NHL: 50 Best Teams in League History


I’ll warn you (and myself) right now – this is the type of article that will entitle me to all the hate mail and angry comments in the world. However, it’s both exciting and challenging to determine who the best teams in NHL history are. After all, there have been over 1,000 teams that have played a season in the NHL, starting in 1917, when the NHL was formed from the fledgling National Hockey Association.

The criteria used to determine this list included, first and foremost, whether or not the team won the Stanley Cup at the end of the season. There have been numerous teams that “should” have won, but alas, failed to come away with that famous silver mug. However, because there have been almost 100 Stanley Cup champions in NHL history, there must be other criteria as well. These include how many Hall of Famers (and possible future Hall of Famers, in the author’s opinion) are on the team, their regular season record, how dominant their goalie was, how talented and experienced their front office and coaching staff were, in addition to other small factors (including individual awards, team awards, etc.).

Remember – this list is not the list. It is my list. Feel free to argue your points and tell me why your team is the greatest and the 1962-63 Toronto Maple Leafs don’t belong on this list (or something to that extent). And, of course, I can’t wait to hear what names you call me when you think I’m wrong. It’s all part of the fun!

1976-77 Montreal Canadiens
Ten players hit the 50-point plateau for this legendary team, argued to be the greatest that ever stepped on the ice (even the famed Soviet Red Army team couldn’t lay the hammer on the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge). Their record was the best in NHL history, while they glided through the playoffs, losing just two games en route to a sweep over the Boston Bruins.
Record: 60-8-12 (132 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe, Jacques Lemaire, Serge Savard, Bob Gainey, Ken Dryden, Sam Pollock, Scotty Bowman, Yvan Cournoyer
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1969-70 Boston Bruins
One of the best post-expansion teams, the 1969-70 Boston Bruins were led by defenseman Bobby Orr and center Phil Esposito. Their 12-2 playoff record is one of the best of all time, as they swept both the Chicago Black Hawks and St. Louis Blues in the final two rounds of the postseason.
Record: 40-17-19 (99 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, John Bucyk, Gerry Cheevers
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1983-84 Edmonton Oilers
One of the most talented teams in NHL history, the 1983-84 Oilers began a dynasty, just one year after being shut down by the previous dynasty, the New York Islanders. With guys like Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, and others, the Oilers became a threat to be reckoned with (and they were subsequently only beaten twice through 1990). Fortunately for the Oilers, there will most likely never be a team like this one, because of the salary cap and the inherent inability to afford a team with this many superstars.
Record: 57-18-5 (119 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr, Glen Sather
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

