Four Wayne Gret­zky teams were the tops … just ask the fans

But Cana­di­ens and Is­lan­ders also score in league’s 100th an­niver­sary vote

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - STEPHEN WHYNO

The “Great One” thinks the 1986-87 Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers were the great­est team he played on, but there’s no short­age of de­bate over whether they were the best team of all-time.

Four of Wayne Gret­zky’s 1980s Oil­ers dy­nasty teams are among the 20 Great­est NHL Teams as voted by fans dur­ing the league’s 100th an­niver­sary.

Also among the top 20 are three teams from the Montreal Cana­di­ens’ 1970s run and three from the New York Is­lan­ders’ 1980s stretch when each dy­nasty cap­tured four Stan­ley Cup ti­tles in a row be­fore pass­ing the torch to Ed­mon­ton.

Six-time Cup-win­ning de­fence­man Kevin Lowe said he and Gret­zky agreed the 1987 Oil­ers were the best of the bunch of teams that filled the rafters in Ed­mon­ton with blue, white and orange ban­ners dur­ing one of the finest eras of hockey dom­i­nance, even though it took seven games to beat the Philadel­phia Fly­ers in the fi­nal.

“When (Kent) Nils­son got here, I think we went 10-1 in the reg­u­lar sea­son,” Lowe said.

“There was just so much of­fence. I don’t know if that was sta­tis­ti­cally our best Stan­ley Cup run as a team. It prob­a­bly wasn’t be­cause we went to seven with the Fly­ers. But Wayne and I both thought that that seemed like the best over­all team.”

The 1983-84, ’84-’85, ’86-’87 and ’87-’88 Oil­ers, the ’75-’76, ’76-’77 and ’77-’78 Cana­di­ens, the ’79-’89, ’81-’82 and ’82-’83 Is­lan­ders, the ’90-’91, ’91-’92 and 2015-16 Pitts­burgh Pen­guins, the ’97-’98 and ’01-’02 Detroit Red Wings, the ’69-’70 Bos­ton Bru­ins, the ’88-’89 Cal­gary Flames, the ’93-’94 New York Rangers, the ’00-’01 Colorado Avalanche and the ’09-’10 Chicago Black­hawks were voted the top 20 teams of all-time. Some of that is thanks to Lowe. “I’ve played it lots out of cu­rios­ity and try­ing to run up the votes for us,” said Lowe, who won the Cup five times with the Oil­ers and again with the ’94 Rangers.

Some of the older teams from the Orig­i­nal Six era like the 1952 Red Wings and 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs — that fran­chise’s most re­cent Stan­ley Cup win­ner — fell victim to younger vot­ers skew­ing to­ward more-re­cent teams.

As hard as it is to com­pare eras, the 1976-77 Cana­di­ens, 1986-87 Oil­ers and 2001-02 Red Wings could eas­ily duke it out for the great­est in the league’s first 100 years.

“It’s hard to pick one or the other,” said the leg­endary Scotty Bow­man, who coached the Cana­di­ens’ ’70s dy­nasty, the ’91-’92 Pen­guins and the Red Wings to give him a hand in seven of the top 20 teams.

“I guess you could make a (case) for Hall of Fame play­ers, wins, losses, points, goal spread.”

Montreal’s ’76-’77 team won 39 of its fi­nal 40 reg­u­lar-sea­son games, still holds the record for most points with 132, outscored op­po­nents by 216 goals and went 12-2 in the play­offs on the way to the sec­ond of four con­sec­u­tive cham­pi­onships.

“I would stack our ’76 team up against any­body in any era,” Hall of Fame de­fence­man Larry Robin­son said.

“We had ev­ery­thing. If you wanted to play tough, we could play tough.

“If you wanted to play f ast, we could play fast.

“If you wanted to play tight, we were pretty good.”

Those Cana­di­ens stack up in Hall of Famers against the ’01-’02 Red Wings, who have nine with Pavel Dat­syuk not yet el­i­gi­ble.

The ’70s Cana­di­ens and ’80s Oil­ers and Is­lan­ders teams were also star-stud­ded with the goal­tenders to keep up in an era of high-scor­ing hockey.

“Grant Fuhr was un­be­liev­able, Billy Smith was un­be­liev­able, ob­vi­ously Kenny Dry­den un­be­liev­able,” for­mer Fly­ers for­ward Bob Kel­ley said.

“It starts in the pipes and you work your way out from there.”

That’s true in any era.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

Wayne Gret­zky says the 1987 team was the best of the four Stan­ley Cup win­ners he played on.

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