Hockey Central

Hockey Dynasties
and Near-Dynastic Teams

In the chronology of any major-league sports franchise, winning the trophy or award emblematic of the best in that sport three times consecutively would certainly constitute a dynasty. This definition, if you will, of what a dynasty is in major-league sports – three consecutive best-in-sport wins – applies equally to ice hockey and particularly to the National Hockey League.

By the above definition there have been few true dynasties in the National Hockey League. The reasons for this are myriad, having to do with the fact that a franchise is constantly evolving and changing: from behind the bench to every aspect of the team's composition. Unlike royal dynasties, where historically a single family tree can dominate the life of a culture or society for centuries, sports dynasties are short-lived and usually have a slightly changed player-composition from year to year even if the team does win the Stanley Cup three years in a row.

In fact, with all of the pressures to change and evolve along with the shortness of the average player's career, it's a bit of a miracle that there have been any dynasties in NHL hockey at all. And with the large number of teams in the National Hockey League today, the chances of one team winning the Stanley Cup three years in a row are much less than prior to 1967-68, when the league began the modern era of expansion by doubling in size from the "Original Six" to 12 teams.

Which teams, then, have spawned the "dynasties?" In fact, the team which spawned the first ice hockey dynasty of the 20th century pre-dated the formation of the National Hockey League and was situated in Ottawa, the national capital of Canada. The team was the Silver Seven, which won the Stanley Cup from 1902-03 through 1904-05. (Ottawa also defeated two Stanley Cup challengers during the 1905-06 season before losing the trophy to the Montreal Wanderers.)

Hockey played at the turn of the century was a far cry from the streamlined game of today: the slapshot, curved stick, goalie mask and helmet didn't exist; in fact, none of the players wore much in the way of equipment, protective or otherwise. Perhaps the most significant difference if all was the fact that hockey as played by the Ottawa Silver Seven was a seven-man game, with a sixth skater called the "rover".

The main intent of the game was the same, however: put the puck in the net, and as proof positive that the Ottawa Silver Seven merits the term "dynasty," there are six members of the team who are fixtures in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The captain of the Ottawa Silver Seven in its Cup-winning days was defenseman Harvey Pulford who was one of the best body checkers of his era, but was also known as a clean and gentlemanly player. He was such a well-rounded athlete that he also participated in championship teams in football, lacrosse, boxing, rowing and squash. Pulford's career extended into his fifties.

Another Hall of Famer from the Silver Seven was a pint-sized chap by the name of Harry Westwick – nicknamed "Rat" for his small stature and pesky style of play. Harry joined Ottawa in 1895 and had his best season when the Silver Seven captured their third consecutive Cup in 1905, as he notched 24 goals in 13 games, playing the rover position. Westwick retired as a player in 1907 and became a National Hockey Assiciation (forerunner of the National Hockey League) referee. He died in 1957.

Billy Gilmour and Frank McGee were also members of the Ottawa Silver Seven who ended up in the Hall of Fame, but by far the most famous and skilled of the two was McGee. To this day, the exploits of Frank McGee are still regarded as some of the most remarkable in Stanley Cup history. Blind in one eye, the dynamic McGee scored an amazing 14 goals in the final game of the championship series versus Dawson City in January, 1905. Eight of those goals were scored in succession in less than nine minutes, and four of them were notched in 140 seconds. His sixth, seventh and eighth goals were netted in a span of 90 seconds, a recond which still stands as the fastest hat trick in Stanley Cup play. The legendary McGee was killed in action during World War I.

