QOTW answers: 1977 Canadiens rule your school

December, 10, 2008
This week, we got inspired by the red-hot San Jose Sharks and asked the ESPN.com puckheads which team they believe delivered the greatest single-season performance. Let's take a look:

och7087: I'm going with the 1976-77 Canadiens ... 60-8-12 for 132 points
387 goals scored, 187 goals allowed
PP% 24.89
PK% 87.88
12-2 in the playoffs en route to winning the Stanley Cup.

If you look at their roster from the coach on down, it was almost unfair, but they still had to go out there and get it done. Also deserving mention would be the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers, their 35-game unbeaten streak was pretty damn impressive.

RustyShackleford15: The Montreal Canadiens' 1976-77 season should stand as the high-water mark for all NHL teams. In an 80-game season, the Canadiens went 60-8-12 for 132 points, 20 points higher than the second-best team in the league. At home, they were an incredible 33-1-6. Also, their 387 goals scored led the league in production and their 171 goals against led for fewest goals allowed. Most importantly though, they cruised to a 12-2 record in the postseason to win the Cup. This is, in my opinion, the single most impressive (and seemingly easy) season for any NHL team ever.

My take: Hard to argue with the '77 Habs. An absolute machine. Ken Dryden could hang on his stick for minutes at a time because he didn't face many shots on goal. The Big Three on defense? Sick. Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard. Then you've got Guy Lafleur (136 points) winning the league scoring title, supported by fellow forwards like Steve Shutt, Jacques Lemaire, Bob Gainey, etc. They outscored opponents by 2.7 goals per game. You want individual trophies? The Habs took home the Vezina, Lester B. Pearson, Hart, Jack Adams, Norris and, of course, the Conn Smythe. Oh, and the Stanley Cup -- a four-game sweep over the Bruins.

DaShredda: My vote goes to the 1992-'93 Pittsburgh Penguins: 17 game winning streak, set a record with a 14 playoff game winning streak. Won the Presidents' Trophy with a final record of 56-21-7, 4 players with 100-plus points.

peichleay: Although they didn't go on to threepeat as Stanley Cup champs, I believe the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins were the greatest regular season team of all time. Despite faltering a bit after losing Mario (who was on pace to breaking most of Gretzky's single season scoring records), the Penguins finished strong to win the President's Trophy and, in doing so, set the NHL record for consecutive wins (17, I believe). They were the rare team that was able to combine star power (Lemieux, Jagr, Francis) and chemistry. Even though he missed nearly a third of the season to cancer, Mario went on to easily win the Art Ross and Hart trophies. The Pens had 4 players that broke the 100 point plateau that season. The loss in Game 7 of the conference semifinals that year was one of the bigger upsets in NHL playoff history.

myzenden1 As a Penguins fan, I would have to believe that most of us would agree that the 1992-93 squad was even better than the two Cup winning teams so I used them as my barometer to see how they stacked up against the other highly touted teams that have been posted throughout this conversation. I plugged them into WhatIfSports.com simulator and played a seven-game series with each team having a shot with home ice advantage. Here are the results:

vs. 79-80 Flyers' 35 game unbeaten streak: Penguins sweep both series 4-0.
vs. 71-72 Bruins: Penguins sweep both series 4-0.
vs. 88-89 Flames: Penguins 4-3 w/ home ice adv. and Penguins 4-1 w/ Flames having home ice.
vs. 93-94 Rangers: Penguins 4-1 w/ home ice and Penguins 4-3 w/ Rangers having home ice.
vs. 95-96 Wings: Penguins 4-2 w/ home ice and Penguins 4-3 w/ Wings having home ice.
vs. 97-98 Wings: Penguins sweep both series.
vs. 07-08 Wings: Penguins sweep both series.
vs. 98-99 Stars: Penguins win 4-3 w/ home ice but GET SWEPT 4-0 by Stars w/ home ice.
vs. 00-01 Avs: Penguins sweep Avs w/ home ice but also GET SWEPT by Avs w/ Colorado having home ice.
vs. 81-82 Isles: Penguins GET SWEPT by Isles w/ home ice and LOSE 4-3 with Islanders having home ice.
vs. 76-77 Habs: Penguins LOSE 4-2 w/ home ice and LOSE 4-1 w/ Habs having home ice.
vs. 83-84 Oilers: Penguins LOSE 4-1 w/ home ice and GET SWEPT by Oilers having home ice.

My take: "myzenden1" gets props for the dedication in his research! That was indeed a loaded hockey club in 1992-93, a Penguins team that was at its apex after back-to-back Cup titles in 1991 and 1992. Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Rick Tocchet and Kevin Stevens all topped the 100-point plateau with Super Mario taking the Art Ross thanks to a 160-point season. Jaromir Jagr was fifth on the team in scoring with 94 points!

Tom Barrasso was solid in goal, but to honest, the blue line thinned out in a hurry after Larry Murphy and Ulf Samuelsson. Still, the Pens were, by far, the dominant team of that season and, to this day, it's a total shock that Glenn Healy and the Islanders found a way to beat them in the second round of the playoffs. Not winning the Cup that season hurts the argument a great deal when it comes to ranking the 1992-93 Penguins with the big boys.

rockychocbill: The 1976-77 Habs might win the vote, but I'm going to throw in the 1983-84 Oilers. The following excerpts come from Wikipedia. I'll also mention that this team still holds the record for the most shorthanded goals in a season at 36.

"The Edmonton Oilers ran away with the best record in the league (57-18-5), and for the third straight year set a new record for most goals in a season, 446. The Oilers' new captain Wayne Gretzky was once again breaking records and re-writing the record book with his name. This season saw Gretzky score at least one point in the first 51 games of the season, a mark that is often compared to Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak in baseball. During those 51 games, Gretzky had 61 goals and 92 assists for 153 points, which is exactly three points a game. He also won his fifth straight Hart Trophy and his fourth straight Art Ross Trophy.

