/Each Franchise’s Best Roster After the First Expansion: Eastern Conference Edition

Each Franchise’s Best Roster After the First Expansion: Eastern Conference Edition

While all NHL teams are always searching for ways to improve their rosters, the offseason sees the most upheaval. Whether it be via the draft, trade market, or free agency, teams make the moves that they think will better their team in both the present and long run. For the first time in 17 years, teams have the added challenge of replacing one of their players that was chosen by the Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL’s 31st team.

Some teams such as the Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils, Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks and the aforementioned Golden Knights are looking to build a team from the ground up this offseason. On the opposite side of the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Montreal Canadiens are looking to better their rosters championship aspirations. While some teams are further away from making a playoff run with a deep, talented roster than others, they all have the same goal: to put the best team possible on the ice when the season starts in October. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best team each Eastern Conference franchise has built since the first NHL Expansion occurred in 1967.

Boston Bruins – 1969-70

 

Record: 40-17-19 (99 points)

Season Outcome: Won Stanley Cup

Coach: Harry Sinden

Captain: None

On offense, the 1969-70 Bruins were headed by Hall of Famers Phil Esposito – 43 goals, 56 assists – and winger John Bucyk – 31 goals, 38 assists – who paced the Bruins’ top-ranked scoring unit. While Esposito and Bucyk are the better-known names, Boston also possessed great depth in center Fred Stanfield and wingers John McKenzie and Ken Hodge; all of whom eclipsed 50 points.

On defense, it was Bobby Orr that almost single-handedly set this team apart from the rest of the league. Orr had a breakout year on offense, as he nearly doubled his point production from 64 points in 1968-69 to 120 in 1969-70, while also retaining his defensive prowess as he claimed his third straight Norris Trophy. Orr’s partner Dallas Smith played very well as well, yet finished quite a bit behind the otherworldly Bobby Orr, with 24 points.

In net, Boston used a platoon of Hall of Famer Gerry Cheevers and backup Eddie Johnston. Cheevers finished with a slight edge in appearances with 41 (Johnston had 37). Both goaltenders finished in the top ten in Goals Against Average (GAA), as Cheevers finished eighth in with a 2.72 GAA and Johnston came in tenth with a 2.98 GAA. The two also finished in the top ten in shutouts, with Cheevers tied for fifth place with 4 and Johnston tied for eighth with 3.

 

Buffalo Sabres – 1974-75

Record: 49-16-15 (113 points)

Season Outcome: Lost in Stanley Cup Final

Coach: Floyd Smith

Captain: Gerry Meehan/Jim Schoenfeld

The Sabres’ attack was led by their tremendous first line comprised of wingers Rene Robert and Rick Martin, and Hall of Fame center Gilbert Perreault. The trio totaled a combined 291 points during the 1974-75 season, with Robert becoming the first Sabres’ player to reach 100 points in a season. The high-scoring line would earn the nickname ‘The French Connection’ due to their French-Canadian ethnicity and their incredible chemistry on the ice.

Behind their deadly first line, the Sabres also possessed great depth with six twenty-goal scorers outside of their first line in Don Luce (33), Rick Dudley (31), Danny Gare (31), Craig Ramsay (26), Jim Lorentz (25), and Peter McNab (22).

On the blue line, their top four of Jerry Korab, Jocelyn Guevremont, Bill Hajt, and captain Jim Schoenfeld led the Sabres’ sixth-ranked defense. All four defenders finished with a plus/minus (+/-) above 30, with Hajt leading the defense with a +47. Offensively, Korab was the most gifted of the four, as he led the defense with 56 points. Guevremont chipped in 32 points, with Hajt and Schonfeld accumulating 29 and 20 points, respectively.

While goaltending was easily the Sabres’ weakest link, the rotation of Gary Bromley (50 games), Roger Crozier (23 games), Gerry Desjardins (9 games) and Rocky Farr (7 games) still put together a respectable 2.97 GAA.