Pulford, Westwick, Gilmour and McGee were members of the Silver Seven throughout the team's entire dynasty (and all but Gilmour were also with the team for the 1905-06 season), while two other Hall of Famers won the Stanley Cup twice with the Ottawa team. Forward Alf Smith, a native of Ottawa who started his career with other teams in his hometown and also played in Pittsburgh, returned to Ottawa for the 1903-04 season and was a member of two Stanley Cup champions. Goaltender Bouse Hutton not only won the Stanley Cup in 1903 and 1904, but also played for teams that won the Canadian lacrosse and football titles in 1904. Another future Hall of Fame goaltender, Percy LeSueur, joined the Silver Seven during their unsuccessful Stanley Cup series with the Wanderers. After the Ottawa franchise became know as the Senators (no relation to the modern-day franchise), LeSueur helped the team win the Stanley Cup in 1909 and 1911.

The team which has not only won the Stanley Cup most often (23 times) since the establishment of the National Hockey League in 1917, but has had the longest dynasty (five consecutive Cup wins) and more dynastic eras (two) than any other NHL franchise, is the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs, as they're often called, also have the distinction of winning more than three consecutive championships in both of their dynastic eras (five from 1956 to 1960, four from 1976 to 1979), as well as winning the Cup two consecutive times on three different occasions (1930-31, 1965-66 and 1968-69).

In terms of hockey dynasties, there is no question that the 1956 to 1960 Montral Canadiens were to the National Hockey League what the Murderer's Row New York Yankees of the 1920s were to baseball: quite, simply the greatest team of all time.

In goaltender Jacques Plante the Habs had one of the best, most creative netminders who ever guarded a crease. (Plante invented what would become today's goalie mask and also popularized the idea of the goaltender leaving his crease to handle the puck.) With blueliner Doug Harvey the Canadiens had one of the best defensemen ever to grace the ice and with the likes of the immortal Maurice (The Rocket) Richard, Henri (Pocket Rocket) Richard, Jean Beliveau and Boom Boom Geoffrion, arguably the most awesome array of shooters ever fielded on one team. And that was just for starters. Left winger Dickie Moore and defenseman Tom Johnson from that squad also are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, along with coach Hector (Toe) Blake. The Canadiens didn't have a flaw nor a weakness. Period.

"Their third line was better than most first lines on other teams," said former Ranger Aldo Guidolin. Guidolin was, of course, referring to players like Claude Provost, an efficient defensive forward, and skilled centers like youngsters Ralph Backstrom, Phil Goyette and Donnie Marshall. This Canadiens team was so superlative that the league ultimately instituted rule changes to cope with a power-play that simply overwhelmed other teams. At the time a player was to remain in the penalty box for the full two minutes of a minor penalty regardless of whether the team with the man advantage scored or not. So strong was the Habs' powerplay that they frequently scored two or three goals during a two-minute penalty. (Jean Beliveau himself scored three goals in 44 seconds during a two-man advantage in a game played on November 5, 1955.) For the 1956-57 season the rule was changed, allowing a player serving a minor penalty to return to the ice when a goal was scored by the opposing team.

"They simply wanted to limit our power," recalled Rocket Richard, "but that still didn't stop us."

The Canadiens of this dynasty might well have won the Cup twice more (1955 and 1961) for a total of seven in a row, except for the fact that the Rocket was suspended for the entire playoffs of 1955 and had retired after the fifth straight victory in 1960. Obviously the absence of Richard hurt the team spiritually as well as in goals scored.

The Canadiens' dynasty of 1976 to 1979 had many of the ingredients of the Habs of 1956 to 1960, but in less ostentatious form. For example, goalie Ken Dryden (now president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs) was excellent at his craft, but less showy and flamboyant than Jacques Plante. Guy Lafleur was a dazzling performer on the attack, but without the driving explosiveness of Maurice Richard. Larry Robinson was a tower of strength on the blue line, but did not match a young Doug Harvey at the peak of his game.

Then-Habs coach Scotty Bowman (who has since gone on to coach the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings to Stanley Cup victories) frequently lauded Dryden for his club's high attainment and other experts in the game backed him up. "Anytime you were fortunate enough to catch Montral playing badly, Dryden stopped you anyway," said Bruins longtime general manager Harry Sinden. "In order to have a dynasty you have to have strong goaltending."

