Not everyone can make the postseason. Every season sees teams end their season with their final regular season game. Some teams miss it more than others and for some long periods of time. The New Jersey Devils, for example, have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons now. Some of the People Who Matter claim that this is necessary. The result of a rebuild; a price to pay now for setting up a team for future prizes. Is that really true though? And how does this current drought for the Devils compare with other NHL teams? What can we learn from other droughts in NHL history? To answer these questions and more, let us take a deeper dive into playoff droughts among the NHL franchise.
This is a multi-part series covering the active franchises in the NHL and their significant runs of futility except for the recent teams in Las Vegas and Seattle. In Part 1, I covered the scope of this project, acknowledgments about the differences in NHL league structures and eras, and the first set of teams: the New Jersey Devils, Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, and Buffalo. Please review Part 1 if you have any questions with how I am approaching this issue. In Part 2, I went over notable droughts of Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Colorado, and Columbus. In this part, I will cover a notable drought from the following five teams: the Dallas Stars, the Detroit Red Wings, the Edmonton Oilers, the Florida Panthers, and the Los Angeles Kings. First, a chart with the Devils’ own history of playoff droughts included for reference purposes (it is a Devils site, after all).
The Playoff Drought Chart - Part 3
The Dallas Stars
Also Known As: Minnesota North Stars
Playoff Misses and Proportion: 20 misses out of 54 total seasons; 37.0% missed.
Current Situation: After missing out in 2021 by just a few points, the Stars returned to the playoffs last season with a record of 46-30-6 for 98 points. While they entered through the first wild card spot, it took seven games and overtime in Game 7 for Calgary to eliminate the Stars. It remains to be seen whether they’re moving on up, moving on down, or hanging around the same place next season.
A Summary of a Notable Drought: Despite being in the NHL since 1967 as Minnesota, the Stars have only one drought that went beyond three seasons. That three season drought was back in the mid-1970s too, so Stars fans had plenty of post-season hockey to watch in both Minnesota and Dallas. However, they took a trip to the desert of no-playoffs for five straight seasons from 2008-09 to 2013.
The odd thing about this drought is that, like Carolina’s longest drought, Dallas was not a bad team. In fact, unlike Carolina, they were a pretty good team! They did not miss the playoffs by much in most of those five seasons. They also did not crash and burn super-hard into this drought either, although they did get worse from where they started.
In 2007-08, the Stars went 45-30-7 to finish third in the Pacific Division and qualify for the playoffs. The team was bossed by Dave Tippett behind the bench. Mike Ribeiro, Brendan Morrow and Niklas Hagman were in their late 20s in leading the offense. An offense that added Brad Richards during the season. Vets like Mike Modano, Sergei Zubov, Jere Lehtinen, and Marty Turco were still significant contributors to the team. Young players like Matt Niskanen, Loui Eriksson, and Trevor Daley were making their way through to the team or established themselves. The team did decline from two straight 50 win seasons, but they got into the playoffs as the fifth seed in the West. Also unlike those two straight 50 straight win seasons, Dallas went on a run. They took down their divisional opponents Anaheim and San Jose in six games each. They fell to the still-dominant Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals. Still, Dallas was in a good place.
This was a surprise given the front office issues that season. Doug Armstrong, who was Dallas’ GM since 2002, was fired after a poor start to the season and replaced by two co-GMs in Brett Hull and Les Jackson. Yes, the GM was fired not the coach for the poor start to the season. Yes, the replacement was two people sharing the role. Hull never managed before and Jackson was an assistant GM for Armstrong. It was a weird move to make instead of just giving Jackson the position and letting Hull have something more ceremonial. Due to the Richards trade, the team rebounding to a 45-win season, and the team’s playoff run, it worked well enough for ownership to give both the job permanently. Yes, Dallas had co-general managers.
Unfortunately, the good times would not last as Dallas would embark on what would be a five-season drought. More frustratingly, the team was not far from qualifying in each of those seasons. So what went wrong?
In 2008-09, the team’s offense sagged a bit while the team just allowed more goals. While the season saw James Neal make his NHL debut with 24 goals, Richards put up 16 and 48 points in 56 games, and Eriksson blew up with 36 goals, and European free agent signing Fabian Brunnstrom put up 17 goals and 29 points in his first NHL season, the support from others just dwindled a bit. Hagman hit free agency and signed with Toronto. Morrow missed a big chunk of the season due to injury, which also hurt. Sean Avery was infamously signed to a four season contract worth $15.5 million - and was waived in March. Mark Parrish was brought in part to help support the scoring but only added 8 goals and 13 points in 44 games. The real downturn was in the net. Turco played in 74 games and posted up an 89.8% save percentage. Oof. The backups were all worse even with their limited usage. Further oof. The result: A worse team. The Stars went from 45 wins and 97 points to 36 wins and 83 points. While they still finished third in the Pacific, they missed the playoffs by nine points. Ownership was not happy and so they sought to make changes for next season.
Out were the co-GMs of Jackson and Hull. Between the downturn and that infamous Avery contract, it was determined to bring in a different former Star to the position: Joe Nieuwendyk. Nieuwendyk did win a Cup in Calgary, Dallas, and New Jersey. He was also inexperienced in the front office as he was a “special assistant” to the GM in Florida for 2006-07 and 2007-08 as well as in Toronto for 2008-09. He was also an assistant GM for Canada’s team at the 2009 World championships. Dallas ownership bet on Nieuwendyk to be the full time GM. Among his first moves: a new head coach. The team did decline from that peak in 2005-06 under Tippett, WCF run in 2008 notwithstanding. Tippett was fired and replaced by Marc Crawford, last seen with Los Angeles in 2007-08. Crawford was rested, ready, and possibly tanned as he took over Dallas.
What followed was a sort-of comeback season. Turco was much better. He played in 53 games and put up a total save percentage of 91.3%. Not amazing, but much better than 89.8%. Nieuwendyk traded a late pick for Alex Auld to be the backup. After he faltered (21 games, 89.4%) and was claimed on waivers, Nieuwendyk traded Ivan Vishnevsky and a late pick for Kari Lehtonen. Lehtonen was much better with a 91.1% in 12 appearances. The Stars got more games and production from Morrow, who put up 20 goals and 46 points. They got even more from Richards in a full season with a dazzling 91 points in 80 games to lead the team in scoring. While he only scored 29 goals, Eriksson put up 71 points. Neal put up 27 goals and 55 points. Jamie Benn made the team and put up 22 goals and 41 points. These were the positives.
The negatives came from the other vets, both long-time and not. Zubov signed with SKA St. Petersburg so he was out. The blueline was led by a 32-year old Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley, and a 36-year old Karlis Skrastins. Modano and Lehtinen were able to play fewer minutes, fewer games, and put up fewer points. The team as a whole was being out-attempted regularly. Despite an improved Turco, the team gave up plenty of goals and more than they could score themselves.
All being said, the Stars finished with 37 wins and 88 points - an improvement over last season. They finished fifth in what was a strong Pacific Division. Dallas missed the playoffs by just seven points. Maybe another season would do the Stars well?
They would need to do so with another big change from the 2000s. Legendary forward Mike Modano signed with Detroit in 2010. Goaltender of the 2000s for Dallas, Marty Turco, signed with Chicago too. Legenedary defensive forward, Jere Lehtinen retired. Nieuwendyk need to do some more building than expected. After some extensions to Lehtonen, Neal, Nicklas Grossman, and Niskanen, Nieuwendyk spent carefully on Andrew Raycroft, Brad Lukowich, and Adam Burish. Would this work for a team expecting to get back to the playoffs?
Almost! The goaltending tandem of Lehtonen and Raycroft worked pretty well. Lehtonen played in 69 games and put up a total save percentage of 91.4%. Raycroft put up 91% in 19 games. The team was better about bleeding shots against and so they were around league median when it came to goals against. The offense was also around league median. Richards had a very good 77-point season, Eriksson repeated a 70-point campaign with 73, and Ribeiro re-joined that club with 71 points. Morrow put up 33 goals and 56 assists, Jamie Benn produced more than he did last seaosn, and James Neal put up 21 goals. To help add some veteran leadership, Nieuwendyk noticed how Jamie Langenbrunner could not find “it” in the New Jersey locker room and sent a conditional third round pick to bring back the former Star. (Note: The third round pick was used on Blake Coleman.) There was reason to be positive even if Burish did not turn out to be a good signing.
However, the team was more or less in the mix in 2010-11 and not running away with a playoff spot. A bad stretch in February led to Nieuwendyk dealing away Neal and Niskanen to Pittsburgh for defenseman Alex Goligoski. I am not sure if that was a good deal then. Or even now. The slide did end and the team was still battling for position. Goligoski almost immediately took over as the team’s top defender in terms of minutes. Unfortunately, the 2010-11 Stars were good but not good enough. They lost their final game of the season to be officially eliminated. They finished 42-29-11 for 95 points, setting a then NHL record for most points by a team that did not qualify for the playoffs. They missed out by just two points. Close, but not enough. And not enough for Crawford to stay on as coach. Nieuwendyk gave him the axe right after the season.
Nieuwendyk looked for within the organization for Crawford’s replacement. He promoted the head coach of the AHL Texas Stars: Glen Gulutzan. The message was clear: get back to the playoffs. Unfortunately for Dallas, that effort would take a hit as Brad Richards signed a massive nine-season contract with New York that Summer. Some money was spent for Dallas: Michael Ryder, Radek Dvorak, Vernon Fiddler, and Sheldon Souray all came in on fairly reasonable deals. They even gave Modano a one day contract to retire as a Star. But would it be enough to get the Stars into the postseason once again?
