After reviewing the previous post about the best all-time NHL lineups, good ol’ Dave Dameshek asked what the rankings would look like if we only considered players since the 1967-68 season, when the league expanded from the Original Six to 12 teams.
Hey, Dave didn’t get his Ph.D. in Mustard for nothing, and he raises a valid point. Comparing players from different eras is always tricky, and modern hockey is pretty much an entirely different sport than it was during the 1980s, let alone the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, New York, and Toronto all benefit from legendary players whose reputations are built largely upon second-hand memories and statistics compiled against limited competition and mask-less goaltenders.
So, here’s an updated Top 11 after the Original Six clubs have been adjusted…
POST-EXPANSION RANKINGS (1967-Present)
1. MONTREAL CANADIENS
Mats Naslund-Jean Beliveau-Pete Mahovlich
Steve Shutt-Jacques Lemaire-Guy Lafleur
Vincent Damphousse-Kirk Mueller-Stephane Richer
Bob Gainey-Henri Richard-Yvan Cournoyer
Larry Robinson-Serge Savard
Chris Chelios-P. K. Subban
Jacque Laperriere-Guy Lapointe
Mats Naslund-Jean Beliveau-Pete Mahovlich-Chris Chelios-P. K. Subban
Steve Shutt-Jacques Lemaire-Guy Lafleur-Guy Lapointe-Larry Robinson
Bob Gainey-Jacques Lemaire-Larry Robinson-Serge Savard
Kirk Mueller-Vincent Damphousse-Chris Chelios-P. K. Subban
PLAYERS LOST: Toe Blake, Bernie Geoffrion, Doug Harvey, Tom Johnson, Dickie Moore, Howie Morenz, Maurice Richard.
Beliveau was nearing the end after 1967, but he still managed four strong seasons to close out his career, posting 108 goals and 275 points in 261 games.
REPLACEMENTS: Chris Chelios, Vincent Damphousse, Saku Koivu, Pete Mahovlich, Mats Naslund, Stephane Richer, P. K. Subban.
DIFFERENCE: While the Habs lost a lot of legendary names, their replacements aren’t too shabby. Swapping Chelios and Subban for Harvey and Johnson could actually be an improvement in some respects, and Mahovlich, Muller, and Richer add some much needed size to the diminutive forward ranks. The big loss is Richard. No replacing the Rocket. Also, could have gone with Frank Mahovlich, the natural winger, over Pete, but the younger Mahovlich played in Montreal longer, and his size and reach would be invaluable.
RANKING: Exchanging legendary names for more size might make this lineup even better than the first one. The Habs are still the team to beat.
2. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Kevin Stevens-Mario Lemieux-Jaromir Jagr
Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist
Jordan Staal-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Jean Pronovost-Ron Francis-Rick Tocchet
Paul Coffey-Larry Murphy
Kris Letang-Ulf Samuelsson
Sergei Gonchar-Dave Burrows
Kevin Stevens-Mario Lemieux-Jaromir Jagr-Ron Francis-Paul Coffey
Patric Hornqvist-Sidney Crosby-Phil Kessel-Evgeni Malkin-Sergei Gonchar
Mario Lemieux-Ron Francis-Larry Murphy-Ulf Samuelsson
Jordan Staal-Chris Kunitz-Kris Letang-Dave Burrows
RANKING: Even though Montreal lost some big names, the Habs still have a decided advantage on defense and in goal. The Penguins could beat ‘em, but the Canadiens would still be the slight favorites.
3. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Bobby Hull-Stan Mikita-Patrick Kane
Al Secord-Denis Savard-Steve Larmer
Dennis Hull-Jeremy Roenick-Tony Amonte
Marian Hossa-Jonathan Toews-Dirk Graham
Chris Chelios-Steve Smith
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Doug Wilson-Bob Murray
Bobby Hull-Stan Mikita-Patrick Kane-Doug Wilson-Chris Chelios
Denis Savard-Jeremy Roenick-Marian Hossa-Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa-Chris Chelios-Steve Smith
Dirk Graham-Steve Larmer-Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
PLAYERS LOST: Glenn Hall, Bill Mosienko, Pierre Pilote.
