NHL.com recently helped create a list of the top NHL teams of all-time, as voted in by the fans (you can see their top 10 here: https://www.nhl.com/fans/nhl-centennial/top-10-greatest-nhl-teams). For me, all this showed me was that most fans don’t know their hockey history. As we go through my list of the Top 10 Teams of all-time, you’ll notice a few similarities, but several stark differences. One thing to note when comparing the two–I limited myself to one team of a particular franchise per five years so as to prevent multiple teams in the same dynasty making the list.
Making a list of the top NHL Teams of All-Time is no small task. There are a lot of factors to consider, and like anyone, I had particular biases in which factors I chose that I’d like to make known. Firstly, winning the Stanley Cup was an absolute must to even be considered for my list. As such, teams like the 1929-30 and 1970-71 Boston Bruins weren’t considered. Secondly, I focused heavily on team performance, not the outstanding performance of individuals. Awards won by individuals on the team had virtually no effect on my decision-making process; I focused primarily on regular season and playoff dominance from a holistic point of view for the team, rather than focusing on individuals. With all the nitty gritty details out of the way, let us begin!
10. 1973-74 Philadelphia Flyers
Fred Shero’s Flyers became the NHL’s first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup when they did it in 1974. The Flyers finished 2nd in the NHL with exactly 50 wins and 112 points in 78 games. They had the 5th best offense in the NHL, led by Bobby Clarke, and they tied the Chicago Black Hawks for the best defense in the NHL, largely due to Bernie Parent, who played in a whopping 73 games and had a minuscule 1.89 GAA. In the playoffs, the Flyers went 12-5, with winger Rick MacLeish leading the way offensively, scoring 13 goals in 17 games, which Bernie Parent took home the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoff MVP.
9. 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings
The last Cup-winning team of the dominant Red Wings era in the 90s and 00s is also the most modern team on our list (though the 2012-13 Blackhawks did get some serious consideration). The Red Wings had an impressive 115 points and 54 wins to capture the President’s Trophy during the season. They finished with 3.07 GPG, good for third and 2.18 goals-against-per-game, first in the entire league. The 2007-08 Red Wings had a lot of star players on their team, but were primarily led by the dynamic duo of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Datsyuk himself won his third consecutive Lady Byng trophy and his first Selke trophy. It’s not hard to see why the Red Wings allowed the fewest goals either. With a powerful top defensive pairing in Lidstrom and Rafalksi, the Red Wings were able to make it much easier for their strong goaltending duo, Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek. In the playoffs, Osgood took the reigns, dominating with a .930 save percentage, but it was Zetterberg with his 27 points in 22 games that would take home the Conn Smythe trophy. Nick Lidstrom also became the first Swedish player to captain an NHL team to the Stanley Cup as his Red Wings went 16-6 in the playoffs.
8. 2000-01 Colorado Avalanche
The second and most recent Stanley Cup for the Avalanche was also the more dominant of the two. While the Avalanche didn’t top the NHL in any main statistic, they did still manage to finish first in the NHL in the final standings with at 52-16-10-4 record for 118 points. Joe Sakic had a heck of a season, resurging up with 118 points and +45. He took home the Lady Byng, the Lester B. Pearson, and the Hart trophies. On defense, veteran Ray Bourque finished 2nd in Norris voting despite having his 40th birthday during the year. The Avalanche would go 16-7, beating the New Jersey Devils in seven games in the Finals. Patrick Roy would perform admirably, taking home his record-breaking third Conn Smythe Trophy and Sakic would lead the way offensively, leading his team with 13 goals and 26 points in 21 games.
7. 1988-89 Calgary Flames
Like the Colorado Avalanche, the Calgary Flames had fall into place for the dream season all at once in the 1988-89 season. Despite stiff competition from the strong Montreal Canadiens, the Flames finished first in the NHL with 117 points in 80 games, two more points than the Canadiens. The Flames didn’t finish first in any major statistics, but seemed to finish 2nd in nearly all of them. Goals, goals against, powerplay, and penalty kill were all statistics in which the Flames finished 2nd in the NHL. They did manage to finish first in shots per game and shots against per game, however. The Flames were an extremely deep team, with two 51-goal scorers (Mullen and Nieuwendyk) and eight 20-goal scorers. They also had two star defensemen who scored at nearly a point-per-game in Al MacInnis and Gary Suter. In net, they also had a star, Mike Vernon. The Flames went 16-6 in the playoffs to secure their first and, to date, only Stanley Cup.
6. 1951-52 Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings are the first of two franchises to have two teams on this list (can you guess the other? Don’t think too hard.). A season after Detroit became the first team to tally triple digits in points during a season, they repeated the feat in 1951-52. Finishing first in the NHL, the Red Wings were head and shoulders above all five other teams in the NHL. They finished with 10 wins more than the second-place Canadiens, and 100 points to the 78 of the Canadiens. They scored the most goals and allowed the fewest. They had the top goal scorer and top two point scorers in the NHL (Howe, Howe and Lindsay). They had a dynamic defenseman who was setting new trends in Red Kelly and had one of the all-time greats in Terry Sawchuk playing in a league of his own. On top of their regular season dominance, the Red Wings did the nearly unthinkable and went undefeated in the playoffs, winning all eight games consecutively and outscoring their opposition by a score of 24-5. Sawchuk finished with 4 shutouts in 8 games and a 0.62 GAA. The only reason this season isn’t higher is because the Red Wings only needed to win 8 games to take the Cup compared to the more grueling playoffs of modern seasons.