2005-06: The NHL Season That Encouraged Tanking

Photo: NHL via Getty Images

When hockey fans think of the most notable teams in recent years, they usually think of the St Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals, and Boston Bruins. All five of those teams have consistently contended throughout the past decade, with four of those teams currently considered to be among the best teams in hockey.

But conditions for those five teams were much different during the 2005-06 season, which was the first year after the 2004-2005 NHL lockout. Those five teams were the worst teams in the NHL that year, and were thus able to choose from the top of the draft pool in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

In those days, only the bottom five teams were eligible for the NHL draft lottery, which allowed the winner of the lottery to choose first. NoVa Caps examines how each team performed during 2005-06, who they chose in the draft that season, how their fortunes changed as a result, and their current status.

TEAMS IN 2005-06

St Louis Blues

Prior to the lockout, the St Louis Blues had made the playoffs every season since 1979-80, but were never able to win the Stanley Cup, and only advanced to Round 3 in two of those seasons.  But the Blues had their worst season since 1978-79, compiling a record of 21-46-15 and 57 points. The Blues finished in last place in the Central Division and had the worst record in the NHL.

The Blues had drafted a few prospects in recent years to include David Backes (2003 draft), T.J. Oshie (2005 draft), and Lee Stempniak (2003 draft).

Pittsburgh Penguins

Prior to the lockout, the Penguins had finished in last place in the Atlantic Division every year since the 2001-02 season. They had the worst record in the entire NHL for 2003-04.  Despite drafting Sidney Crosby, who was projected to be a generational player, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, they continued their losing ways when the lockout was over in 2005-06 and compiled a record of 22-46-14.  Their record was the worst record in the Atlantic Division, better than only the St Louis Blues. With all the recent early picks the Penguins had earned since 2003, there was discussion among members in the media about how long a team should be allowed to pick one of the top five picks. The Penguins were also having financial problems and there was even talk of the team moving to Kansas City.

At that time, the Penguins had drafted goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with the first overall pick in 2003, Evgeny Malkin (who had still yet come over to America) with the second overall pick in 2004, and Sidney Crosby with the first pick in 2005.

Chicago Blackhawks

Prior to the lockout, the Chicago Blackhawks had finished in last place in the Central Division and hadn’t made the playoffs since the 2001-02 season.  Like the Penguins, they continued their losing ways after the lockout by compiling a 26-43-13 record and finishing in fourth place in the Central Division. They improved their record after the lockout by winning six more games, but they were still worse than every other NHL team in 2005-06 except the Blues and the Penguins.

The Blackhawks were accumulating a stable of defensemen in Duncan Keith (2002 draft), Brent Seabrook (2003 draft), and Cam Barker (2004 draft).

Washington Capitals

Prior to the lockout, the Washington Capitals finished in last place in the Southeast Division. As the team got off to a horrendous start for the 2003-04 season and the team’s core players were veterans over the age of 30, the management figured it was time for the team to rebuild. Hence, veterans were traded for picks and prospects in order to aid in the rebuild.  The team played slightly better after the lockout and compiled a record of 29-41-12, which earned them last place in the Southeast.

The Caps drafted Alexander Ovechkin, who was expected to be a generational player, with the first overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry draft. Other than that, they had drafted or acquired several other prospects, many of whom were ripening with their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears.

Boston Bruins

Prior to the lockout, the Boston Bruins finished in first place in the Northeast Division only to get ousted in Round 1 of the playoffs. However, after the lockout, it was a different story. The Bruins had their worst season since the 1999-00 season, finishing 29-37-16, which earned them last place in the Northeast.

Prior to the season, Joe Thornton, one of their stars, had an acrimonious contract negotiation with the team and had expressed his unhappiness with the state of the Bruins’ franchise. Although he got off to a hot start, the Bruins traded him to the San Jose Sharks in November for three other players, including Marco Sturm and Brad Stuart.  The team decided to build the team around Patrice Bergeron (drafted in 2003), rather than Thornton. That year, Tim Thomas earned the #1 goalie role for Boston, due to injuries to other goalies.


