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 La Belle Province, hockey is religion. It is as important as the Catholic Church in Quebec. No other province in Canada treats the game of hockey with such reverence as Quebec. So it must have been excruciating for the fans of the Quebec Nordiques, to watch their team stumble and tumble all the way down the standings.
The Nordiques were simply dreadful in the 89-90 season, winning a paltry 12 games, while losing 61 and tying 7 for a grand total of 31 points. The team they were closest too, the Vancouver Canucks, finished 33 points ahead of the Nordiques! Yes it was a long season in Quebec City.
In hockey the most important position is goaltender. The Nordiques used 7 goalies that season, to no success whatsoever. Ron Tugnutt played in 35 games, which led the Nordiques. Tugnutt should have gotten a medal of bravery for actually lasting 35 games with this team. Tugnutt only had 5 wins, but that was good enough, to lead the team.
The Nordiques tried veteran Greg Millen, who they acquired in a trade with St Louis in December. After 18 games and a fattening 5.28 goals against average, Millen was shipped to the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline.
The Nordiques tried Soviet international Sergei Mylnikov between the pipes. After 10 games and a 4.96 goals against average, Mylnikov decided communism wasn’t such a bad idea after all and returned to Moscow.
The Nordiques tried their goalie of the future Stephane Fiset. The team had high hopes for their second round selection. Fiset was a star for the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL. After 6 games and a 5.97 average, Fiset was sent back to junior, and never really developed into that star goalie the Nordiques were hoping for.
The Nordiques used Scott Norton in the net. He lasted 10 games, compiling a 5.33 GAA before heading to oblivion.
The Nordiques were so desperate, even Mario Brunetta was given a chance. He lasted 6 games, even winning once, while putting up 4.08 GAA. Brunetta decided he would go to Italy and play hockey there after the season.
The last goalie the Nordiques used was John Tanner. He was only used once, and didn’t do that badly, only conceding 3 goals. After a couple of seasons going back and forth between the minors and the Nordiques, Tanner disappeared and was never heard from again.
The Nordiques went through a winless streak of 14 games, and an 11 game losing streak later in the season. Their worst loss of the season came on February 6, when the Washington Capitals trounced the Nordiques 12-2.
The Nordiques scored the fewest goals in the NHL (240), while being the only team to give up over 400 goals in the season. 407 to be exact.
Things were so bad, that the Nordiques were forced to trade their two star players from the 1980s. All time leading scorer Peter Stastny was dealt to the New Jersey Devils at the trade deadline for defenceman Craig Wolanin. Stastny was the franchise player for the Nordiques, and this move broke the hearts of every Nordique fan.
The Nordiques also traded left winger Michel Goulet to the Chicago Blackhawks at the deadline along with Greg Millen and Kevin St Jacques. In return the Noridques received youngsters Everett Sanipass, Dan Vincelette, and Mario Doyon. None of these players panned out for the Nordiques, while Goulet had 3 straight 20+ goal seasons for the Blackhawks.
Through all this doom and gloom, there was a bright spot. Centre Joe Sakic was starting to emerge as a superstar, and the player the Nordiques could build their franchise around. Despite the woes of the team, Sakic had a marvellous individual season, netting 39 goals, to go with 63 helpers for a total of 102 points. If Sakic had any help with him, he could have challenged for the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer. The most amazing aspect was that Sakic’s attitude remained professional and classy. It would have been easy for Sakic to demand a trade, or go on a tirade against management and most people wouldn’t have blamed him. But Sakic stayed calm and focused despite the upheaval, earning a great deal of respect from fans and teammates.
The Nordiques brought in aging superstar Guy Lafleur to help rejuvenate the team. Despite only playing in 39 games, the future hall of fame right winger notched 12 goals and was a solid contributor, when healthy.
The Nordiques fans were also a bright spot, as Le Colisee was sold out almost every night, despite the horror show they were treated too on a nightly basis. The average attendance for a Nordiques home game in 89-90 was 15,080 in Le Colisee which seats 15,176. For a last place team, the fans showed their loyalty knew no bounds.
After the season was over, the Nordiques fired coach Michel Bergeron and replaced him with Dave Chambers. The Nordiques used the first overall draft pick to select Owen Nolan from the Cornwall Royals of the OHL. The Nordiques continued to struggle the following season, finishing dead last once again in the NHL. The prize for finishing last overall was junior superstar Eric Lindros of the Oshawa Generals. However, Lindros refused to report to the Nordiques, which touched off a heated feud between the fans and Lindros. The big centre held out for a season, playing for his junior team, and participating in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. The Nordiques finished dead last yet again in 91-92 when they finally took action.
In the summer of 1992, the Nordiques traded Lindros to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, Mike Ricci, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman and two first round picks. That trade turned the franchise around, as the Nordiques instantly became contenders for the Stanley Cup.
However, the price of losing in those previous years came back to haunt them. The financial picture was bleak for the Nordiques and without a new arena, the team would be forced to move. After the team and provincial government could not reach an agreement, the Nordiques were sold and moved to Denver, Colorado in 1995, being renamed the Colorado Avalanche. Ironically, in their first season in the Rocky Mountains, the Avalanche/Nordiques won the Stanley Cup, thanks to Sakic who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Meanwhile Quebec City is still hoping a team can return to their fine city. A new arena with government funding is in the works, and hopes are high. But as it stands, Quebec City is still missing its heart and soul. Long live the Nordiques.
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