When the Spittin’ Chiclets guys had Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri on their podcast recently, they were joking about the teams Kadri probably had on his modified no-trade clause when he was playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Modified NTCs are contract stipulations that allow a player to select a certain number of teams (usually at the beginning of each season) that they cannot be traded to without waiving the clause themselves. Besides letting a player who is potential trade fodder sleep at night, though, they’re pretty funny for us fans if one of these lists gets leaked. With the NBA and NHL trade deadlines already passing us and the MLB season now in full swing, now seems as good a time as any to try and identify the absolute worst teams to play for in sports. So, if I was an average player in the prime of my career in each of the Big 4 sports leagues, who would be on my hypothetical 8-team NTC? You might be surprised.
Columbus Blue Jackets: They check legitimately no boxes you’re looking for. Located in a boring market by NHL standards, they play with a rigid, somewhat defensive style. Plus they’re struggling this year. Probably on every NTC in the league.
Buffalo Sabres: Buffalo is where careers have been going to die recently. This season they lost eighteen games in a row. Easy enough.
New Jersey Devils: They dealt two well-regarded veterans in Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac. That could open up an all-situations role for my Create-A-Player, but they’re a bad team and play in brutally tough East/Metro divisions. No thanks.
San Jose Sharks: They’ll always have the beautiful California weather, but everything else is a mess. The Sharks are saddled with long-term, high-priced albatross contracts and the veterans seem miserable. San Jose is a bottom-feeding team in the present and right now there’s not any light at the end of the tunnel.
Calgary Flames: The Flames have some talent and play in a good market, but everyone was probably walking on eggshells in their locker room even before Calgary hired the famous disciplinarian Darryl Sutter as head coach. The underachiever label is hanging over the Flames like a storm cloud right now.
Ottawa Senators: I wanted to leave the Sens off because young studs Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stuetzle legitimately seem like they’re having as much fun as anyone in the league. But the team is near the bottom of the standings again, Ottawa is a bleh city for the NHL and players talk about the arena like it’s in Nunavut relative to downtown.
Vancouver Canucks: Kind of like the Flames. Fun young players and a truly fantastic market but the fans are breathing down the team’s neck this year. Head coach Travis Green seems awfully close to getting fired and it can’t be easy to be on a bad Canucks team in that crazy hockey city. No chance they would’ve been on my NTC if I filed it at the beginning of the season, but the Canucks are deeply underperforming.
Detroit Red Wings: A regrettable inclusion because it would be a thrill to play for such a historic franchise with a great following. The Wings are bottom-feeding again this year, and when you’re as far down the standings as they are, that’s a dealbreaker.
What about the…
Anaheim Ducks: Worse than the Sharks points-wise but the weather is even better in Anaheim and it seems like the players enjoy a simply fantastic quality of life. Plus I would really want to hang out with Ryan Getzlaf and John Gibson.
Los Angeles Kings: Same thing as the Ducks. Really poor right now but they don’t take as much heat in a market that’s more basketball and baseball-oriented this time of year. Plus, there is an electric core of young players that would be attractive to hitch my wagon to if I had multiple years left on my contract.
New York Islanders: They would’ve absolutely been on the NTC at the beginning of the year because old guard GM Lou Lamiorello is a stickler and they also have the most “compact” play style in the league. But the Isles are just performing too well right now. It’s tough to turn away a Cup contender.
I don’t really know the NBA top-to-bottom thoroughly. But I am a sports fan and have heard of Instagram and Twitter, so I’m familiar enough. Here’s my NTC:
Detroit Pistons – A-no brainer, I’m afraid. Detroit time and time again has one of the worst records in the league and doesn’t play in a particularly exciting NBA city.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Same thing. The Cavs actually have an exciting young core, as I understand, but if a team located in Cleveland is twenty eight games under .500 – well, you’ll make the list.
Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder are very similar to the Cavs at present with a win percentage around .300 and a bright future thanks to their young talent. OKC would be the more desirable place to live for me and the fanbase seems strong, but the win-loss record is a dealbreaker.
Charlotte Hornets – A bit curious as the Hornets are in a playoff spot, but this is probably the most principled stand I’ll offer – I wouldn’t want to play for Michael Jordan. For me, Jordan the man is insecure and a bully. Plus, they ended the season six games below .500 and the roster isn’t that good.
