Ranking the NHL's 30 fan bases from most miserable to happiest before the 2015-16 season.
In our first ever Fan Misery Index, the first installment of which was published in January 2014, we looked at the 10 NHL franchises whose organizational incompetence exacted the heaviest emotional toll on their fans.
This time around, we’re changing it up a bit by considering the mindsets of fan bases across the entire league.
We considered a number of factors in our thoroughly unscientific formula, including both recent and long-term history of success (or lack thereof), managerial competence, system strength, staffing moves, recent trades and signings, and anything else that might lead us to a snapshot understanding of the hope, or hopelessness, surrounding each of the NHL’s 30 teams.
Clearly, some fans have reason to be in better emotional shape than others. Some have experienced such dramatic change this summer that the prevailing optimism overrides years of bumbling and buffoonery and outright suffering. Others, puffed with pride not long ago, have devolved into festering cesspools of gloom and despair.
Hey, no one ever promised you that loving a team with all your heart would continually pay off, right? Gotta take your lumps from time to time, though some fans seem to corner the market on lumps and hold it for decades.
So here’s our list. We begin with the partisans who are in the most distress and count down to the ones who doing the most vibrant cartwheels in the streets. Take a look and then share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Maybe Lou Lamoriello knew what he was doing when he bailed on this organization. These Devils have a dim past (just one playoff appearance in the past five years), a painful present (the NHL’s 29th rated offense in 2014-15) and a grey, dystopian future (arguably the least promising prospect pool in the game). This is a team so bereft of hope that it can only aspire to being dull and dreary.
The ’Canes have become the Washington Generals of the NHL, an opponent that shows up on the schedule so that fun, entertaining teams have someone to play. With their 2006 Stanley Cup (and the glory days of Eric Staal and Cam Ward) behind them, this is a group in search of an identity. One may coalesce around a promising blueline corps (Justin Faulk, Haydn Fleury, Noah Hanifin) but that's still years down the road. Until then, this team, and its fans, play the part of the punching bag.
A promised resolution of legal hostilities between the team and the city of Glendale gives the Coyotes and their fans a glimmer of hope, but at this point everyone knows better than to let down their guard. It's always something in the Valley of the Sun. At least there's a hint of promise on the ice. Despite a miserable run that's seen Arizona sink back to the doldrums of 2002-09, the thought of Dylan Strome, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair—along with a shot at local boy Auston Matthews in the draft next summer—should keep the faithful going through another few rough years.
Earning just one playoff appearance since 2000, the eternally rebuilding Panthers are an NHL punchline. Unsuccessful and unloved, they routinely play in front of the league's smallest crowds and are constantly rumored to be on the move to one more suitable location or another. Makes it tough for the team's die-hards, but at least there's hope ahead. The organization has stable ownership dedicated to making hockey work in the community and a willingness to spend money to make it happen. GM Dale Tallon has stocked the roster with blue-chippers (Aaron Ekblad, Sasha Barkov, Nick Bjugstad) and the system is loaded with potential (Lawson Crouse, Rocco Grimaldi, Mike Matheson, Samuel Montembeault). It'll get better ... someday.
Sharks supporters have become the Wile E. Coyotes of the NHL. Every fall they're handed a promising new roster by the good folks at the Acme Company ... only to watch it blow up in their faces come spring. No wonder one of the most dedicated fan bases in the league is suffering. This season's playoff DNQ was almost a breath of fresh air compared to recent postseason disasters (that epic collapse vs. the Kings in ’14 is going to sting for a loooong time). Add in an aging core (Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau), frustration with management's inconsistent approach and one of the lowest rated farm systems in the game and it's hard to see much reason for positivity for these NoCal hockey fans.
Sure, they're still suffering through the NHL’s longest non-expansion Cup drought and the wounds of some of their most galling failures are still fairly fresh. No getting past that. But there's a sense of optimism bubbling to the surface in The Big Smoke once again. A dynamic new front office and an open, honest rebuilding approach are doing more than simply providing some balm after years of often comic futility. They've given Leafs fans a real reason (yes, real) to believe better days lie ahead.