"Edmonton Oilers defenseman Paul Coffey became the third defenseman to score 100 points in a season. The Edmonton Oilers dethroned the four-time defending Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders four games to one in the Cup finals."

My take: Strangely enough, there weren't many mentions of the great Oilers teams of the 1980s in the discussion from readers. But you can't have this debate without mentioning these guys. Pick any season from their Cup years and you've got an argument for one of the greatest teams ever. Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri, Esa Tikkanen, Paul Coffey, Kevin Lowe, Grant Fuhr -- are you kidding me? In 1983-84, Edmonton's first Cup victory, Gretzky had 205 points, while Coffey, Kurri and Messier all topped 100 points. Anderson had 99. Andy Moog had 27 wins while Fuhr had 30 -- two No. 1 goalies! A team for the ages.

dandrw14: 1996 Detroit Red Wings with 62 wins and couldn't beat Colorado in the second round. One of the most talented have been the 2002 Red Wings, an All-Star team essentially.

My take: You certainly can't have this discussion without a few Red Wings teams involved! Like the 1992-93 Penguins, it is an unfortunate reality that the '96 Wings get taken down a notch despite their record 62-win season because they didn't deliver a Cup title that season. But we agree with "dandrw14" about the 2002 Wings -- that may be the one that takes it for all the great Wings teams of the modern era. Steve Yzerman, Igor Larionov, Brendan Shanahan, Luc Robitaille, Brett Hull, Sergei Fedorov, Kris Draper and a young Pavel Datsyuk up front, with Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Steve Duchesne and Jiri Fisher on defense and Dominik Hasek in goal. From top to bottom, a team with no weaknesses.

TheDukeofEarle: I know this one will raise some debate, but what about the 1999-00 Devils. Now I know what you are all thinking ... the Devils??? ... but keep in mind that this team put up a modest showing during the regular season and then took the playoffs by storm. That was the year that Stevens won the Conn Smythe (and he deserved it as well after manhandling Domi and Lindros), as well as the year that the Devils stormed back from being down 3-1 to the Flyers in the conference finals. Finally, this was also the year that the Devils formed the A-Line (Sykora, Arnott, Elias), which has probably been one of the most efficient scoring units in the last decade. I'll admit that the Devils' style of play is not always the most entertaining, but you have to look at the 1999-00 Devils as one of the most exciting teams in a long time.

My take: Ah ... no.

nroberts83: 1971-72 Bruins, anyone? Bobby Orr, Espo, Johnny Bucyk, Ken Hodge, Wayne Cashman, Terry O'Reilly, Derek Sanderson and Gerry Cheevers in net? Espo had 66 goals, 67 assists (133 points) that year and Orr throws in 37-80-117. Team wins the Cup after a league-best 119 points for their 2nd Cup in 3 years ... I KNOW all you homer Canadiens fans will disagree, but what else would you expect from the NHL's version of Yankee fans.

My take: No question, a worthy candidate. Orr was the best player on the planet. He picked up eight of his 24 playoff points in the Cup finals win over the Rangers. Cheevers was a rock in goal. As "nroberts83" pointed out, Phil Esposito had 66 goals. From top to bottom, a team that could score, play defense, duke it up in the corners and protect a lead. It was also the last Cup title for the Bruins. Hard to believe.

WB Philp: Hey Pierre! Another great QOTW to inspire fun discussion! The greatest (remarkable in magnitude), single-season NHL team in history is the 1988-89 Calgary Flames. How much did the Flames stand out in 1989? They ran up 117 points (54-17-9) in 80 games, while no other Western team managed more than 92 points. Calgary was second in the NHL in offense (354 goals), and second in defense (226 goals allowed). This made their goal differential a record plus-128! They ranked first on the power play (101 goals, 24.94%), second in penalty killing (82.93%), and were nearly unbeatable at the Saddledome, posting a 32-4-4 record.

Joe Mullen and Joe Nieuwendyk scored 51 goals each. Goalie Mike Vernon won 37 of his 48 starts. Every player on the roster, except an aging Lanny McDonald (minus-1) was on the plus side of the plus-minus stat. Thirteen players were plus-20 or better, with two players at plus-45 or better. Eight Flames scored 50 points or more. Terry Crisp's club won the Presidents' Trophy, went 16-6 in the playoffs, and beat the vaunted Canadiens in the Stanley Cup finals. Doug Gilmour, Joe Mullen, Joe Nieuwendyk, Theo Fleury, Gary Roberts, Gary Suter, Hakan Loob, Joel Otto, Al MacInnis, and Lanny McDonald ... enough said!

My take: Great post, "WB Philip." Indeed the 1989 Flames were a machine, and they had to be. After years of seeing provincial rival Edmonton rack up the Cup championships, Cliff Fletcher had to build a team that had no cracks in it just to get out of the Smythe Division. They lost in the Cup finals to Montreal in 1986, but got it right in 1989 with a deserved six-game win in the finals over a tough Habs team with Patrick Roy in goal. Interestingly, the '89 Cup finals pitted the first- and second-ranked teams from the regular season in Calgary and Montreal. To me, the best example of how deep this Calgary team was, is that Doug Gilmour wasn't even used as the top center on the team since Joe Nieuwendyk had that role. Gilmour would go on to superstar status in Toronto, but he was, at this point, a support player extraordinaire on this Flames team.

And the winner ...
The '77 Habs. Their excellence that season has never been matched at that level from beginning to finish. And we'll never see it again in a salary-cap world.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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