Dryden backstopped a mobile defense that featured (in addition to Robinson) Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and in the last Cup year, Rod Langway. Lafleur, Steve Shutt and Jacques Lemaire were among the more gifted scorers, but the Habs also featured a number of grinding checkers, not the least of whom was Bob Gainey, whose bodycheck on Rangers defenseman Dave Maloney in 1979 helped his team win its fourth consecutive Stanley Cup title.

"We had lots of good players on that team," said Savard, "but Lafleur was the most important, because he had the ability to dominate a game."

The NHL franchise which falls second to the Canadiens in the number of Stanley Cup victories (13) has also had two "dynasties". The Toronto Maple Leafs (called the Torontos and the Arenas until 1919-20, when they became the St. Patricks – which they were until being renamed the Maple Leafs during the 1926-27 season) won the Stanley Cup three consecutive times from 1947 to 1949 and again from 1962 to 1964. The Maple Leafs are the only NHL club other than the Canadiens to have had more than one dynastic era.

Not only were the Toronto Maple Leafs, circa 1946 to 1951, one of the most arresting teams of all time, but they were a notable bunch for yet another reason. The club, managed by the irrepressible Conn Smythe and coached by scholarly Clarence (Hap) Day – later by Joe Primeau for the 1951 Cup win – became the NHL's first legitimate dynasty and, concomitantly, hockey's first post-World War II power.

Curiously, the Leafs had no business being a major force in the league, if their previous season was a barometer. They had missed the playoffs in 1945-46 with a fifth-place club and opened training camp in September of 1946 with an amalgam of unknown rookies and veterans, some of whom had just packed away their Canadian army uniforms. With few exceptions, the Leafs veterans were in mint condition and formed a solid nucleus around which Day could arrange his gifted rookies. Some of those rookies then proceeded to ripen faster than anyone had believed possible, particularly the defensive tandem of Gus Mortson and Jimmy Thomson, otherwise dubbed "the Gold Dust Twins."

Prime among the gifted youngsters was a center named Ted (Teeder) Kennedy, whose labored skating belied his creativity with the puck. While Kennedy was not the team captain – that honor belonged to the distinguished veteran centerman Syl Apps – Teeder often played the part in a most natural way, giving Day not one, but two extraordinary centers who could rally the team in crisis. Likewise, the defense was anchored by a crowd-pleasing, puck-rushing blueliner named Wally Stanowski, who was more than willing to help the Gold Dust Twins, along with Garth Boesch and Bashin' Bill Barilko.

General manager Conn Smythe's ace-in-the-hole was superior goaltending. Walter (Turk) Broda had been a pre-War ace and delivered a Stanley Cup in 1942, when the Leafs had rallied from a three-game deficit in the finals to top the Detroit Red Wings. With their first of three Cup wins in 1947, Broda out-goaled the favored Montreal Canadiens, who had the formidable Bill Durnan in their net, enabling the Leafs to pull one of the greatest upsets in Stanley Cup history.

A year later, in 1948, the Leafs won again, and this time it was due in large part to the incredible trade which had been wrought by Conn Smythe. After acquiring super-center Max Bentley early in the 1947-48 season, Toronto had the best-balanced attack in the game and organized the first significant power-play in NHL annals, with Bentley patrolling the right point.

Syl Apps chose to retire from the game abruptly after the 1948 Cup finals and Smythe and the team suffered trade convulsions as the general manager attempted to compensate for the loss of the team's skilled captain. They did fill the opening better than had been expected and went on to win their third consecutive Cup in 1949 with Cal Gardner replacing Apps. The Toronto Maple Leafs had become the NHL's first real "dynasty". In fact, the Leaf hockey club, with Gardner at center, would go on to win another Cup in 1951, missing out as a five-Cup dynasty by losing in the Cup semifinals in 1950.

It would be another 13 years after the victory in 1949 before another Maple Leafs dynasty would emerge in the early 1960s, this one engineered and coached by the caustic and commanding Punch Imlach.