 

Carolina Hurricanes – 2005-06

Record: 52-22-8 (112 points)

Season Outcome: Won Stanley Cup

Coach: Peter Laviolette

Captain: Rob Brind’Amour

Carolina’s third-ranked scoring attack was headed by second-year center Eric Staal, who broke out in a big way with a 100 point – 45 goals, 55 assists – season, earning himself nomination for the Hart Trophy (he finished fourth). Surrounding the young center were five other 20-goal scorers in Justin Williams, Cory Stillman, Erik Cole, Matt Cullen, and captain Rob Brind’Amour. 33-year-old Ray Whitney also had a solid season, finishing with 17 goals and 38 assists.

On defense, the Hurricanes were led by veterans Frantisek Kaberle, Bret Hedican, and Aaron Ward. Offensively, Kaberle set a career-high in points with 44. Mike Commodore was also a mainstay on the Hurricanes’ blue line, playing 72 games during his first season with the team.

Between the pipes for Carolina for much of the season was 31-year-old Martin Gerber, who finished with 38 wins. Backup goaltender Cam Ward struggled for much of his rookie season with a 3.68 GAA and a sub-.900 save percentage. However, when Gerber struggled early in the playoffs, Ward was given the net and flourished. The rookie goaltender would carry the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup victory with a .920 save percentage and a stingy 2.14 GAA. He also earned himself the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets – 2016-17

Record: 50-24-8 (108 points)

Season Outcome: Lost in First Round

Coach: John Tortorella

Captain: Nick Foligno

The Blue Jackets rolled out a young, talented group of forwards this past season. Players such as Cam Atkinson, young pivotman Alexander Wennberg, Brandon Saad, Nick Foligno, and newly-acquired Sam Gagner all eclipsed 50 points. Veterans Scott Hartnell and Brandon Dubinsky and another young talent in Boone Jenner all pitched in 30+ points to help the Blue Jackets finish sixth in the league in scoring.

Columbus’ blue line was led by two great, young talents in 19-year-old Zach Werenski and 22-year-old Seth Jones. Rookie Zach Werenski made an immediate impact; he finished the season with 47 points – 11 goals and 36 assists – and a third-place Calder Trophy finish. Paired with Werenski, big-bodied Seth Jones also had a breakout offensive year, setting a career-high in goals (12), assists (30) and points (42) in his second season with Columbus. Veterans David Savard (+/- of +33) and Jack Johnson (+/- of +23) were also instrumental in the Blue Jackets finishing second in the league in goals allowed.

While Columbus’ skaters were impressive, it was goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky who stole the show. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner posted career-highs in wins (41) and save percentage (.931%) to go along with a league-best 2.06 GAA in 2017. Behind Bobrovsky, Joonas Korpisalo (.905 save % in 14 games) and Curtis McElhinney (.924 save % in 7 games) were serviceable in their limited action.

 

Detroit Red Wings – 2001-02

Record: 51-17-10 (116 points)

Season Outcome: Won Stanley Cup

Coach: Scotty Bowman

Captain: Steve Yzerman

Six. The 2001 Red Wings had six Hall of Fame forwards on their roster in Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, and Igor Larionov. While all six of them were older than 30 – and Yzerman, Hull, Robitaille, and Larionov eclipsed the age of 35 – they still showed that they were more than capable of playing at a high level as Shanahan, Fedorov, Hull, and Robitaille all surpassed the 30-goal mark while Yzerman (who missed 30 games) and Larionov both eclipsed 40 points.

Oh, and they had some rookie named Pavel Datsyuk.

As if six Hall of Famers wasn’t enough, the Red Wings had two more on defense in Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios. Lidstrom would win his second consecutive Norris Trophy in 2001 (he would go on to win five more in his career) while Chelios, even at 40 years old, would lead the league in plus/minus with an incredible +40.

In net, the Red Wings had their ninth Hall of Famer in netminder Dominik Hasek. Even at 37 years old, Hasek was still among the league’s elite as he led the league in wins with 41 while coming in at ninth in save percentage (.915) and seventh in GAA (2.17).

As if that weren’t enough, they were coached by 1991 Hall of Fame inductee Scotty Bowman, who would win his ninth Stanley Cup with the 2001-02 Red Wings.

