# Greatest Teams in NHL History

Discussion in 'The History of Hockey' started by Ogopogo*, Apr 20, 2005.

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1. ### Ogopogo*Guest

With NHL teams, how do you compare the greatest from year to year? Which team is the best of all time?

Well, we must determine which team dominated the league more than any other team. We cannot use standings points accumulated because, of course, the NHL has not always had an 82 game schedule. A team from the 30 game era was capped at 60 points, so that doesn't work. Winning % is a number that is valuable in comparing the teams. But, that leaves out some of the information.

When is a win not just a win? Well, a team could win 3-2 or a team could win 8-1. One of those victories is significantly more impressive than the other. It could be said that the 8-1 team showed more dominance than the 3-2 team - given that is was the same opponent they played.

So, I put in a measurement for quality of victory. As some of you have seen in Klein and Reif's Hockey Compendium, they use a devastation rating. (GF/GA) The problem with their devastation rating is that, it does not accurately portray the quality of victory. For example:

According to Klein & Reif, a 4-1 win is more 'devastating' than a 10-3 win. 4/1= 4 while 10/3= 3.33. As we all know, getting beat down 10-3 is far worse than losing 4-1. So, I went with a different system.

I used a team's goals for minus goals against divided by the number of games they played. This indicates by what margin the team won its games. It shows true dominance over the opponents in the league.

So, winning % + goal differential per game = Domination Rating

So, these are the top REGULAR SEASON teams of all time. I will do a playoff version of this rating system in the near future.

As we can see, the Montreal Canadiens have been the most dominant team of all time. Despite their amazing run during the 80s Edmonton's best season only puts them 15th on the list. That tells us a good offense and a good defense are required to be the best of all time. But any team with a domination rating over 2.00 is truly amazing.

Here are the top Domination Ratings of all time:

Team Domination Rate
3 1970-71 Boston Bruins 3.24
7 1929-30 Boston Bruins 2.72
10 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings 2.56
11 1978-79 New York Islanders 2.53
13 1938-39 Boston Bruins 2.44
14 1981-82 New York Islanders 2.43
15 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers 2.39
17 1971-72 Boston Bruins 2.38
19 1973-74 Boston Bruins 2.37
20 1988-89 Calgary Flames 2.33
21 1971-72 New York Rangers 2.30
22 1977-78 New York Islanders 2.24
23 1981-82 Edmonton Oilers 2.22
25 1939-40 Boston Bruins 2.20
26 1985-86 Edmonton Oilers 2.19
27 1979-80 Buffalo Sabres 2.15
28 1974-75 Buffalo Sabres 2.13
29 1950-51 Detroit Red Wings 2.11
33 1940-41 Boston Bruins 2.07
34 1994-95 Detroit Red Wings 2.04
36 1982-83 Edmonton Oilers 2.03
39 1966-67 Chicago Blackhawks 2.01

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2. ### TrottierVery Random

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It could be said, but it would be a flawed assumption, and one that, on its own, should not be a basis for comparison, IMO. Winning a tight game is often exponentially harder - and more impressive, regardless of the opponent. For one is not dealing with absolutes here. The same team who had an off night after traveling through two times zones to play a road game, is not the same opponent who is coming off of three days rest at home. So, no, in the case of the first scenario, an 8-1 victory at home against that team is not necessarily more impressive than a 3-2 win on the road against the latter version. (Not to mention the variable of injuries and the like.)

Likewise, such a conclusion places a disproportionate amount of emphasis on offense.

Sidenote: One who watched the '79 Isles (an outstanding regular season team) and the '82 mid-dynasty version knows that the latter was superior. And that is why it is terribly incomplete to look at the regular season in isolation. (I recognize that you will be presenting a playoff version.) The '79 Isles had never won a Cup. They were young and talented....and inexperienced. They blew their proverbial load in the regular season, and were summarily defeated in the second round of the playoffs. The '82 version had won Cups the prior two seasons. They knew what it takes to "turn it up" come post-season, and likely, had a different perspective on how to pace themselves during the October-March regular season grind. As is, that 1981-82 team was still ridiculously dominant in both the regular season and postseason.