Once again: Almost! Under Gulutzan, the team did not score as many goals but allowed fewer for a not so massive (but still negative) goal differential. Lehtonen was excellent with a 92.2% save percentage in 59 games. Richard Bachman took over as the #2 goalie over Raycroft with his 91% in 18 games over Raycroft’s 89.8% in 10 games. While Richards was gone, the 31-year old Ryder helped quite a bit with 35 goals and 62 points in his first season as a Star. Eriksson and Ribeiro still led the way in production, now joined by Jamie Benn. The rest of the forwards were not especially noticeable from a production standpoint. Goligoski was the full time top defenseman and Souray averaged over 20 minutes per game, although Robidas and Daley were still playing quite a bit. The power play was especially bad, but even despite drawbacks, Gulutzan coached the Stars to a winning record. Unfortunately, that record was 42-35-5 for 89 points - and the Stars missed the playoffs by six points.
To say that this was frustrating was an understatement. This team was not bad. Their point totals of 83, 88, 95, and then 89 points spoke to a squad that was just short somewhere. Was it in the run of play? The power play? A lack of depth scoring? All of that to some degree and more? Either way, Nieuwendyk was surely feeling the pressure. Combined with a lockout shortened 2012-13 season, the GM went to work. Souray, Raycroft, Dvorak, and Burish signed elsewhere. Fine. In came veteran wizard Ray Whitney, Aaron Rome, and the most famous Czech player ever: Jaromir Jagr. Fresh off a season with Philly and a half-season in Kladno, the Jagr tour came to Dallas. Nieuwendyk was wheeling and dealing before the shortened season began. Riberio was sent to Washington for Cody Eakin and a pick at the 2012 NHL Draft. Steve Ott and Adam Pardy went to Buffalo for Derek Roy in July. Mark Fistric was sent to Edmonton for a pick. Lehtonen and Jamie Benn were given huge contract extensions. This time, it has to go right. Right?
No. It did not. While the power play was better, plenty went wrong. The team did not get off to a hot start. Jagr ended up being the team’s leading goal scorer with 14 with only Benn, Eriksson, and Whitney breaking the 10-goal mark. Eakin only put up 7 goals and 24 points; Roy put up 4 and 22 points; Ryder fell to 6 goals and 14 points in 19 games; and Morrow fell to 6 goals and 11 points. Lehtonen put up a fine 91.6% save percentage in 36 games, but that was still a downgrade from the past season. Backups Bachman and Cristopher Nilstorp were not good, so goaltending was not as strong. Nieuwendyk ended up dismantling this squad in part. By the end of February, Ryder and a pick was sent to Montreal for Erik Cole. In late March, Brendan Morrow and a pick was sent to Pittsburgh for the lesser Joe Morrow and a later pick. By the April 2 trade deadline, Roy was sent to Vancouver for Kevin Connauton and Jagr was traded to Boston for Lane MacDermid, Cody Payne, and a conditional second round pick. The team limped to 22-22-4 for 48 points. They missed the playoffs by seven points. Yet again, the team was not bad but not good enough. That was no longer good enough for head coach Glen Gulutzan and GM Joe Nieuwendyk. Another restart was needed in Dallas.
And so ownership decided on Jim Nill. Nill was a member of the Detroit organization since 1994. He got his shot at a full-time GM job in Dallas. Nill flipped a pick for Sergei Gonchar. He hired Lindy Ruff, fresh off being let go from Buffalo earlier in 2013. Nill saw that he had Jamie Benn and Kari Lehtonen to build around. But he needed a bold move to bring in a top-end scorer like Brad Richards did. How about Tyler Seguin, whom Boston management was not fully pleased with? Nill sent Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, and Joe Morrow to Boston for Seguin, Rich Peverley, and Ryan Button. How about another veteran leader? Larsen and a seventh rounder was sent to Edmonton to take back Shawn Horcoff. Jamie Benn was named captain, Nill signed Dan Ellis to backup Lehtonen and gave an ELC to Valeri Nichushkin. Would this be enough?
Yes, although it had its bumps in the road. A poor October gave way to a good November and December - which was followed by poorer January. February and March went well, although two more important moves were made by Nill by the deadline. Veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas was sent to Anaheim for a conditional fourth rounder; and Ellis - who was not so hot - was flipped to Florida for Tim Thomas - who was slightly better as a #2. Lehtonen was still the main man in the net and his 91.9% total save percentage in 65 appearances did well. Seguin was an instant hit in Dallas scored 37 goals and 84 points in his first season. Benn put up 34 and 79 points as the two formed a combination. Goligoski still ran the blueline. The likes of Cody Eakin, Alex Chiasson, Nichushkin, Ryan Garbutt, Cole, and Antoine Roussel all put up at least 10 goals. It was a team effort that left Dallas needing to beat St. Louis in their final game of the season to qualify for the playoffs. They won 3-0. Despite finishing with a worse record than the 2010-11 Stars (95 points), the 91-point Stars took the final playoff spot in the Western Conference in 2013-14. Their reward was a six-game series loss to Anaheim in the first round. But it was a return to form. Sort of: they missed the playoffs in 2014-15, but returned in 2015-16. The old ways of short droughts returned.
Any Other Thoughts: It is remarkable to me how much changed for a team that honestly did not miss the postseason by all that much. A streak here, a better run of form there, and they would have qualified in some of these seasons. Even the Nill-managed, Ruff-coached team that got them out of the drought was not appreciably better than Crawford’s Stars or Gulutzan’s Stars. Some of the old favorites did have to go eventally (Modano, Lehtenin). But players like Morrow, Ribeiro, Eriksson, Neal, and others did play important roles on those close-but-not-enough teams and their departure did not send the team into a tail spin. It goes to show that a re-tool sometimes is needed and they are not always simple ones. Credit to the coaches and even Nieuwendyk for not weakening the team in their efforts to get back into the playoffs they narrowly missed. A team can honestly re-tool for four out of five straight seasons out of the playoffs. It is what Dallas did. It took a bold move (Seguin trade), continuing to lean on the right people (Lehtonen, Benn, Goligoski) and some good fortune to end the drought in 2014. That is how I see the Stars from 2008-09 to 2012-13.
The Detroit Red Wings
Also Known As: Detroit Cougars, Detroit Falcons
Playoff Misses and Proportion: 31 misses out of 95 total seasons; 32.6% missed.
Current Situation: The Detroit Red Wings were a contending team throughout the mid to late 1990s and 2000s. They had a streak of 100-point seasons from 1999-2000 to 2011-12. They won four Cups and went to six Finals. The bottom fell out in 2016-17 as the team finished with just 79 points. A full-on rebuild went on as the old, aging contracts had to be gutted and a new core had to be developed. That core may be partially in place now. But they missed the playoffs last season by going 32-40-10 with 74 points. It was their sixth straight playoff-less season. One more playoff miss and they equal their worst run in franchise history - which will be covered below.
A Summary of a Notable Drought: The longest drought in Detroit history was from 1970-71 to 1976-77 for seven seasons. This drought was bookended by two playoff appearances. The 1970 playoff appearances ended a three-season drought. The 1978 appearance was followed up by five straight last-place finishes in the division in a five-season drought. Basically, the 1970s and early 1980s sucked for Detroit. But the long one catches my attention.
This drought began in 1970-71, which was a momentous season for the Red Wings. One of the all time greats, Gordie Howe would end up having his final season as a Red Wing. In traditional Howe fashion, he still put up 23 goals and 52 points as a 42-year old, predating Jagr by decades. The team still had plenty of older names still involved. Alex Delvecchio was on the team, their captain, and finished second in scoring with 21 goals and 55 points for the 38-year old. Frank Mahovlich was on the team and still putting up great numbers at age 33 with 14 goals and 32 assists. But most of the team was lackluster. The only young guys worth noting was team leading scorer Tom Webster, Garry Unger putting up 13 goals and 27 points, and goalie Jim Rutherford despite an 87.6% save percentage, much fewer than starter Roy Edwards, who posted an 89.3% himself.
In the background of all of this 1970-71 season were issues at the top. GM Sid Abel, the team’s manager throughout the 1960s, wanted to fire head coach Ned Harkness. Bruce Norris, the owner, disagreed. So Abel was fired, Harkness became the GM, and Doug Barkley became head coach. And days after Harkness became the GM, Mahovlich was sent to Montreal for Mickey Redmond, Guy Charron, and Bill Collins. A little later, Unger and Wayne Connelly was traded to St. Louis for Red Berenson and Tim Ecclestone. Harkness also wanted the Red Wings to play more like the college teams he used to coach - and that did not work out so well either. The team bled goals and did not score a ton. They finished at 22-45-11 with 55 points; dead last in the East.
In the 1971 NHL Draft, Detroit selected Marcel Dionne. Dionne turned out to be a super-scorer and one of the greatest forwards of the 1970s and 1980s. Someone to build around, clerarly. He showed why in 1971-72 with a 77-point season as a rookie to lead the team in scoring and set what was then a NHL record for rookie scoring. A new look was forming under Harkness. Redmond turned out to be a great get with 42 goals and 71 points in his first full season in Detroit. Red Berenson also turned into a fine pick up with 28-goals and 69 points. Delvecchio was still putting them away at age 39 with 20 goals and 65 points. Nick Libett broke out with a 31-goal season. The goalies were replaced by Al Smith and Joe Daley, who each provided a consistent low-89% save percentage. Tom Webster was flipped for defenseman Ron Stackhouse, who helped the blueline. Harkness changed plenty on the Red Wings; including the coach as he fired Barkley after a 3-8-0 start and replaced him with Johnny Wilson. The result was positive: 76 points and missing the playoffs by 4 points.
The Red Wings would get even closer to the playoffs in 1972-73. Wilson stuck around for the whole season. Redmon and Dionne would put up 90 point seasons with Redmond putting up 52 for the season. Delvecchio was still a top scorer with 71 points at age 40. Libett, Ecclestone, Berenson, and Bill Collins were solid producers. Goaltending saw another big change with Roy Edwards returning and Denis DeJordy backing up. DeJordy was not good, but Edwards posted a 90.4% total save percentage, which was quite fine. The Red Wings finished at or above the league median in goals for, goals against, and even points. But a 37-29-12 record for 86 points saw them miss the postseason in a strong East Division. They were just two behind Buffalo for the final playoff spot. Harkness was onto something with a team led by Dionne, as was Wilson.
