The NHL unveiled its fan-voted list of the 10 best teams ever this week, and it’s… well, it’s not bad. You can defend the ’84–85 Oilers as the top pick, and dynasties like the late-’70s Habs and early ’80s Islanders make appearances. Having the ’91-92 Penguins ranked second is a little dicey — they only had 87 points — but they were stacked with Hall of Famers and closed out the playoffs with 11 straight wins, so we’ll allow it.
Since the NHL deprived us of our inalienable right as hockey fans to be furious at an arbitrary ranking, I figured I should step in and fill the void. So today, we’re going to try a ranking of our own: The 10 best teams of the salary-cap era.
No post-2005 teams made the NHL’s top 10, which makes sense — the cap ushered in an era of unprecedented parity, and the age of the truly-dominant team is probably over forever. That makes our job a little tougher today, but we’ll persevere, and rank our teams based on three categories.
Regular season: Every team on the NHL’s top 10 won the Stanley Cup, as well they should have. That list had 100 years to draw on, and in the pre-cap era a truly great team should win it all. But in today’s age of parity, when any team can beat any other in a seven-game series on the strength of a hot goalie and a few lucky bounces, we can’t limit our list to Cup winners. The regular season often tells us at least as much about how good a team is, so we’ll give 10 points in this category.
Playoff run: All that said, the post-season is still where great teams are made, so we’ll have 10 more points up for grabs here.
Star power: Maybe this shouldn’t matter — wins are wins, no matter who’s on the roster that gets them. But fans love to look back on star-studded teams like Gretzky’s Oilers or Mario’s Penguins, so we’ll toss in five points for especially loaded lineups.
I’ll give you a moment to prepare your outrage in advance, and then we’ll dive in…
10. 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings
Regular season: 10/10. The Red Wings came out of the lockout and basically steamrolled the league, racking up 124 points. That remains the highest total of the cap era, and wasn’t far off the all-time-record 132 by the 1976–77 Canadiens. Granted, the Habs did that in the pre-loser point days, but in a salary-cap league getting within range of the greatest regular season ever is astonishing.
Playoff run: 2/10. In what remains one of the most stunning upsets in recent history, the Wings were knocked off by the 95-point Oilers in the opening round. Honestly, I’m being kind of generous with a “2” here.
Star power: 4.5/5. This was the last year of the Steve Yzerman era, and while the team wasn’t quite as loaded with big names as the ridiculous 2002 edition, they weren’t far off. Four members of the team are already in the Hall of Fame, and Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg (and maybe Mike Babcock) could join them.
Total: 16.5/25. The playoffs can be cruel. If they’d won the Cup, they’d probably be a strong contender for top slot. Instead, they barely make the list as the first of many cautionary examples that the cap-era playoffs were about to become a coin flip.
9. 2009-2010 Washington Capitals
Regular season: 9.5/10. With 121 points, the Capitals ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy. They led the league in goals scored, and were one of just five teams in the cap era to have a power play over 25 per cent. (Three of the other four are also Ovechkin-era Caps teams.)
Playoff run: 4/10. Washington was knocked out in a seven-game stunner in the first round by the Canadiens. But I’ll give them a few more points than the 2006 Red Wings for a simple reason: The Capitals absolutely played well enough to win, but ran into a red-hot goalie in Jaroslav Halak. Despite dominating the games and pummelling Halak with shots, they couldn’t beat him. Hockey, like life, isn’t always fair.
Star power: 3.5/5. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both cleared 100 points, and back then we also thought Alexander Semin was good. The team featured Mike Green, just a year removed from his 30-goal season. And they even had a former MVP in net. (OK, so it was Jose Theodore, but that still counts.)
Total: 17/25. There are plenty of similarities to the 2006 Red Wings here. But while that Detroit team largely stayed the course and was rewarded with a Cup in 2008, these Capitals quickly decided to change direction. We’ll never know if it may have cost them.
8. 2015-16 Capitals
Regular season: 9/10 Stop me if you’ve heard this one, Caps fans, but the team racked up 120 points and ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy, then headed into the playoffs with sky-high expectations. Hey, I said “Stop me,” not “Start sobbing uncontrollably.”