Early in the 2005-06 season, scouts had considered Phil Kessel, a forward attending the University of Minnesota, as the best eligible player in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. But that changed as the season progressed. Instead, they regarded defenseman Erik Johnson as the best player available, with nearly every mock draft projecting the St Louis Blues to choose Johnson.

The players regarded most highly, besides, Johnson and Kessel, were Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, Derrick Brassard, and Peter Mueller.  Those players were all considered to be talented centers, with Mueller considered to have the least offensive upside in that group. At that time, Kessel was classified as a center, as well.

The mock drafts varied as to who would be the second player chosen. Most projected Staal, the younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes forward Erik Staal, to be chosen second, but some mock drafts would project Jonathan Toews or Nicklas Backstrom in that slot instead.

The mock drafts consistently rated Mueller and Brassard no higher than fourth, with Brassard typically rated as fifth. The ratings for Backstrom were widely variant, being rated anywhere from second to eighth.

On Saturday June 24, 2006, the NHL Entry Draft was held and proceeded in the following order:

  • St Louis Blues drafted defenseman Erik Johnson. Johnson had been born in Bloomington, Minnesota and was part of the US National Team Development program.
  • Pittsburgh Penguins drafted center Jordan Staal, who was playing junior hockey for the Petersborough Petes.
  • Chicago Blackhawks drafted center Jonathan Toews, a Canadian born in Winnipeg who was playing for the University of North Dakota
  • Washington Capitals drafted center Nicklas Backstrom, a Swede playing with Brynas, after turning down a trade offer from the Boston Bruins, who wished to move up in the draft.
  • Boston Bruins drafted Phil Kessel

nhl_draft_hockey_2006 Top 3 Getty


St Louis Blues

Johnson did not join the Blues immediately, as he attended the University of Minnesota for the 2006-07 season. Johnson joined the Blues for the 2007-08 season and had a decent rookie season, scoring 5 goals with 28 assists. However, just before the start of the 2008-09 season, Erik Johnson injured his knee getting out of a golf cart, tore his ACL and missed the entire season.

While Johnson returned for the 2009-10 season, it was difficult for him to live up to his billing as a first overall pick. It was especially difficult for Blues fans when Jonathan Toews, drafted so soon after him, helped their archrivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, win multiple Stanley Cups.  Blues fans could not help but wonder if the Blues would have been better off drafting Toews instead of Johnson. The Blues traded Johnson to the Colorado Avalanche in February 2011 in exchange for forward Chris Stewart and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

The Blues performed better during the 2006-07 season, recording a 34-35-13 season and 81 standings points, finishing third in their division, but still missed the playoffs.  When Johnson joined the team in 2007-08, the Blues were 33-36-13 and had 79 standings points and the fourth worst record overall.  Several of the perennial tail-enders had dramatically improved from the 2006-07 season.

The Blues made the playoffs during the 2008-09 season, after an outstanding second half to the season, but were swept in the first round of the playoffs.  They missed the playoffs during 2009-10 and 2010-11, but returned to the playoffs for the 2011-12 season when they had the second best record in the Western Conference.

After that, the Blues made the playoffs every year, except in 2017-18, generally finishing either first or second in their division, but would underachieve in the playoffs, advancing past Round 2 just one time, in 2015-16.  They finally won the first Stanley Cup in the franchise in 2018-19.

Johnson did not contribute to the Blues’ playoff resurgence, as they had dealt him to Colorado. Shattenkirk was a major contributor to the team until, he himself was dealt at the 2016-17 trade deadline.  Throughout their period of contention, the Blues had turned over many of their core players, trading T.J. Oshie and letting David Backes go in free agency.

Two draftees from the 2010 draft, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko became key players for them in the long term although neither had a prominent role for their 2011-12 team.

