Here at Hooked on Hockey Magazine, we’ve decided to look at the top 15 teams of all time in NHL history. Starting today, we will count them down for you until we reach #1, the greatest team in NHL history. There are only two stipulations we used when writing this. First, the team must have won the Stanley Cup that season. A team cannot be considered amongst the greatest of all time if they were not the greatest team of their season. The second stipulation is that the team must come from the post-Original Six era, which means we won’t look at any teams prior to 1967-1968. That’s not to say that there were no great teams during that era. What we are trying to look at here is these great teams against stiffer competition as well as being forced to win more than 8 games to clinch the Stanley Cup. Thus, we have our two stipulations and that leaves us with a pool of 43 teams to pick from. Who’s number 1?
#15 – 1995-1996 Colorado Avalanche
Led by Hall of Famers Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, this Avalanche team was one of the greatest teams of all time and yet they were a team that flew under the radar for most of their season. The 95-96 Detroit Red Wings put together one of the most impressive regular seasons of all time, going 62-13-7 and recording 131 points. However, this incredible regular season allowed the 95-96 Avs to quietly take care of business and coast into the playoffs with a 47-25-10 record, good for 104 points and the second best record in the NHL. Statistically, the Avs were strong from top to bottom, ranking 2nd in goals for with 3.98 a game and 8th in goals against, allowing 2.93 goals a game. In terms of special teams, this Avs team was 3rd on the powerplay, scoring 21.3% of the time and on the penalty kill, the Avs killed them off at an 83.8% clip, good for 7th. However, a lot of teams have been strong statistically before and have just been an average team. What sets this Avs team apart and allows them to rank as the 15th best team of all time is their leadership, their talent, and their incredible even strength play. At even strength, the Avs posted a 1.49 even strength F/A, which is the 11th best mark all time of the 43 Stanley Cup Champions we looked at. Even strength play is widely regarded as the statistic that is most indicative of Stanley Cup success, and this Avs team was phenomenal.
Let’s set the statistics aside and look at the actual makeup of the team. The Avs were led by all-world captain Joe Sakic and Hall of Fame netminder Patrick Roy. Sakic netted 51 goals, one of 4 Avalanche players to score at least 30 goals that season. One of the trademarks of this Avs team was their top-to-bottom scoring prowess. 6 players scored at leaset 20 goals and 11 scored at least 10. This team had gifted players such as Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. There were grittier, hard-nosed players such as 1994-1995 Conn Smythe Winner Claude Lemieux and Adam Deadmarsh. They got strong contributions from unheralded players such as Valeri Kamensky (38-47-85) and Scott Young (21-39-60). This team had a bruising and talented defensive corps, led by Adam Foote and Sandis Ozolinsh. Finally, this team was backstopped by one of the greatest netminders of all time, Patrick Roy. Roy was acquired in the early part of December after Montreal left him in to rot in a game against the Detroit Red Wings. Roy gave up 9 goals on 26 shots before finally being pulled. As Roy started down towards the locker room, he stopped to notify Montreal team president Ronald Corey that it was his last game in Montreal. 4 day later, Roy was traded to the Avalanche and he proved to be the final piece of the puzzle for this team. Roy stepped in and played 39 games for the Avs, going 22-15-1, with a 2.68 GAA and a .909 SV%. In the playoffs, Roy took his game to another level, going 16-6 with a 2.10 GAA, a .921 SV%, and 3 shutouts. This Avs team truly had an embarrassment of riches.
When playoff time rolled around, everyone was still buzzing about the incredible season the Detroit Red Wings had just posted. The Avalanche in the meantime, allowed the Wings to hog all the press coverage while prepping for the playoff run. The Avs rolled into the playoffs, going 9-3-1 in their final 13 games. The Avs first round matchup was the Vancouver Canucks, a team that went 32-35-15 during the regular season, but had talented players on their roster such as Alexander Moginly and Trevor Linden. However, they were missing their phenomenal goal scorer Pavel Bure, which made it near impossible for them to keep up with high scoring Avs. However, the Canucks provided a stiff challenge for the Avs, forcing the series to go 6 games, with 4 of those games being decided by just 1 goal. Ultimately, the Avs offense proved to be too much for the Canucks, as they poured in 24 goals in those 6 games, and vanquished the Canucks.
The 2nd round came and brought the Chicago Blackhawks into town. The Blackhawks were led by Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte up front with Chris Chelios and Gary Suter on the back end. This proved to be one of the best playoff series of the 1995-1996 postseason. It featured 4 OT games, and boy the Avs were glad they had the most clutch playoff performer in NHL history in Joe Sakic. Sakic, while at the time did not have the NHL Playoff record for OT goals , netted an OT game winner for the Avalanche in triple OT of game 4. Sakic in that postseason scored an incredible 18 goals (1 shy of the NHL record), including 6 game winners, an NHL record.
Finally, the matchup that the hockey world had been waiting for came in the Western Conference Finals as the Avalanche met the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings. The last time these two teams met in the regular season, Detroit dropped Colorado in a 7-0 laugher that stuck with Colorado and provided them with the motivation to come out strong against the Wings. The series started in Detroit, where the Wings went an incredible 36-3-2 during the regular season, but that didn’t matter to this Avs team. The Avs shocked the hockey world by taking the first two games in Detroit, including a 3-0 shutout in Game 2 where Patrick Roy made 35 saves and stood on his head to steal the game. The Wings stormed back in game 3, taking it 6-4 and the hockey world felt like the sleeping giant may have been awoken. However, this was an Avs team on a mission, and they quickly doused the Wings 4-2 in game 4, before finally closing them out 4-1 in game 6 in Colorado. The Avs were going to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season in Denver, and the surprising Florida Panthers were waiting for them.
However, the Panthers were way out of their weight class in this matchup. The Avs, after battling through Vancouver, then Chicago in the best playoff series of the 1995-1996 playoffs, and then through the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings, turned into a machine and absolutely obliterated the Panthers. The Avs swept the Panthers in ruthless fashion, outscoring them 15-4, including an 8-1 demolition in game 2. After Uwe Krupp scored in OT of game 4, the Avs journey to the Stanley Cup was complete, and their place in history and in our list of the top 15 teams of all time was sealed.