2001-02 Detroit Red Wings
Tied for third in the league in goals against and having led the league in goals for, the ’01-02 Red Wings had one of the most superstar-laden rosters in NHL history (a sure benefit of the pre-salary cap era). But this was no New York Rangers, in which the team simply overpaid for former greats – GM Ken Holland and his staff worked hard to put together a roster that would gel in a way that could bring the Stanley Cup back to Hockeytown for the third time six years, and develop one of the only dynasties in hockey of the past two decades.
Record: 51-17-10-4 (116 points)
Notable Hall of Famers (and future Hall of Famers): Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Brett Hull, Nicklas Lidstrom, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman, Igor Larionov, Chris Chelios, Pavel Datsyuk, Dominik Hasek
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1977-78 Montreal Canadiens
Arguably the greatest offensive team in NHL history, the Canadiens scored an incredible 359 goals (the second place Red Wings had 252). Their defense let up just 183 games as the team simply swept through the season, then beat the Bruins in six games to claim the Stanley Cup. Eleven of their players scored at least 40 points.
Record: 59-10-11 (129 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Sam Pollock, Scotty Bowman, Guy Lafleur, Jacques Lemaire, Steve Shutt, Larry Robinson, Yvan Cournoyer, Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard, Bob Gainey, Ken Dryden
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1923-24 Montreal Canadiens
The first time the NHL’s Canadiens won the Stanley Cup, they failed to lose a single game through the NHL playoffs and the Stanley Cup finals.
Record: 13-11 (26 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Aurele Joliat, Howie Morenz, Sprague Cleghorn, Joe Malone, Georges Vezina
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1926-27 Ottawa Senators
Among the league leaders in goals against and second in the league in goals for, the Senators were led by Hall of Fame goaltender Alec Connell, who was among league leaders with a 1.49 goals against average.
Record: 30-10-4 (64 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Cy Denneny, King Clancy, Frank Nighbor, Jack Adams, Georges Boucher, Hooley Smith, Alec Connell
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1955-56 Montreal Canadiens
One of the most dominant Canadiens teams of all-time, the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge led the league in both offense and defense, then beat Detroit in four of five games to win the Stanley Cup.
Record: 45-15-10 (100 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Jean Beliveau, Maurice Richard, Bert Olmstead, Bernie Geoffrion, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey, Henri Richard, Tom Johnson, Jacques Plante
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1949-50 Detroit Red Wings
Gordie Howe had a breakout season and helped lead the Red Wings to their first Stanley Cup in The Production Line’s existence.
Record: 37-19-14 (88 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe, Sid Abel, Red Kelly, Jack Stewart, Harry Lumley, Terry Sawchuk, Tommy Ivan, Jack Adams
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1990-91 Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins were in the bottom half of the league in goals against, but they still managed to win a championship with their offensive juggernaut (which scored the second-most goals in the NHL).
Record: 41-33-6 (88 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Mark Recchi, Paul Coffey, Jaromir Jagr, Mario Lemieux, Joe Mullen, Bryan Trottier, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners
1962-63 Toronto Maple Leafs
Third in the league in goals against, second in goals for, the Maple Leafs still finished atop the regular season standings and ran through the Stanley Cup final in five games.
Record: 35-23-12 (82 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Frank Mahovlich, George Armstrong, Dick Duff, Red Kelly, Tim Horton, Johnny Bower, Bob Pulford
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1959-60 Montreal Canadiens
With some of the greatest players in NHL history, these Canadiens were able to join some of the most elite teams ever with their Stanley Cup win.
Record: 40-18-12 (92 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Bernie Geoffrion, Dickie Moore, Maurice Richard, Tom Johnson, Doug Harvey, Jacques Plante, Frank Selke, Toe Blake
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1945-46 Montreal Canadiens
Ironically, these Canadiens failed to lead the league in offense, regardless of one of the most dominant lines in NHL history (The Punch Line). It was their defense, however, that shined, as Bill Durnan once again won the Vezina and enjoyed championship success.
Record: 28-17-5 (61 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Toe Blake, Maurice Richard, Elmer Lach, Bill Durnan, Buddy O’Connor, Butch Bouchard
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1954-55 Detroit Red Wings
Offense was not dominant, but their defense led the league and they enjoyed 11 players with over 25 points.
Record: 42-17-11 (95 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Jack Adams, Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Ted Lindsay, Red Kelly, Marcel Pronovost, Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1987-88 Edmonton Oilers
They failed to beat out Calgary for the division crown, but their depth on offense, mixed with Grant Fuhr in net, helped clinch the dynasty’s fourth championship.
Record: 44-25-11 (99 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr, Glen Sather.
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1938-39 Boston Bruins
“Mister Zero” (Frank Brimsek) had a 1.56 goals against average and helped the Bruins control the league both offensively and defensively.
Record: 36-10-2 (74 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Bill Cowley, Roy Conacher, Milt Schmidy, Woody Dumart, Dit Clapper, Bobby Bauer, Art Ross, Eddie Shore, Tiny Thompson, Frank Brimsek
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1972-73 Montreal Canadiens
Record: 52-10-16 (120 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Sam Pollock, Scotty Bowman, Jacques Lemaire, Frank Mahovlich, Yvan Cournoyer, Guy Lafleur, Guy Lapointe, Henri Richard, Serge Savard, Steve Shutt, Jacques Laperriere, Larry Robinson, Ken Dryden
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1943-44 Montreal Canadiens
One of the best teams in NHL history, this squad featured the Punch Line in its prime, along with one of the best goaltenders in NHL history in Bill Durnan.
Record: 38-5-7 (83 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Elmer Lach, Toe Blake, Maurice Richard, Buddy O’Connor, Bill Durnan, Dick Irvin
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1951-52 Detroit Red Wings
Goaltender Terry Sawchuk had one of the best seasons in NHL history, helping Detroit give up just 1.9 goals per game, dominating the league in that category.
Record: 44-14-12 (100 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel, Red Kelly, Alex Delvecchio, Marcel Pronovost, Terry Sawchuk
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1957-58 Montreal Canadiens
The dominant team scored 250 goals and gave up 158 in just 70 games. No one else in the league had above 199 goals for or under 188 goals against.
Record: 43-17-10 (96 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Frank Selke, Toe Blake, Dickie Moore, Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau, Bernie Geoffrion, Doug Harvey, Bert Olmstead, Maurice Richard, Tom Johnson, Jacques Plante
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1974-75 Philadelphia Flyers
With two major award winners on the team (Bobby Clarke won league MVP while Bernie Parent won the Vezina), the Flyers were led with starpower, but had a phenomenal supporting cast. Many will argue that the team was just a bunch of fighters, but Andre “Moose” Dupont had 32 points, Bob Kelly had 29, and Dave Schultz had 26 – proof that they could add offense as well. They defeated the rising New York Islanders and the Buffalo Sabres in the final two rounds en route to a Stanley Cup repeat.
Record: 51-18-11 (113 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Bernie Parent, Fred Shero, Keith Allen, Ed Snider.
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1979-80 New York Islanders
A missed offsides call might have helped this team reach the top, but they were no fluke, by any means. They had serious talent.
Record: 39-28-13 (91 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, Al Arbour, Bill Torrey, Jimmy Devellano
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1982-83 New York Islanders
Basically the same team that won the championship a few years earlier, they continued to dominate the league.
Record: 42-26-12 (96 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin, Clark Gillies, Billy Smith, Al Arbour, Bill Torrey, Jimmy Devellano
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1995-96 Colorado Avalanche
Though this team only had a handful of Hall of Famers, they had an incredible supporting cast, along with great coaching and a ton of motivation. They won the franchise’s first championship – in the first year playing in Denver.
Record: 47-25-10 (104 points)
Notable Hall of Famers (and future Hall of Famers): Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1931-32 Toronto Maple Leafs
Ironically, this team struggled in the regular season, but was able to lift themselves to a championship. Included on this team (including front office) were legends Syd Howe, Conn Smythe, King Clancy and Busher Jackson.
Record: 23-18-7 (53 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Conn Smythe, Busher Jackson, Joe Primeau, Charlie Conacher, Frank Finnigan, King Clancy, Hap Day, Syd Howe, Red Horner
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1996-97 Detroit Red Wings
Though they failed to win a championship, the Red Wings had one of the greatest teams in NHL history. Unfortunately, they ran into their archrival Colorado Avalanche, who were able to outmuscle and outplay them up to their run to the Cup.
Record: 62-13-7 (131 points)
Notable (and future) Hall of Famers: Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, Igor Larionov, Dino Ciccarelli, Paul Coffey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Viacheslav Fetisov, Scotty Bowman
Playoffs: Lost in Conference final to Colorado