Minnesota Timberwolves – They’ve won 30% of their games. You could twist the knife further but there’s no need.
Houston Rockets – Owners of the worst record in the league. No getting around that, though Houston would be cool.
Sacramento Kings – From my slightly unique perspective as an American sports fan who probably knows the least about the NBA among Big 4 leagues, I’ve perceived the Kings as the most irrelevant pro sports franchise for some time now. Having De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton is all well and good, but at this point you might as well offer the Kings a lifetime lease on their current standing, twelfth in the Western Conference.
Orlando Magic – Another brutally irrelevant franchise since the prime Dwight Howard days. I know they were a nice story in the bubble last year but the Magic sank to 21-51 this season. Their roster is a litany of former first-round picks who have been completely average in the NBA.
What about the…
New Orleans Pelicans – The Pels scuffled this season, finishing ten games under .500 despite boasting a roster that says they should be doing better. That roster, featuring players like Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball, though, gives me hope for the future.
Time for a more realistic NTC since they’re usually filed at the beginning of each season and the MLB not too long ago kicked off the 2021 campaign. Forget playing time concerns – let’s just say I’m a number two or three starting pitcher that would start for any team in the league. What a life, right?
Baltimore Orioles – Off the top of my mind, I associate an odd group of players with the overachieving Orioles teams of the mid-2010s. There’s Adam Jones, Manny Machado, and…JJ Hardy, I guess? Maybe pre-extension Chris Davis? Upon a Baseball Reference scan, I’m forgetting some mildly classic O’s in Matt Wieters and Jonathan Schoop. Remember when Zach Britton had a 0.54 ERA in 2017? That would have won him the MVP twenty years ago. More recent editions of the Orioles have been horrible, though, and I can’t imagine many players have been dying to don the black and orange lately.
Detroit Tigers – Speaking of teams that have fallen on hard times lately, the Tigers are going to need about twenty-three more opening-week-Baddoo breakouts to be competitive.
Pittsburgh Pirates – The trifecta of MLB teams that have been in bad shape for a couple of years now consists of the Orioles, Tigers, and Pirates. That’s a bummer because those teams are easy to root for, being small-market teams in gritty cities. At least Marlins and Diamondbacks fans have some beautiful weather year-round to distract themselves.
Miami Marlins – The Marlins earned a shocking playoff berth in 2020, but needed the expanded playoffs in an aberration-filled 60-game season to get in. They don’t have much in the way of proven talent and they’re not an easy team to trust after financial motivations led them to cut ties with stars Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Not an easy inclusion because Phoenix is probably an enjoyable market to play in. But Arizona still has a very tiny chance year in and year out of making the playoffs in the brutal NL West and doesn’t exactly have the franchise history or sizable fanbase to make up for it.
Seattle Mariners – Seattle has some young talent but is still only projected for 70 wins this season via PECOTA. The Mariners’ nineteen-season playoff drought looms over the franchise and it might still feel like they’re flapping in the wind until they can break it.
Colorado Rockies – As much as I hate to say it, my Rockies might be the first team on this list. Forget the difficulties that come with pitching at altitude – this all comes down to the franchise. Living in Denver would be great and the fans are fantastic, but the embarrassing Nolan Arenado cap dump has put the team well out of the playoff picture for this season and squarely into a bitter fight between fans and management.
Kansas City Royals – I really didn’t want to put the Royals on here because they have so much going for them. It’s a nice location with a solid fanbase, the uniforms are great, the division is very manageable, and more. But even after making some veteran additions in the offseason, the Royals are projected for 71 wins. That’s tough to negotiate and suggests that KC isn’t particularly close to contention.
What about the…
Houston Astros – I hemmed and hawed here because the Astros are on a short list of sports teams that I really don’t feel any sympathy toward after the whole pitch-tipping scandal. But they’re going to be a good ballclub and it would be a true career highlight to rub elbows with manager Dusty Baker and future Dos Equis man of mystery Zach Greinke. If we win it all, though, I expect the league-wide reception to be, um, muted.
Texas Rangers – The Rangers probably should be on this list because they’re in a rebuild and are almost certainly going to be a fourth or fifth-placed team. They’re kind of like the Royals, though, in the franchise’s redeeming qualities, which start with their uniforms and location in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The opportunity to play in front of a stadium that will presumably be full all season long pushes them off the no-trade list.