Hey, remember back in April when missing the playoffs for the first time since ’07 felt like hitting rock bottom? Those were good ol' days, eh? Since then, new GM Don Sweeney has sucked all hope from a franchise that won the Presidents' Trophy just 16 months ago. The inexplicable panic trade of 22-year-old Dougie Hamilton robbed an aging blueline of the heir apparent to Zdeno Chara, and fan favorite Milan Lucic was a cap casualty. Sweeney even managed to suck the fun out of owning three consecutive first-round picks, continuing a painful franchise trend of draft-day miscues. All together, the moves point to years of pointless, meandering mediocrity for the proud B's.
Fans who get to watch Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie on a nightly basis should be feeling better about themselves, but there's a definite pall hanging over the Avs' faithful. With just three playoff appearances in the past nine years they've gotten used to inconsequential hockey, but the stumble of 2014-15 and a summer of questionable moves (a long-term deal for Carl Soderberg, gambling on aging defender Francois Beauchemin) and settling for risky prospects in the Ryan O'Reilly trade have fans expecting the worst.
The quest for the franchise's first championship is at 47 years and counting and enough to challenge the constitution of any fan base. But what the Blues are doling out to their die-hards borders on cruelty. A team that's looked capable of making a deep postseason run in each of the past four springs has instead won just one round, and has been eliminated in the opening series each of the past three years, typically in painful fashion. The long-term signing of Vladimir Tarasenko and the subsequent trade of divisive forward T.J. Oshie hints at a changing of the guard but it'll take a bolder reimagining of the roster, or a deep playoff surge, to win back a fanbase that's seen the same story too many times.
For the first decade or so, it was enough for the Preds to be a likeable team that tended to punch above its weight. But now this franchise is 16 seasons into its existence and with just two playoff series victories to its credit, it's beyond time for that long-awaited next step. The arrival of coach Peter Laviolette, and the debut of dynamic forward Filip Forsberg, offered hope this past season, but until they play a more consistently engaging brand of hockey, with more consistent success, the Preds are doomed to second-class status.
The Isles haven't won a playoff series in 21 years, getting knocked out in the first round in each of their seven appearances during that span. Still, it's not so much the product on the ice that's weighing them down now. It's the move to Brooklyn. Just as the team finally got its act together with a promising 2014-15 campaign, it pulled up stakes and left its home since 1972. More than a few long-suffering Isles fans are debating about making the trek from the suburbs and outer reaches of the island to the city, and the team is actively courting and developing a new base. Despite a wealth of high-end young talent, new ownership, a new arena (that is not designed for hockey, has plenty of obstructed view seats and higher season ticket prices), and a funky new revenue arrangement that is unique to the NHL, there's a feeling among longtime diehards of the next skate dropping in the not too distant future.
With new GM Ron Hextall in the midst of a long-term (and, so far, highly successful) clean up of the mess left by his predecessor, Paul Holmgren, the Flyers are a team in transition. They've missed the playoffs only three times since 1994, but two of those three have come in the past three seasons ... and there are likely to be more ahead. With too much cap space still tied up in bad contracts (Andrew MacDonald, R.J. Umberger, Vincent Lecavalier), Philly just doesn't have the talent or depth to keep pace in the highly volatile East. Even as Hexy works his magic, you can sense the natives are getting restless.
No one's putting the cart ahead of the horse in Edmonton. Everyone understands the nine-years-and-counting playoff blackout is likely to continue. Still, it feels like morning is coming, finally, for the Oilers. The rebuilding of the front office and the coaching staff was a massive step toward re-engaging a frustrated fan base. New GM Peter Chiarelli's bold re-imagining of the roster through trades and free agency hints at a potential for real improvement this season. And then there was the stroke of good fortune that allowed them to select Connor McDavid in the draft. After a summer like that, it's no wonder spirits are high in the City of Champions.