Except not. For some reason, Wilson was fired in the 1972 offseason. His replacement was minor league coach Ted Garvin. Garvin lasted 11 games and won just two of them. Delvecchio retired after 11 games so the 41-year old could be the head coach. Harkness gave the goaltending group another makeover with a return of Rutherford, Doug Grant, Bill McKenzie, and Terry Richardson. The group was younger but not better with Rutherford leading the group with an 88.8% save percentage. It was a big reason why the Red Wings conceded 319 goals and lost a lot of games. The offense was still respectfully led by Dionne, Redmond, a breakout season from Guy Charron, Libett, and a collection of supporting forwards. But they could not overcome that. Delvecchio as head coach tried to stabilize things and the team did go 27-31-9 under him. Bruce Norris was displeased with Harkness enough to fire him as GM and replace him with, well, Delvecchio. It was up to the Red Wings legend to right what Harkness got wrong.
Delvecchio did not figure it out. The 1973-74 season finished with 68 points. Delvecchio’s three seasons as GM all had worse records than that: 23-45-12 in 1974-75, 26-44-10 for 62 points in 1975-76, and 16-55-9 for 41 points in 1976-77 - which saw Delvecchio fired in March 1977 and replaced by fellow Red Wings legend Ted Lindsey. Delvecchio was behind the bench for the 1974-75 season and he could not rein in a team that just gave up tons of goals. The crew of Rutherford, Richardson, Grant, and McKenzie had total save percentages of 87.7%, 75.8%, 82.9%, and 86.2%, respectively. While Dionne scored 121 points and Danny Grant (acquired in a deal for Harry Boucha) put up 80. Libett put up 23 goals and 51 assists again, and Redmond scored 27 points in 29 games; but the production dropped beyond that group of players. Charron was traded after a poor start to Kansas City and others just did not perform. The season was so poor that Dionne would sign a big contract with Los Angeles. NHL rules at the time mandated some kind of trade as free agency then did not work as it did now, so Detroit got Don Maloney and some spare parts as Dionne took his high-scoring ways out to California.
This may shock you but GM Delvecchio did not replace the 121-point scorer. It may shock you that GM Delvecchio fired head coach Delvecchio and replaced him with Doug Barkley. Yes! The same guy who was fired earlier. He lasted a little longer with a 7-15-4 record. Then Delvecchio replaced him behind the bench again. A waiver claim for 36-year old goalie Ed Giacomin did help the beleaguered Rutherford & Co. in the crease. But the production was hard to come by. Michel Bergeron started to emerge with a 32-goal, 59 point season. GM Delevecchio swung a deal for Walt McKechnie, who led the team in scoring with 26 goals and 82 points. Maloney put up 27 goals and 66 points. But, again, the pickings were slim beyond them. Danny Grant could have joined them but he was moved for a pick and Barry Long by GM Delvecchio during the season.
The lowpoint came in 1976-77. GM Delvecchio remained behind the bench for a team that would set a then-franchise worst record by points percentage (25.6%) with a team that finished last in the NHL in goals and near to last in goals against. The goaltending group was shortened to 37-year old Giacomin, Rutherford, and Richardson. None were better than an 87.2% save percentage. McKechnie led the team in scoring but instead of 82 points, it was 59. No one else topped 50 points; neither Dennis Polonich, Dennis Hextall, Bergeron, Libett, Maloney, Grant ( or anyone else. Bruce Norris saw enough of the losing under Delvecchio and fired both the head coach and GM version of him after a 13-26-5 start. Ted Lindsay became GM and Larry Wilson took over behind the bench and it was absolutely dire for those last 36 games of the season. Wilson’s tenure went 3-29-4 with an 11 game losing streak to end the season.
Lindsay would be active in trying to fix this mess. For the coaching position, Wilson could not return. So he did not and he was replaced by Bobby Kromm, who at least was successful with Winnipeg in the WHA. McKechnie and a package was sent out to bring in Ron Low to help the goalies. Giacomin was limited to 9 games, Rutherford was still around, but Low was at least a touch better at 88.6% to Rutherford’s 88% total save percentage. 1977 first overall pick Dale McCourt joined the league at age 21 (yes, a top pick was 21) and put up 33 goals and 72 points in his first season to lead the team in scoring. Lindsay got Andre St. Laurent from the Isles for Bergerson. St. Laurent broke out with a 70 point campaign, much more than whatever he did on the Island. A 1976 second round defenseman in Reed Larson played a full first season and put up 60 points. Lindsay swung a trade with Birmingham of the WHA to get Vaclav Nedomansky, who chipped in the regular season and more in the playoffs. He even got Paul Woods in the waiver draft, who put up 19 goals and 42 points in his first season. The Red Wings were younger, reloaded, and able to compete a lot more. They finished closer to league median in goals for and against. They battled to get more results. They finished 32-34-14 for 78 points and second in the Norris Division to qualify for the playoffs. Lindsay’s makeover was a success. Detroit beat Atlanta in the preliminary round and lost in 5 to the mighty Montreal Canadiens in the quarter finals. The drought was still over.
The pain was not. While Lindsay’s make over worked in 1978, it fell apart in the 1978-79 season. That led to a new drought for five seasons that saw Mike Ilitch buy the team from Norris, another GM before Jim Devellano took charge after Ilitch did, more GM/coach situations, short unsuccessful stints by Billy Dea and Wayne Maxner, and a heap of changes. It would be a long time for Steve Yzerman was picked in 1983. A dark age in general for the winged wheel.
Any Other Thoughts: A lot of these droughts have involved bad decisions from the top down. Not that Ned Harkness was perfect, but the owner, Robert Norris, bet on him hard and fired Sid Abel for it. The team did come a bit close but that firing of Johnny Wilson was bizarre. Then Delvecchio, long time Red Wing, gets the opportunity in place of Harkness and manages to do even worse behind the bench and in the front office. He sticks around, presumably, because of Bruce Norris. Marcel Dionne is everything one would want in a top draft pick and somehow Detroit could not convince him to stick around. That is not just a failure of Delvecchio but also Norris. When the failing under Delvecchio was too much, who replaced him but another long-time Red Wing legend in Ted Lindsay? Lindsay ended this drought but also played a role in the creation of the next drought. When he was pushed out in 1980, Jimmy Skinner was tabbed to replace him. Skinner was the head coach of Detroit’s last Cup win in 1955 and was in the organization for a while. I am not shocked it was another one with connections back to then good old days of the Red Wings. You will see this theme come up again in playoff droughts. With the very next team in fact.
It is not that it is necessarily bad for well-known players on the ice to get front office or coaching jobs. Some of them have done quite well. The problem is that when they falter, it may become a challenge to move them out. You almost want to keep giving them a chance to be successful in the office as much as they were successful in the game. Especially if you’re an owner who either does not know much about hockey, does not want to get involved in managing a hockey team, and/or wants to maintain some kind of connection with past glories. And this was a story that mostly played itself out again in Canada about 30 years later.
The Edmonton Oilers
Playoff Misses and Proportion: 19 misses out of 42 total seasons; 45.2% missed.
Current Situation: After getting knocked out of the Qualifying Round by Chicago in 2020, the Oilers returned to the playoffs in 2021 with a fine 35-19-2 season - and lost to Winnipeg. The Oilers were even better in 2021-22, especially after Dave Tippett was fired and replaced by Jay Woodcroft, and finished with a 104 point season at 49-27-6. The Oilers survived the Kings in 7 games, beat their hated rivals in Calgary in 5 games, and got swept by Colorado. Disappointing as that was, it was a very fine season.
A Summary of a Notable Drought: The Edmonton Oilers’ longest drought was not that long ago. They were out of the playoffs for ten straight seasons from 2006-07 to 2015-16. This was a run of failure that was more important than you may recall. The Oilers falling to disgrace spurned on hockey analytics and hockey blogging as Oilers fans started digging in more as to why the team was not as good as it could have been from both an objective and subjective sense. More realized how much water the local media carried for the Oilers as any player who wanted out or any player management wanted out suddenly started getting bad press. And one main figure is at the center of this run of futilty. A man who knows a little something about winning as he helped guide the Oilers to a lot of losing: Kevin Lowe. Get ready to learn a lot how about Lowe got to this drought because you need to know that to understand the madness of how much Lowe caused this run of failure.
Kevin Lowe was a defenseman back in the glorious 1980s for the Oilers. Edmonton was dominant and won five Stanley Cups out of six Finals appearances between 1982-83 to 1989-90. The team was coached and managed by Glen Sather up until 1989 before focusing as a GM in Edmonton. After Lowe retired as a player in 1997-98 with the Oilers (he was an Oiler for all but four seasons - Sather brought him to New York), he was named an assistant coach to Ron Low in 1989-99. Despite a sub-.500 record, the Oilers made the playoffs - and got swept by Dallas. Unhappy with the lack of good seasons and playoff runs, Low was let go after four seasons as head coach by GM Sather. Sather turned to Lowe to take over despite a lack of experience behind the bench. The 1999-2000 Oilers did improve by 10 points as they finished 32-26-16-8. However, the playoffs yielded just five games in a series loss to Dallas.
Sather would leave Edmonton to go become GM of the Rangers in 2000. Upper management decided to promote Lowe as GM as well as name him an executive VP of Hockey Operations. To replace Lowe as head coach, another former Oiler was brought in. Craig MacTavish, most known for being the last NHL player to regularly play without a helmet. The Lowe-MacTavish regime started off quite well. The team earned at least 89 points in each season and made the playoffs twice. However, their lack of playoff success along with just getting into the playoffs remained as issues. Then it all came together in 2005-06.