Imlach was an abrasive genius who originally signed on as assistant general manager, but in no time at all was promoted to general manager, while also assuming the coaching duties. His process of converting a dismal loser into a playoff club involved a number of clever signings, as well as the development of youngsters in the farm system.

Two of Punch's first moves proved to be brilliantly insightful. First, he signed Johnny Bower, an aging goaltender whom most thought was well past his best hockey years and looked to old to endure the NHL grind. Next, he made a deal for stay-at-home defenseman Allan Stanley, who had been booed out of Madison Square Garden while he was a New York Ranger and then played almost unnoticed for the Chicago Black Hawks and Boston Bruins.

Under Imlach's tutelage Bower flowered, suddenly acquiring a patina of youthful energy and a sharpness that exceeded his performance for the Rangers in 1953-54. Bower was so good for so long with Toronto that he eventually was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In the meantime, Stanley was paired with that fireplug of a backliner Tim Horton, and siuddenly developed into a bodychecking marvel and, most surprising of all, a leader in the locker room. Stanley, like Bower, would play so effectively as a Maple Leaf that he too would end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Imlach was also blessed with another pair of blueliners who came from the Leafs' junior club, the Toronto Marlboros. Carl Brewer and Bob Baun became to the Leafs of the 1960s what Gus Mortson and Jim Thomson had been to Hap Day's club of the late 1940s.

Then there was Leonard "Red" Kelly, who had been a superlative defenseman with the Detroit Red Wings until he fell out of favor with the Motor City boss Jack Adams and Imlach made a deal for the flame-haired player. Punch's next move was nothing short of astounding, as he converted Kelly in a center, a position at which Red became an instant star.

Soon there was a teamful of names that would become etched on the Stanley Cup: a big power forward named Frank Mahovlich had Kelly as his center, with one of the most underrated players of the 1960s, Bob Nevin, patrolling the right wing. Another line featured a quick little center named Dave Keon, whom many compared to the immortal Canadien, Howie Morenz, with Dick Duff and the team's captain, George "Chief" Armstrong, on the right side. Yet another trio was comprised of young Bob Pulford flanking veteran Bert Olmstead and wild man Eddie Shack.

It was the spring of 1962 that the Maple Leafs, with Imlach behind the bench wearing his ubiquitous fedora, stopped the Chicago Black Hawks in their bid for a second straight Stanley Cup title. The final game was a classic, with Chicago's Golden Jet, Bobby Hull, breaking a scoreless tie with one of his patented booming goals that had the crowd at noisy Chicago Stadium in a frenzy. It was the third period and it looked certain that the home club would simply steamroll over the visiting Leafs. But Hull's goal had elicited such a clutter of debris on the ice that the lengthy time it took to clean up gave the Toronto club an opportunity to regroup. In no time at all, the Leafs tied the score and then put the winner past Glenn Hall for Imlach's first Stanley Cup win.

Employing the same core, Imlach produced another Cup champion a year later, first by routing Montreal four games to one and then repeating the feat against Detroit. The spring of 1964 saw almost the same scenario unfold – except that it took a full seven games to dispatch Montreal in the semis and another seven to erase Detroit for the Cup.

Imlach hoped to carry through to four straight championships, but his high-handed disciplinary measures had finally produced so many angry and disgruntled players that the team ceased to be as effective. Finally, in the 1965 semifinal round, the Canadiens ousted Toronto four games to two. The streak was over.

There is only one other team other than Montreal, in the annals of the NHL, which has won the Stanley Cup four consecutive times: the New York Islanders in the years 1980 through 1983. They are, to this day, the only team to have won 19 straight playoff series (concluding in 1984), and several names from those great Islanders teams have been entered in the rolls of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

But the beginnings of this modern expansion team could not have been less promising. In fact, at the end of their first season, 1972-73, the team had accumulated only 12 wins, a record low – and lost 60 – a record high. Still, this wasn't a total calamity since it now meant that the Isles would be able to pick first in the Amateur Draft. General manager Bill Torrey, architect of this soon-to-become-legendary team, and his scouts had their eyes on a young defenseman named Denis Potvin, from the Ottawa 67's, who had broken many of Bobby Orr's old junior hockey scoring records.