REPLACEMENTS: Ed Belfour and Dirk Graham are more than suitable replacements for Hall and Mosienko. Pilote was one of the best all-around defensemen of his era and won three Norris Trophies, but Smith was a 6’4” monster and the ideal partner for Chelios during Chicago’s 1992 Cup run.
RANKING: Chicago doesn’t really slide at all. Going from Pilote to Smith is the only downgrade, and Smith at least brings a different dimension. The Hawks still can’t match the Penguins, though. No answer for Lemieux.
4. BOSTON BRUINS
Wayne Cashman-Phil Esposito-Ken Hodge
Johnny Bucyk-Peter McNab-Cam Neely
Milan Lucic-Adam Oates-Terry O’Reilly
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Rick Middleton
Bobby Orr-Zdeno Chara
Ray Bourque-Don Sweeney
Brad Park-Glen Wesley
Johnny Bucyk-Phil Esposito-Cam Neely-Bobby Orr-Zdeno Chara
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Rick Middleton-Ray Bourque-Brad Park
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Bobby Orr-Zdeno Chara
Adam Oates-Rick Middleton-Ray Bourque-Brad Park
PLAYERS LOST: Dit Clapper, Woody Dumart, Milt Schmidt, Eddie Shore.
REPLACEMENTS: Milan Lucic, Adam Oates, Don Sweeney, Glen Wesley.
DIFFERENCE: Oates beats out the likes of Jean Ratelle and Craig Janney for Milt Schmidt’s third-line center gig, and Lucic replaces Woody Dumart. Yeah, maybe including Lucic on an all-time team is bold, but imagine Oates between Lucic and O’Reilly. And then you’ve got Neely on the second line. Pray for opposing defensemen.
Replacing Shore, the best player of his era, and Clapper with Sweeney and Wesley is an enormous step backward. I monkeyed with the pairings a bit, moving Chara up with Orr and letting Bourque skate with his old partner in Sweeney.
RATING: Boston takes a step back, but this team is still loaded. Orr, Bourque, and Chara are enough to control any game. While the vulnerable goaltending and the lack of speed keep the Bears behind the Penguins and Hawks, I think I actually like them a bit better than the Wings now.
5. DETROIT RED WINGS
Gerard Gallant-Steve Yzerman-Gordie Howe
Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk-Johan Franzen
Brendan Shanahan-Sergei Fedorov-Tomas Holmstrom
Frank Mahovlich-Alex Delvecchio-Mickey Redmond
Nicklas Lidstrom-Vladimir Konstantinov
Chris Chelios-Reed Larson
Niklas Kronwall-Paul Coffey
Brendan Shanahan-Steve Yzerman-Gordie Howe-Sergei Fedorov-Nicklas Lidstrom
Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk-Tomas Holmstrom-Paul Coffey-Reed Larson
Sergei Fedorov-Steve Yzerman-Nicklas Lidstrom-Vladimir Konstantinov
Pavel Datsyuk-Henrik Zetterberg-Chris Chelios-Niklas Kronwall
PLAYERS LOST: Sid Abel, Red Kelly, Ted Lindsay, Marcel Pronovost, Terry Sawchuk, Jack Stewart, Norm Ullman.
Gordie Howe had four seasons in Detroit after expansion, and even though he was in his early 40s, he still put up 137 goals and 308 points in 289 games. However, this is far from the best version of Howe.
REPLACEMENTS: Chris Chelios, Paul Coffey, Johan Franzen, Gerard Gallant, Dominik Hasek, Niklas Kronwall, Frank Mahovlich.
DIFFERENCE: In adding Franzen, Gallant, and Kronwall, the Wings get a bit bigger and tougher to play against. The problems are on defense and in goal. Replacing Kelly, Stewart, and Pronovost with Coffey, Chelios, and Kronwall is a step back. Remember, this is Old Man Chelios. He was good, not great, in Detroit. And while Coffey did win his final Norris Trophy in Detroit and had 239 points in 231 games, he was an even more glaring defensive liability at this point of his career, with Scotty Bowman eventually shipping him to Hartford in the Shanahan trade.
