My name is Nathan Gabay, and I’m a hockey fan. The latter part may be an understatement.
I’ve been following the great game at multiple levels for as long as I can remember. I can tell you where I was for various moments, both great and small, from ones that captivated an international audience all the way down to ones that barely registered. This began in the days of the 21-team NHL, and my love of the game hasn’t waned.
I remember putting together mock expansion drafts in the early 1990s off the information I could find on the back of hockey cards. Pro Set was terrific for this when the information was accurate, which it usually wasn’t. Score was pretty solid, but if you wanted raw numbers that’s what Topps/OPC/Bowman was good for. I do recall being ecstatic when NHL96 on the PC (the one with Scott Stevens and Steve Yzerman on the cover) had a trade engine, especially as it was upgraded over the years. I almost wore out my copy of NHL99 (with Eric Lindros on the cover) by going through the expansion draft option on there more times than I can count.
My hometown of Columbus, OH was granted an expansion team in 1997, with the team to begin play in the 2000-01 season. Expansion has always captured my attention. Maybe it’s the idea that mankind is inherently in love with building something from the ground up, rather than simply inheriting a finished product and enjoying that type of success.
What we have all seen since 1997 is the story of four teams whose paths have diverged wildly. Nashville, beginning in 1998-99, had a methodical rise toward contention and hasn’t really fallen off from that in a decade. Atlanta, beginning play in 1999-00, was horrendous right from the start and never was able to put together a second respectable season at all; they were bought by a group in Winnipeg and moved after a dozen largely-dismal seasons. My hometown Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t come within a mile of the playoffs until the 8th or 9th season of existence, depending on how you regard the 2004-05 lockout. Minnesota, which also began play in 2000-01, rode a team largely built out of their expansion draft into the conference finals in just their third season of existence.
One question is obvious: why? Why does one team seemingly strike gold in their expansion draft, while the one the next year finished 45 games under .500? Why do expansion brothers in 2000 split so far apart right from the beginning?
In this slice of the internet, you’ll find my attempts to answer this simple question. I go into as much detail as I can in assessing the 1998, 1999, and 2000 expansion drafts. For good measure, I’ll get a little bit into the 1991, 1992, and 1993 drafts to show how dramatically different circumstances can produce dramatically different results. I try to be as kind as possible, cognizant of the fact that there’s a lot that took place behind closed doors that will never be fully known. I give praise where it’s due, and I give criticism where it’s due. If something turned out terribly but made sense at the time, I can at least point out why it made sense.
I hope you enjoy this look back in time.