The Great NHL Dynasties

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It’s easy enough to identify the great team dynasties of NHL history. Simply take any list of Stanley Cup victories since 1917 and highlight the teams that have won three or more Cups in succession. Also include teams that have won more than three Stanley Cups over a relatively short period of several years in a row, as long as the first and last years are Cup-winning years. Ten teams emerge as candidates for the title of greatest NHL dynasty of all time. They are:

1: Ottawa Senators, 1919-20 to 1926-27. (4 Cups in 8 years)

2: Toronto Maple Leafs, 1946-47 to 1950-51. (4 Cups in 5 years)

3: Detroit Red Wings, 1949-50 to 1954-55. (4 Cups in 6 years)

4: Montreal Canadiens, 1955-56 to 1959-60. (5 Cups in 5 years)

5: Toronto Maple Leafs, 1961-62 to 1966-67. (4 Cups in 6 years)

6: Montreal Canadiens, 1964-65 to 1968-69. (4 Cups in 5 years)

7: Montreal Canadiens, 1975-76 to 1978-79. (4 Cups in 4 years)

8: New York Islanders, 1979-80 to 1982-83. (4 Cups in 4 years)

9: Edmonton Oilers, 1983-84 to 1989-90. (5 Cups in 7 years)

10: Detroit Red Wings, 1996-97 to 2007-08. (4 Cups in 11 years)

Listing them is easy. Trying to decide which one is the best presents a real challenge. How do you begin to compare the Oilers of the 1980’s with the Senators of the 1920’s?  The Oilers faced transcontinental travel and a much more grueling playoff schedule than the old Sens. Which one of the great Leafs teams was better, the 1940’s juggernaut or the 1960’s group of champions? Both of these won all of their Cups during the Original Six era, but which one of the two stands out as the undisputed best? There’s a good chance that if you were asked to pick the greatest NHL team of all-time, your answer would be a team falling within one of these ten great dynasties.

Let’s use a process of elimination. Picture the ten aforementioned candidates in a quasi game show contest, much like “The Weakest Link”. We keep eliminating teams until we’re left with one winner. Here we go:

No. 2 vs. No. 5 – The Best-ever Leafs team

1947 - 1948 Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley cup Team PhotoClearly, winning four Stanley Cups in five straight seasons is a greater feat than winning four Cups in six years. In fact, the Leafs of ’47-’51 almost became the first team to win five Cups in a row. They did win in 1947, ’48, ’49 and ’51 but were eliminated in overtime of game seven of the semi-finals in 1950 by Detroit, the eventual cup winner. After winning three Cups in a row between 1962-64, the Leafs of 1965 finished the regular season in 4th place out of six teams and were dispatched in six games in the first round by the Canadiens who were beginning a new dynasty of their own. The 1966 Leafs did not even win a playoff game so the 1967 Leafs Cup victory seems a tad detached from the three in a row between 1962 and ’64. Leafs, 1961-62 to 1966-67, you ARE the weakest link. Goodbye.

No. 3 vs. No. 10 – The Best-ever Red Wings team

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Once again, winning 4 Cups in 6 years seems like a greater accomplishment than 4 Cups in 11 years. Both Wings’ dynasties had a core of four or five players that helped the team win all four Cups. The Wings of the early 1950’s had Hall-of-Famer Red Kelly on defense. The latest super-Wings have Hall-of-Fame bound Nicklas Lidstrom. After that, the comparisons get weaker. All four Cup Champions of the ‘50’s featured the incomparable trio of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Terry Sawchuk in goal. All three are enshrined Hall-of-Famers. Finally, although the Red Wings of late have won four President’s trophies for finishing first overall within their dynasty period, the Wings of 1950-55 finished the regular season in first place EVERY year for six years in a row. Incredible! Red Wings, 1996-97 to 2007-08, you ARE the weakest link. Goodbye.

No. 1 vs. No. 9 – Old or New?

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There are similarities between the Ottawa Senators of the 1920’s and the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980’s. Both teams dominated their respective decades, yet neither team won three Cups in a row. Both of these great dynasties featured a slew of future Hall-of-Famers and both teams finished first overall in the league more often than not. The principal differences between the two dynasties boils down to two undeniable and deciding factors. For most of their tenure as the league’s best, the Ottawa Senators competed against just three other NHL teams. Play against a non-NHL, western opponent was limited to one Stanley Cup series. The Oilers played in a 21-team NHL with a parity-inducing Entry Draft for new coming players having been in place for well over a decade. Secondly, the Oilers had Gretzky. For four of its five Cups, the Edmonton Oilers featured arguably the greatest offensive player of all-time. Senators, 1919-20 to 1926-27, you ARE the weakest link. Goodbye.

No. 4 vs. No. 6 – Habs of the 1950’s or ‘60’s?

At first glance, this is an easy one. No other team in NHL history apart for the 1955-56-1959-60 Canadiens has ever won the Cup five times in a row. The Habs of the mid to late ‘50’s finished first overall four times out of five. They never trailed in a series and they were never pushed to a Game 7 in every one of the ten playoff series they had to take in order to win five straight Cups. Unbelievable! The Habs Cup run from 1965 to 1969, on the other hand, was interrupted in 1967 by the Maple Leafs. These Habs finished in first place overall only three out of five times. The road to the Cup was tougher after expansion in 1967 and the playoffs were longer, but one round against the winner of the new Division was a gimme. Canadiens, 1964-65 to 1968-69, you ARE the weakest link. Goodbye.

