The Challenge of Finishing Dead Last in the National Hockey League
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The Challenge of Finishing Dead Last in the National Hockey League

Finishing last overall in the National Hockey League might seem just as hard as finishing first. The Edmonton Oilers found a way to accomplish this over the past two seasons and the Ottawa Senators finished in the basement and unprecedented four consecutive times in the 1990's.

The National Hockey League doesn’t have a prize for finishing in last place overall. I would retro the honour back to the NHL expansion season of 1967-68. If there was an award, I would propose it be called the Bert Olmstead Trophy. Why? Bert deserves to have a trophy named after him after enduring most of the 1967-68 season behind the bench of the lowly Oakland Seals. The Seals were the first post-Original 6 last place finishers. Olmstead was relieved of his duties in March of that first season and never coached in the NHL again.

bert olmstead hockey card toronto maple leafs national hockey leagueOlmstead played in the National Hockey League from 1948-49 to 1961-62, appearing with the Chicago Black Hawks, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. In 848 regular season games, he totalled 602 points. Bert led the NHL in assists for two consecutive seasons, 1954-55 and 1955-56 as a member of the Canadiens. Five times, Olmstead was on a Stanley Cup winning team, four times with Montreal and once with Toronto. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985.

No team has finished last more often than the Ottawa Senators since 1967-68. The Sens finished dead last for their first four years in the league, starting in 1992-93. Seven teams are tied with finishing last three times. Interestingly, three of the seven teams (Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, New York Islanders) have also won Stanley Cups over the past 4+ decades. The Minnesota North Stars and California Golden Seals each finished last three times. California was relocated to Cleveland and two years later Cleveland and Minnesota merged. Theoretically, what is now the Dallas Stars franchise has finished last on six occasions.

With expansion in 1967-68, the Original 6 teams had the upper hand, as far as talent went in the NHL. It took until the 1976-77 season before an Original 6 team would finish last. The Detroit Red Wings were that team. Of the Original teams, Detroit, Toronto and Boston have finished last at least once since 1967-68 while the New York Rangers, Chicago and Montreal have avoided this dubious distinction.

Currently, there are nine teams that have not finished last in the NHL since expansion. Of these nine, only Montreal, Chicago and the New York Rangers have been in existence for the whole time period. Five other teams have not finished last in their current locations but the franchise has tanked in a previous location. For example, The Colorado Avalanche have stayed out of the basement but as the Quebec Nordiques, they finished last overall three consecutive years starting in 1988-89.

Seven teams have landed at rock bottom for consecutive seasons, including the reigning ‘champ’, the Edmonton Oilers. Ottawa, as mentioned, won the Olmstead in four consecutive season and also as mentioned, the Nordiques finished last three years in a row. The Washington Capitals, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning and the Oilers have each accomplished the feat in two consecutive years.

The early front-runners to finish in the basement for 2011-12 are the Calgary Flames, New York Islanders, Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets. The NHL is a tight league at the top and is tight at the bottom, as well. The battle for the Bert Olmstead Award should go right down to the wire.

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Comments (2)

Thanks Tom for sharing your valuable expertise

It's the math – someone has to finish last.