In the first season of the salary cap era, Lowe made a big trade to bring in Chris Pronger; moving Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka, and Doug Lynch. Lowe made a big signing in bringing Chris Pronger to small-market Edmonton on a five-season contract. Lowe made another big move in sending Mike York and a fourth rounder to the Islanders for Michael Peca. The team was otherwise committed to a core of Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Jarret Stoll, and Ryan Smyth up front. A collection of goalies from 36-year old Dwayne Roloson to Jussi Markkanen, Ty Conklin, and Mike Morrison was questionable - and they were a weak link as they combined for an 88.7% save percentage. But the additions of Pronger and Peca helped a lot as the Oilers went 41-28-13 for 95 points and made the playoffs. This time, the team would go on an incredible run in the playoffs. Roloson got hot. Fernando Pisani, of all players, put up 14 goals in the playoffs. Horcoff, Hemsky, and Smyth further cemented their place in Oilers lore. Pronger was a monster. The Oilers went all the way to the Finals and lost a close Game 7 to be eliminated. They did not get the Cup, but the team was (and is) beloved for their efforts. Lowe was (and, to some, is) well respected for putting this squad together.
It would also be the last time the Oilers would make the playoffs until 2017.
The 2006-07 season was not just the start of this drought but also the start of Lowe’s decision making undercutting the team. In the offseason, Chris Pronger wanted out. Local media faulted his wife. I don’t know the truth, but Lowe sent Pronger to Anaheim for Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, and picks. Free agency was a net negative too. Peca signed with Toronto, Conklin went to Columbus, big-minutes eating defenseman Jaroslav Spacek signed with Buffalo, fan favorite enforcer/fourth-liner Georges Laraque signed with Arizona, and trade deadline pick up Sergei Samsonov went to Montreal. Lowe did sign Marty Reasoner and Petr Sykora while moving a late pick for Jan Hejda. He retained Roloson for 3 more seasons while signing other big extensions to Hemsky, Pisani, Horcoff, Stoll, and the new guy, Lupul. On paper, it was not likely going to be enough to get back to playoff contention. But Lowe kept as much of that 2006 playoff core together. Until he did not.
The Oilers started off well, but the losses started to mount. Then Lowe made two huge deals that would start to have some fans wonder if Lowe knew a thing or two about running a team. First, he traded offensive defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron and a pick for Denis Grebeshkov. That was a downgrade. Then on February 27, he traded the beloved Ryan Smyth to the Islanders. Smyth was great for the Oilers in the 2000s. He was Edmonton’s leading scorer at the time of the deal with 53 points in 53 games. He still was Edmonton’s leading scorer by the end of the season. Smyth returned Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Marra and a first round pick in 2007 that became Alex Plante (6 NHL games total). Needless to say, Edmonton lost this trade. The Oilers finished with the lowest GF count in the league and with a record of 32-43-7 for 71 points. A drop of 24 points from last season.
Lowe continued his attempt of putting something together in 2007-08. Lupul and Oilers defenseman of the past eight seasons (and captain) Jason Smith were sent to Philadelphia for Geoff Sanderson, Joni Pitkanen, and a third rounder. They tried to sign Smyth in free agency, but Smyth went to Colorado instead. Mathieu Garon was brought in to back up a 38-year old Roloson. Lowe made not one but two offer sheets: one to Thomas Vanek on Buffalo and one to Dustin Penner on Anaheim. The Vanek sheet was for $50 million over seven seasons - and Buffalo matched it. Penner’s was more reasonable at $21.25 million over five seasons. This led to then-GM Brian Burke to challenge Lowe to a fight in a barn among other public spats. No fight happened, Ducks did not match the offer, and so Lowe got his forward. He also got Sheldon Souray on five-season deal. Lowe was trying to make do with the remainder of the 2006 core still there. There were improvements. The Oilers went 41-35-6 and missed the playoffs by three points. There was reason to think they were close again and that 2006-07 was a blip.
For the 2008-09 season, changes were made. Darryl Katz bought the Oilers, ensuring they would remain in Edmonton as part of deal. Lowe remained GM through the NHL Draft that year (this was the Jordan Eberle draft) and the start of free agency. This meant he traded Stoll and Greene to Los Angeles for Lubomir Visnovsky; Pitkanen to Carolina for Erik Cole; and Raffi Torres to Columbus for Gilbert Brule. That’s three from the 2006 team plus a guy Lowe acquired moved out. Lowe also signed Tom Gilbert to a fat six-season, $24 million extension among other internal free agents. But that would be it for Lowe as a GM. By the end of July, Lowe was promoted to President of Hockey Operations. This position varies from organization, but generally they oversee the GM. In other words, Lowe still had a say in how the team would be run. His replacement would be Vancouver assistant GM Steve Tambellini. A name that lives in Edmonton infamy.
The 2008-09 season itself was not bad, but the issues with past seasons remained. As nice as it was to see a 91.5% posted by the 39-year old Roloson, the team was still leaning on Roloson. Garon struggled as a backup, so he was moved during the season to Pittsburgh for Dany Sabourin, Ryan Stone, and a pick. The team was not so bad that they were getting wrecked, although the run of play was decidedly not in their favor. Still, they were like other MacTavish-coached teams that missed the playoffs. It was not by a whole lot - 85 points, missed it by 6 - and the team was still led up front by Hemsky and Horcoff. Souray and Gilbert were productive. Penner only put up 17 goals and 37 points, Visnovsky got into 8 goals and 31 points, and Erik Cole just had 16 goals and 27 assists. Wait, the latter is not too bad for Cole. But it was enough for Tambellini to move him in March for Patrick O’Sullivan. The now third-straight missed playoff season meant it was enough for Tambellini to move on from MacTavish. Pat Quinn was hired with Tom Renney as an associate coach. Free agency required a goaltender to be signed as Roloson went to Long Island and Sabourin signed with Boston. In came 36-year old Nikolai Khabibulin on a four season contract. That was really the answer. Tambellini also publicly wanted Dany Heatley, but he could not make a move work as Heatley invoked his no-trade clause. Heatley would end up making the right call.
The 2009-10 season was when Edmonton cratered. Quinn and his tactics were shredded by opponents as the Oilers posted up a sub-45% CF% that season per Natural Stat Trick. Khabibulin was not good on (only 18 games played, 90.9% save percentage) and off the ice (DUI arrest in Arizona). Jeff Deslauriers ended up being the starter for the season and he did not have the goods. Penner put up 31 goals and 62 points to lead the team in scoring, which was followed by Sam Gagner putting up 15 goals and 41 points. No one else broke 40 points. Injuries mounted and Tambellini sold more at the deadline. Grebshkov was sent to Nashville for a pick, Visnovsky was sent to Anaheim for Ryan Whitney and a pick, and long-time Oiler defender Steve Staios was sent to Calgary (Calgary!) for Aaron Johnson and a pick. Other than Penner, the only bright spot for 2009-10 was that it ended with Edmonton’s first draft lottery win. They would pick first overall, deciding between Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. Hall would be the pick. But first, Quinn was moved to being a “senior hockey advisor” and the associate coach, Renney, would take over.
In 2010-11, Tambellini had no issue with having Eberle and Hall jump into the league. This season’s team would feature more of the youth to a point. Hall and Eberle jumped right into NHL hockey. Gagner and Cogliano have been kicking around. Devan Dubnyk would get into more games given his 91.6% save percentage out-shined Khabibulin’s 89% in 47 games. Linas Omark and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson showed up. Clearly, the team was in a rebuild. To what? I am not sure as Tambellini traded Penner - you know, the one he signed to an offer sheet and risked a beating from Burke for - in February 2011 for Colton Teubert, a first round pick, and third in 2012. The team still got licked by finishing 25-45-12 for 62 points. They were terrible. The run of play went a bit better under Renney, but it was for not much. To get a sense of how things were from a fan perspective, here is recap of Edmonton’s final game of the season by Ben Massey at The Copper & Blue. A choice quote from the recap:
How do we expect this team to improve? We just gassed the first year of Jordan Eberle’s entry-level contract. The first year of Magnus Paajarvi’s contract. The first year of Taylor Hall’s contract. In exchange, we’re going to get another young player who we can sign too early and gas the first year of their contract too. Then BAM! Stanley Cup. The Pittsburgh Penguins did it and all they needed was decades of utterly hopeless teams followed by stumbling into the greatest NHL forward of the century, which is something both enjoyable and completely reproducible. Any comparisons to the Atlanta Thrashers or the New York Islanders are UTTERLY FATUOUS.
The BAM! Stanley Cup point should be embedded in hockey fans’ minds in terms of how to build a team. Massey would end up being right for another five seasons too. That next young player to sign too early and gas their ELC was first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. They at least had the sense to hold up on bringing Oscar Klefbom, the player from the first round pick in the Penner deal, right into the NHL. Renney got another season as head coach and things did get better despite losing Souray to free agency and Tambellini moving Cogliano to Anaheim for a second round pick. Plus, Smyth was traded back to Edmonton in June 2011, so that provided a warm and fuzzy feeling. Khabibulin was much better and Dubnyk was fine as starter. Eberle broke out with a 34-goal season and 76 points to leads the offense. Hall was growing. Nugent-Hopkins was a runner up for the Calder. Jeff Petry was taking over on the blueline. A young core could be seen. It still was not enough. Edmonton still finished well behind everyone else; leading Tambellini to sell another big contract in Tom Gilbert to Minnesota for Nick Schultz. The Oilers finished at 32-40-10 for 74 points, won another lottery for first overall, picked Nail Yakupov, fired Renney, and promoted another associate coach: Ralph Krueger.
As the NHL locked out the players for the 2012 portion of the 2012-13 season, Katz started beefing with Edmonton about a new arena. This did little to make the Oilers look good between their awful seasons and the mis-management by Tambellini, who was Lowe’s guy for the position. A new arena would be built, though. Anyway, the 48-game season started up with Krueger in charge, Justin Schultz signed out of college, and Yakupov on the squad to burn that first ELC year. Despite a promising start, the team sputtered through to April. The goaltending was not bad and the offense was a collection of production by Hall, Gagner, Eberle, and Yakupov (who led the team with 17 goals). But depth scoring was not prolific, the defense was still getting gashed as Schultz learned the NHL game the hard way, and the run of play was still bad. The Oilers finished third in the division at 19-22-7 and 45 points and missed the playoffs by 10 points.