Making an NFL no-trade list is extremely difficult because what position you might play goes a long way toward determining the attractiveness of each location. For most players, Cincinnati is a black hole but playing for the Bengals might not sound that bad if you’re a solid wideout who will get a healthy number of targets from Joe Burrow. For our purposes, though, let’s just say I’m early 2010s Madden Shane Lechler – a ninety-nine overall punter who would play anywhere.
Houston Texans: As I’ve written, there’s no team in sports that should theoretically be in worse shape than the Texans. In the NFL, it never feels like you’re truly down-and-out (hello, Detroit Pistons), but Houston has almost pulled it off. The Deshaun Watson accusations are the elephant in the room, and as of writing there has been no indication of what the star quarterback’s future holds. What we do know is the Texans have the worst roster in the league with or without Watson and don’t even have their first-round pick this year. Tank incoming.
Detroit Lions: The Lions are in much better shape than the Texans. I think about the scene in Moneyball when Brad Pitt says: “there’s the rich clubs, then there’s the poor clubs, then there’s fifty feet of crap, and then there’s us.” The us is the Texans. Do I want to play for Dan Campbell? You’re darn right I do. And new GM Brad Holmes just made a great Matt Stafford for Jared Goff swap. So while this is a rebuild, the future isn’t totally bleak.
Jacksonville Jaguars: I would have no desire to ever play for the Jaguars. Granted, I don’t really want to be part of the Urban Meyer experience and since the team is just coming off a disastrous season, Trevor Lawrence’s presence doesn’t totally entice me. But more simply, Jacksonville is college football country. Nobody in the NFL loses money, but I don’t know if I’ve ever met a Jaguars fan in my life. It was flat-out dumb to place an NFL team there.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles have to have a horrible stench around them within the league right now. I have no idea how GM Howie Roseman kept his job while Doug Pedersen got canned, and I don’t really have a strong desire to play for owner Jeffery Lurie, who is perhaps too close to proceedings with the team. They’re also projected for 6.5 wins.
Chicago Bears: The Bears have no identifiable plan right now. They just paid Andy Dalton $10 million, franchise-tagged Allen Robinson, took Justin Fields at #11, are still paying Khalil Mack a boatload of money…ugh. HC/GM duo Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace are still somehow in their respective roles, and I’m not the guy who wants to be around to see how their tenures evolve.
Cincinnati Bengals: I wanted to leave the Bengals off the no-trade list, I really did. Joe Burrow is awesome, they added a stud in Ja’Marr Chase at #5 in the draft, and I feel bad for Cincy fans, who remain loyal despite not seeing a playoff win in 30 years. But there’s not going to be enough surrounding those pieces to make a run soon and they look a clear fourth-best in the AFC North.
Atlanta Falcons: It seems Atlanta fans maybe wanted Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff gone before this season, but at least ownership is not totally out of touch with reality like the Eagles and Bears leadership teams might be. Kyle Pitts is an exciting player at #4 overall, but a rebuild feels closer than a rebound with Matt Ryan kind of stuck in limbo and Julio Jones trade rumors running rampant.
New York Jets: Another team that wouldn’t be the end of the world. New head coach Robert Saleh is highly-regarded and GM Joe Douglas is making the moves he has to. Meanwhile, adding Zach Wilson should be very exciting. But the AFC East looks like it’s going to be a long-term dogfight with the Jets trying to punch up at the Bills and Dolphins, and New York is still trying to patch things back together after the Adam Gase/Mike Maccagnan era.
What about the…
New York Giants: I don’t know what to make of the Giants. It’s a big year for them. They could win the NFC East or flatline at 6-10 and be in really rough shape for the future after the high-priced contracts they handed out in the offseason. But Joe Judge looks like a strong head coach, and that goes a long way toward improving the attractiveness of a franchise. Plus, he’s a special teams guy – punter’s heaven.
Las Vegas Raiders: I find myself rarely agreeing with the moves Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock make. It feels like they’ve been incredibly myopic with their draft picks and they’re still hitching their wagon to Derek Carr, who is a known commodity at this point. Still, Carr isn’t horrible, and that’s a start. Plus, the new stadium, the new facilities, and the Raiders’ initial successes selling season tickets make this a long-term attractive franchise even if I’m not sure about the guys in charge.