Last week, we took a look at the worst expansion teams and the miserable first seasons they encountered. What about the flip side of that? While most expansion teams are setup to fail due to the lackluster system, some teams have defied the odds and were able to hang in the NHL right away.
Number 5- Columbus Blue Jackets (2000-01)
When the Blue Jackets overcame multiple obstacles including a failed referendum and struggles to find funding for an arena, Columbus was awarded a hockey team in 1997. Once Nationwide Arena was finished, the Blue Jackets entered the 2000 expansion draft, the third expansion draft in three years, along with the Minnesota Wild. Even though rosters were stretched thin thanks to the additions of the Predators, Thrashers, and Wild, the Blue Jackets managed to put a semi-competitive roster on the ice. Even though they finished their inaugural season with a 28-39-9-6 record with 71 points, they finished 21st in the league, which, in terms of expansion teams, is far from a failure.
Number 4- Hartford Whalers (1979-80)
When the World Hockey Association collapsed in 1979, the Hartford Whalers were one of four teams that were financially stable enough to be folded into the NHL. Part of the admittance agreement was any NHL teams that held the rights to WHA players were allowed to reclaim them. In the process, they lost four of their cornerstone players, and were never able to re-find the success they saw in the WHA. During their first NHL season in 1979-80, they were placed in the relatively lackluster Norris division, where they technically finished fourth out of five with a 27-34-19 record for 73 points. Two of the three teams above them, the Penguins and Kings, finished with 73 and 74 points respectively. The Whalers inaugural season ended up being one of the franchise’s best in the NHL, as they only finished with more points seven times in the next 17 seasons.
Number 3-Anaheim Ducks (1993-94)
The Walt Disney Company was at the forefront of the 1993 NHL expansion draft to bring a second team to Southern California. Even though this was the third straight season with an expansion draft, The Ducks and the Florida Panthers, who were also brought into the league the same season, found some success with their selections. Led by Terry Yake and Bob Corkum, the Ducks finished with a 33-46-5 record, which smashed the record for most wins by an expansion team at the time. The Ducks’ 71 points were enough to finish ninth in the Western Conference, though they missed the final playoff seed by 11 points. Luckily for the Ducks, they drafted superstar-in-the-making Paul Kariya fourth overall in the 1993 entry draft, and he would debut during the 1994-95 season and carried the Ducks past their early woes.
Number 2- Florida Panthers (1993-94)
The same day Anaheim were awarded a franchise, so was Miami, Florida. Florida sports guru Wayne Huizenga, who admitted he knew nothing about hockey, brought in former-Islanders general manager Bill Torrey as president and Flyers legend Bobby Clarke as general manager to help establish the franchise. The 1993 expansion draft was highlighted by goalie John Vanbiesbrouck and first round pick in the entry Rob Niedermayer. Despite finishing with the same amount of wins as the Ducks, which tied a new record, the Panthers finished with 12 less regulation losses than Anaheim. Finishing with a 33-34-17 record, the Panthers missed the playoffs by just one point. Thanks to their success in the expansion and entry drafts, the Florida Panthers made the Stanley Cup Final just two seasons later, eventually losing to the Colorado Avalanche.
Number 1- Vegas Golden Knights (2017-18)
For the first time in 17 years, the NHL added a new team in 2017. Bumping the NHL to a total of 31 franchises. The Vegas Golden Knights were unknowingly going to be trailblazers in their first season. With the depth of talent in the league, and without multiple teams drafting before them, the Golden Knights’ expansion draft was headlined by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and forwards Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson. Vegas would win eight of their first nine games, go 11-1-1 in December, and finish the regular season with a 51-24-7 record and 109 points, easily shattering the previous record set by the Florida Panthers. The Golden Knights finished atop the Pacific Division and swept the Kings in the first round of the playoffs. Requiring just 11 games to get through the next two rounds, they were finally bested by the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final.
Minnesota Wild (2000-01)
After the North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993, the City of Minnesota was looking for a new franchise to call their own. They even tried to get the Winnipeg Jets to relocated to Minnesota, but the negotiations fell through. When the NHL expanded from 26 to 30 teams in the late 1990’s Minnesota was a finalist and ultimately awarded a team. Entering the league in 2000, they joined the Columbus Blue Jackets for the expansion draft. The Wild only had four wins in their first 20 games, and two wins in their last 17 of the season, but during the midst of the season, they got on a hot streak which resulted in most of their wins. Going 25-39-13-5 during their first season, the Wild finished second-last in the Western Conference with 68 points. All was not lost, however, as they knocked their first few entry draft picks out of the park, selecting Marian Gaborik, Nick Schultz, Mikko Koivu, Stephane Veilleux, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard in their first three drafts, all players who helped craft the identity of the early franchise.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: NHL.com