 

Florida Panthers – 1999-00

Record: 43-27-6-6 (98 points)

Season Outcome: Lost in First Round

Coach: Terry Murray

Captain: Scott Mellanby

After missing all but 11 games in 1998 due to injury, Pavel Bure rebounded to capture his first Rocket Richard Trophy with a league-leading 58 goals. Behind Bure’s 94 points, a likely future Hall of Famer in Ray Whitney and Viktor Kozlov finished second and third on the team in scoring, with both topping 70 points. Florida also got solid contributions from second-year forward Mark Parrish (26 goals) and from captain Scott Mellanby (46 points).

On defense, Slovakian defenders Robert Svehla – 49 points – and Jaroslav Spacek – 36 points – led Florida’s ninth-ranked defense.

Between the pipes, mid-season acquisition Mike Vernon came in and solidified the Panthers’ goaltending; he won 18 of his 34 appearances while posting a .919 save percentage.

 

Montreal Canadiens – 1976-77

Record: 60-8-12 (132 points)

Season Outcome: Won Stanley Cup

Coach: Scotty Bowman

Captain: Yvan Cournoyer

Arguably the best team of all-time, the ’76-77 Canadiens had two forwards surpass the 100-point plateau in Hall of Famers Guy Lafleur (136) and Steve Shutt (105), and six other forwards surpass 50 points in Hall of Famer Jacques Lemaire (75), Pete Mahovlich (62), Doug Risebrough (60), Hall of Famer Yvan Cournoyer (53), Yvon Lambert (52), and Rejean Houle (52).

Montreal’s super-team included three more Hall of Famers in defenseman Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe, and Serge Savard. Robinson led the defense in points with 85, while Lapointe finished right behind Robinson, posting a 76-point campaign. Savard posted a solid 42 points. The offensively talented trio was equally as talented defensively, as they all finished in the top five in +/-, with Robinson leading the league with a +120.

As if seven Hall of Famers wasn’t enough, the Canadiens had an eighth between the pipes in Ken Dryden who led the league in wins (41) and shutouts (10) and came in second in GAA (2.14). While Dryden was the clear-cut top goaltender, even backup Michel Larocque had a tremendous season as he also posted a 2.14 GAA, albeit in just 26 appearances.

 

New Jersey Devils – 2000-01

Record: 48-19-12-3 (111 points)

Season Outcome: Lost in Stanley Cup Final

Coach: Larry Robinson

Captain: Scott Stevens

Heading New Jersey’s top-ranked offense was future Hall of Famer Patrik Elias. He set career-highs in goals (40), assists (56), and points (96) during the 2000-01 campaign. Russian winger Alexander Mogilny rebounded with an 83-point season after a few rough years with the Canucks. Capping off New Jersey’s three-headed scoring attack was Slovakian winger Petr Sykora, who also set a career-high in points with 81. The ’00-01 Devils also had four other forwards surpass the 50-point plateau in Scott Gomez (63), Jason Arnott (55), Sergei Brylin (55), and Bobby Holik (50), and two other forwards who recorded 20 goals in John Madden and Randy McKay, providing New Jersey with a very balanced scoring attack.

On defense, Hall of Famers Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens graced the Devils’ blue line. Niedermayer finished with a solid 35 points and a plus/minus of +14, while Stevens finished with 31 points and +40, the latter of which was third-best in the league. American-born Brian Rafalski led the defense in points with 52, and also finished fourth in the league in plus/minus with a +36.

In net, the Devils rode future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, who won a league-leading 42 of his 72 starts. Brodeur also finished third in shutouts with nine.

 

New York Islanders – 1981-82

Record: 54-16-10 (118 points)

Season Outcome: Won Stanley Cup

Coach: Al Arbour

Captain: Denis Potvin

Boasting one of the best offenses in league history, the 1981-82 Islanders were in the midst of winning their third straight title. The highly-touted offense was headlined by winger Mike Bossy (147 points) and center Bryan Trottier (129 points), who both finished in the league’s top five in scoring. Falling just short of the 100-point mark was John Tonelli, who notched 93 points – 35 goals and 58 assists. Hall of Famer Clark Gillies, Bob Bourne, and Duane Sutter rounded out New York’s deadly offense with 50+ point seasons of their own.

