaks at 11 and 38, respectively. Eventually, the team began to click, and the Senators enjoyed over a decade of playoff runs starting in 1997.

4. San Jose Sharks (1991-1992)

Joining the NHL a year before the Sens and the Lightning, the San Jose Sharks also had a rough go during their inaugural season. Although San Jose’s first draft pick, Pat Falloon, was the top producer with 59 points in 79 games, the team didn’t fare as hoped, losing 13 consecutive games at one point. They also struggled to put together back-to-back wins.

At the end of the season, the inaugural Sharks team had a record of 17-58-5, finishing sixth in the Smythe Division and failing to make the playoffs. San Jose’s woes weren’t over, as the team also finished its second season with the worst record in the NHL.

Things finally took a positive turn in the Sharks’ third season when they made the playoffs for the first time, upsetting the Red Wings in the first round.

5. Washington Capitals (1974-1975)

It’s been nearly half a century since the Washington Capitals made their debut, but the team’s first season is still widely remembered as the worst in NHL history for an expansion team. The Capitals earned only 21 points that season, finishing with a record of 8-67-5. During the whole season, the team only had one road win.

The Capitals were routinely hammered by opponents, often losing games by more than 10 goals. At the end of the season, their goal differential was minus-265, setting an NHL record. The 1974-75 Capitals also set a record for the longest losing streak at 17 games.

But the players kept their sense of humour, celebrating their lone road win by writing their names on a trash can and passing it around like it was the Stanley Cup. In the decades that followed, the Capitals improved, and they now enjoy their position as perennial playoff contenders.

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