The 10 Best NHL Franchises, 2013 Edition

1956-57 Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup Champions
1956-57 Montreal Canadiens

I had so much fun compiling my rankings of all 32 NFL franchises, I thought it would be fun to do the same thing for the other major sports leagues. And since the 2013-14 NHL season starts tonight, it only seems right to tackle some hockey rankings. I ran my 10 Worst NHL franchises list last week, so feel free to check that out and then come back to read this.

All set? Good! Before we begin, a quick word on the methodology used for my ranking of the 10 best NHL franchises.

Similar to my NFL list, I’ve ranked all 30 NHL franchises according to a series of categories, each of which is assigned a point value. I then divided the total point value by the number of years each team has been in existence — not counting the lockout season of 2004-05 — and ordered by that.

The Criteria

The categories and point values are as follows:

  • 25 points for a Stanley Cup championship (or an NHL title prior to 1927), and 15 points for a Stanley Cup Finals loss.
  • 2 points for a playoff berth, counted only from the 1967-68 season forward.
  • 3 points for each playoff round win, counted only from the 1967-68 season forward.
  • 3 points for finishing the regular season with the most points.
  • 1 point for a winning season.
  • Consecutive winning regular seasons are worth 2 points starting with the second, 3 points for the third, 4 points for the fourth, and so on. The counter is reset after any non-winning season. So if a team has three winning seasons in a row, they get a total of 5 points.

While I may tweak the formula in future years, I think this accomplishes my two most important objectives — to reward consistently good play in the regular season, and to not give older franchises too much of an advantage just by virtue of being around for so many years. I’ve always felt that using Stanley Cups alone to measure a franchise’s greatness (or badness) is taking too narrow a view.

That’s about it! Let’s get to the rankings, good through the end of the 2012-13 season.


Montreal Canadiens logo#1. Montreal Canadiens (17.64 avg.)

This should come as a surprise to absolutely no one who has even a cursory knowledge of hockey history. And while it might be tempting to write off the Habs’ achievements as coming during the Original Six era, they’ve kicked some serious butt in the expansion era as well. The bottom line is that despite not winning the Stanley Cup since 1993, Montreal is averaging one championship for every four years of their existence.

Most recently, the Canadiens have logged eight winning seasons over the last decade and gotten as far as the Eastern Conference finals in 2009-10.

#2. Philadelphia Flyers (13.40 avg.)

Although the Flyers haven’t won the Cup since the year I was born, they have arguably been the most consistently good franchise over the past four decades. Aside from a dry spell in the early 1990s, Philly has never missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons, which should give their fans cause for optimism since they didn’t qualify last year.

The Flyers have turned in an impressive 33 winning seasons out of their 45 of existence, and their 43 playoff series wins is one better than even the mighty Canadiens.

Boston Bruins logo#3. Boston Bruins (13.36 avg.)

Boston has no doubt helped their placement on this list with their recent run of excellent hockey, including two conference titles and one Stanley Cup championship in the last three campaigns. Historically speaking, the Bruins’ impressive run of 29 straight winning seasons from 1967-68 through 1995-96 earned them a ton of points, and I can’t overlook the fact that they reached the Cup Finals 13 times without a win, tied for the most in league history.

#4. Detroit Red Wings (12.05 avg.)

Turns out dubbing the city where you play as “Hockeytown” doesn’t give you any points on this list, but winning 11 league titles and logging 48 winning seasons in 86 does. A lot of points, in fact. Should the Red Wings continue their current streak of 21 straight winning regular seasons, they may just catch the Bruins before too long.

#5. Edmonton Oilers (11.36 avg.)

You might be inclined to assume that Edmonton is a top five team just because of all the winning they did when they boasted the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, and others. You’d be right. Without that core group of all-time greats, the Oilers’ fortunes took a turn for the worse. Since the franchise’s last title (1989-90) they have more losing than winning seasons, and have failed to qualify for the playoffs 13 times. Other than a miracle run to the Cup Finals in 2005-06, there is little evidence that Edmonton will become a league powerhouse any time in the foreseeable future.

New Jersey Devils logo#6. New Jersey Devils (10.63 avg.)

Turns out the team that Gretzky once referred to as a “Mickey Mouse organization” has done pretty well for itself. Since Gretzky uttered those infamous words in November 1983, New Jersey has won three Stanley Cups, five conference championships, and turned in 21 winning seasons. The Devils haven’t missed the playoffs in consecutive years since the mid-’80s, and made it back to the Finals as recently as 2012. Your move, Wayne.

#7. New York Islanders (9.38 avg.)

Complain all you want about the soon-to-be Brooklyn Islanders staying in the top 10 despite a few decades of mostly bad hockey. That’s not my opinion, people, that’s just math. But at least we can all admit that their 9.38-point average is almost entirely thanks to those great Islanders teams from the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Toronto Maple Leafs logo#8. Toronto Maple Leafs (8.63 avg.)

So how does a team with 13 Stanley Cups rank below a team with just four? Well for one, the Leafs have been around for almost a century so the average is roughly the same. Secondly, they haven’t won one since 1967. Thirdly, the team stunk for all of the 1980s. Lastly, Toronto has somehow managed to avoid ever winning a conference title since the league realignment of 1974-75. I know that seems like an odd way to talk about a team that is still historically very good, but I figured I’d get the answers to some questions I know I’ll get out of the way now.

#9. Colorado Avalanche (8.55 avg.)

Colorado’s achievements as a franchise look even more impressive when you consider the fact that I’m including their time as the Quebec Nordiques in their totals. Although the past several seasons have been a struggle, you can’t ignore two Cups since 1995-96, 14 winning seasons, and 17 playoff series wins.

#10. Dallas Stars (8.31 avg.)

Much like the Avalanche, a change of scenery seems to have done wonders for the former Minnesota North Stars. Consider that the franchise won no Stanley Cups in Minnesota during 26 years there, and had far more losing than winning campaigns. Since the move? Two trips to the Finals, one championship, and 16 winning seasons in 19 tries. The Stars have dropped in recent years, however, due to not qualifying for the postseason since 2007-08, so they’ll need to turn things around quickly to keep from dropping out of the top ten.


The 5 That Missed the Cut

#11. Ottawa Senators (8.30 avg.)
#12. Pittsburgh Penguins (7.84 avg.)
#13. Chicago Blackhawks (7.52 avg.)
#14. Buffalo Sabres (7.48 avg.)
#15. Anaheim Ducks (7.16 avg.)