The 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings are not the greatest NHL team ever. They are not even the greatest Red Wings team ever, taking a back seat to the '51-52 Stanley Cup champions, who won all eight of their playoff games. The '01-02 Red Wings could match hockey IQs with any club, but this team was neither especially physical nor explosive, and that keeps it out of the top five. Here are SI's picks for the best teams in history.
1. 1955-56 CANADIENS
The first of five straight Cup-winning Montreal teams had 10 future Hall of Famers, including forwards Maurice (Rocket) Richard and Jean B�liveau, defenseman Doug Harvey and goalie Jacques Plante. The Canadiens had three of the NHL's top four scorers that season ( B�liveau, Richard and Bert Olmstead) and two impact rookies ( Henri Richard, who would win a record 11 Cups, and coach Toe Blake, who would win the chalice eight times).
2. 1975-76 CANADIENS
The 76-77 edition is widely hailed as the best of the mid-'70s Montreal teams, losing only eight times in the regular season and twice in the playoffs. But we give the nod to the previous incarnation, which lost 11 times during the season and dropped one playoff match, because it performed a public service by sweeping the two-time champion Flyers in the Cup finals to end the reign of the Broad Street Bullies.
3. 1976-77 CANADIENS
Both this Montreal team and the '75-76 version featured Guy Lafleur at the pinnacle of his career; the Big Three of Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe on defense; the goaltending of Ken Dryden; and exceptional role players such as Bob Gainey.
4. 1986-87 OILERS
The 119-point team of '83-84, which ended the four-year championship run of the Islanders, can make a stronger case statistically than this group (106 points). But Edmonton general manager Kevin Lowe, who was a defenseman on both teams, says the addition of high-scoring forward Kent Nilsson and mobile defenseman Reijo Ruotsalainen to the core of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri and Esa Tikkanen made the '86-87 team more dangerous.
5. 1981-82 ISLANDERS
After a 118-point season New York squeezed past the Penguins in the first round but then cruised through the next three rounds, sweeping the Canucks for the Cup. The team was built around the trio of forwards Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies, but second-liners such as John Tonelli helped turn the club into a powerhouse. These Islanders, with the ability to play tough or win with skill, were the most versatile of the franchise's great teams. Denis Potvin, among the top five defensemen in history, was brilliant, and Billy Smith was a money goalie.