Often, it takes many years for a team to go from terrible to good, but occasionally, some teams hit the fast forward button and speed things up. Quite often, the acquisition of a young new superstar can quickly accelerate rebuilds and teams can change dramatically over the course of a single season. These ten teams saw the most dramatic improvements over the course of a single season.
10. Boston Bruins – 1966-67 to 1967-68
In the NHL’s last “Original Six” season, the 1966-67 Boston Bruins were terrible. They finished last out of the six teams with a 17-43-10 record for 44 points. The only bright spots were the steady veteran Johnny Bucyk and the young new star defender Bobby Orr. The change to the 12-team league seemed to help the Bruins greatly. They had an impressive improvement, with a record of 37-27-10 for 84 points and an amazing 40-point increase, albeit in 74 games compared to the 70-game season of 1966-67. The acquisition of Phil Esposito and Ken Hodge from the Black Hawks and the improvement of Boston’s goaltenders provided enough for a dramatic turnaround season.
9. Philadelphia Flyers – 2006-07 to 2007-08
The most modern team on our list, the Philadelphia Flyers sank all the way to last in the NHL with a pitiful 56-point season and a 22-48-12 record. The Flyers had some young potential on their team, but none of it had been fully developed, so without any star players to carry the team, the Flyers lost many games. A lack of any solid goaltending was also a significant problem, as the Flyers used five different goaltenders throughout the season. The following summer, the Flyers made a huge splash by signing big ticket free agent Daniel Briere to a long contract. The Flyers also acquired a proven veteran NHL defenseman in Kimmo Timonen and signed him to a long extension. Along with Timonen came burgeoning young forward Scott Hartnell. All three proved to be huge factors in Philadelphia’s resurgent season as they propelled further to a 42-29-11 season. Hartnell surpassed 20 goals while providing a physical presence, Timonen was steady defensively and scored 44 points and Briere finished second on the team with 72 points. Other young players improved too, as Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Joffrey Lupul became capable offensive players with Richards leading the team with 75 points. In net Martin Biron stabilized things and helped the Flyers finish with 95 points and 5th in the Eastern Conference.
8. Winnipeg Jets – 1980-81 to 1981-82
The Jets were a pretty bad team when they transferred to the NHL from the WHA in the 1979-80 season, but they were somehow even worse in the 1980-81 season. The Jets had a pitiful 9 wins and a lowly .200 point percentage. They were dead last in the NHL with the worst goals for and goals against in the league. They used five different goaltenders and lacked any big name players on their roster. The one positive to come out of the bad season was the opportunity to draft first overall–a pick with which they chose Dale Hawerchuk. The Jets, a team infused with youth, exploded onto the scene for the 1981-82 season. Propelled largely by their young offensive defender in Dave Babych and 18-year old phenom, Dale Hawerchuk, the Jets finished the season with a .500 record at 10th in the league out of 21 teams, their 33 wins being a drastic improvement over the previous year’s 9 wins.
7. Dallas Stars – 1995-96 to 1996-97
The 1995-96 Dallas Stars were a team with many championship pieces that weren’t yet known. Though they had many players who would become important in Dallas’ years of dominance to come, in the 1995-96 season, the Hatcher brothers and centre Mike Modano were the only particularly bright spots for the Stars. The Stars finished 23rd out of 26 teams and had 66 points during the 82-game season. The Stars went from one of the league’s worst to one of the best in the 1996-97 season. They finished with 104 points, good for 2nd in the entire NHL. The introduction of Darryl Sydor and Sergei Zubov dramatically bolstered Dallas’ defense, enabling them to allow few shots on to the Stars’ net. The Stars also had great defense from their forwards as Jere Lehtinen began to grow into his role as a premier shutdown forward. The improvement of Joe Nieuwendyk, received in the trade that sent Jarome Iginla to Calgary, helped the Stars as well as he scored 30 goals for the team.
6. San Jose Sharks – 1992-93 to 1993-94
An utter lack of any sort of cohesion and star power left the San Jose Sharks with one of the worst seasons in NHL history. They finished with an 11-71-2 record, setting the NHL record in losses that remains unbroken to this day. An infusion of Russian legends in Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov bolstered the Sharks dramatically in the 1993-94 season along with the entrance of Sandis Ozolinsh into the NHL. Ozolinsh scored 26 goals and 64 points. Ozolinsh paired up with Jeff Norton to help Arturs Irbe help defend the Sharks’ net. Although the Sharks still weren’t good, they were good enough to make the playoffs and heavily upset the Detroit Red Wings in a 7-game first round series, though they would lose to the Toronto Maple Leafs in another surprisingly close series. The Sharks went from 71 losses down to 35 in just one season.