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The NHL now includes 32 teams, but for much of its history, only a handful competed for its ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup. That can make it a bit tricky to determine the all-time most successful franchises in the NHL, but running from challenges is no way to live. I’m doing this thing.
Naturally, Original Six teams have a massive leg-up on the rest of the league in rankings like these. They’ve had more opportunities to win Cups, and many of those opportunities occurred with only a handful of competitors vying for victory. But this isn’t a sport that forgets its past – accomplishments prior to the 1967 expansion must be taken seriously.
That said, I have considered the number of seasons a franchise has had to make its mark in these rankings, plus taken into account how they’ve done since the NHL grew beyond six.
All records as of April 5, 2023.
The Most Successful Franchises in NHL History
1: Montreal Canadiens
Stanley Cups: 24 (1916, 1924, 1930, 1931, 1944, 1946, 1953, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1986, 1993)
Stanley Cup Finals: 35 (Losses in 1917, 1925, 1947, 1951, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1967, 1989, 2021 – no contest in 1919)
All-time record: 3,525-2,393-837-192
Playoff appearances: 85
All-time playoff record: 447-326-8-0
Notable players: Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur
With 24 Cups, 35 trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, and 85 trips to the playoffs, it’s tough to pick anyone but the Canadiens as the most successful NHL franchise ever. A good deal of that success came before the league expanded beyond the Original Six, but Montreal remained atop the league even after more challengers entered.
By the time the league began its expansion era in 1967, the Canadiens had 14 Cups to their name. They were especially dominant in the 1950s, winning the league six times that decade, including five straight from 1956 through 1960. Montreal entered a comparably impressive run from 1965 through 1979, bringing 10 Cups to Quebec, four straight from 1976 through 1979.
Since then, the Canadiens have added just two more Cups to their collection (1986 and 1993) and appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals four times. It’s become more difficult for Montreal to maintain its dominance as the league has grown, especially in the last 30 years, but you can’t deny the hardware, wins, or an insane amount of hockey talent that has represented Les Habitants over the decades; Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur, Patrick Roy, Doug Harvey, Jacque Plante, Ken Dryden, Larry Robinson, and so many more of the sport’s greatest players are Montreal made.
2: Detroit Red Wings
Stanley Cups: 11 (1936, 1937, 1943, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2008)
Stanley Cup Finals: 24 (Losses in 1934, 1941, 1942, 1945, 1948, 1949, 1956, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1995, 2009)
All-time record: 325-296-1-0
Playoff appearances: 64
All-time playoff record: 3,056-2,647-815-202
Notable players: Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom
In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, the Red Wings were regulars in the Stanley Cup Finals, reaching the series 14 times in the 30-year span. They finished the event happy in half of those trips, with four of them coming between 1950 and 1955.
Detroit took a long hiatus from the Stanley Cup Finals after losing in Game 7 of the Cup to the Maple Leafs in 1966. The Red Wings weren’t in that position again until 1995. While that series didn’t go its way, it was the beginning of another dominant era for Detroit, which brought home three Cups in six seasons from 1997 through 2002. Motor City showcased one of the defining teams of that era.
The Red Wings have sported the likes of Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lindstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Ted Lindsay, Terry Sawchuk, Alex Delvecchio, Sid Abel, and so many more hockey legends. Their imprint on the game is undeniable, and they are indisputably among the most successful franchises in NHL history.
3: Boston Bruins
Stanley Cups: 6 (1929, 1939, 1941, 1970, 1972, 2011)
Stanley Cup Finals: 20 (Losses in 1927, 1930, 1943, 1946, 1953, 1957, 1958, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1988, 1990, 2013, 2019)
All-time record: 3,352-2,441-791-201
Playoff appearances: 75
All-time playoff record: 335-341-7-0
Notable players: Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, Phil Esposito
Considering how long the Bruins have been around, they don’t have that many championships. That’s why they don’t find themselves any higher on this list, but their regularity in the Stanley Cup Finals, a plethora of playoff performances, and consistent contention well after the league expanded is why they don’t find themselves lower.
Boston has arguably performed better since the league expanded. Only half of its Cups and half of its Stanley Cup Finals appearances came before 1967, showcasing an ability to adapt even as the window of opportunity shrunk. The best period in Bruins history came in the 1970s, when Bobby Orr and company had them playing in five Stanley Cup Finals that decade, bringing two back to Boston. The franchise has otherwise usually been at least a playoff team – the Bruins have the second-most playoff appearances of any franchise in NHL history.
