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This article can also be found on Askmen.com
What is intended to be an unbiased exercise using “just the numbers” to rank the greatest NHL teams of all time may read as a glowing, subjective homage to the team from the city where AskMen.com is headquartered. That’s merely a coincidence. The Montreal Canadiens have been that good. With 24 Stanley Cup championships, the “Habs” (as they are often called to shorten the French term "Les Habitants") are the Yankees, Celtics or UCLA basketball of the hockey world. Greats like Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Georges Vezina, Toe Blake, Doug Harvey, Jacques Plante, Dickie Moore, Ken Dryden, Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, and Patrick Roy give Montreal a rich history that spans almost 100 years and includes Stanley Cups in every completed decade since the 1910s. Ultimately, six Habs teams made our list of top 10 Stanley Cup champions. Four of them come from the 1970s when Scott Bowman coached Lafleur, Robinson, Dryden, and others to five championships in seven seasons. Which of these was the best? Which other franchises make appearances among the best? How good are the teams from this decade?
Determining the top 10 Stanley Cup champions
To answer these questions and more we called on the Whatifsports.com computer. To come up with the list of top 10 Stanley Cup champions in as fair a manner as possible, we “played” all previous winners against all of the other championship teams 100 times each -- 50 at home and 50 away. Playoff rules were used, so every game ended in either a win or a loss. Also, every team played with its number one goalie for all 7,500-plus games. Teams are ranked by winning percentage from those games. With one dynasty dominating the Top 10: Stanley Cup Champions list, how some other teams fare is of note. Unfortunately for the Chicago Blackhawks, one of the “original six” teams, two of its three Cup-winning teams appear in the “bottom 10,” including the 1937-38 squad that finishes in last, winning just 15% of the time. Of those just missing the cut between 11 and 25, two -- the 1972-73 Habs at No. 16 and 1980-81 Islanders at No. 14 -- complete the dynastical runs of the teams below. Three franchises, the Canadiens, the Islanders and the Oilers actually account for 14 of the top 25. Recent teams in that range include the 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins at No. 22, the 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings at No. 17 and the 1993-94 New York Rangers at No. 12. Some other notable teams outside of the Top 10: Stanley Cup Champions list are the 1947-48 Toronto Maple Leafs at No. 33, the 1951-52 Detroit Red Wings at No. 21, the 1938-39 Boston Bruins at No. 20, and the 1988-89 Calgary Flames at No. 15.
1982-83 New York Islanders
Winning percentage from simulations: 75.1%
The last of the Islanders’ four consecutive Stanley Cups was also one of the last times that this franchise, which has not won a playoff series this decade, was relevant. Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Denis Potvin were three of the stars for the Islanders, but the 1982-83 playoffs belonged to goaltender Billy Smith. In the Stanley Cup Finals, Smith shutdown an Oilers team with a few Hall of Famers (see below), allowing just six goals in the four-game sweep and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
1978-79 Montreal Canadiens (75.8%)
After a loss to the upstart Islanders in the first game of Stanley Cup Finals, Montreal put in 18 goals over the next four games to win the championship handedly. It was the last time Montreal won a championship until Patrick Roy came to town. Defenseman Bob Gainey shined during this season, taking home the Selke and Conn Smythe Trophies.
1977-78 Montreal Canadiens (76.8%)
The next year, this version of Bowman’s reign won its division by 51 points, took home the Vezina, Hart, Ross, Selke, and Conn Smythe trophies, outscored its opponents by 2.2 goals a game and defeated Boston in the six games to win the Cup.
1971-72 Boston Bruins (77%)
It is another team from the 1970s, but it’s not the Canadiens. Led by one of the greatest the game has ever seen in Bobby Orr, Boston got past the New York Rangers in six games to win the Cup. Playing stellar defense, Orr also put together a phenomenal offensive season with 80 assists and 117 points.
1943-44 Montreal Canadiens (78.9%)
The earliest team to make this list, the 1943-44 Habs marked the beginning of the franchise’s dominance in the NHL. Just four seasons earlier, Montreal had won an all-time league worst 10 games. Despite talks of folding, Montreal brought in Dick Irvin to coach in 1940 and the rest is history. He put together the “Punch Line” of Rocket Richard, Toe Blake and Elmer Lach to help carry the team to this championship. Over the next 35 seasons, Montreal won 17 Cups.
1955-56 Montreal Canadiens (79.5%)
Under new Head Coach Toe Blake, the Canadiens set a then-record for wins in a season with 45, 15 better than the next best team in the league. Jean Beliveau led the NHL in scoring and won the Ross and Hart trophies. Six of the 12 named NHL All-Stars for 1955-56 came from this team.
1981-82 New York Islanders (79.7%)
The most dominant squad of the Islanders’ run, this team scored 4.8 goals per game, while allowing just 3.1 a game. Mike Bossy scored seven goals in a four game Stanley Cup Finals sweep over Vancouver to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
1983-84 Edmonton Oilers (82.7%)
What is a hockey list without Wayne Gretzky? Even with 205 points, the Great One had a lot of help this season. Paul Coffey, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri, among others, made this one of the greatest offensive teams ever. They scored an almost unimaginable 5.6 goals per game and then improved on that with 94 goals in just 15 playoff games. Edmonton put an end to the Islanders’ dreams of winning five in a row by taking the Finals in five. Given the two offensive juggernauts on the ice, of course Game 1 ended 1-0 in favor of the Oilers.
1975-76 Montreal Canadiens (83.5%)
We are running out of things to say about these teams and we still have the best one to go…
1976-77 Montreal Canadiens (87.3%)
The Habs notched 60 regular-season and 33 home wins in 1976-77 to best the wins and points records they had set the season before. Montreal outscored its opponents by 2.7 goals a game, lost just one regular season home game and two playoff games, earned the Ross, Hart, Conn Smythe, Adams, Norris, Pearson, and Vezina(which Ken Dryden and Michel Larocque split) trophies and comprised two-thirds of the first All-NHL Team. Wow.
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