Same could be said about the '81-'82 Oilers who were absolutely dominant during the regular season, but not fully playoff-tested or ready, as evidence by their first-round exit at the hands of LA.

Guess what I'm asking is, of what relevance is regular season dominance if it renders zip come Cup time? "Dominance" October-March may be an interesting statistical equation, but is relatively meaningless (hollow) if not followed by success in April-June. That '77 Habs team was the greatest of the modern era because it dominated BOTH the regular season AND the playoffs.

Perhaps a statistical analysis that simultaneously factors in regular season and playoff performance (weighted toward the latter) would be a more appropriate measurement?

Anyway, just throwing out some thoughts back at you and your post is a good read. And your numbers do support many facts. But not in other cases.

One is reminded of Mark Twain's quote: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics."

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I can see your problem with the devastation rating. It's like college football with teams running up the score being part of the analysis. It doesn't mesh with games that were closer than they looked, games not as close as they looked and soemtime a one point win is much more impressive.

4. ### Ogopogo*Guest

I think, when you look at a single game, or look at this entire concept on a micro level, that might make sense. When you look at it over the course of an entire season, the goal differential is a factor. A team that consistently beats opponents by 2 or 3 goals is a superior team to one that is always in a one goal nailbiter. The better the team, the more often they win by more than one goal.

I understand your concern about how great offense may skew these numbers. But, the facts don't bear that out. Look at the Edmonton Oilers. They had an amazing offensive team in the 80s yet, their best showing is 15th. It takes a combination of good offense and good defense to rise to the top. The Oilers used to beat teams by 8-5 type scores on a regular basis. Had they won those games 8-2 rather than 8-5 they would be up in the top 10 with all those great Montreal teams.

Thank you, I do appreciate your input. This system is far from perfect but, I think it is a good way to compare just how dominant different teams were.

Once I factor in the playoffs, we will really have something interesting to discuss.

5. ### sunbRegistered User

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But a team that consistently wins 8-1 victories is more dominant than a team that consistently win 3-2 victories.

6. ### TrottierVery Random

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Back at you:

It might be very interesting to run a comparison of the 1982-83 versions of the Islanders and Oilers to test your theory. (Not to throw more work at you!)

I suggest that based on the (ever-fading) recollection that the 1982-'83 Oilers team, like all of their others from that period, were an offensive dynamo and routinely ran up wide scoring differentials vs. opponents. Meanwhile, the 1982-83 Isles, the last of their Cup teams, had a somewhat pedestrian regular season, relatively speaking. They were still among the top teams in the overall standings, but not at the top of their Conference (Boston) and much less impressive than the previous year.

Heading into the Finals that spring, the Oilers were the favorite of many to take down NYI. Their "time had come," according to the experts, based on their regular season (and up to that point, postseason) dominance.

...Isles swept them in four games.

(As is, the Oilers' time came one year later.)

Well, my question directly above challenges that. I've already given examples of "dominant" regular season teams that were not playoff ready/Cup caliber ('79 Isles; '82 Oilers). So, yes, more dominant in the regular season only. But that's quite a dubious title to hold, no?

Besides, there are rarely 8-4, let alone 8-1, games come playoff time (and that includes the 80s). I'd much rather have a team that knows how to win 1-0 games than 8-1 games heading into April. The 1983 scenario above talks directly to that. Isles won Game One of that Finals vs. the Oilers in Edmonton in possibly the greatest playoff game I've ever watched. They scored first, and shut down the unworldy Oilers offensive machine in an air-tight (but not trapping!) style game until getting a late open-netter. (Billy Smith had a lot to do with that outcome, of course.) And they never looked back from there, taking the next three games.

To this observer, it was the ability to find a way to win the close ones, that was the difference in NYI's favor that Finals. Edmonton was used to being the front-runners in most every game, often by wide margins. They had not quite yet learned at that point how to regularly pull out the tight, pressure lower-scoring games. They soon did...taking an equally tight Game One of the next year's Finals on Long Island, by a score of 2-1, on their way to their first Cup. Telling.

