This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
In 1974 the Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts joined the NHL as expansion teams, expanding the NHL fraternity to 18 teams. The Capitals were owned by Abe Pollin who also owned the NBA’s Washington Bullets at the time.
Pollin hired the legendary Milt Schmidt as his first general manager, luring him from the Boston Bruins. Schmidt was with the Bruins for 38 years as a player, coach and general manager, winning 4 Stanley Cups with the Big Bad Bruins.
Schmidt then hired Jim Anderson as the team’s inaugural coach. Anderson was the head coach of the Springfield Indians, who were the minor league affiliate with the Los Angeles Kings at the time.
The Caps were rewarded with the first overall pick in the entry draft of 1974, and they used that pick to select defenceman Greg Joly of the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League. Joly had a terrific junior career in Regina, leading the Pats to a Memorial Cup victory earlier that spring.
In the expansion draft, the Caps first choice was goaltender Ron Low, who was left unprotected by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Two other key pickups in the expansion draft were winger Bruce Cowick from the defending Stanley Cup Champion Philadelphia Flyers, and defenceman Yvon Labre from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
On October 9, 1974 the Caps played their first ever game, against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Winger Jim Hrycuik scored the Caps first ever goal, but the Rangers went on to win the game 6-3 and the futility began. It wasn’t until the fourth game of the season when the Capitals finally won a game, a 4-3 decision over the Chicago Blackhawks. But wins were few and far between the rest of the season.
The Capitals finished the season with 8 wins 67 losses and 5 ties for a grand total of 21 points. By far the worst record in the history of the NHL. How bad was it? The Capitals were held off the scoreboard 12 times that season. They gave up 10 or more goals 7 times that season, an NHL record. They gave up 446 goals that season, another NHL record no team wants, while scoring only 181 goals. A goal differential of -265. They recorded only 1 win on the road the entire year, a 5-3 victory over the California Golden Seals. (They lost the remaining 39 games away from the Capital Centre.)
Anderson only lasted 55 games behind the bench until he was fired and replaced by Red Sullivan. The former New York Rangers bench boss fared no better as he lasted just 19 games, winning only 2 of them before he received the pink slip. GM Schmidt took over the coaching job for the final 7 games of the season, going 2-5 in that timeframe.
The players were a story onto themselves. Tom Williams was the team’s leading scorer, notching 22 goals and 36 assists in 80 games. Denis Dupere was the only other Capital player to hit the 20 goal mark. Captain Doug Mohns scored only twice the entire season, while being a -52 on the ice.
Winger Mike Marson possessed blazing speed, but had no idea where he was supposed to be on the ice. His -65 plus/minus was proof that Marson was only interested in skating up and down the ice, defensive responsibilities be damned. He does however sport a great moustache, so I have a soft spot for him.
Defenceman Bill Mikkelson topped that dubious statistic, as he was an astounding -82 on the ice. No player has ever come close to that wretched feat. In fact that is impossible in today’s NHL. It’s impossible in Atom hockey. How can any player in the NHL be a -82? If there is a debate for worst hockey player of all time, Mikkleson must be included in the discussion. The North Pole is warmer that Mikkelson’s plus/minus ratio.
First overall pick Greg Joly only scored once while recording a -68 on the ice. Granted that’s better than Mikkleson’s plus/minus but still a dreadful rookie season for Joly. His career didn’t go much better has Joly battled back problems early on. Eventually, the Caps gave up on their prized prospect, trading Joly to the Detroit Red Wings for veteran Bryan Watson.
Don’t forget the goalies. How can you forget the goalies? Ron Low recorded all 8 wins for the Capitals that season. That’s the good news. The bad news, he lost 36 games, with a goals against average of 5.45. That average nowadays wouldn’t be good enough for an ECHL franchise let alone an NHL franchise. Low, however looked sterling next to Michel Belhumeur.
The second Caps goalie didn’t win a single game for the Capitals in 35 appearances, recording a 5.36 goals against average. While his GAA was .09 better than Low, Belhumeur appeared in 13 fewer games, and many experts have rated Belhumeur the worst goalie in the history of the NHL. Belhumeur only made 7 appearances the following season before disappearing into oblivion. Third-string goalie John Adams appeared in 8 games, without registering a victory, while compiling a 6.90 GAA. Adams was never heard from again and the Capitals are thankful for that.
I mentioned earlier that the Caps gave up 10 or more goals on 7 different occasions. Here’s a rundown on those special times that are cherished by no one in the US Capital.
November 7, 1974. Boston 10 Washington 4
November 10, 1974 Montreal 11 Washington 1
December 14, 1974 Boston 12 Washington 1
January 4, 1975 Montreal 10 Washington 0
February 22, 1975 Chicago 10 Washington 3
March 15, 1975 Pittsburgh 12 Washington 1
April 5, 1975 Montreal 10 Washington 2
So here’s a toast to the 1974-75 Washington Capitals. Many people in DC would like to forget about you, but this ragtag group of shame and laughter will be remembered by me as one of the absolute worst teams ever. And for that, we love you!
You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973