Shortly before the end of the 2013 season, someone in Edmonton had a thought that perhaps Tambellini was not doing his job well enough. Or at all. It took a long time, much longer than in some of these other droughts, but he was finally let go in April 2013. Lowe clearly chose the replacement: former coach Craig MacTavish. The resulting press conference featured a local media that was starting to ask difficult questions of the Oilers, leading to this immortal exchange, as recorded by the Edmonton Journal. (Those who want a transcript should read this article by David Staples at the Edmonton Journal.) Between MacTavish and Lowe, they are still holding onto the Cups from the 1980s and the one run in 2006 as signs that they know what they’re doing. They believe it is cyclical that the team is bad despite evidence of other teams in this series (and more to come!) and that the Oilers went from missing the playoffs to being doormats within then seven seasons. Lowe in particular thinks people are being impatient that the team’s been out of it for seven seasons with absolutely terrible results in the last four seasons in large part due to Lowe’s pick of Tambellini to be the GM. It is telling in its tone deafness and delusions. No one in the NHL wanted the Oilers roster in 2013! No one thinks Kevin Lowe was the main character in any of the Oilers’ Cups! And yet, I hear echoes of this from coaches and managers in hockey and other sports - often when they realize the situation they are responsible sucks.
Anyway. New GM. New head coach. Dallas Eakins. He was successful with the Marlies in the AHL. This was his first NHL job. MacTavish got to work with loads of deals made throughout the 2013 offseason and 2013-14 season. In the offseason, they signed Ilya Bryzgalov for a season, signed Boyd Gordon and Andrew Ference to multi-season deals, and locked down Nugent-Hopkins to a seven season, $42 million contract. Picks were flipped at the draft. In July, another 2006er, Shawn Horcoff, was sent to Dallas for Philip Larsen. Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and picks were moved to St. Louis for David Perron and a third rounder. The new era started with just 12 wins by January 2014. MacT kept dealing: Ladislav Smid and Olivier Roy to Calgary for Roman Horak and Laurent Brossoit. Linus Omark to Buffalo for a conditional sixth. Depth goalie signed in the summer, Jason LaBarbera, was dumped for future considerations. Dubnyk was having a bad season, so he was traded to Nashville for Matt Hendricks while a third round pick was sent to the Kings for goalie Ben Scrivens. Bryzgalov did not perform as expected, so he was sent to Minnesota for a fourth. And then MacTavish sent another beloved Oiler away. Ales Hemsky was a great player for years for Edmonton. He was dumped to Ottawa for a fifth rounder in 2014 and a third rounder in 2013. Oh, and Nick Schultz became a fifth rounder from Columbus. Another gutting of a team that was bereft of quality beyond a handful of players. Hall put up 80 points, Eberle put up 65, Perron was good in his first season, Schultz became less of a liability, Petry was doing what he could, and Nugent-Hopkins put up 56 points. Everyone else just did what they could as a veteran, others took a step back (e.g. Yakupov), and the team finished at 29-44-9 for 67 points. I am booing my monitor as I write this up.
Eakins would at least start the next season. MacTavish was not as busy in the offseason to try to turn something around. He moved Sam Gagner to Tampa Bay for Teddy Purcell at the draft. The third overall pick was Edmonton’s and used on Leon Draisaitl. Smyth retired. Mark Fayne and Benoit Pouliot were each signed to big deals, four and five seasons respectively. As Scrivens performed relatively well last season and Viktor Fasth was acquired, they went with that tandem in net. It went badly as neither posted even a 90% save percentage. Hall had an injury-shortened season with struggles to put up 38 points in 53 games. Fayne was not so good without Andy Greene next to him. Pouliot’s first season as an Oiler was 19 goals, 34 points, 58 games. Purcell played a full season and brought 12 goals and 34 points to it. But this lackluster season led to more mid-season changes. MacTavish fired Eakins and replaced him with Todd Nelson, which did little to turn the tide. MacTavish traded Mark Arcobello to Nashville for Derek Roy before New Year’s, and then traded David Perron to Pittsburgh for a first rounder in 2015 and Rob Klinkhammer. By the deadline, solid defender Jeff Petry was sent to Montreal for picks. The team fell flat on its face for another season at 24-44-14 and 62 points.
However, the 2014-15 season had one other massive change at its end. In April, Kevin Lowe was no longer in the hockey department with the Edmonton Oilers. He remained in the organization on the business end but he was essentially moved out of the team president position. Lowe may have not made the trades or the signings, but he picked Tambellini to replace him, he eventually had to replace him long after he managed the Oilers into a ditch, and then replaced him with the head coach of their previous success - who then gutted things further. Whether it was Katz himself or something else, Lowe was out. This meant MacTavish was also out as GM. Nelson would not be retained as a full time head coach. Peter Chiarelli was fired by the Bruins in April 2015. Edmonton hired him as soon as they can. And then the Oilers can, to paraphrase Massey, “stumble into the greatest NHL forward of his generation.” They won the lottery for Connor McDavid.
This did not mean everything was OK in Edmonton now. Not everything Chiarelli did turned to gold. Before the draft, Chiarelli hired Todd McLellan, formerly of San Jose. If nothing else, he was successful at the NHL level so this was a bet worth taking. At the draft, he traded Pittsburgh’s first rounder and Edmonton’s second to the Islanders for Griffin Reinhart. Reinhart played just 26 NHL games. That first rounder was used on Mat Barzal. But Chiarelli kept on wheeling and dealing, most notably by getting Cam Talbot for Montreal’s second rounder, Ottawa’s third rounder, and a seventh rounder. Chiarelli went after Andrej Sekera in free agency and got him for six seasons at $33 million. He also got Mark Letestu for three seasons at $5.4 million. After plenty of negotiations, Chiarelli extended Oscar Klefbom to a seven season contract worth $29 million. Expectations were low, but there was another attempt to build things up again.
The 2015-16 Oilers would improve by 8 points. They still finished last. They still gave up a lot and did not score a lot. Their 5-on-5 play was a bit better. Talbot played well and earned a contract extension in the process with a 91.7% total save percentage season. While Hall and Eberle were still the main threats, it was quickly apparent that Draisaitl and McDavid would be the cornerstones sooner rather than later. Within a season, in fact. The Rexall Place closed. Rogers Place would be open next season. More deals were made by Chiarelli to really re-shape the roster. Ben Scrivens was traded to Montreal for Zack Kassian. Larsen was turned into a fifth round pick. Justin Schultz was sent to Pittsburgh for a third rounder. Teddy Purcell was sent to Florida for a third rounder. Martin Gernat and a fourth was sent to Anaheim for Pat Maroon. Chiarelli did not stay idle with re-doing the roster.
You all know the 2016 offseason. One for one. But also: Yakupov was sent away (two #1 picks traded away!), Chiarelli shelled out $42 million for seven seasons of Milan Lucic, brought in Kris Russell for a season at $3.1 million, and picked Jesse Puljujarvi at fourth overall. The 2016-17 season would be the end of the drought, though. McDavid posted up 100 points in his second NHL season, winning the Hart, the Ross, and the Pearson. Draisaitl put up 29 goals and 77 points for another second-season massive sign of growth. Lucic and Maroon put up 23 and 27 goals respectively. Klefbom, Sekera, Larsson, and Russell made up the force of the blueline. Talbot had another solid season with a 91.9% total save percentage. The team was no longer weak in 5-on-5 play. A hot start in October and great December and January put the Oilers in contention for making the playoffs. They ended the season on a run of 13-4-1 and finished with 103 points at 47-26-9. The Edmonton Oilers ended their drought just two seasons post-Lowe. All it needed was a solid goaltender, solid support at various prices, the greatest German hockey player starting to emerge, and the greatest forward of his generation flexing his exceptional talent on the rest of the league. Edmonton beat San Jose in the first round and lost in 7 to Anaheim. Logic would suggest this would be the start of a run of dominance by the Oilers.
Reality said no. They earned 78 points next season, sputtered early in the 2018-19 season for McLellan to be replaced by Ken Hitchcock, and Chiarelli made way for current GM Ken Holland. But the team is now back to making the playoffs.
Any Other Thoughts: Kevin Lowe, nostalgia, and a constant appeal to past success and authority were at the roots of this decade of pain for Oilers fans. In theory, people like Lowe should know a thing or two about winning and be better managers than you and me. They have the experiences that you and I do or can not have. They have resources from money to staff to data to programs that should help them with analysis and decisions. Yet, the end of GM Lowe and the entirety of Team President Lowe showed that is not necessarily the case. And so they should be criticized as such. They are not above it and certainly not with how the Oilers performed from 2010 to 2015.
That press conference in 2013 spoke volumes as to how he saw the whole failing happen. Lowe was flailing. There’s a plan! There just needs to be more time! The real fans would understand! Other GMs are jealous of me! (Think Joe Judge for a more recent example of that one.) I won stuff so I know! I honestly do not know who could believe that, much less think Lowe was deserving of any kind of respect or trust from the fans. Yes, he was the GM for 2006. A lot changed since then and the team became worse for it while he still had a say. Unlike how Detroit’s longest drought ended, Edmonton’s drought would eventually end when they finally got away from the past and started working with people more involved in present reality. Oh, and they drafted McDavid and moved on from the other top picks of the late 2000s and 2010s (Eberle would be moved later, Nugent-Hopkins is there...for now.)
The Florida Panthers
Playoff Misses and Proportion: 21 misses out of 28 total seasons; 75% missed.
Current Situation: Florida had the best record in the NHL last season with a 58-18-6 record for 122 points. They beat Washington in the first round, but got swept by Tampa Bay in the second round. This led Florida management to not keep Andrew Brunette, who is now in New Jersey as an associate coach. They swung a big deal for Matthew Tkachuk and signed him. I would think Florida returns to the postseason for what would be a franchise-record three straight seasons.