St Louis Blues
Season W L OTL PTS Div Conf NHL Playoff
2005-06 21 46 15 57 5 15 30 Missed Playoff
2006-07 34 35 13 81 3 10 22 Missed Playoff
2007-08 33 36 13 79 5 14 27 Missed Playoff
2008-09 41 31 10 92 3 6 15 Lost in Round 1
2009-10 40 32 10 90 4 9 15 Missed Playoff
2010-11 38 33 11 87 4 10 20 Missed Playoff
2011-12 49 22 11 109 1 2 3 Lost in Round 2
2012-13 29 17 2 60 2 4 6 Lost in Round 1
2013-14 52 23 7 111 2 3 4 Lost in Round 1
2014-15 51 24 7 109 1 2 4 Lost in Round 1
2015-16 49 24 9 107 2 2 3 Lost in Round 3
2016-17 46 29 7 99 3 5 10 Lost in Round 2
2017-18 44 32 6 94 5 9 18 Missed Playoff
2018-19 45 22 9 99 2 6 10 Won Stanley Cup
2019-20 42 19 10 94 1 1 2 Best in West

Pittsburgh Penguins

In 2006-07, the Penguins made a dramatic improvement after four straight seasons of being near the bottom. Evgeny Malkin, who was drafted with the second pick overall in 2014, finally came to play hockey in North America that season and won the Calder Trophy for the best NHL rookie.

Jordan Staal, who Pittsburgh drafted with the second pick overall in 2006, often played on the wing with Malkin and scored 29 goals with 13 assists. Those two players, in conjunction with Crosby others, helped the Penguins finish second in the Atlantic Division with a 47-24-11 record, but they were eliminated in the first round.

The next year, they finished first in their division with a record of 47-27-8 and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals, but lost to the Detroit Red Wings. In 2008-09, they had a mid-season slump and fired their coach, Michel Therrien, and replaced him with Don Bylsma.  They ended up with a record of 45-28-9, finished second in their division and won the Stanley Cup.

From the 2009-10 season through 2014-15 season, the Penguins would make the playoffs, but not make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Jordan Staal, who generally served as third line center for most of his career with the Penguins, unless either Crosby or Malkin were injured, was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes after the 2011-12 season after he turned down a contract extension.

The Penguins won two more Stanley Cups. In 2015-16 and 2016-17, and in 2017-18, the Capitals returned the favor by eliminating the Penguins in Round 2 of the playoffs.  The Penguins lost in Round 1 of the playoffs in 2018-19.

Staal was an important member of the Penguins Stanley Cup winning team in 2009 but many of the other players drafted during that era had a more important role.  The Penguins were helped in that they drafted two of the best players of the generation in Evgeny Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who remain prominent to this day.

The Penguins have qualified for the playoffs fourteen consecutive years, the longest active streak. In that time, they have won three Stanley Cups, advanced to the Stanley Cup Final one other time, and advanced to the Eastern Conference Final one other time.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Season W L OTL PTS Div Conf NHL Playoff
2005-06 22 46 14 58 5 15 29
2006-07 47 24 11 105 2 5 10 Lost in Round 1
2007-08 47 27 8 102 1 2 4 Lost SC Final
2008-09 45 28 9 99 2 4 8 Won Stanley Cup
2009-10 47 28 7 101 2 4 8 Lost in Round 2
2010-11 49 25 8 106 1 4 4 Lost in Round 1
2011-12 51 25 6 108 2 4 4 Lost in Round 1
2012-13 36 12 72 1 1 2 Lost in Round 3
2013-14 51 24 7 109 1 2 6 Lost in Round 2
2014-15 43 27 12 98 4 8 15 Lost in Round 1
2015-16 48 27 12 104 2 2 4 Won Stanley Cup
2016-17 50 21 11 111 2 2 2 Won Stanley Cup
2017-18 47 29 6 100 2 5 10 Lost in Round 2
2018-19 44 26 12 100 3 6 9 Lost in Round 1
2019-20 40 23 6 86 3 5 7

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks’ first round pick, Jonathan Toews, did not immediately join the Blackhawks after the draft, but returned to college at the University of North Dakota.  The Blackhawks finished in last place in the Central Division for 2006-07.  They had the fifth worst record in the NHL overall, but got lucky in the lottery and won the very first pick. Thus, they were able to choose forward Patrick Kane, the consensus #1 pick in a draft that was relatively thin in talent.

