As the Vancouver Canucks jumped out to a 2 game lead in the Stanley Cup Final, I started to plan to write an article I wanted to post here on NM, but this is not that article.
What I wanted to write was an argument for why the 2010-2011 Vancouver Canucks had to be considered in any discussion as to which was the Best Team of All Time.
Of course, losing the Stanley Cup puts the kibosh on that argument, because any argument in favour of such a title for a non-championship team is dead in the water.
And it is such a shame, because I had my argument all worked out.
Winning the President's Trophy was only one point in favour of my argument, as it has often been noted that very few teams win both trophies in the same year.
More important than the best regular season record were the stats behind that record: most goals, fewest goals agains, best powerplay, one of the best penalty kills, best home record, best road record. Has there ever been a team that did better in all of those categories? This means the Canucks dominated from any angle you want to look at it.
Another point I wanted to make is that "best of all time" has to take into account the era in which a team played. From that perspective I completely discount everything that came before expansion in the 67-68 season. Notwithstanding the idolization many fans still have for the Original Six, the old six team NHL was basically a minor sports league with about as much credibility as today's CFL. Any of the non-playoff teams from last year would have smoked any team from the six-team league, any year you want to name. Players are bigger, stronger, faster, better trained and you can look at any sport where athletes compete against the clock and see that modern athletes outperform those of 40 years ago by a wide margin (just compare Mark Spitz's times with Michael Phelps'). The NHL today draws athletes from Canada, Russia, America, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and several other European sources, as opposed to the old six team league that drew almost exclusively from Canada. So the pool of players is much, much larger. Suprerior coaching and conditioning also counts for a lot. This means the Canucks were the best of the best.
I also do not count the early years of expansion very much, right up to 1983, due to the unbalanced distribution of talent in the league. There were years during the New York Islanders Stanley Cup dynasty that only two Western teams finished with a record above .500, while 7 Eastern teams did. Often the Islanders beat patsies in the finals, as they did when the Canucks stumbled into the slaughter house in '82. Parity only started coming into the league during the Oilers dynasty and since then no team has really had the kinds of dynasties that characterized the 1970s and '80s. So the Canucks accomplished their feat against very close opponents in regards to talent.
Another point that supports the idea of last year's team as the best ever is the number of individual awards the team won or had finalists for: Art Ross, Hart, Lindsay, Vezina, Selke, Jennings, Adams. This speaks to how very talented the team is.
Depth is another quality that puts the team in the discussion of best ever, which was aptly demonstrated with the number of man-games the team lost to injury. I haven't done a statistical analysis here, but I would not be surprised to learn that no previous President's Trophy winning team lost more man-games to injury.
In the playoffs the Canucks hardly had an easy road to the Finals. They beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Black Hawks, who admittedly were a shadow of their former selves, but still had top talent that knew how to win. They beat a Norris and Vezina Trophy finalist in the second round. They beat a recent President's Trophy champion in the third round, a team that reached the final four for the second year in a row. This was evidence of the Canucks playoff excellence as well.
Of course, all this goes down the drain when Boston hoists the Cup.
What might have been, I have to wonder. With injuries that took Dan Hamhuis (arguably the teams best defenseman) out of the finals early in game two and top six forwards Michael Samuelsson out of the series and Mason Raymond out early in game six, not to mention the reduced effectiveness of Kesler (never the same after groin/hamstring/? injury at the end of round two), Higgins (broken foot), Edler (broken fingers), Erhoff (shoulder), Hank (who knows, but he could not have been himself) and Danny (even worse). The suspension to Rome also didn't help.
This was a great team, perhaps the best team ever to fail to win the Stanley Cup. But that was a distinction no one wanted.