A Summary of a Notable Drought: In 2000, the Florida Panthers had their best regular season yet at 43-26-6-6 for 98 points and second place in the Southeast Division. Terry Murray was the coach, Bryan Murray was the GM, Pavel Bure was a scoring machine with 58 goals and 94 points that season, Mike Vernon and Trevor Kidd were a solid goaltending tandem, and the team had plenty of useful players from Ray Whitney to Robert Svehla to Jaroslav Spacek to Mark Parrish to captain Scott Mellanby. Florida went into the playoffs that year and got swept by the New Jersey Devils. That would be Florida’s last playoff appearance for a decade.
Unlike Edmonton’s decade drought, there was no one single figure that best represented the run of futility. If anything, this drought is more anonymous. A big reason why Florida has missed the playoffs in three-quarters of its entire history. But there was a heap of changes from the players to the personnel in the front office between 2000-01 and 2010-11. If Edmonton and Detroit showed what could happen when someone is involved for too long, then this drought will show that too much change can be its own issue.
At the start of the drought, Murray made what would be an important trade. He traded Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish to the Islanders for Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen. Dealing with “Mad” Mike Milbury was always a good idea back then. Even with Luongo taking over as the starter and putting up a 92% total save percentage at age 21, the season was one big struggle. Production was limited to 59 goals and 92 points from Pavel Bure - and not much else. Between injuries and just poor seasons, no other Panther scored more than 14 goals or 37 points (Viktor Kozlov). An awful start under Terry Murray of 6-18-7-5 led to him getting the axe and replaced by Duane Sutter. The awful start also led to GM Bryan Murray getting fired and replaced by Islanders legend Bill Torrey - who was a part of the Panthers front office since 1993.
The following season was almost a repeat of the first one. Luongo was doing as well as he could despite being shelled on a nightly basis. Bure was still the leader on offense. A terrible start led to both a coach and GM change. Sutter out after a 6-15-2-3 start, in came “Iron” Mike Keenan. Torrey left the GM position and was replaced by an interim Chuck Fletcher. Somehow, this team could not buy a goal outside of Pavel Bure just having 22 in 56 games and rookie Kristian Huselius putting up 23. Why did Bure play 56 games? Because Fletcher traded him to the Rangers for a first round pick Florida later moved, a second round pick that became no one, a fourth round pick in 2003 that was moved to Atlanta that also became no one, Filip Novak, and Igor Ulanov. Why. The team finished with 60 points at 22-44-10-6.
Before the 2002-03 season, Rick Dudley became the fourth GM of this tale. Keenan remained behind the bench. Stephen Weiss and Jay Bouwmeester made their NHL debuts. With Bure out, Jokinen took over as the offensive leader with 36 goals and 65 points. Kozlov rebounded a bit to have a 56 point season. Luongo was still excellent in the net despite Florida being out-shot on a regular basis. All it meant was a ten-point improvement for a 24-36-13-9 record. The 2003-04 season was more of the same as a whole. Luongo was sensational with a total save percentage of 93.1%. The offense was more of a committee; Jokinen was the leader, waiver-wire pick up Valeri Bure put up 20 goals and 45 points in 55 games, and seven more skaters had at least ten goals including recently drafted Nathan Horton. But Dudley saw fit to make changes as the season went on. A 5-8-2 start for Keenan meant he was fired. Dudley took over behind the bench, leading the Panthers to 13-15-9-3 under him. Not much better, but a bit better. Then he had John Torchetti take over for him; the Panthers went 10-12-4-1. Meanwhile, GM Dudley did plenty by the March trade deadline. Kozlov was sent to New Jersey for prospects Christian Berglund and Victor Uchevatov. Marcus Nilsson was sent to Calgary for a second. Valeri Bure was moved to Dallas for a second rounder and Drew Bagnall. Dudley was busy. But his time would run out as GM.
I do not know what exactly happened after the 2003-04 season, but somehow the decision was made to make Mike Keenan the GM of the Panthers. For head coach, Jacques Martin was brought in to be the full-time bench boss. Under the new salary cap, Keenan sought out some veterans: Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, Martin Gelinas, Chris Gratton, and Jozef Stumpel all came in. Despite being older, they all contributed. Nieuwendyk put up 26 goals and 56 points, Stumpel put up 52 points, Gelinas added 17 goals and 41 points, Roberts had 40 points in 58 games, and Gratton had 17 goals and 39 points. Roberto Luongo was retained through an arbitration hearing. Once again, he did as well as he could despite Florida bleeding shots left and right for a 91.4% total save percentage over 75 games. Jokinen was still the top man in Sunrise with 38 goals and 89 points. Huselius was out as Keenan sent him to Calgary for Dustin Johner and Steve Montador. Hagman was sent to Dallas for a seventh rounder. Still, the Panthers were more competitive in 2005-06. The team was seemingly making headway towards a better team. They finished the season with a record of 37-34-11 for 85 points. They missed the playoffs by eight points. The Keenan Era was off to a good start.
Then Keenan blew up the era. On June 24, 2006, he traded Luongo. The deal was Luongo, Lukas Krajicek, and a sixth rounder for Todd Bertuzzi, Alex Auld, and Bryan Allen. Remember that arbitration award Luongo got in 2005? Keenan did not forget. Despite the fact that Luongo was outstanding despite Florida’s defense-optional ways, he traded him. Knowing he needed a goalie, he acquired Craig Anderson from Chicago for a sixth rounder and signed Ed Belfour in free agency. As September began, Keenan was out of the organization. He resigned and Martin took over. Rumor was that Keenan did not win a power struggle with the head coach, although that makes little sense to me given he was the GM. Nevertheless, it was now the Martin Era for the 2006-07 season - Florida’s fifth GM so far. In what should not shock you: a 41-year old Belfour or Auld or Anderson were not as good as Luongo, so the Panthers gave up as many goals as they did in the season prior despite a massive improvement in giving up shots. Also not shocking: old players get older and are not always effective. Nieuwendyk only got into 15 games, Roberts took a step back, and Gratton did a little bit too. Stumpel and Gelinas were still holding on as Jokinen and Horton were the top scorers.
What did shock me: Todd Bertuzzi. He only got into 7 games with the Panthers. He suffered from back spasms and ultimately a herniated disc. He went for surgery - and Martin traded him. The center piece of the return of the Luongo trade did not even get a chance to recover from surgery. He was also a pending free agent. Still, that’s cold. He was sent to Detroit for Shawn Matthias and a conditional pick. Roberts was also traded to Pittsburgh for Noah Welch. Despite the changes, the Panthers finished about the same as last season. 35-31-16 for 86 points.
What followed was some stability. Martin stayed on for 2007-08. In June 2007, he sent Gratton to Tampa Bay for a second round pick that ended up being Jacob Markstrom; and he traded for Tomas Vokoun from Nashville for a first rounder in 2008, a second rounder in 2007, and a conditional second round pick. Gelinas and Auld left as free agents; Richard Zednik, Radek Dvorak, and Brett McLean came in. Vokoun and Anderson made for a good goalie tandem, although Florida went back to its ways of allowing a lot of shots against. Offense was led by Jokinen, Horton, and Weiss again with David Booth emerging with a 22-goal, 40 point season. Florida finished third in the Southeast with a 38-35-9 record of 85 points. Still not near the playoffs but not far off. So ended the stability: Martin resigned as a head coach. He did not resign as a GM, though, so he named his replacement: Peter DeBoer.
Another pair of big changes came to the organization. Martin found it made sense to move on from Olli Jokinen, Florida’s top scorer throughout this decade. He was moved to the Coyotes for Nick Boynton, Keith Ballard, and the pick that became Jared Staal. In September, defenseman Mike Van Ryn was moved to Toronto for Bryan McCabe and a fourth. To help fill the roster, Martin signed Cory Stillman as a free agent. The Vokoun-Anderson tandem was great. Weiss was the leading scorer, Booth broke out with a 31-goal, 60 point season, which helped the offense not fall apart without Jokinen. Michael Frolik putting up 21 goals and 45 points helped. McCabe provided 39 points from the back, Stillman provided 49 points, and even Ballard and Boynton helped out. Offensively, the Panthers were still getting gashed in the back end so Vokoun-Anderson had a lot to do. A bit like Martin’s seasons before him, the first season of DeBoer ended at 41-30-11 for 93 points. Florida missed the playoffs by a tiebreaker with Montreal. Things were looking a little brighter in Sunrise. Martin as a GM and DeBoer as a coach seemed like the way to go.
It was not enough that Montreal took the last playoff spot in the East ahead of Florida. No, they wanted Martin as a head coach too. So Martin resigned as GM of the Panthers in June 2009. Interim GM Randy Sexton had to step in for free agency and other moves to make. A big one was made by the end of June: Jay Bouwmeester, the third overall pick of 2002, was sent to Calgary for Jordan Leopold and a third round pick. Free agency saw Craig Anderson and Nick Boynton leave. Sexton signed Scott Clemmensen, Ville Koistinen, Dennis Seidenberg, and Dominic Moore. It was a shake up of sorts that few expected. And the season did not go so well. So much so that Sexton ended up trading Moore, Leopold, and Seidernberg in the season. Vokoun and Clemmensen were not the issue, but the Panthers continued to give up 2700-2800 shots in a season and that led to plenty of GAs. The offense stagnated as only Weiss, Horton, and Frolik broke 20 goals. Booth missed much of the season, Horton did miss significant time, and all of those moves that sent productive players away caught up to them. (Rostislav Olesz and Shawn Matthias were not developing into scorers either.) Sexton was basically a caretaker and would be replaced. This time with Dale Tallon, who was let go of Chicago earlier. Yes, the guy who rebuilt the Chicago Blackhawks from their 2000s doldrums.
