The 5 worst inaugural seasons in NHL history

Profile Picture: Robert Criscola

February 20th, 2022

The NHL welcomed it’s 32nd team to the league this season in the Seattle Kraken, and like most expansion teams, they’ve struggled on the ice. The Kraken (16-31-4) are a distant last in the Pacific Division with only 36 points to their credit through 51 games.

But barring a collapse for the history books, Seattle will be spared a place of infamy in the record books. Here are the five worst inaugural seasons (limited to the expansion era, which began in 1967) in NHL history.

T-4. 1999-2000 Atlanta Thrashers (14-57-7-4), 39 pts

The rather unremarkable 12-year run of the Atlanta Thrashers began ignominiously with a 39-point season.

The Philips Arena faithful endured multiple double-digit losing streaks, as the club won just three of its final 40 games on the campaign. Atlanta scored the fewest goals of the 28 teams in the NHL (170) while allowing the most (313).

By the time the Thrashers were sold in 2011 to become the second incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets, none of the players they drafted in 1999 remained in the league, including No. 1 overall pick Patrik Stefan.

T-4. 1991-92 San Jose Sharks (17-58-5), 39 pts

Before they became a perennial playoff contender from the late 90s into the 2000s, the San Jose Sharks were a troubled expansion franchise.

The Sharks stumbled out of the gate in 1991, losing 15 of their first 16 games. Despite having captain and future Hall of Famer Doug Wilson on the blueline, San Jose allowed 359 goals, highlighted by three losses in which the opposition scored 10 or more times.  

When the dust settled, the Sharks ended up with 39 points, 35 points behind the Calgary Flames for next-to-last in the Pacific Division.

3. 1972-73 New York Islanders (12-60-6), 30 pts

Expansion teams are expected to struggle in their inaugural seasons, but perhaps not quite like the Islanders, a franchise that was hastily awarded by the NHL in order to avoid the upstart WHA from invading New York.

General manager Bill Torrey was committed from the start to building through the draft, rather than throwing money at over-the-hill veterans to put fans in the seats. This strategy would pay off with four straight Stanley Cups from 1979-80 to 1982-83, but the young roster would struggle mightily at the start.

Goaltender Billy Smith and forward Bob Nystrom – linchpins of those Isles’ title-winning teams – would compete for a club that managed only one win between Nov. 22, 1972 and Jan. 16, 1973 (29 games).

2. 1992-93 Ottawa Senators (10-70-4), 24 pts

The Ottawa Senators are currently mired in a four-season run without a playoff appearance, much like their first four years in the NHL. Their inaugural campaign was particularly dreadful, as the team barely managed to win 10 games out of 84.

Ottawa shocked the Montreal Canadiens with a win in their home opener, but proceeded to lose 21 of their next 22 games, earning just one point for a tie in that stretch. The Senators went a bafflingly bad 1-40 on the road en route to the second-worst inaugural season the NHL has ever seen.

1. 1974-75 Washington Capitals (8-67-5), 21 pts

The Washington Capitals own the dubious distinction of worst inaugural team in NHL history, as they recorded a miserable .131 win percentage in 1974-75.

The Caps won just one of their 40 road games that year, and allowed 446 goals over 80 games. That latter mark is not just the worst by any expansion team, but the worst of all-time.

It would be seven more seasons of futility before Washington was able to make the playoffs.