Remember that scene towards the end of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” in which all the little Whos gathered together to sing in celebration despite having had all their presents stolen? That's Buffalo. The heartbreak capital of the sporting world may be coming off one of the most undignified seasons in NHL history, but the hearts of its fans are filled with gladness. GM Tim Murray has spent the past year turning draft picks into Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane and Robin Lehner, creating a future that's not just potentially dazzling but almost immediate.
The up-and-down Sens don't make it easy on their fans. While trying to figure out what kind of team they want to be, they've made just four playoff appearances since barging their way into the Stanley Cup Final back in ’07. They were a pleasant surprise this past season, though, getting terrific mileage out of youngsters Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone and another Norris Trophy campaign from Erik Karlsson. Hard to tell what they'll be next season but expectations will be higher ... and so will the potential for disappointment.
No one's planning the parade route just yet, but after watching their team make the playoffs for the first time since 2009 Calgary's fans are as hopeful as they've been in a decade. A series of shrewd moves, keyed by the hiring of GM Brad Treliving in 2014, has seen the team get younger and faster up front (Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau) while building up arguably one of the best defenses in the West. There's certainly the potential for a step back next season but Flames supporters know the best is yet to come.
Results have yet to meet expectations in the wake of GM Chuck Fletcher going all in and signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter three years ago. The Wild have just two playoff series victories since their arrival, continuing a string of playoff futility that extends back to the team's only conference finals appearance in 2003. This spring's four-game sweep at the hands of the Blackhawks illustrated just how far the Wild are from being serious contenders, and the summer has been highlighted by the re-upping of goalie Devan Dubnyk and the signing of a pair of nondescript UFAs. With the franchise stuck in a competitive rut, that activity won't generate much enthusiasm.
It's been a long, hard road for the Jackets, a team that's made only two trips to the playoffs in its history and is coming off a season that saw it lose more than 500 man games to injury. Still, there aren't many long faces in central Ohio. Management, led by John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen, has built a club that is on the verge of becoming one of the fastest, deepest and most annoying in the league. And after making one of the summer's marquee moves with the trade for Brandon Saad, it's clear the Jackets aren't sitting at the kids' table anymore.
Considering their team has made one playoff appearance since it reached the 2008 conference finals, Stars fans sure are a hopeful lot. Credit for that belongs entirely to GM Jim Nill, who has demonstrated the courage of his convictions by making at least one significant move to re-shape the club in each of the past three off-seasons. He hasn't built a contender just yet, but Nill has created a team that ranks among the league's highest scoring and most entertaining. And with a young defense on the verge of a breakthrough, the Stars are poised to take that next step soon ... and that's good enough for the fans in Big D.
There are few fan bases more passionate—or more defensive—than Washington's faithful. They know they're experiencing something once-in-a-lifetime with Alex Ovechkin and appreciate the opportunity, but there's also a growing sense that the clock is ticking. Despite his magnificence, this team has been unable to get past second round in the Ovie era and has been eliminated in a Game 7 situation in six of the past eight years. The team rebooted with a new GM (Brian MacLellan) and coach (Barry Trotz) last summer but that didn't get it over the hump. The addition of wingers Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie this summer looks good on paper, but will it be enough? Caps fans have reason to be skeptical.
It's been fun to be a Canucks fan for the better part of 15 years. A near-lock on a playoff berth, a pair Hall of Fame-caliber stars in the Sedins providing magic on a nightly basis, and some of the most entertaining characters in the game (led by the incomparable Roberto Luongo) made it a treat to support the Blue and Green. But Luongo's gone, the Sedins are rapidly aging out, and the playoffs are hardly a sure thing anymore in the deep and competitive Western Conference. There's some solid young talent on the way (Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann, Hunter Shinkaruk, Thatcher Demko) but the gap between their productive years and the decline of the current roster has fans expecting some fallow years ahead. Hey, the ride couldn't last forever ...