No. 7 vs. No. 8 – Habs of the 1970’s or the Islanders?

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For eight straight years, only two teams won Lord Stanley’s Holy Grail. The two successive dynasties between 1975-76 and 1982-83 were remarkably similar. If you include the first three series of 1984 during the Islanders’ “Drive for Five,” the New Yorkers won an awesome 19 playoff series in a row. Both the Canadiens, 1976-79 and the Islanders, 1980-83 won 4 straight Cups. Once again, however, two major distinctions of superiority give the edge to the Canadiens of the late 70’s. The Canadiens’ teams featured twice as many individual trophy winners and All-stars as the Islanders. More importantly, the Canadiens finished in first place overall in the regular season all four years of their dynasty compared to two out of four for the Isles. Islanders, 1979-80 to 1982-83, you ARE the weakest link. Goodbye.

At this point, we’ve whittled our original list of 10 great NHL dynasty teams down to five. That doesn’t necessarily mean the remaining five are all better than the eliminated five. But one of the surviving five is the best. Let’s keep whittling.

No. 2 vs. No. 3 – Leafs of the ‘40’s or Red Wings of the early 1950’s?

As previously mentioned, the Toronto Maple Leafs of 1946-47 to1950-51 had a chance to become the first team in NHL history to win 5 Cups in a row, but just missed. Nevertheless, they were the first team to win three consecutive Stanley Cups. The Red Wings also won 4 Cups between 1949-50 and 1954-55, but it took them 6 years and they did not win 3 in a row. Red Wings, 1949-50 to 1954-55 you ARE the weakest link. Goodbye.

No. 4 vs. No. 9 – Habs of the 1950’s or the Oilers of the 1980’s?

This is a tough one. For five straight years, no one touched Rocket Richard and the Montreal Canadiens. In comparison, it took seven years for Gretzky and the Oilers to capture their five Cups. Of course, the major difference between the two dynasties is the times in which they played. No matter how great it may seem that one team won five Championships in a row, one cannot overlook the fact that the competition of the “Original Six” era was very limited. It only took two playoff series each season to capture the prize. On the other hand, Gretzky & Messier’s Oilers had to win four playoff series and beat out 20 other teams in each of their victorious years. Plus, the Oilers domination in team and individual awards extended over a longer period. Canadiens, 1955-56 to 1959-60 you ARE the weakest link. Goodbye.

No. 2 vs. No. 7 – Leafs of the ‘40’s or Canadiens of the 1970’s?

Once again, as great as the Leafs were between 1946 and 1951, captained by the great Syl Apps and Ted Kennedy and backstopped by money-goaltender Turk Broda, their “Original Six” competition was limited to just five other teams. Unfortunately, any pre-1967 dynasty is limited in greatness by this constraint. For the most part, Original Six teams traveled by train within a comparably small geographical area. The Canadiens of the late 1970’s traveled the continent and won four Cups in a row through regular season and post season, utter domination. No contest. Leafs, 1946-47 to 1950-51, you ARE the weakest link. Goodbye.

No. 7 vs. No. 9 – Habs of the 1970’s or the Oilers of the 1980’s?

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This brings us to our final matchup, the two greatest dynasties in all NHL history. The distinguishing factor between the two is the degree to which each one was better than all of their opponents. In their dynasty period, the 1975-76 to 1978-79 Canadiens finished in first place every season. Their winning percentage over these four years was an astronomic .786. No other dynasty in history even comes close. When these Habs won, they won everything. They set records in 1976-77 that have yet to be surpassed with an astounding regular season record of 60-8-12 and 132 points. From Scotty Bowman behind the bench, Guy Lafleur up front and Ken Dryden in nets, this squad had future Hall-of-Famers, all-stars and award winners galore. In that period of time between 1975 and 1979, no other team could match Montreal’s total NHL domination. During their dynasty years, the powerful Edmonton Oilers won the regular season at a .648 pace, comparable to most of the great dynasties but not even near the winning percentage of the great Habs of the late 1970’s. Edmonton Oilers, 1983-84 to 1989-90, you ARE the weakest link. Goodbye.

In case you say that it’s difficult to compare the Habs’ 4 Cups in 4 years to the Oilers’ 5 Cups in 7 years, we can always include the Canadiens’ Cup victory of 1973 to their ‘70’s dynasty. There, both won 5 Cups in 7 years. The greatest NHL dynasty of all time was the Montreal Canadiens, 1975-76 to 1978-79. Of course, you might present a compelling argument otherwise. It will always be one of the greatest debates in hockey history.