Last edited: Apr 20, 2005
7. ### oil slickRegistered User

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Stuff like this should only be done for the playoffs IMO. Most of the teams listed were good enough that they didn't give two craps about the regular season. Just my opinion.

EDIT:Just saw your post Trottier... I think my opinion jives with what you're saying. After 3 cups, did the Islanders really care about giving 100% in the regular season? Nope.

EDITED EDIT: Just saw that everyone else already raised the playoff issue... carry on.

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it seems to favour certain era's, since it's filled with 70's and 80's, yet there are only 2 entries from 1990-present that i see. is it because there's more parity in the league? or just that the lower scoring has led to smaller goal differentials?

9. ### TrottierVery Random

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My opinion: both.

Significantly more parity. In the 70s and 80s, you rarely had teams seemingly come out of nowhere to compete in the Finals. Off the top of my head, from that era I can only point to the 1982 Canucks, who were swept by NYI in the Finals, as a team that would remotely be compared to the Carolinas, Anaheims and Calgarys of today. That is not meant at all as a shot at those teams or what they accomplished. It just means that today, "Cinderellas" are commonplace...meaning that they really aren't Cinderellas, they are the norm. Back in the day, you knew you were going to see either Montreal, NYI or Edmonton playing every late May.

And greater emphasis on defense leads to tighter games (smaller goal differential) today. How often today do we see blowout scores during the regular season? In the past (into the 90s), they were much more commonplace. Seems to me that despite the disparity in payrolls and, seemingly, "talent" among various rosters, the differential between winning and losing is tighter than ever, on a night-to-night basis around the league. (Understandably, many will point to the proliference of the trap as being "the great equalizer" these days.)

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10. ### John Flyers FanRegistered User

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While i see goal differential mattering, point and win totals have to matter more.

The fact that the 1979-80 Sabres are listed 27th, and the Philadelphia Flyers of that same year are not on the list at all should be impossible.

The 1979-80 Flyers finished with 116 points compared to Buffalo's 110. The Flyers 12 loss total, has not been bettered in the 25 years since.

Leon Stickle.

11. ### VanIslanderDon't waste my time

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The following are the ones I've seen and how they are ranked:
Two Detroit teams but no Colorado in the top 40? As if they weren't a rivalry of equals.

And the Edmonton teams are ranked pretty low compared to Calgary.

12. ### oil slickRegistered User

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I don't know... that Calgary team was pretty good. That and the Oiler teams ended up loosing interest in the regular season.

13. ### John Flyers FanRegistered User

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Interesting note that 7 of your top 12 regular season teams failed to win the Stanley Cup.

14. ### VanIslanderDon't waste my time

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And the Montreal Canadiens make up all the Cup winners in the Top 12 !

15. ### someguy44Registered User

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If you rank the 88-89 Flames team so high, then the Habs who competed with them that year in the finals shouldn't be far off. They were both only a point away from each other in the regular season and the Habs lost in 6 to them. Then again, the Nucks almost knocked out the Flames that year. If the skate in the crease rule was in place in 89, you might not even rank the Flames that high. I, like many others, see too many problems with this list.

Although, I personally feel that one of the mid 80's Oilers or one of mid 70's Habs teams would be the most dominating. Then again, if you're ranking all time, it could be an even earlier era.

Anyway, I doubt the 70's Habs or 80's Oilers is capable of defeating a current playoff team due to the much differing styles of play.

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I guess it all depends on the competition and the era. No team will be winning by those margins in this era of defensive hockey.

17. ### oil slickRegistered User

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But... doesn't that mean that teams aren't as dominant today? Just looking at the past 10 years, I certainly would say that no team has dominated the league like teams did back in the 70's and 80's. The closest I would come is saying the Devils, Wings, and Avs have been good, but I would never say one of those teams dominated the league like I remember back in the day.