They've followed up their 2007 Stanley Cup win with three consecutive Pacific Division titles to establish themselves as one of the most successful teams of the past decade. They're well managed, with GM Bob Murray proving willing and able to make significant moves (trading for Ryan Kesler and Carl Hagelin) to improve his talent, and they boast one of the deepest systems in the game, led by Nick Ritchie and Shea Theodore. No doubt their fans would like to see greater success in the postseason, but the Ducks are legitimate contenders and that counts for something.
The Jets and their fans are still in that honeymoon phase, and after a short-lived but thrilling return to the playoffs this past spring it's probably not going to end any time soon. The Jets are no one's idea of a Cup challenger but with a roster that leans heavily on young talent (nine players who are 25 and under) and one of the top-five talent pools in the league, there is plenty of fuel for their fans' exuberance until they're ready to compete.
On the surface, Montreal's fans aren't happy with any season that ends with something other than a parade “along the usual route.” Still, they're in generally good spirits as the Habs have been largely consistent over the past decade or so, missing the playoffs only twice since 2003 and winning two division titles during the past three seasons. They are not quite Cup caliber, but they're certainly capable of coming out of the East for years to come. And outside of coach Michel Therrien—who seems to flip the rage switch for many supporters—this is a highly likeable team. With P.K. Subban, Brendan Gallagher and MVP Carey Price leading the way, it's easy to see why it has won the hearts of its fans.
It's hard for any fan base to complain when it has been treated to nearly a decade of hockey by a generational talent like Sidney Crosby and his more than able sidekick Geno Malkin or when it's in on a nine-year playoff streak. But there's a growing unease in Pittsburgh, a sense that a truly rare opportunity is being squandered. The acquisition of a premier offensive winger in Phil Kessel—especially without having to sacrifice any of the team's promising young blueliners—and the signing of KHL vet Sergei Plotnikov should allay those fears for awhile, but the pressure is clearly on to make something of this competitive opportunity.
No way around it. This past season was a disaster. The Kings became just the fifth team in NHL history to miss the playoffs the year after it won the Cup. They appear to have lost top-four defender Slava Voynov after his domestic violence conviction, and the long-running (and ever-evolving) Mike Richards situation was handled abysmally from the get-go. But the Kings also have claimed the first two Cups in franchise history during the past four seasons and are poised to challenge for more. Key players Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick are either in or just entering their prime years. The team is loaded with terrific young talent (Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson) and its AHL affiliate just captured the Calder Cup. The Kings are a potential dynasty just entering full bloom.
The loss of a hugely successful coach, back-to-back first-round exits, and an aging core might have other fan bases in a panic but Wings fans know what they've got. Even as it is cherry-picked for parts, this organization, led by GM Ken Holland, remains one of the most effective and respected in the league. The team's scouts continue to mine gems in the draft (Joe Hicketts and Andreas Athanasiou look like the most recent steals) and there's a new, state-of-the-art building under construction. Oh, and then there’s that 24-year playoff streak. Not too tough to be a Wings fan.
There has been no Cup since the glorious run of 1994, but Rangers fans really can't complain too much. Their team is consistently in the mix, with one Cup final and two conference finals appearances since 2012 plus nine total playoff appearances and 10 series wins during the past 10 years. The roster is loaded with superior, fan-friendly talent (Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh) and well positioned to compete for the next half-decade or more. What's not to love?
They have an owner who puts everything into the team and even more into the community (a $50,000 charitable donation at every home game). A general manager in Steve Yzerman who has quickly emerged as one of the brightest in the league. And a talent pool that includes one of the world's top players in Steven Stamkos and arguably the best pool of 25-and-under players in the game. As good as the present looks for an organization that just made its second-ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, the future seems even brighter.
The two million fans in attendance at the team's most recent Stanley Cup celebration—the third in five years—speak to this city's growing love affair with the Blackhawks. Led by visionary chairman Rocky Wirtz, the former laughing stock has become the organizational model by which all others are judged. GM Stan Bowman has proved to be a shrewd judge of talent and an excellent manipulator of the market. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith have earned a place among the city's all-time legends. And even after having to again shed talent due to a cap squeeze, this team is still set to contend for years to come. It's a great time to be a Hawks fan.