Double-digit wins don’t happen often, but when they do they’re spectacular and can happen to historically good and bad teams.
Hockey fans are still buzzing about the early November matchup between the Blue Jackets and Canadiens.
Did I say “buzzing about?” I meant laughing about. And occasionally high-fiving about. And maybe also getting tattoos in commemoration of. Look, I won’t tell you how to live your life.
But as much fun as the hockey world is having with the Canadiens in the wake of their 10-0 loss, it’s worth pointing out that it’s not unheard of for an NHL team to lose a game by double digits. While that game was the first since 2003, the Canadiens actually became the 74th team in league history to lose a game by 10 or more.
Let’s take a look back at some of the other teams that have pulled it off.
1943-44 New York Rangers
We might as well start with the single worst loss in NHL history.
The 1943-44 Rangers were quite possibly the worst team the NHL has ever seen. They suffered through the worst start of all-time, going 15 games before they earned their first win. They didn’t win their sixth game until Jan. 22, and that turned out to be their last victory of the season, as they closed with a 21-game winless streak. They gave up double-digit goals seven times.
And on Jan. 23, 1944, the Rangers visited the Red Wings and turned in what still stands as the worst performance in NHL history. The Wings scored two in the first, five in the second, and then poured it on with eight more in the third for a total of 15 goals on the night. (A 16th goal was waved off because it went in a fraction of a second after the final siren.) The Rangers managed only nine shots, none of which found the back of the net.
The 15-0 final still stands as the biggest blowout in NHL history. And in today’s low-scoring league, we can probably go ahead and say that the record will never be broken.
1983-84 Edmonton Oilers
Double-digit losses don’t only happen to bad teams. Even the best teams can fall victim to an awful night. And that includes teams that are just a few months away from winning the Stanley Cup.
The 1983-84 Oilers could even make a case as one of the best teams ever. They racked up 119 points, finishing tops in the league by a mile. They scored 446 goals, averaging more than a goal-per-game more than the next highest scoring team. They had three 50-goal scorers and four 100-point players, including Wayne Gretzky winning his fifth-straight Hart trophy with 87 goals and 205 points.
And on Feb. 12, they got destroyed by, of all teams, the Hartford Whalers.
The Whalers weren’t even very good, winning 28 games and missing the playoffs. But that night, they ran up the score on the mighty Oilers on their way to an 11-0 win. Ron Francis had four goals and Greg Malone had three. Hartford’s Greg Millen posted the shutout, while Edmonton’s Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog emphatically did not.
The game capped off a five-game losing streak for Edmonton, one that also included a 9-2 loss to the Capitals. It was apparently a wakeup call: they immediately kicked off an eight-game winning streak. They went on to win that year’s Stanley Cup, losing only four playoff games in the process and launching the sport’s last great dynasty.
1984-85 Vancouver Canucks
We’re cheating a bit here. We don’t mean the 1984-85 Canucks’ season. Instead, we’re referring to 1984 and 1985, as in the two full calendar years. Why? Because over the course of those 24 months, the Canucks lost four games by double-digit deficits. The aforementioned Oilers were the only other team to have even one.
The mid-’80s Canucks weren’t terrible by any stretch – they made the playoffs in 1983-84 and 1985-86. But when they lost, they lost big.
The streak started in March of 1984, when the Canucks went into Edmonton and dropped a 12-2 decision. Seven months later, they topped that with a 13-2 loss to the Flyers. A month later, they were on the wrong end of a 12-1 score in Los Angeles. And finally, in November of 1985, they were blown out by the Oilers yet again in a 13-0 loss that ranks as the worst in franchise history.
All told, the Canucks have suffered through six double-digit losses (the others were in 1974 and 1979). That’s tied with the Maple Leafs and Blackhawks for the second most by one team.
In case you’re wondering, the Canucks have been on the winning side of a double-digit score only once, back in 1992 when they beat the Flames 11-0. It was so bad that Calgary coach Doug Risebrough resigned immediately after the game.
As for the one team to have dropped even more double-digit losses than Vancouver… well, if you know your NHL history, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise that they show up in our next section.
Pretty much everyone in the 1970s
The first double-digit loss in league history came in 1919, when the Toronto Arenas lost to the Canadiens by a 10-0 final. There were five such games in the 1920s, just one in the ’30s, six in the ’40s, three in the ’50s and just two in the ’60s. Then came the 1970s, and, well, things got a little nuts.
How nuts? The decade saw 29 different double-digit blowouts, meaning well over a third of such games in NHL history happened within a few years of each other. To narrow it down even further, the four years between 1974 and 1977 saw it happen an astounding 20 times.
So what was up? Well, a few things. For one, the combination of expansion and the WHA watered talent down across the league to an extent never seen before or since. That led to scoring totals exploding throughout the 1970s, with the average NHL team going from 2.8 goals per game in 1967-68 to an all-time high of 4.0 in 1981-82. So everyone was scoring way more goals, because half the players weren’t really good enough to play in the NHL.
That all adds up to a lot of 10-0 games. And 11-1 games, and 12-2 games, and even a 14-2 game. Not surprisingly, seven of these games featured the Washington Capitals on the losing end. The Caps were the worst expansion team of all-time, and their historically bad 1974-75 debut season alone featured four separate double-digit losses.
The 1991-92 Toronto Maple Leafs
We’ll close with a rarity: a double-digit blowout that turned out well for the team on the losing end. I know that sounds weird, but stay with me.
The high-scoring early ’90s featured plenty of double-digit blowouts, with a dozen coming between 1990 and 1995. As you’d expect, a few of those included the era’s truly awful teams, like the Nordiques, Sharks and Senators. But in hindsight, perhaps the most important came on Dec. 26, 1991.
That was the night that the Maple Leafs visited the Stanley Cup champion Penguins. It didn’t go well for Toronto, as the Pens romped to a 12-1 win. Mario Lemieux had seven points, Joey Mullen and Kevin Stevens each had six, and tough guy Kevin Maguire scored the lone Toronto goal. Daniel Marois and Mike Bullard each posted a minus-6 on the night.
It was quite possibly the worst game of the decade for the Leafs. And in its own way, also one of the best.
Here’s why. New Toronto GM Cliff Fletcher had only been on the job for a few months since coming over from Calgary. He’d made one major deal, acquiring Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson from Edmonton, but had otherwise left the roster largely intact. Trade rumors swirled around Toronto all season, but Fletcher appeared to want to see what he had.
After watching the Penguins humiliate his team, Fletcher decided that he’d seen enough. According to legend, that loss convinced him to get serious about making a major move. And exactly one week later, he made it, blowing up his roster with a record-setting 10-player deal with the Flames. That was the infamous trade that brought Doug Gilmour to Toronto, and signalled the start of a new era that saw the Leafs reach the conference finals in 1993 and 1994.
Does that mega-deal happen if the Leafs don’t get destroyed by the Penguins a week earlier? Sure, maybe it does. But watching his team get stomped by the champs helped nudge Fletcher towards dropping a bomb on his roster, and the rest was history for long-suffering Leaf fans.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.