The signing of Potvin and Torrey's decision to offer the coaching job to Al Arbour (they had begun with Phil Goyette, who was fired, and finished the first year with Earl Ingarfield, who then stepped down at season's end) would prove to be two events that set the team on a course which would become the trail to the Stanley Cup.

By 1975 the team which had begun in the basement of the NHL had coalesced into a team which made the Stanley Cup playoffs. Then they met their arch-rival, the New York Rangers, in the best-of-five first round and stunned the hockey world by upsetting the Rangers in three games. They didn't stop there.

Until 1975 the only time an NHL team had ever lost three games straight in a best-of-seven series and then went on to win four consecutive games was the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs. There was a huge difference between that Leafs team and the 1975 Isles, however; the Leafs had been well-stocked with all-stars and headliners, while the Isles of 1975 were a mish-mash of unsung veterans and untried striplings. Or, so it had appeared until now.

The astounding young Islanders had upset the New York Rangers. Now they proceeded to dig another hole for themselves, losing three straight to the Pittsburgh Penguins and then, incredibly, bouncing right back to win four in a row. Most remarkable of all, they came within a game of a second four-straight-after-losing three versus the Philadelphia Flyers, which means they also came within a game of ending up in the Stanley Cup finals – just three years after being one of the worst teams in the league's history!

By 1978 the Islanders had become a real contender. They were graced with budding a superstar in Potvin, a hard-working and a talented young center named Bryan Trottier and a darting scoring whiz called Michael Bossy. They had the flying Swede, Bobby Nystrom, the seasoned defensive skills of Ed Westfall and arguably the finest goaltending combo in the league with Glenn "Chico" Resch and Billy Smith. But they just couldn't win the Cup. Until, in the spring of 1980, when Torrey traded right winger Billy Harris and defenseman Dave Lewis to Los Angeles for speedy center Butch Goring. Then the Islanders went on a tear that carried into the 1980 playoffs. Previously the Islanders had been accused of being too tight in crunch situations, but they responded with series wins over Los Angeles, Boston and Buffalo, before meeting the Flyers in the finals.

For the first time the Cup was within their grasp, and the Islanders came through with a four-games-to-two win over Philadelphia. In 1981 the Islanders marched past the Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and the Rangers, before disposing of the Minnesota North Stars in a five-game final. They got a major scare in 1982 when Pittsburgh lef by two goals in the decisive fifth game of their opening playoff series, but displayed their patented comeback qualities and took the game in overtime on a goal by John Tonelli. The Isles then edged the Rangers in six games and wiped out Quebec in four, as they did Vancouver in the finals. But their most impressive playoff run took place a year later in 1983. They topped Washington (four games), the Rangers (six games) and the Bruins (six games) before taking on the powerful young Edmonton Oilers, led by the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey. The combination of Billy Smith's feisty goaltending and timely scoring was too much for Edmonton. The Islanders swept the series in four straight and drank champagne from Lord Stanley's Cup for the fourth straight year.

As a postscript, the Islanders' "Drive for Five" in 1984 was even more heroic in many ways than any of their Stanley Cup victories. The team had finished the season atop the entire league and then fought their way through three brutally difficult playoff rounds, only to meet the Edmonton Oilers – still incredibly talented, but much, much wiser this year – again in the finals. By this time the Islanders were riddled with injury and tired, tired, tired. After 19 straight playoff series victories dating back to 1980, they succumbled to Edmonton in five games and what was possibly the second-greatest hockey dynasty in NHL history was on its way to oblivion.

