Why do we care so much about dynasties?
What constitutes one, and which teams are vying for consideration for such a designation?
And now, why do we wonder where do the current Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks fit into the pantheon of the greatest of the greats?
Even if we cannot necessarily agree on the exact definition of a dynasty, we are nonetheless fascinated by greatness. We understand that if it is a task of superhuman strength to win a single Stanley Cup, it defies logic or explanation to contemplate a team that can do so year after year, or at least vie for a championship year after year.
Of course, to compare generations is the ultimate mug's game -- not that it stops us from undertaking such a task.
For instance, how do the Montreal Canadiens of the 1950s, playing in the Original Six era, compare to their Habs counterparts under Scotty Bowman in the 1970s? Where do the New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers and, indeed, these current Blackhawks, working under a hard salary cap, fit into the group?
Here are the eight greatest dynasties of the past 60 years.
1. Montreal Canadiens (1976-1979)
In some ways, you can make an equal case for either of two Montreal dynasties (see below) as the greatest of all time. But the 1970s group featured a who's who of Hall of Famers, including the Big Three on the blue line of Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Larry Robinson; netminder Ken Dryden; and up front Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Jacques Lemaire, Bob Gainey and Yvan Cournoyer. In my mind, the term "fire-wagon hockey" originated from this run-and-gun squad.
But under Bowman, the Habs were as dominant in their own zone as they were on offense, and this group might well represent the greatest overall team of all time, rolling to a 16-3 record in the Stanley Cup finals. It's worth noting that the beginning of this Habs dynasty brought to a close the brief flirtation with a dynasty of the Philadelphia Flyers, who had won back-to-back Cups using a style of intimidation and brutality that earned them the Broad Street Bullies moniker. For many, the emergence of the skilled Canadiens -- 15 players were on hand for all four Cup wins -- was a sign of progression for the game as a whole.
2. Montreal Canadiens (1956-60)
We've arbitrarily set the demarcation line with the mid-1950s, which might not be fair to Toronto and Detroit fans, whose teams won eight of the nine Cups leading up to 1956, but, well, tough luck. As noted, it's difficult to separate this group and their accomplishments from their brethren from the mid-1970s. Indeed, some will consider this team whose core stayed virtually untouched during the Cup run as one of the greatest in all of sport, with 11 Hall of Famers and 13 players whose names are inscribed on the Cup for all four seasons.
Yes, there were just five other teams to compete against, and this was long before the influx of top European players. Still, no other NHL team has won five straight championships. During this period, led by a phalanx of Hall of Famers, including Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Jean Beliveau, Jacques Plante, Bernie Geoffrion and Dickie Moore, and guided by legendary coach (and former player) Toe Blake, this Habs team went 40-9 in the playoffs and never trailed in a series.
3. New York Islanders (1980-1983)
This Islanders team was the ultimate in homegrown excellence as GM Bill Torrey nurtured a dominant group that included Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Billy Smith, and led by head coach Al Arbour from expansion punching bag to dynastic force within a decade. At one point, this team won an unprecedented 19 straight playoff series before giving way to the Oilers in 1984. In their four finals series, the Isles would go an incredible 16-3, with 16 players taking part in all of the Cup runs.
The dynasty almost never happened, or could have looked different. The Isles trailed Pittsburgh 3-1 in Game 5 of their opening-round, best-of-five series in 1982, but scored twice in the third period and then won the series in overtime on John Tonelli's goal. Unlike the Oilers, who came into the NHL fold with the dissolution of the World Hockey Association, the Islanders were the first and only expansion team to establish themselves as a dynasty.
4. Edmonton Oilers (1984-85, 1987-88, 1990)
The last of the undisputed pre-salary-cap dynasties, the Oilers had their runs interrupted in 1986 by Patrick Roy and the Canadiens and in 1989 by the provincial-rival Calgary Flames. But no team was as dominant offensively as this Oilers team led by Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe and Grant Fuhr. What makes this group so special is that even after Gretzky was sold off to the Los Angeles Kings, they managed to win a final Cup in 1990.
At one point, the Oilers scored 44 goals in a single series against Chicago in the 1985 conference finals, a record that might never be equaled. Only once during their five-Cup run did the Oilers lose more than one game in the finals, going seven games against the Flyers in 1987. Another element in the Oilers' dominance was the fact the face of the NHL had changed dramatically by this point. Not only were there more teams, the NHL was populated by more European players, expanding the talent pool available to teams looking to knock off the Oilers. Just seven players were on hand for all five of the Cup wins, a nod to the winning culture that existed within the organization.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (2010, 2013, 2015)
It's all about context when placing the Blackhawks, first in exploring whether to include them in a list of dynasties, and then finding a place within the grouping of teams that are more easily identified as such. But as commissioner Gary Bettman noted in presenting the Stanley Cup on Monday night, dynasty is what this Chicago team has become, so who are we to argue? Throw in trips to the '09 and '14 Western Conference finals, and the Blackhawks have an unparalleled measure of success in the hard-cap era.
Their roster boasts a handful of future Hall of Famers, including captain Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and possibly Marian Hossa. They have a Hall of Fame-bound coach in Joel Quenneville, and they have Stanley Cup pedigree in GM Stan Bowman and special consultant Scotty Bowman, Stan's father, who now adds a 14th ring to his collection. Throw in 30 teams and unrivaled talent and parity throughout the league, and we're comfortable enough with this Blackhawks team being considered among the greatest of the greats.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs (1962-64, 1967)
We'll avoid the obvious jokes about where the Toronto franchise is now, and simply acknowledge a time when they were a league power and won four Cups in six years, including the stellar feat of capturing three championships in a row. This team, chock-a-block with Hall of Famers such as George Armstrong, Frank Mahovlich, Johnny Bower, David Keon, Tim Horton and Red Kelly, would be the final glory period for the Original Six as a whole, and sadly for the Leafs it has been their last dance with Lord Stanley's Cup. The drought has now stretched to nearly five decades. Five decades.
The Leafs twice defeated the Red Wings in the finals, as well as Chicago and Montreal, during this stretch. Both Montreal and Chicago were defending Cup champs when the Leafs knocked them off, in '62 and '67 respectively. The run would also include the legendary overtime goal by Bob Baun in Game 6 of the '64 final after he'd been carried off the ice on a stretcher with a broken bone in his foot. That win set up the Leafs' Cup-clinching win in Game 7.
7. Montreal Canadiens (1965-66, 1968-69, 1971)
In winning five Cups in a seven-year span, we see the Canadiens transition almost seamlessly from one dynasty to another. Younger players Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard, Ken Dryden, Yvan Cournoyer and others would join a team still boasting captain Jean Beliveau and John Ferguson. It's worth noting that two of those Cup wins came against the expansion St. Louis Blues after the NHL somehow figured it would be a good idea to separate the expansion teams and the established NHL teams. The Habs swept both series and only once in the eight games did St. Louis score more than two goals in any one game. The coach of that Blues team? A guy named Scotty Bowman.
8. Detroit Red Wings (1997-98, 2002)
It might be a stretch, but we'll include the last team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in this list because there remained significant consistency during this three-Cup run, led by Hall of Fame captain Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, the Grind Line and, of course, Scotty Bowman behind the bench. Throw in the team's Cup win in 2008 and trip to the finals the next year, and the Wings deserve at least a mention in any dynasty talk after bridging the pre- and post-salary cap era with continued excellence.