18. ### VanIslanderDon't waste my time

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Gretzky and Messier in their prime would be Top 5 in NHL scoring today. No doubt about that.

19. ### Ogopogo*Guest

The 79-80 Flyers were not as dominant in their victories and the 79-80 Sabres were. They had 327 GF and 254 GA for a total of +73. Buffalo had 318 GF and 201 GA for a +117. That difference gives Buffalo a higher dominance rating than the Flyers.

And remember, the Flyers had 20 ties. So, that is like adding 10 more victories to their 48 and 10 more losses on to their 12. Their 12 loss season was really more like a 22 loss season when you consider all the ties.

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20. ### Ogopogo*Guest

I think, a bad CBA for the past decade has limited what a lot of teams can do on the ice. Teams like Edmonton and Buffalo have no chance to be very dominant because they cannot keep good players around.

Teams like Detroit and Colorado should be dominant and, Detroit has been in certain seasons. (1995-96 for example). Other rich clubs like the Rangers have the resources to be dominant but, not the brains to pull it off.

Back in the 70s and 80s a smart GM could load up on talent. Player salaries were a reasonable portion of league revenues so any team could afford any player(s). Edmonton could have, arguably, the best 3 to 5 scorers in the league and have no problem absorbing that salary. Today, a team (other than Detroit or the Rangers) would choke on that much salary and have to dump some players.

We will not see teams like the Canadiens of the 70s and Oilers and Islanders of the 80s as long as the financial structure of the league is a mess. With a salary cap and revenue sharing, perhaps we can get back to the glory days where any team could have any player and all it took was a smart GM to build a powerhouse.

21. ### Ogopogo*Guest

The top Colorado team was the 1995-96 edition with a 1.68 rating. As well, the 2000-01 team had a 1.67 rating. When I do the playoff ratings, we may see Colorado with a lot more entries at the top of the list.

22. ### Ogopogo*Guest

The 88-89 Habs were an excellent regular season team, as well. They finished with an impressive 1.93 rating.

23. ### TrottierVery Random

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Where are those Oakland Seals teams on this list?

***

Regarding the three "dynasty" teams of the 70s and 80s vs. today's best:

I remind myself periodically that the perspective of teams/players in one's youth (and subsequent memory) is often a bit, shall we say, glorified. That is, I consider those three teams better than any teams since. But I could understand why a teenage fan coming up today would consider the Wings, Avs, etc. as the greatest ever, and likewise fawn over the likes of Heatley, Kovalchuk and even the yet-to-skate-an-NHL-shift Crosby as if there were no others like them before. All a matter of perspective.

***

That said, I do find specious the argument that a team from a previous era could not compete with a current team. A team/player can only rightly be judged against the best of its own time. And subsequent advances, perceived or otherwise, in the game do not diminish from those accomplishments one bit. NHLers today, like their peers in other pro sports, are without question bigger and faster and stronger athletes than those who came before them.

That does not necessarily mean that they are superior players. Big difference.

24. ### Ogopogo*Guest

I completely agree. When looked at with a historical perspective, the modern day Avalanche are not one of the all-time great clubs. Yes, they are excellent but, they did not dominate like the Habs of the 70s or Oilers and Islanders of the 80s.

A player or team can only be compared by how they dominate the peers of their own era. It can be said that today's players are bigger, stronger and faster so, players of the 50s could not compete today. But, it could also be said that today's players could not compete in the NHL of 2050. The only standard in which any athlete (any person, really) can be compared is how they dominate their era. That is the measure of how truly great they are. When you are in the NHL, you are in the best league in the world. If you dominate the best in the world, no matter when you played, you can be considered among the greatest of all time.

Cy Denneny, Howie Morenz and Eddie Shore could not compete with today's NHLers physically but, they dominated the 20s and 30s to such an extent that they are among the best players to ever lace up the skates. The way human beings grow and progress, if Denneny, Morenz and Shore played in 2000, physically they would be able to dominate. We cannot take away the lustre of their careers because of the era they played in. They were the best players in the world and that means they were truly great.

25. ### Malefic74Registered User

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