There have been no other teams in the NHL which have won three or more consecutive Stanley Cup titles, but there are two others which merit mention because they won the Cup several times in matter of a few years. The Detroit Red Wings of the years 1950 to 1955 is one such team. In those six seasons the Wings garnered four Cup victories, missing out in 1951 and 1953. Furthermore, the team was laced with the great and the near-great, with immortals and Hall of Famers.

By the spring of 1950, Detroit general manager Jack Adams had assembled the trio which came to be called the Production Line, consisting of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and the courtly veteran center, Sid Abel. Detroit's defense sported powerful Black Jack Stewart, Leo Reise Jr., and the aforementioned Red Kelly. In nets was young albeit veteran Harry Lumley. Detroit went on to win the Stanley Cup in April of 1950, despite the fact that the Rangers pushed them into seven games in the finals and then into double overtime before a Detroit third-stringer named Pete Babando scored the winner.

At this point Detroit was on the threshold of a dynasty and looked ready to win for years to come, particularly with the acquisition of the talented young goalie, Terry Sawchuk. However, the Red Wings were embarrassed by Montreal in the six-game preliminary round in 1951, and the chance for consecutive Cup victories was destroyed.

Detroit recovered in 1952, winning the playoffs in eight straight games. Sawchuk produced four shutouts and in only one game did he give up more than one goal. However, in 1953, a much weaker Bruins team was able to get super defensive play from an elderly Woody Dumart, with clutch scoring from Jack McIntyre, and Boston eliminated Gordie Howe et al. in six games. Still, the Red Wings were simply too good to be kept down for long, as they demonstrated by winning the Cup two years straight, in 1954 and 1955. Furthermore, they finished first in the regular season every year during this six-season stretch (seven straight years in all), proving that the famed Production Line Red Wings of 1950 to 1955 belongs in the ranks of the game's dynasties.

The same could be said for the Edmonton Oilers from the years 1984 through 1990. During those seven years the Oilers won the Stanley Cup five times, achieving two in a row twice and missing out only in 1986 and 1989.

This team had all the necessary attributes of a dynasty: a coach and general manager, Glen Sather, who constructed a club of long-lasting greatness; superlative goaltending, in Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog; some of the best scoring in the history of the NHL, with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson; and an often underrated defense led by the offense-minded Paul Coffey and the more stay-at-home Kevin Lowe. But the team's basic run-and-gun strategy of leaving their goaltender to make constant brilliant saves sometimes caught up with them, as the Calgary Flames did in 1986 after Edmonton had won the Cup in 1984 and 1985.

The Oilers rebounded nicely in 1987, however, beating the Philadelphia Flyers in an exciting seven-game final.

Cracks and discontent had begun to accumulate on this oh-so-brilliant team, however, and when Paul Coffey balked at his contract terms and walked out on the team at the start of the 1987-88 season, he was traded to Pittsburgh and the dynasty had begun to be deconstructed. Still, the team recovered. Jeff Beukeboom stepped in to replace Coffey and the Oilers ended up winning their fourth Cup championship in five years.

Then what was arguably the most astounding trade in the history of the game occurred: owner Peter Pocklington and g.m./president Glen Sather traded Wayne Gretzky, to Bruce McNall's Los Angeles Kings. Surely the Edmonton Oilers would no longer be a presence felt in the higher echelons of the NHL.

Wrong. Even without Gretzky, the Edmonton Oilers would win the Cup one more time. Two years after Gretzky's world had shifted to La-La Land, Edmonton – with a nucleus which still contained Messier, Lowe and Craig MacTavish – gained the Cup in 1990. Then, as with all sports dynasties, management began the dismantling process in earnest.

Finally, there are several teams which won the Stanley Cup in two consecutive years, or two within three years, which deserve honarable mention among the NHL's dynasties. The Bostin Bruins, who won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972, for instance, were as heavily laced with talent as the Oilers or the Production Line Detroit team. Coached by Harry Sinden, the inner core of stars included Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Johnny Bucyk and the first offense-minded, high scoring defenseman of the modern era, Bobby Orr.

