The Pre-Original Six Era (1917-1942) is one of the hardest ones to evaluate because the NHL changed more within that period than any other period. Teams from earlier in the era were vastly different from teams later in the era but for once core similarity, they were dominant teams in comparison to their competitors. Let’s take a look at my top three teams of the Pre-Original Six Era:
- 1926-27 Ottawa Senators – Record: 30-10-4, 0.727%
The 1926-27 Ottawa Senators were the last Senators team to win the Cup, but they still manged to make it look easy. These Senators were unique in that they didn’t frequently dominate their opposition by winning games with huge leads, they just rarely lost at all. The team had unique variety of depth, experience, and teamwork that guided them to a strong season, despite not having any superstars, the Senators were not short on big names. They had veterans Cy Denneny and Frank Nighbor on forward and mixed it up with the young new defender King Clancy and the journeyman Georges Boucher on defense. In net stood Alec Connell.
Although the team was well-balanced, their strengths leaned more towards defense and goaltending, as the star forwards were aging and not quite the players they once were. Still, the team consistently beat out their opponents, frequently in close matches. To start the season, the Senators went ten games without a loss, with a 9-0-1 record. The Senators continued their strong play into the playoffs, beating the Montreal Canadiens handily 5-1 in a Total Goal match-up and then going 2-0-2 against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final to with the holy grail.
- 1919-20 Ottawa Senators – Record: 19-5-0, 0.792%
The early Ottawa Senators were different than the later Senators in that they early ones had many star players riddled throughout their roster. The Senators routinely dominated the NHL in their early days thanks to incredibly strong rosters. Frank Nighbor was in his prime and leading the team with more than a goal per game while others like Punch Broadbent, Jack Darragh, and Cy Denneny were also all in their prime and among the leagues best. On defense, the Senators undoubtedly had the NHL’s best first paring in the tough Sprague Cleghorn and the young Georges Boucher. But their real trump card was in net, where they had the best goaltender of the era, Clint Benedict guarding the goal. Benedict dominated the NHL at an unprecedented level in his era, and the Senators, coupled with good skaters to complement him, dominated as well.
The Senators regularly dominated their opposition, outscoring their opponents by 7 or more goals on three separate occasions during the season, including a 12-1 victory over the Quebec Bulldogs. The Senators finished first in the NHL and beat the PCHA’s Seattle Metropolitans to win their first Stanley Cup.
- 1938-39 Boston Bruins – Record: 36-10-2, 0.771%
The NHL had seven teams in the 1938-39 season but it may as well of just had two. The Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers were the only relatively competitive teams and all of the other five teams struggled to compete with them. Even between Boston and the Rangers, however, the Bruins were clearly the better team, finishing with 74 points to the Rangers’ 58 points. Boston topped the league in goals and goals against, but especially dominated in the goals against category mostly due to their young new superstar goaltender, Frank Brimsek. The Bruins of the 1938-39 had 10 eventual Hall of Famers on the team and so were truly a stacked team. There are too many greats to mention, but to name some, they were lead offensively by Bill Cowley, the great play maker and Roy Conacher, who was the beneficiary of many of Cowley’s passes. A young Kraut line was in the making with Milt Schmidt, Bobby Bauer, and Woody Dumart playing as well.
On defense, the Bruins had the offensive dynamism of Flash Hollett along with the veteran leadership of Dit Clapper and the legendary Eddie Shore. The team was truly a sight to behold, with Cowley finishing third in point despite missing 14 games of the 48 games season. Conacher still led the league in goals. Hollett and Clapper finshed 1-2 in points among defensemen and Shore was just behind in 5th, despite being 36 years of age. Brimsek dominated the NHL’s goaltenders in every single category, putting him in a league of his own. The Bruins battled in close matchup with the Rangers in the semi-finals of the playoffs, winning 4-3 in the series and then dominated the Toronto Maple Leafs by a 4-1 series score in the finals to win the Stanley Cup.
Honourable Mention: 1929-30 Boston Bruins – Record: 38-5-1, .875%
The 1929-30 Boston Bruins are widely considered the best team that failed to win Lord Stanley’s Cup. They had dominant offense in Cooney Weiland and Dit Clapper and good defense with Eddie Shore and Lionel Hitchman. Tiny Thompson dominated in goal. The Bruins had a 17-game undefeated streak at one point with a 16-0-1 record during that span. They won a best-of-five against the Montreal Maroons 3-1 in the first round but were heavily upset by the Montreal Canadiens, losing the series 2-0.