As usual, Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin was solid in both aspects of the game, tallying 61 points and finishing with a plus/minus of +38. Defender Mike McEwen was also a reliable defensive piece for New York, finishing with 49 points and a +38 in his first full season with the Islanders.

Hall of Fame goaltender Billy Smith went on to win the Vezina Trophy with a 32-9-4 record and a 2.97 GAA for the 1981-82 season.

 

New York Rangers – 1971-72

Record: 48-17-13 (109 points)

Season Outcome: Lost Stanley Cup Final

Coach: Emile Francis

Captain: Vic Hadfield

The Rangers’ attack was led by the infamous ‘Goal A Game (GAG) Line’ that consisted of center Jean Ratelle and wingers Vic Hadfield and Rod Gilbert. The trio combined for a ridiculous 139 goals and 312 points during the 1971-72 season. German-born center Walt Tkazcuk (66 points), Bill Fairbairn (59 points), and Bobby Rousseau (57 points) provided the Rangers with depth as they made a run to the Stanley Cup Final.

On defense, Brad Park had a breakout season; he finished with 82 points and an incredible plus/minus of +62, which earned the defenseman a second-place finish in the bid for the Norris Trophy. Defensemen Rod Seiling and Jim Neilson were also solid pieces on New York’s back end, as both finished with 35+ points.

Hall of Famer Ed Giacomin and Gilles Villemure split time in the Rangers’ net. Giacomin had a solid season, finishing with a 24-10-9 record and a 2.70 GAA. Although he started 7 fewer games, Villemure was even more impressive than Giacomin; he also won 24 games, and finished second in the league with a 2.09 GAA.

 

Ottawa Senators – 2005-06

Record: 52-21-9 (113 points)

Season Outcome: Lost in Second Round

Coach: Bryan Murray

Captain: Daniel Alfredsson

Ottawa’s top-ranked offense featured a ‘Big Three’ consisting of wingers Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, who both scored 103 points, and 22-year old centerman Jason Spezza, who continued to establish himself with a 90-point campaign. The Senators also possessed four twenty-goal scorers outside of their ‘Big Three’ in Mike Fisher (22), Antoine Vermette (21), Peter Schaefer (20), and Patrick Eaves (20).

On defense, towering 6’9″ Zdeno Chara terrorized opposing teams with his wicked slap shot and bone-crunching hits. Rookie Andrej Meszaros finished seventh in the Calder Trophy voting in an impressive rookie campaign that saw him play in all 82 games. He tallied 39 points – 10 goals, 29 assists – and finished with a +34 plus/minus in those 82 games.

In goal, the duo of Hall of Fame netminder Dominik Hasek and Ray Emery finished third in the league in goals allowed. A 41-year-old Hasek showed that, despite his age, he could still get it done, as he finished with a 28-10-4 record while posting a 2.09 GAA and a .925 save percentage.

 

Philadelphia Flyers – 1974-75

Record: 51-13-16 (118 points)

Season Outcome: Won Stanley Cup

Coach: Fred Shero

Captain: Bobby Clarke

The ‘Broad Street Bullies’ had a perfect mix of talent and grit in their forwards. In centers Bobby Clarke (116 points) and Rick MacLeish (79 points), the Flyers boasted one of the best 1-2 punches in the league. High-flying wingers Bill Barber and Reggie Leach – who each tallied 70+ points – gave the Flyers many scoring options. While not an offensive juggernaut, enforcer Dave Schultz terrorized opposing teams with his extreme toughness, albeit while gathering 472 penalty minutes.

While there were no superstars on the Flyers’ blue line, a solid defensive corps of Tom Bladon, Andre Dupont, brothers Jim and Joe Watson, and Ed van Impe allowed Philadelphia to finish first in goals allowed.

In goal, Hall of Famer Bernie Parent captured his second-straight Vezina Trophy; Parent led the league in wins (44), GAA (2.03), and shutouts (12). Parent would also go on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, as he carried the Flyers to their second straight Stanley Cup.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins – 1992-93

Record: 56-21-7 (119 points)

Season Outcome: Lost in Second Round

Coach: Scotty Bowman

Captain: Mario Lemieux

Coming off back-to-back Stanley Cups, the ’92-93 Penguins looked even better than the previous teams. The team’s offense was absolutely dominant; four players surpassed 100 points in Hall of Fame centers Mario Lemieux (160) and Ron Francis (100), and talented wingers Rick Tocchet (109) and Kevin Stevens (111). Falling just short of 100, 20-year-old Jaromir Jagr chipped in 94 points. Rounding out Pittsburgh’s potent offense were Hall of Famer Joe Mullen and Shawn McEachern, who became the seventh and eighth Penguins to surpass 60 points.