Tallon actually did provide a different direction and that meant even more changes. June saw Nathan Horton and Greg Campbell sent to Boston for Dennis Wideman, a first round pick in 2010 (Derek Forbort), and a third in 2011. An extra first rounder was flipped to Los Angeles for their first (Nick Bjugstad) and a second (Jason Zucker) round picks. Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich were traded to Vancouver for Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner, and their first round pick (Quinton Howden). In free agency, Tallon did not spend a lot. He did foolishly lose Grabner to waivers before the start of the season. And the season was a struggle. Weiss led in scoring with just 49 points. Booth, Mike Santorellki, and Weiss were the only ones to top 20 goals. Vokoun and Clemmensen were holding it down, but the Panthers struggled to score - especially on their league-worst power play. They sagged to a 30-40-12 record and 72 points, which meant that A) DeBoer was fired and B) Tallon sold off even more during the season. Such as sending Frolik and Alexander Salak to Chicago for Jack Skille, Hugh Jessiman, and David Pacan; Cory Stillman going to Carolina for Ryan Carter and a fifth in 2011; Bryan McCabe going to New York for Tim Kennedy and a third; Radek Dvoark going to Atlanta for Niclas Bergfors and Patrick Rissmiller; Dennis Wideman going to Washington for Jake Hauswirth and a third rounder; and Bryan Allen to Carolina for Sergei Samsonov. Would this be another re-build now under Tallon?
No. Tallon was not done at all. He turned Olesz into Brian Campbell from his former team and also cap-strapped Blackhawks. He gavbe them a seventh in 2012 for Tomas Kopecky. He turned two picks into Kris Versteeg from Philadelphia. Tallon hired Kevin Dineen to replace DeBoer. In free agency, Tallon signed Jose Theodore as Vokoun left for free agency; gave big deals to Tomas Fleischmann, Ed Jovanovski, Scotti Upshall, Sean Bergenheim, and Marcel Goc; and even picked up John Madden. The new look Panthers would come together and - perform pretty well. The Theodore-Clemmensen tandem picked up where Vokoun-Clemmensen left off. Fleischmann and Versteeg were top scorers on the Panthers along with Weiss. Campbell led the defense with an astounding 53 points. Kopecky shipped in 10 goals and 32 assists. Goc and Bergenheim provided some additional points. Dineen’s team did not give up 2700+ shots, so the team was around league median for goals against. The power play was not the worst, although the team’s production was still lacking. Yet, the Panthers grinded out enough results to stay in the mix throughout the 2011-12 season. In an unusually weak Southeast Division, the Panthers - believe it or not - won it. They went 38-26-18 (again, a lot of close games grinded out for points) for 94 points. They just edged a 42-win Washington team, who took a wild card spot along with Ottawa. The Panthers were back. The decade of losing was over.
Then the New Jersey Devils beat them in the first round. But not like 2000. This series was close. The Devils needed to come back from a 3-2 series deficit and win in double overtime in Game 7. With all of Sunrise standing, they got to see Adam Henrique be a hero. I would love to say this was the start of a more successful Florida franchise - but that would be a lie. At least the longest drought was over in 2012.
Any Other Thoughts: In total: 8 different GMs including Chuck Fletcher’s interim tenure; 8 different coaches including interims; and a whole massive change to the roster from where they started in 2001 to where it ended in 2012. I do not know how a team could waste supreme goal scoring from Bure, production from Jokinen, and goaltending from Luongo but the Panthers did it. In most of these seasons, the defense gave up a stupid amount of shots on net. Somehow, no one from coaching to management to the players themselves figured out how to cut it down with few exceptions. The goaltending in this era was largely good. It was everything else that was either constantly changing, just not good enough, or both. Florida’s best era may be happening right now, but with a new coach in Paul Maurice and seeming pressure to repeat what they were last season, it may not be a long one. Yet, it would still be their best outside of their Cinderella-rat-killing run in 1996.
The Los Angeles Kings
Playoff Misses and Proportion: 23 misses out of 54 total seasons; 42.6% missed.
Current Situation: After three straight seasons of missing the playoffs, the Kings started off 2021-22 poorly. Then they won at least 6 games in each month afterwards. The Kings ran up a 44-27-11 record for 99 points and a playoff spot. They took the Oilers to the limit but lost in seven games. The team was young; we shall see if they build on that good season for something better soon.
A Summary of a Notable Drought: The Kings’ longest playoff drought, a six season skid from 2002-03 to 2008-09, ended with the best run in Kings history where they went to the Conference Finals three times and won the Cup twice. Logic would suggest that the drought led to that level of success. Did it? Let us find out.
In the 2001-02 season, the Kings made the playoffs with a record of 40-27-11-4 for 95 points. They out-scored their opposition as a whole. Felix Potvin and Jamie Storr had a strong season in the net. The core up front was Jason Allison (acquired from Boston in October 2001), Adam Deadmarsh, and Ziggy Palffy. The defense was led by Mattias Norstrom, Mathieu Schneider, and Jarsolav Modry. They were coached by Andy Murray and managed by Dave Taylor. Many of the major players are getting up their in age, but fortunately for the future, the 2000 LA draft class would turn out to be quite interesting with Alexander Frolov, Andreas Lilja, and Lubomir Visnovsky. The 2001 draft class included veteran goalie Cristobal Huet, Dave Steckel, and Mike Cammalleri. The 2002 draft class, well, unless you like Denis Grebeshkov, not so promising. But, hey, they have prospects. This is a team that seems pretty well put together.
Unfortunately, it was not put together for 2002-03. The Potvin-Storr tandem posted a 89.4% and 90.5% save percentage, respectively. Huet was brought in for 12 games and showed some promise with a 91.3% save percentage. What really hurt the Kings were injuries. Both Allison and Deadmarsh missed most of the season with either neck or concussion injuries. Palffy put up 37 goals and 85 points and the second leading goal scorer was 31 year old Bryan Smolinski with 18 and the second leading point scorer was 33-year old Mathieu Schneider with 43 in 65 games. GM Taylor figured on selling and so he did. In November, he turned Lilja and Jaroslav Bednar into Dmitri Yushkevich and a pick. In March, he flipped Yushkevich to Philly for two later picks. Smolinski was sent to Ottawa for Tim Gleason. Sending Schneider to Detroit brought back Sean Avery, Maxim Kuznetsov, a first rounder in 2003 and a second rounder in 2004. The struggling offense and not-so-tight goaltending led to a 33-36-6-7 record for 79 points and a playoff miss. The 2003 NHL Draft would be good for many teams, Los Angeles included. They drafted Dustin Brown, Brian Boyle, and Jeff Tambellini. Two out of three is not bad.
The free agency period of 2003 forced Taylor to be active with both Potvin and Storr hitting the market along with a heap of depth players. They traded a 2004 second rounder pick to Philly for Roman Chechmanek. This worked out fairly well as Cechmanek and Huet led the goaltending tandem with a 90.6% and 90.7% save percentages, respectively. With the downturn in offense, Taylor traded picks to Boston to bring back Stumpel. Taylor even brought back legendary winger Luc Robitaille in free agency and signed Trent Klatt. Some youth started coming in with Frolov, Brown and Cammelleri joining the team. Frolov did great with 24 goals and 48 points to finish second on the team in scoring. Cammalleri played 31 games and put up 15 points. Brown put up 5 points in 31 games. There was a hope that Deadmarsh and Allison could play. They did not. Deadmarsh was still suffering from the impact of concussions. He would retire in 2005. Allison was still in recovery. He would only play one more season in the NHL too. Worse, shoulder injuries caught up to Palffy and he was limited to 35 games. He too would only play one more season - and not in LA - after the lockout season. What this meant was the Kings needed more offense. Taylor swung a deal to bring in Martin Straka; he put up 14 points in 32 games. Closer to the deadline, prospect Jared Aulin was sent to Washington for Anson Carter. He put up one assist in 15 games. Needless to say, it was not enough. As nice as it was to see Robitaille lead the team with 51 points and Klatt put up 43 points, the team scored just over 200 goals. A lot of tied games and overtime losses in a 28-29-16-9 for 81 points.
The 2004 NHL Draft did not yield much despite a lot of hope for Lauri Tukonen at 11th overall. The 2005 NHL Draft would be more crucial. Anze Kopitar went in the first round and Jonathan Quick went in the third round. As the NHL returned for 2005-06, Taylor took a more aggressive approach to free agency.
In the 2005 offseason, the key was to get more offense and fill holes. Klatt retired. Deadmarsh is not returning. Chechmanek signed to Europe. Straka went to the Rangers. No matter. Taylor took advantage of Philly’s cap and got Jeremy Roenick and a pick for future considerations. Taylor signed Pavol Demitra, Valeri Bure, Jason LaBarbera, and Tom Kostopoulos. LaBarbera would join Mathieu Garon in net, who was acquired around the 2004 NHL Draft in a deal that sent Huet and Radek Bonk to Montreal. Roenick, Demitra, and Bure plus a 2004 free agent in Conroy plus an older Cammalleri, Frolov, and Brown. There was some reason to be hopeful for 2005-06.
And there were results. The Kings won plenty of games in the 2005 portion of the season. Conroy and Demitra were very productive. Cammalleri and Frolov each put up 50 point seasons. Visnovsky was huge with a 67-point seasons. While Roenick, Bure, Robitaille, and Brown did not chip in as much as one would have liked, the team attacked. They even attempted to add more with Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel coming for the Isles in exchange for Denis Grebeshkov It was necessary as Garon and LaBarbera were not good in the net with a save percentage 89.4% and 90%, respectively. And it really came unglued in the second half of the season. While the Kings were close to 40 wins (they would, the progress was not enough for Taylor and LA management. The slip-ups were too much and so Andy Murray was fired with 12 games left in the season. John Torchetti came in the interim and they went 5-7-0 to end the season with a three and four game losing streak yielding those seven losses. The Kings finished with 89 points and missed the playoffs by six points. The season would end up being Taylor’s last as GM as well. Commence another rebuild.