1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins
Their defense left something to be desired, but their incredible superstar power and depth on the offensive side of the puck left them on top of the league when the tee times were booked.
Record: 39-32-9 (87 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Mario Lemieux, Joe Mullen, Larry Murphy, Jaromir Jagr, Paul Coffey, Ron Francis, Bryan Trottier
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1940-41 Boston Bruins
Having a bit of a better roster than their first championship team, the 1940-41 Bruins had even more Hall of Famers on their roster this time around. However, they still were not as talented as their championship team the year before.
Record: 27-8-13 (67 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Art Ross, Cooney Weiland, Bill Cowley, Bobby Bauer, Roy Conacher, Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart, Dit Clapper, Frank Brimsek
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1928-29 Boston Bruins
The first Stanley Cup in Bruins history, some of the greatest players in early NHL history helped lift Beantown to hockey glory.
Record: 26-13-5 (57 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Eddie Shore, Dit Clapper, Cooney Weiland, Mickey MacKay, Frank Fredrickson, Cy Denneny, Tiny Thompson, Art Ross
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1971-72 Boston Bruins
If any current general manager could get Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr on their roster, they would most likely trade every draft pick for the next five years to do so.
Record: 54-13-11 (119 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Harry Sinden, Tom Johnson, Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, John Bucyk, Gerry Cheevers
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1973-74 Philadelphia Flyers
The first of the 1967 expansion teams to win a Stanley Cup, the Flyers combined talent, smarts, and grit to rip through the league and upset the Big, Bad Bruins in six games of the final.
Record: 50-16-12 (112 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Keith Allen, Ed Snider, Fred Shero, Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Bernie Parent
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

