The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Minnesota Wild 3-2 last night. The loss sent Columbus to 0-8, the worst NHL start in more than seven decades.
The team last won an NHL game on April 11 against the New York Islanders in the final regular season game at Nassau Coliseum. The Blue Jackets missed the playoffs last year. But they finished the season streaking in the right direction at 12-0-1 in their last thirteen games. That exclamation point on the 2014-15 season, the addition of Brandon Saad, and the return to health of numerous injured players left Sports Illustrated‘s Michael Blinn to inform readers before the season that “thing[s] are looking bright in Columbus.”
The last time an NHL team started 0-8, a show that nobody watched, Fibber McGee and Molly, reigned as America’s top-rated program in primetime. The atomic bomb, commercial jet airliners, and the interstate highway system all lay in the future. The NHL added the red line that season and 24 teams in the subsequent 71 seasons. The Blue Jackets would not exist for another 57 seasons. Every NHL coach came into the world long after an NHL team posted an 0-8 record. Just one NHL GM, Toronto’s Lou Lamoriello, even existed during the 1943-1944 season. In other words, 0-8 last happened a long time ago.
Such horrible first impressions rank as historic events that fans tend to forget. An 0-8 start comes along at slightly more frequent intervals than Halley’s Comet.
The New York Rangers started the 1943-1944 NHL season 0-11. But this doesn’t do enough injustice to the Blue Jackets’ record of futility. The Rangers could blame Hirohito and Hitler. The Blue Jackets can’t even blame Todd Richards any longer now that John Tortorella coaches the team.
In 1943, the war more than decimated the ranks of hockey teams. New York’s leading scorer, Lynn Patrick, left the NHL for the U.S. Army. Another of their players, Red Garrett, joined the Canadian Navy never to return. When Patrick came back, the GM refused to allow him to play. But the GI Bill of Rights forced the stubborn Rangers GM, who happened to be the future Hall of Famer’s father, to permit the veteran skate again. But it wasn’t until the 1946-1947 season that the other five NHL teams permitted the Rangers to finish in better than last. Other institutions hit hard by the war never recovered.
Put another way, the last hockey team to start an NHL season 0-8, having been pieced together from rosters from the minors and aging veterans physically unfit for war service, didn’t really constitute an NHL-level team. Fans in Columbus say the same thing about the Blue Jackets.