Toews and Kane both joined the team for the 2007-08 season and had commendable rookie years. The Blackhawks greatly improved their record from the previous season, finished in third place in the Central Division, but still missed the playoffs.  2008-09 was a better year where they made the playoffs and advanced to the Western Conference Finals where they were ousted by the Detroit Red Wings.

The 2009-10 season was even better for the Blackhawks. With their prospects maturing, they posted the best record in the Western Conference during the regular season and went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Toews and Kane were the team’s two most prominent players. After that season, the Blackhawks were forced to shed salary, which lead to the departure of defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, goalie Antti Niemi and others.  They made the playoffs the following two seasons, 2010-11 and 2011-12, but were ousted in the first round both times.

In the 2012-13 season, which was shorter than normal, thanks to the owners’ lockout, they won both the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup, indicating they had returned to prominence in a big way. The following season, 2013-14, they finished third in the regular season but advanced to Western Conference Finals only to be ousted by the Los Angeles Kings.

In 2014-15, the Blackhawks finished third in their division again, but won their third Stanley Cup in six years. In 2015-16, they made the playoffs, but were eliminated in the first round this time. In 2016-17, they had the best record in the Western Conference for the regular season, but were swept in Round 1, which unexpectedly ended their season early.

The Blackhawks’ fortunes declined after that, as they finished in last place in the Central Division for the 2017-18 season and second to last place in 2018-19.  While the Blackhawks have not fared well since 2017-18, they had appeared to be the model for how to build a team in the salary cap era by first drafting defensemen, who tend to mature later, and then draft franchise forwards as they did when drafting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

In less than ten years, they had won three Stanley Cups, advanced to the Western Conference finals on two other occasions and made the playoffs in nine consecutive years. But as they won Cups, they needed to shed salary of important role players. That, coupled with aging of other key players, contributed to their demise.

Chicago Blackhawks
Season W L OTL PTS Div Conf NHL Playoff
2005-06 26 43 13 65 4 14 28 Missed Playoff
2006-07 31 42 9 71 5 13 26 Missed Playoff
2007-08 40 34 8 88 3 10 20 Missed Playoff
2008-09 46 24 12 104 2 4 6 Lost in Round 3
2009-10 52 22 8 112 1 1 3 Won Stanley Cup
2010-11 44 29 9 97 3 8 13 Lost in Round 1
2011-12 45 26 11 101 4 6 10 Lost in Round 1
2012-13 36 7 5 77 1 1 1 Won Stanley Cup
2013-14 46 21 15 107 3 5 7 Lost in Round 3
2014-15 48 28 6 102 3 4 7 Won Stanley Cup
2015-16 47 26 9 103 3 3 5 Lost in Round 1
2016-17 50 23 9 109 1 1 3 Lost in Round 1
2017-18 33 39 12 84 7 13 15 Missed Playoff
2018-19 36 24 12 84 6 10 20 Missed Playoff
2019-20 32 30 8 72 7 12 23

Washington Capitals

After the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the Capitals first round pick, Nicklas Backstrom, returned to Sweden to play another year. Alex Ovechkin scored 46 goals, which was six less than the 52 goals he scored as a rookie. That season Alexander Semin, a draftee from their 2002 draft class, who had played for the Caps during the 2003-04 season, finally returned to the team after remaining in Russia for another year after the lockout. The Caps still missed the playoffs that season, posting a record of 28-40-14 for 70 points overall, the same number of points as in 2005-06.

Backstrom came over to play with the Caps for the 2007-08 season. That season, the Caps got off to a terrible start and had the worst record in the NHL on Thanksgiving Day. They fired Head Coach, Glen Hanlon, and replaced him with the Head Coach of their Hershey Bears affiliate, Bruce Boudreau.

The team famously turned their season around and made the playoffs, ending the season with a long winning streak. Many of the prospects from the Bears in the last few seasons were maturing.  The Caps also started their “Young Guns” marketing campaign, which featured Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and defenseman Mike Green.  That was also the year they changed their uniform colors back to red, white, and blue and the “Rock The Red” slogan was born. The Caps lost in the first round of the playoffs, thanks to a power play goal in Overtime.

