In three previous articles, I provided you with a fantasy all-time champion using the tools of WhatIfSports.com. Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the NBA. Of course, that means there is just one major professional sport left: the one that hits the ice.
Determining which teams to input into WhatIf’s system came down to using past teams that not only had the best records over the course of a season, but also went on to take the Stanley Cup.
19 teams made the cut:
1939 — Boston Bruins (36-10-2).
1941 — Boston Bruins (27-8-13).
1944 — Montreal Canadiens (38-5-0).
1952 — Detroit Red Wings (44-14-12).
1956 — Montreal Canadiens (45-15-10).
1958 — Montreal Canadiens (43-17-10).
1972 — Boston Bruins (54-13-11).
1973 — Montreal Canadiens (52-10-16).
1975 — Philadelphia Flyers (51-18-11).
1977 — Montreal Canadiens (60-8-1).
1978 — Montreal Canadiens (59-10-1).
1979 — Montreal Canadiens (52-17-11).
1981 — New York Islanders (48-18-14).
1982 — New York Islanders (54-16-10).
1989 — Calgary Flames (54-17-9).
2001 — Colorado Avalanche (52-16-10).
2002 — Detroit Red Wings (51-17-10).
2008 — Detroit Red Wings (54-21-0).
2013 — Chicago Blackhawks (36-7-2).
Much like in Major League Baseball, throughout history, the Montreal Canadiens have dominated the sport of professional hockey, as Canada celebrates this as their “national” sport. In their history, the “Habs” have won 23 Stanley Cups. Or, 10 more than the next winningest team, the Toronto Maple Leafs—who own 13.
The Detroit Wings come in third with a total of 11, and the Boston Bruins follow with six. Montreal has not won a cup since 1993; the Leafs not since 1967. In this mythical tournament, however, Toronto is not represented. That’s because of the top 50 teams with the most wins in a single season, Toronto does not make that list.
Still, in this fictional battle, some of the greatest names in the history of the sport took part. Gordie Howe with the 1952 Detroit Red Wings. Howe’s teammate, Ted Lindsay. The toothless Bobby Clarke of the “Broadway Bullies.” The 1975 Philadelphia Flyers. And in the nets for the Montreal Canadiens, the great Ken Dryden. Denis Potvin, Maurice Richard and Guy Lafleur also were represented in the run to the greatest NHL team of all time.
There are others—too many to mention—but the 1977 Canadiens received the top seed as the team with the most wins in the history of the NHL that also won the cup.
Because of being tabbed No. 1, this 1977 Montreal side would receive a first-round bye. The remaining teams would be seeded matching the highest-seeded with the lower-seeded teams in order of season victories. It was a best of three series, with only two of the nine going the distance.
Winning by a margin of 2-1 were the 1982 Islanders, besting the 1944 Canadiens. And, the 1972 Boston Bruins would edge the 1958 Canadiens. Of course, advancing were the 1978 Canadiens, 1939 Boston Bruins, 1989 Calgary Flames, 1982 New York Islanders, 1972 Boston Bruins, 2001 Colorado Avalanche, 1979 Montreal Canadiens, 2002 Detroit Red Wings and those 1975 Philadelphia Flyers.
In the next five games, surviving the cut were the 1977 and 1978 Montreal Canadiens. The 1989 Calgary Flames, ’82 Islanders and 2001 Colorado Avalanche would also move on. Now, into the quarterfinal round—the matchups were the Avalanche facing the ’77 Canadiens. And, the Islanders taking to the ice against the Flames. Therefore, with the second-most wins in history and a Stanley Cup to boot, the 1978 Montreal Canadiens were given a bye.
When the smoke cleared, the Avalanche advanced in a best of five series, winning three of the four games and joining the Islanders for the semi-final round. Meanwhile, the New Yorkers would knock off the Flames in three consecutive contests.
With three teams left, by virtue of their better record, the Islanders took a pause. Meanwhile, the Avalanche took on the Canadiens. A Montreal side who won 59 games in 1977, losing just 10 and tying only once. Colorado could not buy a game, losing three straight by scores of 3-0, 7-1 and 4-2.
The finals for a mythical all-time Stanley Cup had the ’82 Islanders, winning 54, losing 16 and drawing 10 times—all while trying to best the ’77 Canadiens—who had won just one more game. The team with the most NHL championships prevailed in a big way in the final best of seven series.
In four straight games, the ’78 Montreal Canadiens proved to be the powerhouse hockey fans remember them as. Game 1 was won 6-3. A victory on home ice with six goals to New York’s one would follow. Game 3 went to Montreal 5-2. Finally, the series was capped off by a 4-3 margin.
The MVP of this mythical series had to be Steve Shutt, scoring two in the series opener and adding a hat trick in Game 2. In game 3, Shutt would add a sixth on a power play goal. The key players for that championship team included: Ken Dryden as the starting goalie, who was backed up by Michel Larocque. The center was the great Jacques Lemaire. Steve Shutt manned the left wing position with Guy Lafleur to his right. On defense, it was Brian Engblom and Pierre Bouchard.
Montreal’s bench also had Guy Lapointe (defense) along with Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, and Bill Nyrop. Getting ice time at center was Doug Risebrough, Pete Mahovlich and one-time Pittsburgh Penguin, Pierre Larouche. This team was loaded. Not to mention, very deep with Bob Gainey and Yvan Cournoyer on the bench as well.
Comparatively, the ’82 Islanders really had no chance. Still, they had their own stars in Bryan Trottier at center, Clark Gilles on the left wing and Denis Potvin on defense. Moreover, Brent Sutter was on this team at center with Mike Bossy on the bench alongside Bob Nystrom and Ken Morrow. Billy Smith was the starting goalie.
So there you have it, hockey fans. Given the season they had that year, it’s hard to argue against the ’78 Montreal Canadiens as the best team in the history of the NHL.
Thanks to WhatIfSports.com for use of their site and producing some very interesting results for the four biggest professional sports in America. Who knows what’s next? And for more from Harv Aronson, visit his website!