The 2006-07 Kings had a new front office and head coach. Dean Lombardi, formerly of San Jose, was the new GM. Marc Crawford, successful in Colorado and Vancouver, was the new head coach. The changes would come to the organization and fast. Demitra was traded to Minnesota for Patrick O’Sullivan and a first rounder, which was used on Trevor Lewis. (LA’s first rounder: Jonathan Bernier.). Free agency saw the Kings bring back Rob Blake, sign Scott Thornton, Alyn McCauley, and Matt Moulson (senior in college). Joe Corvo, Parrish, and Roenick walked. And a big deal was made: goaltender Dan Cloutier from Vancouver in exchange for a 2007 second rounder and a 2009 third rounder. On the eve of the season, Tim Gleason and Eric Belanger went to Carolina in exchange for Oleg Tverdovsky and Jack Johnson. Kopitar made the team, Cammalleri and Frolov were in their primes, and a new coach may be what they needed.
Nope. First, Cloutier was a disaster in the net. He ended up playing in just 24 games and posted an 86% total save percentage. That is not a typo. 86%. Garon ended up being the make-shift #1 guy, 40-year old Sean Burke was brought in off waivers and played 23 games and outperformed Cloutier by a mile. Barry Brust and Yutaka Fukufuji had to get in games due to injuries and they were awful. It was no wonder the Kings gave up nearly 270 goals. Second, the offensive production did have its pluses and minutes. Cammalleri, Frolov, and Kopitar finished first, second, and third on the team in scoring. Visnovsky still brought a lot of points from the back. Brown, Derek Armstrong, and Rob Blake chipped in too. On the other hand, O’Sullivan added very little, Conroy struggled, Thornton also struggled, and Tverdovsky added very little. Third, Lombardi kept making moves. Conroy was shipped off to Calgary for Jamie Lundmark and picks in January. Early February saw Lombardi send Sean Avery and John Seymour to New York for Jason Ward, M-A Cliche, Jan Marek, and a pick. Brent Sopel was shipped off to Vancouver for a second rounder in 2007 (Wayne Simmonds!) and a fourth in 2008. Ward was flippe to Tampa Bay for a fifth rounder. Mattias Norstrom, Konstantin Pushkarykov, and two picks were traded to Dallas for Jaroslav Modry, Johan Fransson, a first in 2008, a second in 2007, and a third in 2007. Active as Lombardi was, they did not yield results immediately. Combined, the Kings went 21-41-14 for 68 points. At the 2007 NHL Draft, they picked thomas Hickey at fourth overall. The Simmonds pick was much better. As was the Alec Martinez selection in the fourth round.
The rebuild continued for 2007-08. Out went Garon and Kostopoulous. In came Michal Handzus on a 4 by 4, Tom Preissing, Kyle Calder, Brad Stuart, and J-S Aubin. Kopitar emerged further and was the top scorer. O’Sullivan had a big season with 53 points while Cammalleri put up 47 in 63 games. Nagy, Preissing, Handzus, and Stuart chipped in points, but not a large amount. I mean, 38-year old Blake outscored them. Moulson and Johnson started working their way into the roster. The net featured seven different goalies from the good in small spots (Erik Ersberg, 14 games, 92.7%, LaBarbera, 45 games, 91%) to too young to tell (Quick, Bernier, Dan Taylor), and Cloutier-ish (Cloutirer, Aubin). The 2007-08 Kings gave up heaps of goals again and while the offense was stronger, the team still earned 71 points with a 32-43-7 record. During the season, Modry, Stuart, and Aubin were each traded for picks - only one of those picks turned out, a 2009 fourth rounder that became Ben Chiarot. The 2008 NHL Draft class for the Kings was led by Drew Doughty at second overall. The less said about Colten Teubert at 13th overall or Vyacheslav Voynov at all, the better.
The 2008-09 Kings came together as a young team and with new man behind the bench: Terry Murray. He coached for Washington in the 1990s, Philly in the mid-1990s, Florida for three seasons, and this was his return to the head coaching position. Lombardi signed Brad Richardson, signed Jarret Stoll after his acquisition, retained Kopitar on a huge extension, kept O’Sullivan, and saw Scott Thornton retire and Rob Blake go to San Jose. It was also an end for what was two of the well developed players in this time period: Mike Cammalleri and Lubomir Visnovsky. Cammalleri was sent to Calgary with a second round pick for a first in 2008 (which was traded twice, it ended up being Jake Gardiner and it led to LA getting the Teubert pick as oposed to Gardiner or Tyler Myers) and a second rounder in 2009 (Brian Dumoulin). Visnovsky was sent to Edmonton for Matt Greene and the rights to Stoll. Another set of changes and departures from picks made earlier in this decade by Lombardi.
This season turned out to set the table for the drought-breaking 2009-10 season. This was the season where Jonathan Quick took over as the top goalie with a 91.4% save percentage in 44 games, outperforming Ersberg and LaBarbera (who was sent to Vancouver for a seventh rounder in December 2009). Scoring goals remained a challenge as the Kings combined for 202. Frolov led the way with 32, Brown and Kopitar provided 24 and 27, Handzus and Stoll each provided 18 and over 40 points each, and O’Sullivan scored 14. Rookie seasons from Drew Doughty, Wayne Simmonds, and Oscar Moller did not provide much more than flashes of potential on the scoresheet. Justin Williams was acquired from Edmonton for O’Sullivan and Ales Kotalik; but he Although Doughty averaged over 23 minutes per game right away so he was already the new face for the blueline. The team finished at 34-37-11 for 79 points; the lack of goal scoring really held them back. But they would not be too far off.
The drought ended in 2009-10 and, as you may expect with a rebuilding team, plenty of the major contributions to the season came from drafted players. Quick played 72 games and posted a 90.7% save percentage. Not amazing, but someone reliable in the net. Ersberg was held to backup duty and Bernier just had three spot appearances. Kopitar, Doughty, Brown, and Frolov were leading scorers on the team and all drafted by the Kings. Doughty was especially impressive with a 59-point season and average of nearly 25 minutes per game in just his second pro season. Wayne Simmonds had a fine 16-goal, 40 point season in his sophomore season. Visnovsky was traded for Stoll, who had a fine season. The offense got a boost from a Ryan Smyth, who the Kings traded for with Kyle Quincey, Tom Preissing, and a fifth rounder. 55 points and annoying Edmonton fans helped. Murray had the team lock it down with a strong power play and a defense that allowed less than 2,300 shots (Did a four season signing of Rob Scuderi help that much?). This all helped the Kings finish in the top ten in both goals for and against. Additions of Jeff Halpern and Frederik Modin added more veteran coverage ahead of a possible playoff appearance. Which they did. The 2009-10 Kings would finish with a record of 46-27-9 and 101 points. They lost to Vancouver in the first round, but the rebuild set out by Lombardi was over. The six-season drought was done.
Any Other Thoughts: A lot of the successful picks by the Kings since 2000 played a role in getting this team out of the drought. The work of Taylor and Andy Murray ultimately undercut what could have been had much sooner. I think the season where Murray was fired was a mistake and I think ownership understood that as Lombardi replaced Taylor in the next season. However, the seeds for what would be the backbone of the Kings’ most successful era were sown. They were not there at the end, but Cammalleri, Lilja and Visnovsky yielded players. Huet provided a short stay and perhaps should have been kept longer. Brown, Kopitar, Doughty, Quick, and Simmonds were in this timeframe. Trevor Lewis and Martinez would emerge later with Brayden Schenn, Kyle Clifford, Jordan Nolan, and others coming out of a productive 2009 draft class. If you want an example of how to build out of the draft, Los Angeles provided it in this timeframe.
Did it have to be six seasons? Perhaps if management sorted out the goaltending much earlier than finding Quick would do it. Early on, it helped them stay competitive. But it really sunk the two Marc Crawford-coached seasons. Even if they were re-building seasons, it was still rough. Dan Cloutier was a huge mistake; credit to Lombardi for getting away from it as soon as possible. Even though he brought him to LA in the first place. And if it was not the goaltending, it was the lack of scoring outside of Cammalleri, Frolov, Kopitar, etc. Both Taylor and Lombardi tried but the players brought in to supplement the emerging young players often did not produce or perform to a level of helping out. Had management figured those two areas out earlier, maybe this drought would have been just three or four seasons. Then again, they would not likely have had the chance to get Doughty or make the deals that led to the Simmonds or Lewis picks or their 2009 class. And if we go by the idea that Lombardi did re-build the team, then please notice he did it in four seasons and without moving all of the young talent that was keeping the team offensively afloat while the team still found at least one crucial player of the future in the 2000s (except for 2002 and 2004). No five, seven, or ten year plan was needed in Los Angeles.
Your Take So Far
This was a super-long post because, well, the playoff droughts were super-long. From here on out, there are just four teams with 7-season long droughts and one with eight. I hope you can appreciate the differences among these five, especially between Edmonton having Lowe stick to his guys until he left and Florida changing so much it was little wonder there was little sustained direction. If nothing else, watch the Lowe-MacTavish presser in 2013 as you read about the ten-season drought in Edmonton. Please recognize how hollow those words are as they were stated after seven playoffless seasons and three straight first overall picks.
The next part will cover two newish teams, two of the league’s oldest, and one that is middle age, I guess. Part 4 will go over Minnesota, Montreal, Nashville, and the two New York teams. Two of these teams have had some long droughts, two have never had a drought longer than four seasons, and you will be surprised at one of those teams never having had a long drought in their history. Will Part 4 be much shorter? I hope so! Providing all of the context and angles in a drought is a lot, but I hope it is providing a clearer picture of the reality that a lot can cause failure - but also a lot can get a team out of it.
In the meantime, what have you learned from this look back at the playoff droughts for the Stars, Red Wings, Oilers, Panthers, and Kings? What did you takeaway about those various situations in terms of how they got there and how they did (or did not) get out of them? Did I miss any important details about each of these team’s droughts that have significantly contributed to their struggle or how it ended? If so, what were they? Are you looking forward to Part 4? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about these playoff droughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.