As the Tampa Bay Lightning showed us this year, regular-season success, even on a historic level, doesn’t guarantee immortality. No one will ever include the 62-win Bolts from 2018-19 in discussions of the “best NHL team ever.” Same goes for the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings, who share the wins record with Tampa. Neither team finished the job with a Stanley Cup.
The elite tier of our best-peak-season ranking thus includes teams that stuffed the stat sheet in the regular season and won a championship. They pretty much achieved hockey perfection. The game’s greatest dynasties live here.
The next group includes teams that didn’t necessarily sustain dominance throughout the entire season but put it all together when things mattered. The 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings, for instance, barely made the playoffs as a No. 8 seed yet lost just four times in the playoffs.
Beneath the winners: teams that accomplished memorable things in the regular season without winning the Stanley Cup. For franchises with no championships, these years qualify as their best. The Florida Panthers will always have that ’96 playoff run.
Other criteria factoring into these rankings: star power, Hall of Famers and, for selections before 2013-14, rankings from our Greatest Teams of All-Time collector’s edition were honored.
- Montreal, 1976-177 – 60-8-12, .825, won Stanley Cup
So dominant that image of “bored” Dryden, leaning on his stick waiting for action, became emblem of the dynasty.
- Edmonton, 1983-84 – 57-18-5, .744, won Stanley Cup
The greatest offensive team in hockey history featured Gretzky, Coffey, Messier & Co. churning out video-game stats.
- NY Islanders, 1982-83 – 42-26-12, .600, won Stanley Cup
Trottier, Bossy, Potvin led way to fourth Cup as part of an unbeatable record: 19 consecutive playoff series victories.
- Detroit, 1951-52 – 44-14-12, .714, won Stanley Cup
Howe and Sawchuk were known for decades as the greatest skater and goaltender ever. Some still believe that.
- Boston, 1971-72 – 54-13-11, .763, won Stanley Cup
Orr and Esposito posted best offensive numbers the NHL had ever seen, with a rough, tough team backing them up.
- Philadelphia, 1974-75 – 51-18-11, .706, won Stanley Cup
The most intimidating team in NHL history had a ton of skill, too, from leader Clarke to Conn Smythe goalie Parent.
- Pittsburgh, 1991-92 – 39-32-9, .544, won Stanley Cup
Lemieux, Francis led the team with four Hall of Fame forwards – soon to be five once Jagr gets in. Stacked superstar offense.
- Toronto, 1962-63 – 35-23-12, .586, won Stanley Cup
The cagey squad had 10 players aged 30 or older. Stingy with Bower in goal, Horton on ‘D’ and two-way aces Keon and Kelly.
- Colorado, 2000-01 – 52-16-14, .720, won Stanley Cup
Had Sakic and Forsberg up front, Roy in goal, but adding Blake alongside Bourque made an all-time-great squad.
- Calgary, 1988-89 – 54-17-9, .731, won Stanley Cup
Finally escaped Oilers’ shadow. The deep squad was physical but also had talent (Nieuwendyk, Fleury, Mullen, MacInnis).
- Chicago, 2012-13 – 36-7-5, .802, won Stanley Cup
The peak of the Toews/Kane/Keith era. Set NHL record with 24-game point streak to open lockout-shortened season.
- Anaheim, 2006-07 – 48-20-14, .671, won Stanley Cup
Ageless Selanne. Niedermayer and Pronger on defense. Plus Getzlaf and Perry as kids? It felt almost unfair.
- New Jersey, 1999-2000 – 45-24-3, .628, won Stanley Cup
Gutsiest firing ever? GM Lamoriello axed coach Ftorek with the team in the first place, installing Robinson before playoffs.
- NY Rangers, 1993-94 – 52-24-8, .667, won Stanley Cup
Year of Messier’s “guarantee” win was remarkable because GM Neil Smith overhauled team so much.
- Dallas, 1998-99 – 51-19-12, .695, won Stanley Cup
Coached by Hitchcock, the team played lockdown ‘D.’ Featured Belfour, Modano, Zubov at peak of their powers.
- Washington, 2017-18 – 49-26-7, .640, won Stanley Cup
Ovechkin got his Cup, Conn Smythe, killed narrative about his inability to win the big one. Holtby stellar in goal.
- Tampa Bay, 2003-04 – 46-22-8, .646, won Stanley Cup
Rode St-Louis during MVP season, got clutch play from Richards and heart-stopping saves from Khabibulin.
- Carolina, 2005-06 – 52-22-9, .683, won Stanley Cup
The first Cup champion of ‘The New NHL’ era subbed in rookie goalie Ward partway through the playoffs.
- Los Angeles, 2011-12 – 40-27-15, .579, won Stanley Cup
Sleeping giant as low seed. Lost just four games all post-season, received legendary puck-stopping from Quick.
- St. Louis, 2018-19 – 45-28-9, .604, won Stanley Cup
The first team to win Cup after being last overall at the 30-game mark. Powered by stellar rookie stopper Binnington.
- Ottawa, 2006-07 – 48-25-9, .640, lost Cup final
The stacked team couldn’t finish the job. Had Sens re-signed Chara instead of Redden on ‘D,’ might they have beaten Ducks?
- Vancouver, 1993-94 – 41-40-3, .506, lost Cup final
A big, strong team, with a young Bure adding finesse, came close to winning it all in seven-game war with Rangers.
- Vegas, 2017-18 51-24-7, .776, lost Cup final
The greatest expansion team in major pro sports history ran out of gas in final. Fleury unbeatable in the first three rounds.
- Buffalo, 1974-75 – 49-16-15, .706, lost Cup final
Fell victim to Broad Street Bullies. Loaded team had the ‘French Connection’ line of Martin-Perreault-Robert.
- San Jose, 2015-16 – 46-30-6, .598, lost Cup final
Anchored by dynamic D-man Burns. Might go down as the last great chance for greybeards Thornton and Marleau.
- Nashville, 2016-17 – 41-29-12, .573, lost Cup final
Led by elite blueline quartet of Josi, Ellis, Ekholm and Subban, they shocked Chicago with the first-round sweep.
- Florida, 1995-96 – 41-31-10, .561, lost Cup final
Rubber rats rained from stands during one of most improbable underdog runs in playoff history. Vanbiesbrouck shone.
- Winnipeg, 2017-18 – 52-20-10, .695, lost semifinal
Arguably the 2018 post-season’s most talented team, with young Scheifele putting on a goal-scoring clinic.
- Minnesota, 2002-03 – 42-29-10, .579, lost semifinal
Trap team played vintage Devils style under coach Lemaire, had a nice run, but torch snuffed by Ducks goalie Giguere.
- Arizona, 2011-12 – 42-27-13, .591, lost semifinal
Star-less team had no player eclipse five goals in playoffs. Big goalie Smith was the story before Round 3 setback.
- Columbus, 2018-19 – 47-31-4, .598, lost second round
Swept 62-win Lightning in an all-time great upset. Great story, but it loses luster given Jackets exited next round.