Like a Boston blueliner who preceded him by many years – Hall of Famer Eddie Shore – Orr could lead the team's rush, direct the power-play from the point, score at will and even play defense in his own end. Esposito took goal-scoring to new heights and bigger numbers, while teammates John Bucyk and Ken Hodge both became 50-goal scorers in their own right. Then there was the playboy defensive specialist and face-off artiste Derek Sanderson, as well as John (Pie) McKenzie and defenseman Red Green. In the nets was Gerry Cheevers and his backup, Eddie Johnston.

When Boston won the Cup in 1970, many predicted that this would be the first of several consecutive championships. But the team came up short in discipline and drive in 1971, making an early and shocking exit from the playoffs after a record-setting regular season. The team exerted more self-discipline in 1972 and won their second Cup in three years. Again there was talk of a dynasty.

But in 1972 the World Hockey Associstion was born and by the start of 1972-73 training camp, Boston had lost Cheevers, Green and Sanderson to the WHA. Worse yet, Bobby Orr was beginning to show the effects of years of skating on two of the worst knees in sports. The Boston Bruins never became a true hockey dynasty, but they were oh, so tantalizingly close.

There was another, earlier Boston Bruins team which pulled off almost exactly the same feat, winning the Cup in 1939 amd 1941. The great defenseman Eddie Shore – the core around which the Bruins first Stanley Cup champion had been built in 1929, was still with the club when it won the Cup in 1939. Not the overpowering force he had been a decade earlier, Shore was nonetheless still a muscular marvel in his declining years.

As with all the teams which have acheived dynastic or near-dynastic status, the Boston Bruins of 1939 to 1941 excelled in all areas. There was no smarter coach than Art Ross; no finer forward unit then the Kraut Line of Woody Dumart, Bobby Bauer and center Mile Schmidt and no tighter defense then Dit Clapper, Flash Hollett, Jack Portland and the ever-mighty Shore. Even their second-liners would have been starters on other teams: centerman Bill Cowley was arguably the most underrated playmaker of his era, if not all time; "Sudden Death" Mel Hill proved to be a clutch playoff performer and the team was admirably filled out with the likes of Roy Conacher, Herb Cain and Red Hamill.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Bruins in this era was that failed to win the Cup three years in a row. They defeated the Maple Leafs to win Lord Stanley's mug in 1939, but yeilded to a New York team destined to win in 1940, losing to the Rangers in six games even though they led by two games at one point. The spring of 1941 was witness to a splendid seven-game semi final in which the Bruins defeated Toronto four games to three, then disposed of the Red Wings in four straight. But then hockey ran smack into World War II and soon the Kraut Line was enrolled in the Royal Canadian Air Force. The dynasty that almost was would never be.

The Philadephia Flyers became the first modern expansion team to win the Stanley Cup in 1974, and then pulled off a repeat in 1975. Another of those talent-laden squads which appeared destined to go on into dynastic history, the club could not pull of a Triple Crown. Coached by Freddy Shero, the team boasted Bobby Clarke at center along with Bernie Parent in goal. Accompained by sniper Reggie Leach and journeyman Gary Dornhoefer, Ross Lonsberry, Bob Kelly and Orest Kindrachuk, the Flyers took hitting and grinding to new heights.

The media loved to dwell on the somewhat bemused demeanor of Shero, thereby missing the fact that he was a master at what pundits would soon call "European" or "Soviet"-style hockey. Shero was one of the first to use an assistant coach and to modify the five-man attack – as opposed to the standard three-forward system – to include the defensemen in the scoring unit.

The Flyers reached the finals again in 1976, but a key element was missing: Bernie Parent had battled injuries for much of the year and was no longer at the top of his game. He was replaced by the less-skilled Wayne Stephenson and the Flyers lost the final in four straight games to Montreal, and have never won the Cup again.

The first team to win the Stanley Cup consecutively in the decade preceding the millennium was another modern expansion club: The Pittsburgh Penguins. Armed with one of the greatest players of any era – Mario Lemieux – the Penguins probably overcame more tragedy and near-tragedy than any other NHL team in order to win two championships.