Playoff run: 5/10. Well, they won a round. That counts for something, right? And while they lost in round two, it did come to the eventual Cup champs. Still, there’s no way to call their post-season anything but a disappointment.
Star power: 4/5. Ovechkin and Backstrom weren’t as dominant, but they’d been joined by Evgeni Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby, the latter of whom took home the Vezina.
Total: 18/25. The 2015–16 Caps end up edging out the 2009—10 edition, but just barely. It’s a close call, and I’d ask Capitals fans if they agree, except they all caved in their screens with a joiner’s mallet three paragraphs ago.
7. 2016–17 Pittsburgh Penguins
Regular season: 7/10. They finished second overall with 111 points and led the league in goals. And unlike the 2015–16 team, they were consistently good, without that whole messy “firing our coach in December and looking like also-rans until the midway mark” thing.
Playoff run: TBD. Sorry, but there’s just no way to slap a final grade on what’s still a work in progress. Maybe that’s a good reason not to bother including them at all. But if the Penguins can close this out, they absolutely belong in the discussion for the era’s best teams. They might belong there even if they don’t. For now, let’s say they’ll be an 8/10 if they win, and a 6/10 if they fall short. For now, let’s split the difference and pencil in a 7/10.
Star power: 4/5. Sidney Crosby remains the best player in the world, and Evgeni Malkin has been right behind him for years. Phil Kessel still has his moments, the goaltending duo is solid, and we’ll given them credit for having Kris Letang for most of the season.
Total: 19/25. Maybe it would have been easier to just recognize the 2015-16 team, which was basically the same roster. But that team was great for half a season, while this one has (so far) done it all year long.
6. 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings
Regular season: 5/10. This is easily the toughest team of the era to rate. They posted just 95 points, lost more games than they won, and were helped into the West’s final playoff spot partly on the strength of 15 loser points. They finished second in goals allowed but an awful 29th in goals scored, and they had only one player hit the 60-point mark. On the other hand, they were a dominant possession team and season-long analytics darlings, and everyone who was paying attention had them pegged as a team that was far better than their win-loss record.
Playoff run: 10/10 The regular season was confusing. The playoff run was not – the Kings steamrolled everyone, losing just four games over the entire playoffs — and two of those came after they’d already all but wrapped up the Cup by taking a 3-0 lead in the final. It was the single-most dominant playoff run of the era.
Star power: 3.5/5. Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar were established stars, and Jeff Carter arrived near the deadline. This was also Jonathan Quick‘s breakout season; he led the league in shutouts and was the Vezina runner-up. Plus everyone seems like a bigger star when it’s L.A.
Total: 18.5/25. The 2011–12 Kings are a deeply weird team, maybe the only thing that’s ever united the number-crunchers and winning-is-all-that-matters old-school types. They belong on the list somewhere, but I could be convinced they’re two or three spots too high — or too low.
5. 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks
Regular season: 6.5/10. With 110 points, the Ducks finished third in the league behind Detroit and Buffalo. They finished sixth in goals scored and seventh in goals allowed, which is solid but not eye-popping. But they were consistent throughout the season, only going through one real slump all year, to win a tough Pacific.
Playoff run: 9/10. Not only did they win the Cup, they were never seriously challenged along the way. They lost just five games through the playoffs, and only the Red Wings even came close to having them on the ropes. The Cup final was closer than you probably remember it, but they kept getting late goals and knocked off the Senators in five.
Star power: 3.5/5. It looks better retroactively thanks to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, although neither was an established star until the playoff run. Still, Chris Pronger, Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer formed a nice core.
Total: 19/25. They also had the Brian Burke/Randy Carlyle combo, which was a dream team that would be guaranteed success anywhere they went.
4. 2009–2010 Chicago Blackhawks
Regular season: 8/10. While they finished well back of the Capitals, the Hawks’ 112 points was good for third overall. They also finished in the top five for goals scored, goals allowed and penalty killing while never losing more than three straight games.
Playoff run: 9/10. They never faced elimination, losing just four games on their way through the Western bracket (including a four-game sweep of the 113-point Sharks). They faced the Cinderella story Flyers in the final, and beat them in six games. We think. We’re still not completely sure.
