Ed. Note: This was written last Sunday in Atlantic City during the Phantoms game against the Albany Devils, but the whole Michael Leighton situation pushed it back until today.
ATLANTIC CITY -- The worst team in AHL history, as far as 80 game seasons are concerned, was the 1989-90 Binghamton Whalers, who went 11-60-9 for 31 points.
25 games into the 2010-11 campaign, the Adirondack Phantoms are challenging that. They're 32 points behind the first place team in their division. In early-December. They're 3-20-2-0, good for eight points. The Phantoms might not earn that dubious honor of Worst AHL Team Ever when things are all said and done this season, but it doesn't matter. Just the fact we can have that conversation is enough to tell you what you need to know.
The Adirondack Phantoms are bad on an incomprehensible level. So when you're coming to watch this team live for the first time, how do you prepare yourself for this? I was expecting the worst of the worst, and for at least the first half of the game, that's what I saw.
Terrible defensive coverage. Complete discombobulation in their own end. Two terrible turnovers from Marc-Andre Bourdon in the first period that led directly to Albany goals. Less than impressive goaltending, even from Michael Leighton. Even the Phantoms first period goal, a little dribbler through a screen off the stick of Kevin Marshall on an otherwise quiet foray into the Devils end, was unimpressive.
But that goal seemed to get the Phantoms going a bit. They didn't look good from there on out, but they got their game in order to the point where they looked like they could hang with Albany. They started to control the puck in the offensive end for stretches of time. They had, you know, scoring chances. Unfortunately, Albany goalie Mike Frazee was up to the task and for the most part, he kept the puck out of his net.
This was an Albany team that the Phantoms were supposed to beat, in fact. The Devils had arrived in Atlantic City at 4 in the morning after a game in Rochester and some travel issues the night before. They were worn down, tired, and really, the Devils aren't the greatest team themselves -- currently ranked 6th in the eight team East Division.
It's not like there's no talent on the Phantoms, either. There are young players on there who might be able to become NHL regulars someday, and for that reason alone, we should care about what's going on in Glens Falls. But in 60 minutes of watching a team that is so historically bad, everything has to be put in perspective.
You can't get a read on any individual player because they're playing in such a toxic, negative environment. For example, how much blame can we place on Leighton for his poor play on Sunday when he's playing on perhaps the worst team in AHL history?
You can't even look at the minor successes a team has in 60 minutes and take much out of them. That's just the frustrating fact of the matter. When a team is as bad as the 2010-11 Adirondack Phantoms are, you can't learn much about them in 60 minutes of hockey. There's just too much of the story you've missed out on already.
There is one thing I take out of my experience with the Phantoms on Sunday, though. Standing outside the locker room 10 minutes after the game, I peeked in and noticed that most of the players were still sitting in their stalls. They were still dressed, slumped over, looking like they just lost the most important game of their careers.
It's probably easy not to give two-shits when you've lost 22 of your 25 games, but the Phantoms were visibly upset after losing yet another game on Sunday. That alone is an encouraging sign, even if they wind up as the worst team in AHL history.