Boston went on a long Cup drought that lasted nearly 40 years before it was snapped in 2011. The team has since appeared in two more Stanley Cup Finals and remained in the mix even in seasons when it didn’t quite get that far. The Bruins are one of the most successful franchises the NHL has to offer.
4: Toronto Maple Leafs
Stanley Cups: 13 (1918, 1922, 1932, 1942, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1967)
Stanley Cup Finals: 21 (Losses in 1933, 1935, 1936, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1959, 1960)
All-time record: 3,100-2,871-783-191
Playoff appearances: 71
All-time playoff record: 270-296-4-0
Notable players: Dave Keon, Syl Apps, Ted Kennedy
If I was making this list in 1967, Toronto would not be fourth. But the thing is, I’m making it in 2023, and the Leafs haven’t been to the Stanley Cup Finals in more than half a century, let alone hoisted the holy grail above their heads. Like I said in the beginning, accomplishments from the earliest eras of NHL hockey count, but doing a bunch of nothing since expansion doesn’t help your case.
The Leafs put together a few dominant eras in the 1940s and 1960s. They won six Cups between 1942 and 1951, including three-straight from 1947 through 1949, then again pulled off four victories in six seasons from 1962 through 1967, with nothing but rings from 1962 through 1964. Ted Kennedy became the first player in NHL history to win five Stanley Cups during the earlier run, and Dave Keon won the franchise’s only Conn Smythe trophy in 1967.
Toronto has made the playoffs in the majority of seasons since, but none have resulted in what the team’s faithful would prefer. At this point, the Leafs haven’t even reached a Conference Finals series since 2002 and only played in four since 1967. All of the prior accomplishments are why Toronto makes this list at all, but nobody under the age of 60 has seen the Leafs do much of anything. It’s tough to be the most successful franchise in NHL history when you spend six decades losing in the playoffs.
5: Pittsburgh Penguins
Stanley Cups: 5 (1991, 1992, 2009, 2016, 2017)
Stanley Cup Finals: 6 (Loss in 2008)
All-time record: 1,987-1,789-383-172
Playoff appearances: 37
All-time playoff record: 212-186-0-0
Notable players: Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin
The Penguins are the only non-Original Six team to make the top-five cut for me, and it’s because of their relative consistency since their inception 56 years ago. In the 54 NHL seasons that Pittsburgh has completed, it has appeared in the playoffs in more than 67 percent of them and put together two back-to-back Cup champion runs since 1991.
That was the year Pittsburgh finally got over the hump, lifting its first Stanley Cup with players like Mario Lemieux, Mark Recchi, and Ron Francis, then ran it back again in 1992 with a similar core and slightly older Jaromir Jagr. That was the first of three times the Penguins have reached back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals. On their third time achieving the feat, they again reigned supreme after both trips, this time in 2016 and 2017 with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel leading the way. It’s enough for me to give Pittsburgh the nod for this spot.
Honorable Mentions: Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers
The Blackhawks are fifth all-time in the NHL in playoff appearances at 63 and similarly rank fifth in Stanley Cup Finals showings at 13. I do not have Chicago in my top-five, because for being an Original Six team that’s had the Cup available to it since the 1910s, the Blackhawks haven’t seized those opportunities as much as others – Chicago has won six Cups in 95 completed NHL seasons, soon to be 96. If not for the three Cups in six years that the Blackhawks recently experienced in the 2010s, they might not even be an honorable mention for most successful franchises in NHL history.
Edmonton formed a dynasty in its earliest NHL days. The franchise entered the league in 1979, and by 1990, it had already been to the Stanley Cup Finals six times with five triumphs. Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and so many others made that era of the Oilers one of the most formidable in hockey history. Since then, Edmonton has reached one Stanley Cup Finals and spent 2007 through 2016 outside of the playoffs.
The Rangers round out the Original Six and are the least successful of the bunch. Still, with so many years available for them, they’ve put together enough Cups and other accomplishments to get a mention. New York has won four championships and been to seven Stanley Cup Finals, with its latest appearance coming in 2014. Its most recent Cup was in 1994, which ended a 54-year drought between titles.
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