Why your team sucks

June 25, 2012

In sports, there’s different reasons why a team sucks for a long period of time.

It usually involves some combination of bad ownership, bad management, bad coaching and a little rotten luck.

Despite their success this year, the Baltimore Orioles are your classic example. Their owner is a miserly, unlikable crank. They've gone through GMs and managers like Kleenex, each more incompetent than the last. Their scouting and drafting have been atrocious. Free agents have treated their money as if it were Deutschmarks. Fans got fed up and stopped showing up.

And if the Orioles aren’t a good enough example, there’s always the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins.

In the world of hockey, we have a few teams, but two of the most notable are the New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets, who teamed up this draft day weekend to pretty much prove why each of them has sucked for the last decade.

Just as background for the nonhockey people out there: the New York Islanders were once the preeminent dynasty in hockey, winning four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83.

But since about 1994, they’ve had the most notorious logo in NHL history, employed the single-worst GM in NHL history (Mad Mike Milbury, who can now be found on NBC doing a bad imitation of his former coach, Don Cherry), and had a guy try to buy the team with money he didn’t have (John Spano). And that was just the 1990s.

Over the last 12 years, the Isles were purchased by the craziest owner in the NHL (Charles Wang), fired a GM and replaced him with the backup goalie (seriously), traded away an All-Star team worth of talent (Roberto Luongo, Zdeno Chara, Olli Jokinen and Todd Bertuzzi), handed out the two worst contracts in NHL history (a $70 million deal to career underachiever Alexi Yashin and a 15-year deal to notoriously brittle goalie Rick DiPietro) and play in a rapidly decaying mausoleum of an arena that was outdated 20 years ago.

In other words, the Islanders have every recipe for long-term suckitude and then some.

Then there are the Blue Jackets, who have sucked every year of their existence, albeit in a more boring way. The Jackets were born in Gary Bettman’s overexpansion (basically a cash grab to collect expansion fees) of the late 1990s before starting play in 2000.

Since that time, Columbus has been consistently bad.

They have made the playoffs once in franchise history and have never won a playoff game. In a league where half the teams make the playoffs, this is not an insignificant accomplishment. Franchise star Rick Nash has been on the trade block for the better part of two years. By this point, Nash must feel like Solzhenitsyn, trapped in hockey’s most miserable gulag.

Marquee players avoid Columbus like the plague, and if they happen to go there, they play like they have the plague. Before last season the team acquired Jeff Carter from Philadelphia. An unhappy Carter mailed in half a season before being dealt to Los Angeles, where, naturally, he rediscovered the fun of hockey and helped the Kings win the Stanley Cup.

Even the team’s name has been a cluster-you-know-what. Blue Jackets is a reference to Ohio’s Civil War history, so naturally, one of the team’s original logos was of a yellow jacket bee with a hockey stick. They didn't even reference the Civil War theme on the uniform until the team had been around for seven years.

I mention all this because the Jackets and Islanders nearly teamed up for the most insane trade of all-time. The Islanders, who were picking fourth, offered Columbus its entire draft (seven picks in all) to move up to second overall. The deal would have given Columbus a whopping 12 picks overall.

If it sounds entirely crazy to offer your entire draft for one pick, that’s because it is. The New Orleans Saints proved this in 1999, when they gave the Redskins their entire draft to take Ricky Williams. The reason this is insane is quite simple: by giving up all your picks for one guy, you have shortchanged yourself the ability to surround that one guy with quality talent.

And when you’re the Islanders, who made two of the worst trades of the last decade (Luongo and Jokinen for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish; Chara, Bill Muckalt and the No.2 pick – Jason Spezza – for Yashin) why do you even consider this deal? The Isles do have some decent young talent – John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner, Travis Hamonic – but are far from one player away from contention. Again, why does this move even cross your brain if you’re trying to build a winning team?

Now, as Gordon Gekko said in “Wall Street,” a fool and his money are lucky enough to get together in the first place. So if someone is foolish enough to offer you their entire draft, you gotta take the picks, right?

Not if you’re the Columbus Blue Jackets, who turned down the trade and drafted defenceman – we use Canadian spelling here at The Mojo Wire – Ryan Murray (who presumably was the Islanders target).

I’m not sure who is crazier in this situation, the Islanders for offering this deal, or the Jackets for turning it down. I lean towards Columbus. If you’re a struggling organization like that, how do you turn that deal down?

Defencemen are the most unknown quantity in a draft that is full of unknown quantities. The guys being drafted are 17-and-18-year old kids who have yet to grow into their bodies. With a few exceptions, most draftees will take at least two years to make it to the league. Plus, with defencemen, there's always a longer learning curve than with forwards.

There’s a lot of reasons defenceman take longer to develop than forwards, but among the biggest are: adjustments in how they’re used and lack of roster spots. You can only play six or seven defencemen, so you can’t hide them on the fourth line to gain experience and take away the pressure like you can with a forward.

Yes, there are guys like Drew Doughty that come right in and can be a top pair guy, but most of them struggle until their third or fourth year. Best example, Chris Pronger, who came into the league as a skinny kid, and did not become dominant until he grew into his body and learned the intricacies of the position. At that point, Pronger was in his fourth year.

So yes, Columbus, was insane for turning down that deal, especially when defenceman went with the next eight picks. Why not take the Islanders picks, take Griffin Reinhart at four and build up your system with all the extra picks? Are there any guarantees you build a dynasty with that bounty? No. But it can't hurt your chances.

Of course, even after lucking out on this no-deal, leave it to the New York Islanders to do something crazy: they used all seven of their picks on defencemen.

As my old college offensive line coach always told us, “That’s why you suck, fellas.”


  • Ryan Mavity has been a reporter with the Cape Gazette since February 2007. He covers the city of Rehoboth Beach, Baltimore Ravens football and Delaware State University football. He lives in Georgetown with his wife, Rachel and their son, Alex.

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