Throughout the month of September, James Bisson and a cast of editors from theScore will share their rankings of the greatest players, teams, and moments in the 100-year history of the National Hockey League. This week's list focuses on the greatest Stanley Cup champions in the NHL era (and we even added a bonus team. You're welcome!)
100-81 | 80-61 | 60-41 | 40-21 | 20-1
* didn't actually win anything
The '29-'30 Bruins own the distinction of being the best team to not win the Stanley Cup, earning 88 percent of the available points during the regular season only to drop both ends of their two-game Stanley Cup matchup with the rival Montreal Canadiens - the only time they lost back-to-back games all season. It's widely considered the biggest upset in Stanley Cup history.
How in the world does a team so bad wind up hoisting hockey's most treasured bauble at season's end? The Black Hawks probably wondered that very thing themselves after stumbling to the third-worst record in the league. But the Black Hawks saved the best for last, upsetting Montreal and New York before rolling past Toronto in a four-game Stanley Cup stunner.
Toronto became the first team in NHL history to win three consecutive Stanley Cup titles, but the last one certainly didn't come easily. Toronto finished fourth in the six-team league, but used sensational defense and goaltending to knock off the top-seeded Bruins in five games. Toronto followed with an equally impressive four-game sweep of Detroit to complete the three-peat.
The first NHL champion didn't even have a formal nickname; the team was simply referred to as the "Arenas" because they were loaned to the Toronto Arena Company by the league. The Arenas were led by Reg Noble, who terrorized goaltenders to the tune of 30 goals in 20 games.
The St. Pats had one of the most ordinary seasons of any Stanley Cup champion, finishing second in the four-team league with just one more goal scored than allowed. A 1-0-1 win in the two-game playoff series with Ottawa moved Toronto into the final against the Vancouver Millionaires; the St. Pats rallied from 2-1 down in the series with 6-0 and 5-1 wins to claim the Cup.
The Rangers won their first Cup in just their second season in existence, but it wasn't exactly the most dominant unit in franchise history. They needed to hang on for dear life to beat Pittsburgh in the opening round, then fell behind 2-1 in the Stanley Cup against the Maroons after upending the Bruins in the semis. Back-to-back one-goal wins in Games 4 and 5 gave New York the title.
Coming off a last-place finish the season before, the '33-'34 Black Hawks looked like the real deal - that is, until they dropped seven of their final 11 regular-season games. Turns out, they were just playing rope-a-dope with the competition; Chicago rolled through the postseason, losing just one of eight games on the way to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Maple Leafs fans still look fondly on this team as the last to win a Stanley Cup for Toronto, but it certainly didn't shape up as a title-winning unit in the regular season. Yet, despite drawing a nightmare matchup with Chicago in Round 1, Toronto put together one of the biggest upsets in franchise history, upending the Black Hawks in six games before dispatching Montreal in the final.
This was supposed to be the Red Wings' year; they finished 15 points clear of runner-up Montreal atop the NHL regular-season standings with a +/- of 89. But the Wings fell to third-place Boston in the semifinals, providing the Canadiens - who outlasted the Black Hawks in seven games in the semis - an easier path to the Cup. And Montreal obliged, beating Boston in five games.
* No Stanley Cup awarded due to influenza
The NHL's second season saw no Stanley Cup champion crowned due to an influenza outbreak, with the Canadiens and Seattle Metropolitans tied at two wins apiece. We decided to celebrate Montreal here for at least prevailing in the NHL final, as the Canadiens - led by Newsy Lalonde - rolled past the Ottawa Senators in a five-game rout.
Led by enigmatic owner Conn Smythe (pictured above with his wife), the '44-'45 Maple Leafs finished 28 points behind the Canadiens in the regular season table. But none of that mattered in the playoffs, as Toronto upended Montreal in six games in the semifinal before building a 3-0 finals lead on Detroit, then frittering it all away before prevailing 2-1 in a thrilling Game 7.
You can point to the efforts of a trio of goal scorers - Billy Boucher (16), Aurele Joliat (15), and Howie Morenz (13) - for guiding the good ship Canadien on offense, but it was Georges Vezina (pictured above) who was the real star of this team. Vezina posted a 1.97 GAA during the season and allowed just two goals in the two-game final triumph over Ottawa.
Two players did the majority of the heavy lifting for this edition of the Maroons, who finished second in the regular-season standings. Nels Stewart (pictured above) racked up a league-best 34 goals in 36 games to pace the league's third-best offense, while Clint Benedict allowed five goals in four postseason games to lead the Maroons to their first Stanley Cup championship.
We know what you're thinking: Finally, a color photo! The 2011-'12 Kings are considered the worst Stanley Cup champion of the modern era, finishing 29th out of 30 NHL teams in scoring while entering the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the West. But the Kings caught fire at the right time, going 16-4 in the playoffs - capped by a six-game triumph over the New Jersey Devils.
A hum-drum regular season gave way to one of the most entertaining Stanley Cup finals in history. The Maple Leafs and Red Wings split the first six games, with five of those contests decided by a goal and two decided in overtime. But there was nothing closely contested about Game 7, in which Toronto rolled to a 4-0 victory en route to its third straight Stanley Cup title.
The Bobby Hull-led Black Hawks finished a distant third in the NHL standings that year, as usual powerhouses Montreal and Toronto dominated. But things changed dramatically once the postseason began, as Chicago knocked off the vaunted Canadiens in six games before doing the same to the Red Wings, who had upset the favored Maple Leafs in the semifinals.
This edition of the Rangers gets a bit of a raw deal in our rankings; it led the NHL in goals that season and finished tied with Toronto for the third-most points in the nine-team league. New York was even better in the playoffs, losing just one of eight postseason contests to claim the second Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.
The Red Wings finished the regular season atop the league standings, but it was as jumbled a leaderboard the NHL has ever seen: Six of the eight teams in the league finished within six points of one another, making the fight for the Stanley Cup a true toss-up. But Detroit prevailed comfortably, sweeping the Maroons in the semis before defeating Toronto in four games in the final.
Toronto christened the brand new Maple Leaf Gardens in the best way possible despite finishing in the middle of the pack in what was one of the most tightly-contested set of standings in league history (just 17 points separated first-place Montreal and last-place New York). The Leafs defeated the Black Hawks and Maroons before sweeping the Rangers in the final.
You might remember this edition of the Maple Leafs as the first in pro sports to rally from a 3-0 deficit to win a championship, stunning the rival Red Wings with four straight wins. This Toronto team was also known for having an incredible scoring balance, with 10 players potting between 11 and 23 goals during the regular season.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)