The NHL's 10 best regular-season teams of all time
Posted: Thursday March 2, 2006 12:07PM; Updated: Thursday March 2, 2006 5:09PM
You would think that a team that won 56 games while Wayne Gretzky scored 215 points would be in our top 10. Not so.
Since the NHL opened for business in 1917-18, many teams have clearly been in a class of their own during the regular season. Some did it with high-octane offense, others with a precision game plan, and others were at the top of their games at both ends of the rink. Many of those teams continued to play at a very high level in the postseason en route to winning a Stanley Cup, while others were shockingly deprived of sipping from the chalice.
This list focuses strictly on teams that dominated the regular-season schedule. For sure, some great teams were excluded. But we think you'll agree that these elite performers are truly in a league of their own. (Cup winners are noted by an asterisk.)
1. 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens* (60-8-12, 132 points)
Not only did the Habs outscore their opponents by better than a 2-to-1 margin en route to the highest point total in NHL history, they also allowed a stingy 2.13 goals per game. Montreal got league-leading performances from Steve Shutt (60 goals), Guy Lafleur (136 points) and Ken Dryden (10 shutouts) while winning its division by 49 points and posting a 33-1-6 mark at home.
Trivia Question: Who did Montreal lose to at home? Answer at the end of column.
2. 1970-71 Boston Bruins (57-14-7, 121 points)
With 10 players scoring at least 20 goals, the Bruins were the first team in the modern era to average five per game as they outscored the opposition by nearly 200. Led by Phil Esposito's record-shattering 76 goals and 152 points, and Bobby Orr's 139 points and mind-boggling +124, the B's placed six players among the league's top eight scorers, including four who reached 100 points.
3. 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings (62-13-7, 131 points)
While setting the NHL's single-season victory mark, Detroit won 13 more games than the next winningest team. The Wings entered the record book without a scorer in the top nine, but had 14 players pop home more than 10 goals apiece. Strong at the other end, goaltenders Chris Osgood and Mike Vernon combined to have the league's best GAA.
4. 1929-30 Boston Bruins (38-5-1, 77 points)
The Bruins bagged .875 percent of their possible points, the best mark of all time. In a 44-game slate, they won the American Division of the 10-team league by an amazing 30 points. In the first season of legalized forward passing in all three zones, Dynamite Line members Cooney Weiland (a then league-record 43) and Dit Clapper (41) each averaged nearly a goal per game.
5. 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens* (59-10-11, 129 points)
Only three points removed from their incredible mark of the season before, this club holds the league record for most road points (61). The Canadiens easily led the NHL in goals and Dryden's GAA of 2.05 was also the best. Lafleur led all scorers with 60 goals and 132 points.
6. 1975-76 Montreal Canadiens* (58-11-11, 127 points)
The start of a three-year run in which Les Habitants lost only 29 of their 240 games, this squad had by far the league's best goal differential. Backstopped by Dryden's league leading 2.03 goals-against, Montreal's attack was sparked by Lafleur's NHL-best 56 goals and 125 points.
7. 1981-82 New York Islanders* (54-16-10, 118 points)
In a season in which only four of 21 teams won as many as 40 games, the Isles had a league-best 54 victories while winning the tough Patrick Division by 26 points. In the best season of his career, Mike Bossy scored 64 goals and a team-record 147 points while Bryan Trottier added 50 goals and 129 points.
8. 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers* (57-18-5, 119 points)
The most prolific team in NHL history at 5.57 goals per game, this group of Oilers boasted three 50-goal scorers and four players who topped 100 points. Wayne Gretzky had 87 goals, and his 2.77 points per game (205 in 74) was his career best at the time.
9. 1971-72 Boston Bruins* (54-13-11, 119 points)
Boston's last Cup team won the very tough East Division (which had three 100-point teams) by 10 points. The B's led the league in scoring, and had the top two scorers and best goal differential. Esposito led the way with 66 goals and 133 points while Orr had 117 points and a league-best 80 helpers.
10. 1972-73 Montreal Canadiens* (52-10-16, 120 points)
Coming within one of the Bruins' record for points, the Habs' 10 losses were their fewest since the 1944-45 season. Dryden's 2.26 GAA led the league and Jacques Lemaire's 95 points fell one shy of the team record.
Honorable Mention (in order of season)
1943-44 Canadiens* (38-5-7, 83 points): Boasted an .830 points percentage and won the league by 25 points -- with only one scorer in the top 13.
1951-52 Red Wings* (44-14-12, 100 points): Gordie Howe's 47 goals ranked second in league history and his 87 points easily led the NHL.
1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers (51-13-16, 118 points): Reggie Leach's 61 goals paced the league's No. 1 offense while Bobby Clarke (119) and Bill Barber (112) topped 100 points.
1978-79 Islanders (51-15-14, 116 points): Won their conference by 21 points with Bossy scoring a career-best 69 goals.
1985-86 Oilers* (56-17-7, 119 points): Boasted three 130-point scorers, led by The Great One's all-time mark of 215.