Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Ranking all 100 NHL seasons

The NHL officially has officially turned 100, as today marks exactly one century since the league took to the ice for its first two games way back in 1917. It’s been a long road from there to here, and there were more than a few times that it looked like the league wouldn’t make it. But here we are. Happy birthday, NHL.

So what do you get for the league that has everything? Let’s go with a ranking of every season. That’s right, all of them.

Comparing eras across a century is tricky, to say the least, and most of us will probably point to whenever we were kids and say that was the peak. A lot of this is personal taste. Do you like lots of goals or low-scoring hockey? Is the presence of one dominant team that runs over everyone a good or a bad thing? How do you even begin to compare the 1920s to today’s modern game? And of course, maybe most importantly, how did your favourite team do that year? Your list would probably look very different from mine, and coming up with something everyone will agree on is next to impossible.

But that never stopped us before, so here we go. We’ll count down from worst to best, meaning we’ll have to start at the league’s rock bottom. I’m guessing this is the one pick we might all agree on.

— No. 100: 2004–05 —

The season that wasn’t. To this day, the NHL remains the only league in major North American pro sports to lose an entire season to a work stoppage. The NFL, NBA and even MLB never did it. But Gary Bettman, the owners and the NHLPA found a way, and there’s a blank panel on the Stanley Cup to remind us of that.

— No. 99: 1942–43 —

Today this season summons some nostalgia as the first of the Original Six era. But by 1942, the NHL has been decimated by the war, with many players serving overseas, local curfews impacting the product, and dismal economic conditions. At one point, there’s even talk of temporarily shutting down. The Rangers probably wish the league had, as they suffer through one of the worst seasons in the history of sports. And to make matters worse, the league loses the only president it’s ever had when Frank Calder dies.

— No. 98: 1928–29 —

— No. 97: 1927–28 —

What’s the right amount of scoring for an NHL season? Everyone has their own opinion, but surely we can all agree that four goals a game or under — that’s for both teams — is unwatchable. That’s where the league is during the 1927–28 season. By 1928–29, the rate has fallen under three, and of the 220 games played that year, 120 end in a shutout. The result is a major rule change: Finally allowing the forward pass in all three zones beginning with the 1929–30 season.

— No. 96: 1917–18 —

In terms of historical significance, few seasons can hold a candle to the league’s very first. But this was also nearly the last, as the new league comes close to collapsing within weeks of opening night. There were only four teams to start with, and that number shrinks to three when the Montreal Wanderers’ arena burns down and they fold. The unnamed Toronto team eventually wins the league title, but the bigger story is that the league survived at all.

— No. 95: 1931–32 —

The league shrinks for the first time since the Wanderers arena fire, losing a founding member in the Senators as well as the Philadelphia Quakers, which temporarily overshadows the opening of Maple Leaf Gardens.

— No. 94: 1918–19 —

Do we penalize this season for having the Stanley Cup series wiped out by an influenza outbreak? Remember, the Cup wasn’t technically part of the NHL season back then. Still, it was a difficult ending to a rocky second season for the league.

— No. 93: 1994–95 —

The first lockout season squanders the momentum the league had been building. The Nordiques move south at the end of the season, and the Jets are expected to be right behind them until getting a one-year reprieve at the last minute. Even the Devils are reportedly on the verge of heading to Nashville. They shrug that off to win their first-ever Cup, but usher in the era of the neutral-zone trap in the process.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet


  1. Impressive work, Sean. This was a great read. Thanks a lot!

  2. So the second-greatest year was the last time the Leafs won the Cup, and the greatest year was one the few times the Leafs even made the conference finals since then. Keep up the journalistic objectivity, Sean!