On defense, Pittsburgh boasted the duo of Hall of Fame defender Larry Murphy – who posted a career-high 85 points and finished third in the Norris Trophy voting – and defensive-minded Ulf Samuelsson, who finished with a +36 plus/minus and earned a tenth-place finish in the Norris Trophy voting.

Between the pipes, Pittsburgh’s Tom Barrasso finished tops in wins (43) while also finishing top five in GAA (3.01) and save percentage (.901%).

 

Tampa Bay Lightning – 2003-04

Record: 46-22-8-6 (106 points)

Season Outcome: Won Stanley Cup

Coach: John Tortorella

Captain: Dave Andreychuk

The ’03-04 Lightning were chock full of future Hall of Famers. In the twilight of his career at age 40, captain Dave Andreychuk still produced a 21-goal season. While Andreychuk was on his last legs, Martin St. Louis (94 points), Corey Stillman (80 points), Brad Richards (79 points), and Vincent Lecavalier (66 points) were all in the prime of their careers. Swedish winger Fredrik Modin also played a huge role for the Lightning, potting 29 goals in a career-high 57-point season.

On defense, Tampa Bay didn’t have a superstar, but Dan Boyle and Pavel Kubina were solid offensively (both contributing 35+ points) and defensively, as they both earned Norris Trophy votes.

The goaltending duo of Nikolai Khabibulin and John Grahame got the job done. Khabibulin finished the season with a 28-19-7 record with a 2.33 GAA while Grahame finished 18-9-1 with a solid 2.06 GAA.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs – 1992-93

Record: 44-29-11 (99 points)

Season Outcome: Lost in Conference Finals

Coach: Pat Burns

Captain: Wendel Clark

On offense, Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour dished out a career-best 95 assists, while newly-acquired Russian forward Nikolai Borschevsky burst onto the scene with 34 goals. Hall of Famer Glenn Anderson and future Hall of Famer Dave Andreychuk both chipped in 20 goals. Centers John Cullen and Peter Zezel provided depth to Toronto’s offense.

On the back end, Toronto boasted the second-ranked defense, which featured solid all-around defenders Dave Ellett, Tod Gill, and Dmitri Mironov.

In net, rookie Felix Potvin had a tremendous season after taking over the starting job when Grant Fuhr was traded. Potvin finished with a 25-15-7 record and was a finalist for the Calder and Vezina Trophies.

 

Washington Capitals – 2015-16

Record: 56-18-8 (120 points)

Season Outcome: Lost in Second Round

Coach: Barry Trotz

Captain: Alexander Ovechkin

On offense, Washington was stacked. Captain Alexander Ovechkin continued to show why he’s one of the best goal scorers of all-time; surpassing 50 goals for the seventh time in his career. Around Ovechkin, 23-year-old Evgeny Kuznetsov broke out with 77 points to lead the team, while the underrated Nicklas Backstrom notched 70 points. Acquired by the Capitals in the offseason, Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie both notched 50+ points to further bolster Washington’s offense.

On defense, Washington’s top four of John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, and Karl Alzner ranked among the league’s best. While none were great offensively, Carlson, Niskanen, and Orlov still finished with 30+ points, and Alzner chipped in 21. However, defensively they were outstanding, finishing second in goals allowed.

In goal, Washington relied heavily on Braden Holtby and he did not disappoint, as he took home the Vezina Trophy. Starting a league-high 66 games, Holtby went an impressive 48-9-7, while finishing in the top ten in save percentage and GAA.

Dean is a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan (note the Carson Wentz photoshop) and an aspiring sportswriter. He is a student at Millersville University where he is studying sports journalism. The primary way of contacting Dean is at this email: deansnock@gnghockey.com.