Mike Moore

Mike Moore

Born and raised in Montreal, Mike has lived in the Greater Toronto Area for the past 24 years. He grew up on skates and has been a close follower of the game of hockey, especially the NHL, all of his life. An extensive library of new and vintage hockey books, magazines and other publications is a testament to Mike's love for hockey history, both the on-ice game and the business.
Mike Moore

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9 Comments

  1. No 7 vs. No 8:  Self serving comparison
    Mike.  Habs only won 13 series I believe.  During their 4 Cup run the Isles won 16
    series and in fact, won 19 playoff series in a row.  No other NHL team has done that or comes
    close.  Individual trophy winners alone
    don’t win a Cup, Teams do. The regular season accomplishments mean nothing in
    the playoffs. It is a new season and all teams start over and have a chance to
    play for and win the Cup.  Both the Habs
    and the Isles were teams, not a bunch of individual players no matter how many
    Hall of Famers were within their ranks.

    Each of these Dynasty teams had to beat all their opponents
    to win a Cup.  Each did it by overcoming  bad bounces, hot goaltenders, injuries, bad
    calls from the refs and more of all the things that can go against you.  Each team persevered four times in their own dominating
    style.  The two teams were different and
    the same in many ways.  Each carved out a
    time in history which we refer to as a Dynasty. 
    The Isles just did it for a little longer than the Habs which may be the
    only relative  criteria if one must have
    an All Time Greatest Dynasty.  I,
    however, would rather prefer to view each Dynasty in its own splendor.

    Jerry Levans

    York  PA

    No 7 vs. No 8:  Self serving comparison
    Mike.  Habs only won 13 series I believe.  During their 4 Cup run the Isles won 16
    series and in fact, won 19 playoff series in a row.  No other NHL team has done that or comes
    close.  Individual trophy winners alone
    don’t win a Cup, Teams do. The regular season accomplishments mean nothing in
    the playoffs. It is a new season and all teams start over and have a chance to
    play for and win the Cup.  Both the Habs
    and the Isles were teams, not a bunch of individual players no matter how many
    Hall of Famers were within their ranks.

    Each of these Dynasty teams had to beat all their opponents
    to win a Cup.  Each did it by overcoming  bad bounces, hot goaltenders, injuries, bad
    calls from the refs and more of all the things that can go against you.  Each team persevered four times in their own dominating
    style.  The two teams were different and
    the same in many ways.  Each carved out a
    time in history which we refer to as a Dynasty. 
    The Isles just did it for a little longer than the Habs which may be the
    only relative  criteria if one must have
    an All Time Greatest Dynasty.  I,
    however, would rather prefer to view each Dynasty in its own splendor.

    Jerry Levans

    York  PA

  2. How can you end an article by sayng NY Islanders “you’re the weakest link…goodbye”? The team won 4 straight Stanley Cups, show some respect.

    I love the reason that the reason for the Montreal Canadiens are better because they have more players won individual trophies. What??? Hockey is a team game or did you forget about that. The Islanders of the early 80′s were just that a team.

  3. oilers would have had 4 in a row and 6 in 7 yrs had it not been for billy smith’s absolute brilliance when the islanders won their 4th and final cup. the oilers completely dominated every aspect of that series. my family and i remember saying the entire series looked like an oilers powerplay. so, yes, a hot goalkeeper can nix many a dynastic plan.

    • can you say rope a dope? Fans from Canada just can’t stomach that this TEAM called the NY Islanders bested them all with 19 straight playoff series wins – period – and without Mr Shallow, Wayne Gretzky. If they played in Canada, that’s all you would be reading about today. They were the best playoff team in the history of the game. The team that beats their 19 straight series wins will have to win the cup 5 times in a row in a post-expansion era – who are you ef’n kidding? The Oilers had their chance, and couldn’t overcome Calgary’s trapping game, the same way they couldn’t get past Islander forwards in 1983 except for low quality shots on that so called perpetual power play- there’s a reason they call this a TEAM sport, and in the Isles there was no better – ever

  4. The Smith own goal is another excellent “what if”, as is the Islanders upset win over the Penguins in ’93 that snapped a chance for three straight.
    Had the Pens scored in OT, the Habs would not have had the easier path to the Cup even as brilliant as Roy was.

    Forgot to mention earlier, excellent piece Mike.

  5. Easily the five consecutive Cups of the Habs has to rank as the best dynasty ever. Looking back, it could easily have been eight Cups.
    They lost in ’54 when Doug Harvey knocked the puck in his own net and were still realing from thr Richard suspension in ’55. Injuries, the goaltending brilliance of Glenn Hall and two overtime goals that were called back prevented a sixth straight in ’61.

    But to be fair there is also valid argument for the Wings and Leafs during that era for missing a Cup title once or twice.

    Amazing how a hot goalie, bouncing puck or missed call can change what’s on paper to what actually happens.

    I’d add the Habs ’71 Cup to the late sixties Habs dynasty as well. The ’73 could go to either one.

    • “what if” played a significant role in my decision process, but there are just too many of them. What if Oilers defenseman Steve Smith doesn’t bank a clearing shot off his own goalie and into his own net in 1986? Do the Oilers then win five consececutive Cups between 1984-1988? Would that have made them the greatest dynasty ever? Fact is, it didn’t happen.

      • steve dimitrakis says:

        had pocklinghton not sold coffey and later gretzky the oilers maybe would have won another 5 cups

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