Arizona has yet to pick up a regulation win, becoming the first team in history to go 20 games without a non-overtime or shootout victory. But the Coyotes don’t have the worst first 20-game record of all-time.
The Coyotes continue to make history, although it’s not the kind Arizona was hoping for when the puck dropped on the 2017-18 season.
Earlier in the year, the Coyotes matched a more than 70-year-old record by losing their first 11 games, tying them with the 1943-44 New York Rangers for the worst season-opening struggle. Arizona snapped their winless streak before taking sole possession of the record by downing the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 12 of the campaign. But, on Tuesday night, the Coyotes did earn a first in terms of futility.
With a 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Arizona earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first team in NHL history to go through the first 20 games of a campaign without a regulation win. Yes, that’s right: the Coyotes are nearly one-quarter of the way through the season without winning a 60-minute contest, picking up their only victories by way of overtime and a shootout. Making matters worse, Arizona, with their seven points thanks to a 2-15-3 record, also happens to be the first team to fail to record a double-digit point total after 20 games since the 2013-14 Sabres. Buffalo managed only nine points in 20 games.
If there is any silver lining for the Coyotes so far, though, it might be that their 20-game performance isn’t the worst of all-time. In fact, in the post-expansion NHL, seven other franchises have had starts in which they’ve registered seven or fewer points. And while there’s not much solace in that for Arizona, at least those performances are proof that things could (somehow) be worse.
8. Winnipeg Jets — 1980-81 (1-14-5)
In a scenario that likely will never be seen again, the defending champions from a rival league, the Jets, merged with the NHL along with a few other WHA franchises, but there were growing pains for Winnipeg during that inaugural 1979-80 season. Despite being dominant in the WHA one season earlier, the Jets stumbled out of the gates and finished second-last in the entire NHL. Somehow, though, that was a performance Jets fans would’ve longed for the following season.
In their sophomore season in the NHL, Winnipeg was awful and, after winning their third game of the season, the Jets failed to pick up another victory until the Game 34. Winnipeg went two months without a win. The only thing keeping the Jets ahead of other teams on this list are their five ties and goal differential (minus-38) over the first 20 games. By season’s end, though, the Jets were the second team in NHL history — and remain one of only seven teams — to surrender 400 or more goals in a campaign.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs — 1990-91 (3-16-1)
The 1989-90 Maple Leafs weren’t exactly world beaters, but, if nothing else, Toronto could hang their hats on the fact they had made the playoffs. It was awfully evident from the outset of the 1990-91 campaign, though, that the Leafs were trending in the wrong direction. On opening night, Toronto fell 7-1 to the Jets. Two nights later, it was a 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames, which was then followed by a narrow 3-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers and a sound 8-5 defeat at the hands of the Quebec Nordiques.
It took until the eighth game of the campaign for the Maple Leafs to land in the win column, but that was too little, too late for then-coach Doug Carpenter, and after two more losses he was shown the door. The change behind the bench actually helped Toronto get somewhat on track, too. Under bench boss Tom Watt, the Maple Leafs proceeded to go 22-37-10 over their final 69 games.
6. San Jose Sharks — 1991-92 (3-16-1)
Two tight games to start the season, immediately followed by the franchise’s first victory, may have given some the sense things weren’t going to go all that poorly for the expansion Sharks. That sure changed when San Jose rattled off 13 consecutive losses following their first win in franchise history. It’s not even as though the games were close, either. The Sharks allowed fewer than four goals against twice during the entire losing streak and six or more against seven times, including a 9-0 debacle against the New Jersey Devils.
San Jose could never really right the ship during that inaugural campaign, either. Though they went on to win 17 games by season’s end, their 39 points were far and away the lowest total and, to this day, remains the 13th-worst full-season point total in the post-expansion NHL. Incredibly, the following season was worse and the Sharks finished with only 11 wins and 24 points, but they were at least able to win four of their first 20 games.
5. Washington Capitals — 1974-75 (2-16-2)
4. Washington Capitals — 1975-76 (2-16-2)
Talk about the worst version of deja vu in NHL history. After getting absolutely thumped through the early part of the season in their inaugural season and winning only twice in 20 games en route to the all-time worst season in post-expansion history, the Capitals entered their second campaign with at least some hope the previous year would serve as a valuable learning experience. But, uh, not so much. It took until the 10th game of the season for the Capitals to finally win one and, despite a second win coming only four days later, Washington finished their first 20 games of the season with an identical record to the campaign prior.
The good news for the Capitals is that everything did turn out “better” in the sophomore campaign. After winning eight games as an expansion team, Washington won 11 games in their second season and improved their point total to 32 from the 21 they managed in 1974-75. Still, though, no team in post-expansion history has had two consecutive seasons end as poorly as those early Capitals.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning — 1997-98 (2-16-2)
Through the first four games of the season, it appeared the Lightning, fresh off a 74-point campaign, were going to fight for a playoff berth for the second time in the three years. After all, they had only dropped one of those outings, a one-goal loss to the Devils. As it turns out, though, those first four games were smoke and mirrors for a Tampa Bay team on an express train to the NHL basement as the Lightning were held without a victory for their next 16 games and would later go on to losing streaks of nine and 13 games.
The coaching carousel was moving at hyper speed in Tampa Bay that season, too. After starting the season with a 2-7-2 record, Terry Crisp was relieved of his duties, which led to Rick Paterson stepping in on an interim basis and losing six straight games. Paterson was replaced by Jacques Demers, but the Stanley Cup-winning coach only led Tampa Bay to a 15-42-8 record the rest of the way and was shown the door after a 19-54-9 campaign the following year.
2. New Jersey Devils — 1983-84 (2-18-0)
Here’s the difference between the Devils and every other team on this list: at some point, be it opening night or Game 20, each team was able to at least tie a contest. New Jersey, however, had no such luck. It was black or white, win or lose, for the Devils across the first quarter of the 1983-84 campaign, and more often — much, much more often — it was New Jersey suffering defeat. In fact, the Devils posted six and 10-game losing skids before mid-November rolled around. Ouch.
It shouldn’t be all too surprising that New Jersey was so hapless, however, given they had an exceptionally porous defense in the early going, surrendering 102 goals in 20 games and posting an atrocious minus-48 goal differential. That was nearly two-and-a-half times worse than the next ugliest goals for to goals against ratio. The poor defense continued all season, too, as the Devils only allowed three or fewer goals against in only 12 of 80 games, eight or more against on seven occasions and capped off their first 20 games of the campaign with a “Mickey Mouse” 13-4 walloping at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.
1. Ottawa Senators — 1992-93 (1-18-1)
Anyone who recalls the 1992-93 Senators, or knows anything about that inaugural season, won’t be all that surprised to see Ottawa topping the list. To this day, the Senators remain the only team in post-expansion history to register fewer than four points through the first 20 games of the campaign. And if it weren’t for an opening night win, Ottawa would have actually wound up with just one point to their name, the single coming in a tie game against the Sabres.
It’s not just that Ottawa was losing games, though, it was the way in which they were dropping contests. There were very few close games in those first 20 outings and the Senators’ defense was almost comical. All told, Ottawa allowed 105 goals against across the first 20 games of the campaign, second-most in league history behind only the 1984-85 Vancouver Canucks (119 goals against), and the Senators’ minus-62 goal differential — due in part to a 12-3 loss to Buffalo — marked the worst in a 20-game start since the 1919-20 NHL season.
By season’s end, the Senators managed to win only 10 games, the third-fewest all-time in a campaign with at least 80 games, and finished with a goal differential of minus-193. Only three teams in NHL history have ever fared worse.
(All historical statistics via Hockey-Reference)
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