By the 1990-91 season the building blocks of a dynasty had been assembled under the roof of the Igloo in downtown Pittsburgh: Off the ice general manager Craig Patrick had hired Scotty Bowman (who had coached the Canadiens to five Cup victories) as director of player development and recruitment and had lured Bob Johnson away from USA Hockey (where he had gone after coaching the Calgary Flames for several seasons) to coach the Penguins. On the ice, Patrick had acquired the talented young goaltender Tom Barrasso from Buffalo. The offensively gifted defenseman Paul Coffey had come to the team in 1987 and was assisted by more stay-at-home types such as Larry Murphy, Jim Paek, Randy Hillier and Jim Johnson – nothing spectacular but steady. On the offense, besides the incomparable Lemieux, there was a blur of lesser-known faces: Bob Errey; journeyman-turned-scorer Joey Mullen, Kevin Stevens and a young Czech skater named Jaromir Jagr.

Near that season's trading deadline Patrick swung a major deal which would complete his team. On March 4, 1991, Patrick traded John Cullen, Zarley Zalapski and Jeff Parker to Hartford for the longtime "soul" of the Whalers, center Ron Francis, along with hulking (and mean) defenseman Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings, also a blueliner.

By May 25, 1991, after winning an 8-0 win over the Minnesota North Stars, the Penguins became Stanley Cup champions for the first time in their 24-year history. On August 29 of that year coach Bob Johnson was diagnosed with brain tumors and operated upon that same night. Johnson was never able to return to Pittsburgh. By October 1 Scotty Bowman has been named interim coach. Johnson passed away at his home in Colorado Springs on November 26, 1991. Despite the team's loss and despite the fact that their superstar Mario Lemieux was slowly giving way to chronic back problems, and despite a bried player's strike, the Pens again marched to the playoffs, where they first took the Rangers in six games to win the Patrick Division (named after Craig's grandfather, Lester), then trounced the Bruins in four straight to take the Wales Conference title. Finally, on June 1, 1992, they swept the Chicago Blackhawks for their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship. Mario Lemieux won the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP for the second year in a row.

Yet another team which seemed destined to achieve the Triple Crown of hockey championships, and thus gain dynastic status, the Pens seemed to be a virtual shoo-in for a third Cup in 1993. Then, on January 12, 1993, the Penguins announced that Lemieux has been diasgnosed with a form of cancer called lymphoma, or Hodgkin's Disease. Lemieux underwent radiation therapy for a month and then, incredibly, returned to the Penguins lineup on March 2 and recorded two points that night.

Lemieux went on to astounding feats after being treated for a life-threatening disease – tallying at least one point in 18 of 20 games after returning and totaling 56 points in the remainder of the season. Mario scored 18 goals in the month of March alone, setting a club record for goals in one month. He even had four hat tricks, including back-to-back four-goal games on March 18 and March 20.

By the end of March, Pittsburgh had clinched first place in the Patrick Division for the second year in a row. A few days later the team had won its first President's Trophy for the best record in the league overall. On April 9, 1993 the team set an NHL record when they defeated the New York Rangers 10-4 to register their 16th consecutive victory. The winning streak was extended to 17 with a 4-2 win over New York one night later. But in the playoffs on May 14, David Volek scored at 5:16 of overtime to give the New York Islanders a 4-3 win in the deciding game of the Patrick Division finals.

Despite his team's stunning early exit from the playoffs, Lemieux was awarded the Hart Memorial, the Art Ross and the Masterton trophies. Could the Penguins have won a third consecutive Cup if Lemieux hadn't missed 23 games? And then there are the Detroit Red Wings of the late 1990s. Reminiscant of an earlier era, Detroit has once again won the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons (1997 and 1998), and appears poised to end the century in much the same way it was opened by that most venerable of dynasties, the Ottawa Silver Seven.