Star power: 3/5. This is a little tricky. In hindsight, the Hawks were packed with stars. But this was the first year it all came together, so at the time it’s not like you assumed you were watching a bunch of future Hall of Famers. That part would come later.
Total: 20/25. At the time, we wondered if the best was yet to come for the young Hawks. As it turns out, it was.
3. 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks
Regular season: 10/10. With 117 points, the Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy by double digits. Maybe more impressively, they led the league in goals scored, goals allowed and on the power play, while finishing third on the penalty kill and producing the season’s Art Ross winner. Given the league had had five more years to settle into the age of parity, you could make the case that the Canucks were even more dominant than the 2005-06 Red Wings.
Playoff run: 8/10. They won 15 games, which is a number few teams ever get close to. But of course, you need 16 to win the Cup, and that’s why we’re not talking about the Canucks as the era’s best team. Their Game 7 loss to the Bruins, which came after they’d held series leads of 2-0 and 3-2, was about as heartbreaking as they come.
Star power: 2.5/5. The Sedin twins are probably the only two future Hall of Famers among their skaters, and even that could be up for question. But Roberto Luongo will be there, too, and even backup goalie Cory Schneider went on to establish himself as a top-tier performer.
Total: 20.5/25. This is the best team of the era to never win a Stanley Cup. In a way, maybe that’s even worse than never coming close at all.
2. 2007-08 Red Wings
Regular season: 9/10 The Red Wings finished with 115 points, easily winning the Presidents’ Trophy. They led the league in goals allowed and finished third in goals scored and power play. And for the stats types, the Wings did all that with a PDO of 100 on the nose, suggesting there wasn’t much luck in play.
Playoff run: 9/10. The Wings never faced elimination on their way to winning the Stanley Cup, losing just six games in the process. More impressively, they never once trailed in any series.
Star power: 3.5/5. Yzerman was retired and Brendan Shanahan was in New York. But Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom were still there, Dominik Hasek returned, and the underrated Brian Rafalski had arrived.
Total: 21.5/25. This team would come within one game of repeating as Cup champs, a feat that’s never been matched in the cap era, and may never be. Or it could happen next week. Still, it’s impressive.
1. 2012-13 Blackhawks
Regular season: 9.5/10 The Hawks put up 77 points in the lockout-shortened 48-game season, which actually beats the 2005-06 Wings for the best points percentage of the cap era. They ran away and hid with a 21-0-3 start, and finished first in goals allowed and second in goals for. Do you penalize them because it was a shortened season? Maybe — it’s easier to put up lopsided numbers in 48 games than in 82 — but not enough to cost them a full point.
Playoff run: 8.5/10. They won the Stanley Cup, but the road wasn’t easy. They were life-and-death to beat the Red Wings, who jumped out to a 3–1 series lead before the Hawks clawed back to take the series in Game 7 overtime.
They were in trouble in the final, too, with the Bruins holding a 2–1 lead before Chicago won three straight to take the series.
Star power: 4.5/5. It’s largely the same group as the 2010 team, but by now Toews and Kane were two of the league’s biggest stars, Duncan Keith was a Norris winner, Corey Crawford had just wrapped up a Jennings and Marian Hossa was a consensus Hall of Famer. Perception is everything in this category, and by the time the 2013 final arrived the Blackhawks were basically the league’s marquee team.
Total: 22.5/25. We could play “Which Blackhawks Cup-winner was the best?” all day; the 2015 edition had only 102 points and doesn’t make our list, but they absolutely could. I think ranking the dominant 2013 team as the best of the three is the right call, even though an unnecessary lockout strips just a bit of the shine away.
Honourable mentions: Every Cup winner who wasn’t listed, especially a 2005–06 Hurricanes team that was better than you remember. Also, in no particular order, the 2014–15 Rangers, 2008–09 Red Wings, 2006–07 Sabres, 2008–09 Sharks, 2013–14 Ducks, 2008–09 and 2013–14 Bruins, 2016–17 Capitals, 2012–13 Penguins and 2005–06 Senators.
Oh, and also your favourite team that you’re about to scold me about. They finished 11th, I swear.