And Detroit Hasek was more dominated than Dominator. Yes, he won a Cup with the stacked 2002 squad, but he had a career .911 save percentage in Detroit. Like Chelios, he was good, not great. That still makes him better than Osgood.
RANKING: I just don’t see Detroit Hasek standing up to Lemieux and crew, and Detroit’s significant downgrades on defense, in goal, and in Howe could be enough for the Hawks and Bruins to slip past them. Going from prime Sawchuk to the ghost of Hasek is a huge drop.
6. NEW YORK RANGERS
Vic Hadfield-Jean Ratelle-Rod Gilbert
Adam Graves-Mark Messier-Jaromir Jagr
Camille Henry-Phil Esposito-Andy Bathgate
Steve Vickers-Walt Tkaczuk-Don Maloney
Brian Leetch-Brad Park
Harry Howell-Jim Neilson
Ron Greschner-Jeff Beukeboom
Vic Hadfield-Jean Ratelle-Rod Gilbert-Brian Leetch-Brad Park
Adam Graves-Mark Messier-Jaromir Jagr-Andy Bathgate-Ron Greschner
Adam Graves-Mark Messier-Brian Leetch-Brad Park
Walt Tkaczuk-Don Maloney-Harry Howell-Jim Neilson
PLAYERS LOST: Frank Boucher, Bill Cook, Bun Cook, Bryan Hextall.
REPLACEMENTS: Camille Henry, Phil Esposito, Jaromir Jagr, Don Maloney.
DIFFERENCE: This might be another roster that is actually better than the original. I included the Bread Line on the first team because they were so iconic for their era; however, replacing them with the likes of Camille Henry, Old Man Esposito, and Jagr is probably an upgrade. While this wasn’t prime Pittsburgh 68, Jagr was amazing in New York, putting up 54 goals and 123 points in 2005-06, which was probably the third-best season of his career. All told, he had 124 goals and 319 points in 277 games as a Blueshirt.
RANKING: The Rangers probably got a little better. Not good enough to pass Detroit, but they hold firm at no. 6 with no worries.
7. NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Clark Gillies-Bryan Trottier-Mike Bossy
John Tonelli-Butch Goring-Bobby Nystrom
Pat LaFontaine-John Tavares-Ziggy Palffy
Bob Bourne-Brent Sutter-Ed Westfall
Denis Potvin-Ken Morrow
Stefan Persson-Dave Langevin
Tomas Jonsson-Kenny Jonsson
Clark Gillies-Bryan Trottier-Mike Bossy-Denis Potvin-Stefan Persson
John Tavares-Pat LaFontaine-Ziggy Palffy-Tomas Jonsson-Kenny Jonsson
Butch Goring-Brian Trottier-Denis Potvin-Ken Morrow
Bob Bourne-Brent Sutter-Stefan Persson-Dave Langevin
8. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Bill Barber-Bobby Clarke-Reggie Leach
John LeClair-Eric Lindros-Tim Kerr
Brian Propp-Rick MacLeish-Mark Recchi
Simon Gagne-Rod Brind’Amour-Rick Tocchet
Mark Howe-Brad McCrimmon
Chris Pronger-Kimmo Timonen
Eric Desjardins-Jim Watson
John LeClair-Eric Lindros-Tim Kerr-Mark Howe-Eric Desjardins
Bill Barber-Bobby Clarke-Reggie Leach-Chris Pronger-Kimmo Timonen
Bobby Clarke-Bill Barber-Mark Howe-Brad McCrimmon
Simon Gagne-Rick MacLeish-Chris Pronger-Kimmo Timonen
9. COLORADO AVALANCHE
Alex Tanguay-Joe Sakic-Milan Hejduk
Valeri Kamensky-Peter Forsberg-Claude Lemieux
Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Matt Duchene
Chris Drury-Stephane Yelle-Adam Deadmarsh
Ray Bourque-Adam Foote
Rob Blake-John-Michael Liles
