The Drought turns 16: Bridgeport’s playoffs in context

The Sound Tigers last won a playoff series in 2003.

Since then, except for newcomer Colorado, each of the other 29 franchises in the league has won at least one series. Cleveland was the last team left ahead of them, and the Monsters won the Calder Cup in 2016. Only two franchises, San Antonio and Tucson, have gone longer without a win in a best-of-7, which Bridgeport last accomplished in the 2002 Eastern Conference Final.

The Sound Tigers have qualified for the playoffs in seven of the 16 seasons since. It lost the first round in seven games in 2004 and 2006 (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton), lost a best-of-7 in five in 2009 (WBS) and 2010 (Hershey), lost a best-of-5 in five in 2019 (Hershey) and was swept in three games in 2012 (Hartford, or the Connecticut Whale at the time) and 2016 (Toronto).

In 2015, with the seven moved franchises and whaddaya-do-with-Hamiltons, we gave up on the long list of Things That Had Happened Since Then in favor of shorter lists, which hopefully put things in context, sort of.

(Worth noting: It is harder now to win a best-of-7 than it was for most of the era in question, since the first round has been best-of-5 since 2012 and only four teams can win a best-of-7 every year. Still, as of 2018, of those 28 chances, 17 different teams have done it.) (Edit, May 14: A best-of-7s update for this spring is here.)

The Sound Tigers’ drought became a league record at 15 years in 2018. The Springfield Indians won the Calder Cup in 1975 and in 1990, and in between the franchise didn’t win a playoff series. The Indians missed the playoffs 10 times in that span, including the last four years, and lost four playoff series: 3-1, 4-3 in 1981, and swept twice in best-of-7s after that.

Another Springfield franchise holds another unpleasant playoff record: The Springfield Falcons missed the playoffs nine years in a row, 2003-04 to 2011-12. They are the only franchise to play nine years without winning a playoff game. Bridgeport avoided that fate in 2019, beating Hershey in Game 1 (and then Game 4). The Philadelphia and Adirondack Phantoms also went eight years without a playoff-game win, getting swept in 2009 and missing the playoffs the next seven years.

Including Charlotte, which is completing its ninth season in 2018-19, 49 teams have played at least nine AHL seasons, according to the histories at the back of the AHL Guide and Record Book. (That’s mostly up to them. For instance, both the new and old versions of Manitoba are treated as one franchise. The assorted Phantoms also are. The Lowell Lock Monsters are different from the Lowell Devils, who are the same as the Albany Devils, but the Binghamton Devils are different from all of them.)

Some bits that used to be footnotes:

  • The Phantoms franchise, treated as a single entity by the league, last year won a playoff series and a best-of-7 for the first time since 2008.
  • Milwaukee’s Game 3 win this year ended a 13-game playoff losing streak, breaking a record of 12 that Buffalo set in the 1950s. The Admirals hadn’t won a playoff game since 2013 and haven’t won a series since 2011, though last year and 2015 are the only times they’ve missed the playoffs since 2001-02, their first in the AHL. (Since Lane Lambert moved up to the Predators in 2011, the Admirals are 3-18 in playoff games. Actually, since they fired Lambert, Dave Baseggio and Pat Bingham (the first time) in 2006, the Sound Tiger are 4-17 in playoff games.)
  • As parent clubs, only Colorado (2002, in Hershey) has a longer farm-club playoff drought than the Islanders’. Arizona, which had last won earlier in 2003 in the dinky qualifying round (Springfield 2, Hartford 0) and hadn’t won a series before that since 1997, got off the list last year in Tucson.
  • Rochester hasn’t won a playoff series since 2005?
  • Remember when all this used to take up, like, a paragraph in the wrap?

1. Bridgeport 2003. 2. Rochester 2005. 3. Springfield Thunderbirds* (as Portland), Belleville* (as Binghamton), Laval*^ (as Hamilton – none in St. John’s), Milwaukee 2011. 7. San Antonio, Stockton* (as Abbotsford – none in Adirondack) 2012. 9. Hartford, Utica, 2015. 11. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Binghamton Devils* (as Albany), Ontario 2016. 14. Grand Rapids, Providence, San Jose 2017. 17. Texas, Syracuse, Rockford, Tucson, Lehigh Valley, Manitoba 2018. 23. Colorado never (joined 2018). 24. Toronto, San Diego, Cleveland, Charlotte, Hershey, Bakersfield, Chicago, Iowa 2019.

1. Colorado (Hershey) 2002. 2. N.Y. Islanders (Bridgeport) 2003. 3. Ottawa (Binghamton), Buffalo (Portland), Montreal (Hamilton), Nashville (Milwaukee) 2011. 7. Florida (San Antonio), Calgary (Abbotsford) 2012. 9. N.Y. Rangers (Hartford), Vancouver (Utica) 2015. 11. Pittsburgh (WBS), New Jersey (Albany), Los Angeles (Ontario) 2016. 14. Boston (Providence), St. Louis (Chicago), Detroit (Grand Rapids), San Jose (San Jose) 2017. 18. Dallas (Texas), Tampa Bay (Syracuse), Chicago (Rockford), Arizona (Tucson), Philadelphia (Lehigh Valley), Winnipeg (Manitoba) 2018. 24. Toronto (Toronto), Anaheim (San Diego), Columbus (Cleveland), Carolina (Charlotte), Washington (Hershey), Edmonton (Bakersfield), Vegas (Chicago), Minnesota (Iowa) 2019.

1. San Antonio* (as Adirondack Red Wings) 1994. 2. Tucson* (as Springfield Falcons) 1997. 3. Bridgeport 2002. 4. Rochester, Binghamton Devils* (as Lowell Lock Monsters – none in Albany) 2005. 6. Stockton* (as Abbotsford – none in Adirondack), Chicago 2010. 8. Iowa* (as Houston), Charlotte, Milwaukee, Laval*^ (as Hamilton), Springfield Thunderbirds* (as Portland), Belleville* (as Binghamton) 2011. 14. San Diego* (as Norfolk) 2012. 15. Bakersfield* (as Oklahoma City) 2013. 16. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Manitoba^ (as St. John’s) 2014. 18. Hartford, Utica 2015. 20. Ontario, Hershey, Cleveland 2016. 23. San Jose, Providence, Syracuse, Grand Rapids 2017. 27. Rockford, Lehigh Valley, Texas, Toronto 2018. 27. Colorado, never (joined 2018).

*-Has not won in current hometown
^-What’s in the list follows the moves of the actual franchises. The AHL treats some of them differently, with the IceCaps continuous, the Moose reborn after a hiatus, and the Bulldogs uninvolved. Manitoba itself last won a best-of-7 in 2011, its last year before hiatus.

Michael Fornabaio