2007-08 Detroit Red Wings
It might be too early to call them great, but in 10, or maybe even 20 years, we will look back on this team and wonder why they didn’t win more.
Record: 54-21-7 (115 points)
Notable (and future) Hall of Famers: Mike Ilitch, Ken Holland, Mike Babcock, Jimmy Devellano, Pavel Datsyuk, Nick Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Dominik Hasek, Chris Osgood
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1927-28 New York Rangers
Though they had a less-than-impressive regular season, their roster included some of the greatest Rangers players in history, and culminated in a Stanley Cup.
Record: 19-16-9 (47 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Frank Boucher, Bill Cook, Frederick Cook, Ivan Johnson, Lester Patrick
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1917-18 Montreal Canadiens
In the league’s first year, the Canadiens were unable to claim what they believed was theirs – but they still had some of the best players in NHL history on their roster.
Record: 13-8 (26 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Joe Malone, Newsy Lalonde, Didier Pitre, Joe Hall, Georges Vezina, Jack Laviolette
Playoffs: Lost O’Brien Cup

1918-19 Montreal Canadiens
Some of the greatest early hockey players were a part of this team. They won the O’Brien Cup as the NHL Champions, but the final was ultimately cancelled due to the influenza epidemic.
Record: 10-8 (20 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Newsy Lalonde, Didier Pitre, Joe Malone, Joe Hall, Georges Vezina
Playoffs: O’Brien Cup winners (Stanley Cup final was cancelled)

1988-89 Calgary Flames
The Flames’ only Stanley Cup came behind great management, incredible players and even a little excessive, but fun celebration (I’m looking at you, Fleury!).
Record: 54-17-9 (117 points)
Notable (and future) Hall of Famers: Joe Mullen, Doug Gilmour, Joe Nieuwendyk, Al MacInnis, Theoren Fleury, Lanny McDonald, Cliff Fletcher
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1993-94 New York Rangers
The Captain’s prediction helped boost them to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1940, but there was much more than motivation – and former Edmonton Oilers – behind this victory.
Record: 52-24-8 (112 points)
Notable (and future) Hall of Famers: Sergei Zubov, Steve Larmer, Mike Gartner, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Alexei Kovalev, Glenn Anderson, Mike Richter
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1944-45 Montreal Canadiens
This is the team that took a one-year hiatus between Stanley Cup championships –but that didn’t stop them from finishing atop the league in one of the most dominating regular seasons ever.
Record: 38-8-4 (80 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Dick Irvin, Elmer Lach, Maurice Richard, Toe Blake, Buddy O’Connor, Butch Bouchard, Bill Durnan
Playoffs: Lost in Semifinals to Toronto

1928-29 Montreal Canadiens
Then one of the best regular seasons in NHL history, the Canadiens had all the makings of a championship team – but were upset in the first round.
Record: 22-7-15 (59 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Howie Morenz, Aurel Joliat, Herb Gardiner, Georges Hainsworth, Leo Dandurand
Playoffs: O’Brien Cup winners (lost in first round of playoffs)