During the next three seasons, the team proved their second half turnaround was no fluke, as they had great regular season records, finishing 2nd overall in the conference in 2008-09, a President’s Trophy in 2009-10, and first in the conference in 2010-11.

However, they would continually disappoint in the playoffs and lose in either the first or second round, most typically the second round.  The 2011-12 season featured a slump, which led the Caps to fire Boudreau and replace him with Dale Hunter. That year, the Caps made the playoffs, beat the defending champion Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the first round but then lost in the second round to the New York Rangers, in a 7 game series.

The 2012-13 season, a shortened one due to a lockout, was one where they were off to a poor start but came back to make the playoffs.  This time, they were eliminated in Round 1.

In 2013-14, the Caps missed the playoffs which led them to fire the General Manager, George McPhee and their Head Coach, Adam Oates.

They replaced him with Barry Trotz. For the 2014-15 season, the Caps finished second in their division. They won Round 1 of the playoffs against the New York Islanders but lost Round 2 to the New York Rangers.  The 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons both followed a similar script where the Caps won the Presidents Trophy, won Round 1 of the playoffs, but lost Round 2 to their hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who would go on to win the Stanley Cup.

The Caps finally won the Stanley Cup in the 2017-18 season. They were not as good in the regular season as they had been the previous two years but they had won their division.  The 2018-19 season was another first place finish in the division, but they were eliminated in Round 1.

Overall, the Caps had risen into contention during the 2007-08 season and had made the playoffs every year, except 2013-14, but would typically disappoint in the playoffs– until they won the Cup.  Since this rise into contention, the Caps had won the Presidents’ Trophy in three different seasons and won the Stanley Cup.

Washington Capitals
Season W L OTL PTS Div Conf NHL Playoff
2005-06 29 41 12 70 5 14 27 Missed Playoff
2006-07 28 40 14 70 5 14 27 Missed Playoff
2007-08 43 31 8 94 1 3 12 Lost in Round 1
2008-09 50 24 8 108 1 2 4 Lost in Round 2
2009-10 54 15 12 121 1 1 1 Lost in Round 1
2010-11 48 23 11 107 1 1 2 Lost in Round 2
2011-12 42 32 8 92 2 7 15 Lost in Round 2
2012-13 27 18 3 57 1 3 10 Lost in Round 1
2013-14 38 30 14 90 1 9 17 Missed Playoff
2014-15 45 26 11 101 2 4 9 Lost in Round 2
2015-16 56 18 8 120 1 1 1 Lost in Round 2
2016-17 55 19 8 118 1 1 1 Lost in Round 2
2017-18 49 26 7 105 1 3 6 Won Stanley Cup
2018-19 48 26 8 104 1 3 4 Lost in Round 1
2019-20 41 20 8 90 1 3 5

Boston Bruins

Phil Kessel joined the Bruins and played 70 games during the 2006-07 season, as he scored 11 goals and had 18 assists for them. He also played in two games with their affiliate in Providence that year.  Kessel improved to 19 goals and 18 assists the next season, 2007-08.  Then he really blossomed during the 2008-09 season as he scored 36 goals and had 24 assists in a year where the Bruins had the best record in the Eastern Conference.

However, his entry level contract had expired and he was now a restricted free agent.  He and the Bruins were unable to work out a contract extension, due to the salary cap.  Hence, he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for draft picks, basically, a return approximately equal to the draft picks a team would receive when losing a player to an offer sheet.

The Bruins acquired Toronto’s first round picks for 2010 and 2011 and their second round pick for 2010. Since Toronto was expected to a very bad team in 2009-10, their pick for 2010 would be the equivalent of a lottery pick. In the end, the Bruins got to pick second in the draft and drafted Tyler Seguin, who they traded to the Dallas Stars after the 2012-13 season.

For the 2006-07 season, the Bruins had Kessel in the fold. They also signed an important free agent, defenseman Zdeno Chara. They improved that over the prior year, but they missed the playoffs.

