The 10 worst Detroit Red Wings seasons in history

2019-20 Red Wings heading for historic low

The 2019-20 season is sure to be one of the worst in Detroit Red Wings franchise history, a history that dates back to 1926 when the team was known as the Detroit Cougars.

At the time of this writing, the Red Wings have an 15-47-5 record -- a .266 winning percentage. That’s bad enough for third worst all-time for the NHL franchise. The two worst seasons are:

  • The 1985-86 Red Wings -- 17-57-6, .250 winning percentage
  • The 1976-77 Red Wings -- 16-55-9, .256 winning percentage

That was during the time we all refer to as the “Dead Wings” or “Dead Things” era, when Detroit made the NHL playoffs just four times between 1966 and 1985. Seven of the Red Wings’ 10 worst seasons in history (based on each season’s overall winning percentage) are from that era.

Here’s a look at the worst 10 seasons in franchise history:


That 1985-86 season is interesting because, with the help of a young Steve Yzerman, the Red Wings had started to climb out of the “dead” era with two trips to the playoffs in 1984 and 1985. Then they took a sharp step backward in 85-86 with just 17 wins, thanks in part to Yzerman only appearing in 51 ames due to injury.

A healthy Yzerman was then named captain in October 1986 and the Red Wings immediately bounced back with two straight trips to the conference finals in both 1987 and 1988.

Related: Red Wings will go without captain again this season

This 2019-20 season is headed for historic lows in both winning percentage and in goals scored (goals for). With just 96 goals-for through the first 44 games played this season, the Red Wings have been on pace to break the 1976-77 season franchise-worst record of just 183 goals in 80 games played.

So if you hear someone say the “Dead Wings” are back this season, they are correct. This is as bad, and perhaps worse, than the Red Wings have ever been in the past 93 years.

Perhaps this is rock bottom for Yzerman’s Red Wings once again. Now that he’s general manager he will have to help guide the franchise out of a mess, but this time from the front office instead of the ice.

It’s unclear which is more difficult, but at least Yzerman knows it can be done.

Maybe history will somehow repeat itself: A new captain is named ahead of the 2020-21 season and the Red Wings return to the playoffs.

We can remain optimistic, but there is A LOT that has to happen for the Red Wings to become playoff-caliber again.

VIEW: Here is the Detroit Red Wings 2019-20 schedule

Detroit Red Wings General Manager Steve Yzerman

About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.