1998-99 Dallas Stars
Regardless of your opinion on the “toe-in-the-crease” goal, the Stars were deserving of the Holy Grail.
Record: 51-19-12 (114 points)
Notable (and future) Hall of Famers: Bob Gainey, Ken Hitchcock, Mike Modano, Brett Hull, Joe Nieuwendyk, Sergei Zubov, Jere Lehtinen, Ed Belfour
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins
They struggled through the season, but after a coaching change, the team was able to reach the summit of the hockey world.
Record: 42-28-9 (99 points)
Tentative Future Hall of Famers: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Bill Guerin, Sergei Gonchar
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1999-00 New Jersey Devils
A defensive-minded team, Stevens, Rafalski and Niedermayer anchored one of the greatest bluelines in NHL history and were backed by arguably the best goalie of all-time.
Record: 45-24-8-5 (103 points)
Notable (and future) Hall of Famers: Lou Lamoriello, Martin Brodeur, Alexander Mogilny, Scott Stevens, Brian Rafalski, Scott Niedermayer
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

2000-01 Colorado Avalanche
This one was for Ray Bourque, but there was a lot more than just motivation behind this team – and Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy and the rest can attest to that.
Record: 52-16-10-4 (118 points)
Notable (and future) Hall of Famers: Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Ray Bourque, Patrick Roy, Rob Blake
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks
The most recent Stanley Cup champions have a tough core that will compete for years.
Record: 52-22-8 (112 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Scotty Bowman
Tentative Hall of Famers (author’s opinion): Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

2006-07 Anaheim Ducks
With two Hall-of-Famers on the blueline and a dominant performance in net, the Ducks were the most dominant team in their championship season.
Record: 48-20-14 (110 points)
Notable (and future) Hall of Famers: Teemu Selanne, Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Ryan Getzlaf, Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Playoffs: Stanley Cup winners

1984-85 Philadelphia Flyers
One of the greatest Flyers teams of all time, along with a great coach in Mike Keenan, they once again ran into a dominant team (Edmonton) in the final.
Record: 53-20-7 (113 points)
Notable (and future) Hall of Famers: Bob Clarke, Ed Snider, Mike Keenan
Other greats: Tim Kerr, Brian Propp, Dave Poulin, Mark Howe
Playoffs: Lost in Stanley Cup final to Edmonton

1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers
Not even a 35-game unbeaten streak (still a pro sports record) could lift the Flyers over the newborn New York Islanders.
Record: 48-12-20 (116 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Pat Quinn (future Hall of Famer)
Playoffs: Lost in Stanley Cup final

1976-77 Boston Bruins
There was no way any team was going to compete with the Montreal Canadiens in the late ’70s, yet this Bruins team was awfully close.
Record: 49-23-8 (106 points)
Notable Hall of Famers: Jean Ratelle, Brad Park, John Bucyk, Gerry Cheevers, Harry Sinden
Playoffs: Lost in Stanley Cup final

49. 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings
Though they were upset by the future Western Conference champions in the first round of the playoffs, this Red Wings team was almost as talented as the one that won in 2001-02. In fact, they even won the President’s Trophy as the league’s top team in the regular season before flaming out in the quarterfinals.
Record: 58-16-8 (124 points)
Notable (and future) Hall of Famers: Pavel Datsyuk, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom, Mathieu Schneider, Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios, Chris Osgood, Ken Holland, Jimmy Devellano, Mike Ilitch
Playoffs: Lost in first round to Edmonton

50. 1996-97 Philadelphia Flyers
One of the best Flyers teams to grace the ice, the Legion of Doom (Lindros, LeClair and Renberg) dominated the league and were expected to win the Cup. Unfortunately, they could not match up with the soon-to-be powerful Red Wings.
Record: 45-24-13 (103 points)
Notable players: Eric Lindros, John LeClair, Ron Hextall, Paul Coffey, Dale Hawerchuk, Eric Desjardins, Rod Brind’Amour, Mikael Renberg
Playoffs: Lost in Stanley Cup final to Detroit

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