The Bruins returned to the playoffs for the 2007-08 season, barely qualifying. In 2008-09, the Bruins posted the best record in the Eastern Conference, but were eliminated in the second round. With the departure of Kessel, the Bruins did not do as well in the regular season in 2009-10, but advanced to the playoffs and lost in the second round when they had a 3-0 series edge against the Philadelphia Flyers, but lost four consecutive games to them.

In 2010-11, the Bruins won the Stanley Cup.  The following season, 2011-12, the Bruins were ousted in Round 1 after losing Game 7 in Overtime. In 2012-13, the Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals and lost to the Chicago Blackhawks.

In 2013-14, they won the Presidents’ Trophy but lost in the second round of the playoffs.  In both 2014-15 and 2015-16, they missed qualifying for the playoffs by a small margin.  But they were back in the playoffs in 2016-17 and lost in Round 1.  They made the playoffs again for 2017-18 but lost in Round 2.  They advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2018-19 but ultimately lost. They were on top of the NHL for the 2019-20 season when the season paused due to Coronavirus.

From 2007-08 through 2013-14, they made the playoffs seven consecutive years, which included a Stanley Cup win and a second trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.  They missed the playoffs for two years but have been in the playoffs every year since 2015-16 and this time included an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.  While Kessel was an important player in the Bruins’ early stages of contention, he was not present for their Stanley Cup win.  The player acquired for him, Tyler Seguin, played for Boston the year of their cup win but his role was relatively limited.  None of the players acquired for Seguin were significant contributors to the Bruins.

Boston Bruins
Season W L OTL PTS Div Conf NHL Playoff
2005-06 29 37 16 74 5 13 26 Missed Playoff
2006-07 35 41 6 76 5 13 23 Missed Playoff
2007-08 41 29 12 94 3 8 15 Lost in Round 1
2008-09 53 19 10 116 1 1 2 Lost in Round 2
2009-10 39 30 13 91 1 6 14 Lost in Round 2
2010-11 46 25 11 103 2 3 7 Won Stanley Cup
2011-12 49 29 4 102 1 2 7 Lost in Round 1
2012-13 28 14 6 62 5 4 5 Lost SC Final
2013-14 54 19 9 117 1 1 1 Lost in Round 2
2014-15 41 27 14 96 5 9 17 Missed Playoff
2015-16 42 31 9 93 3 9 16 Missed Playoff
2016-17 44 31 7 95 3 7 13 Lost in Round 1
2017-18 50 20 12 112 2 2 4 Lost in Round 2
2018-19 49 24 9 107 2 2 3 Lost SC Final
2019-20 44 14 12 100 1 2 1 President’s Trophy

The bottom five teams of 2005-06 all emerged as significant contenders by 2011-12, and all of them had a long-term run of success, which included at least one Stanley Cup.

In the case of Chicago and Washington, the player they drafted back then is still a strong component of their current core. In the case of Pittsburgh, the player drafted then was a significant part of the early part of their run and contributed to one of their Stanley Cups, but was eventually traded.

For Boston, the player they drafted was a part of their early contending years, but was traded at the end of his entry level contract and not part of their Stanley Cup winner.

In the case of St Louis, the player they drafted was traded before the team became a consistent contender.  The players obtained in return contributed to the team in their early years of strong contention but were eventually traded away and were not part of their Stanley Cup winner.

All five teams had used a variety of methods to build their team and remain as long-term powers in the NHL, even as players left the team.  By 2007-08, three of the teams (Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington) made the playoffs.  In 2008-09, all five of them did, with all being strong contenders, except for St Louis.  Since that season, four out of five have made the playoffs ever since. They all currently remain as contenders, except Chicago.

They truly embodied the old biblical passage that “the last shall be first”.  The turnarounds of those teams in a relatively short time frame could encourage a team to tank, earn one or more early draft picks and then rebuild, even if the specific players they drafted in the first round weren’t the prime reason for their ascension. But there exist plenty of examples of teams who could not rebuild successfully for a long time, after falling at or close to the bottom.

By Diane Doyle

About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
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