The current NHL season continues to excite the fans and throw up surprises. Top seeds have fallen and big names have exited the postseason far earlier than expected. But one of the stories of the season has to be the Seattle Kraken’s road to the playoffs.
After a last-place finish in its debut season, not many people’s hockey best bets had Seattle doing anything of note. But the Kraken made it to the second round this year, dumping reigning champions Colorado out in the first round of games. That got us thinking about some franchises that did even better in their debut seasons.
Here are some of the best rookie NHL teams of all time.
Minnesota Wild, 2000-01
It seems inconceivable that a place like Minnesota was without a hockey team for seven years after the North Stars left for Dallas. But it wasn’t until 2000 that the NHL expanded and the Wild came to Saint Paul. The fans were just glad to have hockey back – but the team were weak offensively.
Veteran head coach Jacques Lemaire did ensure that the Wild was strong defensively though. That was good enough for 68 points but couldn’t stop Minnesota from finishing last in the Northwest Division. The highlight of the season had to be the visit of Dallas though. A sell-out crowd roared the home team to a 6-0 shutout against the team that stole the Stars.
Florida Panthers, 1993-94
The NHL went a little expansion crazy in the 1990s and the beginning of the 1993-94 season saw both Anaheim and Miami get new teams. Both would struggle over the years but the Florida Panthers sprung out of the traps in their debut season. In a notoriously tough Atlantic Division, the Panthers only just missed out on the playoffs.
In fact, the team tied four of its last seven games of the regular season. Just a few of those ending in wins would have seen some celebratory scenes on the ice in Florida. It wouldn’t take the team too long to improve though. The Panthers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals just two years later but were swept by the Avs.
St. Louis Blues, 1967-68
We go further back for our next debut season wonder. For the 1967-68 season, the NHL doubled the size of the league from six to 12 teams and, curiously, put all the new teams in the same division. This had the knock-on effect of assuring an expansion team a place in the Stanley Cup finals.
The Blues actually only finished third in the all-new West Division. But that was enough for some postseason action, where Philadelphia and Minnesota were brushed aside. Unsurprisingly, the rookie team was no match for the seasoned Montreal Canadiens in the finals, losing the series 4-0.
Vegas Golden Knights, 2017-18
One of the success stories of recent times, the Golden Knights started major league sports expansion into Las Vegas and posted the best-ever season record for a debut team in any pro sports league. A revamped draft might have helped, but the Golden Knights almost went all the way.
Losing just one of its first nine games, Vegas carried on the strong start to the season and ended up winning the Pacific Division. But the success didn’t stop there. LA, San Jose and Winnipeg were brushed aside in the playoffs before the Golden Knights eventually fell to the Caps in the Stanley Cup finals. The franchise has continued to do well, missing out on the playoffs just once since - and looking good this year.
Future Expansion Success?
So, Seattle waited until its sophomore season to make a splash in the playoffs. But could there be another expansion team that emulates some of the achievements profiled here? The NHL seem quite happy with the way things are at the moment, so we may not see another new team at all for a while.
But there are cities crying out for hockey and, if the money is right, they could eventually get their way. Another Canadian team seems a popular move, so who is to say that we won’t be watching a Quebec City hockey team lifting the Stanley Cup in a few years’ time?
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