Sandis Ozolinsh-Alexei Gusarov
Alex Tanguay-Joe Sakic-Milan Hejduk-Sandis Ozolinsh-Ray Bourque
Valeri Kamensky-Peter Forsberg-Claude Lemieux-Rob Blake-John-Michel Liles
Joe Sakic-Milan Hejduk-Ray Bourque-Adam Foote
Peter Forsberg-Stephane Yelle-Rob Blake-Alexei Gusarov
10. EDMONTON OILERS
Esa Tikkanen-Wayne Gretzky-Jari Kurri
Ryan Smyth-Mark Messier-Glenn Anderson
Doug Weight-Connor McDavid-Craig Simpson
Dave Semenko-Craig MacTavish-Kelly Buchberger
Paul Coffey-Charlie Huddy
Kevin Lowe-Steve Smith
Randy Gregg-Jason Smith
Mark Messier-Wayne Gretzky-Jari Kurri-Glenn Anderson-Paul Coffey
Ryan Smyth-Connor McDavid-Craig Simpson-Kevin Lowe-Steve Smith
Wayne Gretzky-Jari Kurri-Paul Coffey-Charlie Huddy
Mark Messier-Glenn Anderson-Kevin Lowe-Steve Smith
11. LOS ANGELES KINGS
Charlie Simmer-Marcel Dionne-Dave Taylor
Luc Robitaille-Wayne Gretzky-Bernie Nicholls
Tomas Sandstrom-Anze Kopitar-Ziggy Palffy
Jim Fox-Butch Goring-Dustin Brown
Drew Doughty-Jake Muzzin
Rob Blake-Mattias Norstrom
Marty McSorley-Steve Duchesne
Luc Robitaille-Wayne Gretzky-Bernie Nicholls-Drew Doughty-Rob Blake
Charlie Simmer-Marcel Dionne-Ziggy Palffy-Marty McSorley-Steve Duchesne
Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown-Drew Doughty-Jake Muzzin
Butch Goring-Dave Taylor-Rob Blake-Mattias Norstrom
20. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Gary Leeman-Mats Sundin-Phil Kessel
Lanny McDonald-Darryl Sittler-Rick Vaive
Wendel Clark-Doug Gilmour-Dave Andreychuk
John Anderson-Dave Keon-Ron Ellis
Borje Salming-Ian Turnbull
Tim Horton-Tomas Kaberle
Al Iafrate-Bryan McCabe
Lanny McDonald-Darryl Sittler-Rick Vaive-Borje Salming-Ian Turnbull
Dave Andreychuk-Mats Sundin-Phil Kessel-Doug Gilmour-Al Iafrate
Doug Gilmour-Dave Keon-Tim Horton-Borje Salming
Mats Sundin-Ron Ellis-Al Iafrate-Bryan McCabe
PLAYERS LOST: Syl Apps, George Armstrong, Johnny Bower, Turk Broda, King Clancy, Charlie Conacher, Red Horner, Busher Jackson, Ted Kennedy, Frank Mahovlich, Allan Stanley.
REPLACEMENTS: John Anderson, Dave Andreychuk, Ron Ellis, Al Iafrate, Curtis Joseph, Tomas Kaberle, Phil Kessel, Gary Leeman, Bryan McCabe, Felix Potvin, Rick Vaive.
DIFFERENCE: The Leafs were hit the hardest, losing 11 Hall-of-Famers. Their replacements are all good to great players, but Andreychuk is the only Hall-of-Famer. The good news is Gilmour can now shift back to center between Andreychuk and Clark, so the Leafs remain deep up the middle with Sundin, Sittler, and Keon. And while the defense lost toughness and defensive stability in Clancy, Horner, and Stanley, Iafrate, Kaberle, and McCabe add a lot of offense. Throw in Salming and Turnbull, and this blue line could move the puck with the best of them.
RANKING: Look out below! Listen, this is still a nice club, but the Leafs lost 11 Hall-of-Famers, and the only guy on the roster to have a Stanley Cup is Horton, who played just two seasons in Toronto after expansion, and he was 38 and 39 during those years. Post-expansion Toronto belongs somewhere around 20-25, in the same group as Quebec, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.