Another hockey season is in the books, and for the second year in a row the Pittsburgh Penguins skated away with the Stanley Cup, their fifth in team history, all of them coming in the last 27 years (26 seasons).
That’s the most Stanley Cups in the league since the start of the 1990-91 season, even more than the Detroit Red Wings, who until this season, were looked at as the model franchise in the NHL.
So with the Penguins passing Detroit in terms of Stanley Cups starting in 1990, it begs the question, have the Penguins actually been the best NHL franchise since 1990? Let’s debate!
We picked 1990 because the 1990-91 seas was the year the Penguins captured their first Cup, and it was also the same year that the Red Wings began their streak of 25-straight seasons of making the playoffs.
Over the past 26 seasons the two teams are shockingly similar in terms of their success, but which franchise was greatest?
Case for and against Pittsburgh
If you’re the type of person where the only thing that matters in life is championships, then the obvious choice is Pittsburgh. After all, five titles is more than four, that’s just basic math.
One could also argue that the Penguins might have had MORE long-lasting star power than the Red Wings over the past 27 years. Mario Lemieux is in the Top-3 players of all-time, Jaromir Jagr is a legend and one of the 10 best players ever. Sidney Crosby is well on his way to those accolades, and Evgeni Malkin could sneak into that discussion.
Detroit over the last 27 years had Steve Yzerman and Nick Lidstrom who are both probably Top-10 all-time, but then it was a bunch of cameos from big-name stars when the Red Wings could buy any player they wanted.
Also, the Penguins have three Cups in the salary cap era, compared to just one for Detroit. Yes, it took a generational talent falling into their lap to do it, but it’s all about how you build around that.
Also, people love to talk about the Red Wings and how consistent they were, making the playoffs 25-straight seasons, but over the past 26 seasons, Pittsburgh has made it 22 times, missing four in a row from 2001 to 2006 (lockout in there), so they’re not far behind.
So with five Cups and more than half of them coming in an era where it should be much harder to win them, one could easily argue that over the past 27 year (26 seasons) the Penguins have been the better franchise.
Those lows were REALLY low. It wasn’t just that the Penguins missed the playoffs four years in a row, they missed it by a lot. They were dead last all four seasons in the then-Atlantic Division.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, interest in the team waned, the arena crumbled and the team damn-near left town before Lemieux and others stepped in to buy the team, then the NHL rigged the Draft Lottery so they could get Crosby and a new arena and the rest is history.
You could also make the argument that despite making the playoffs 22 out of 26 times, they Penguins, aside from this season, were only really dominant once. And that was the 1992-93 season when they captured their only President’s Trophy…and then were bounced in the first round.
If you’re all about rings and nothing else matters, then Pittsburgh is your pick.
The case for and against Detroit
Making the playoffs in 26 straight years, the last team before Pittsburgh to go back-to-back, and more Hall-of-Famers that have suited up for the team in that stretch than any other team.
Think of it this way, if the NHL were like the English Premier League and just ended after the regular season with the team earning the most points being declared the champion, Detroit would have six titles, the next closest would be Washington and the New York Rangers, each with three. Pittsburgh would have one.
And then there are 100-point seasons, with the Red Wings claiming a whopping 17 in those 26 seasons, compared to just 11 for Pittsburgh.
Amazingly, the two best regular season teams in Red Wings history didn’t win the Stanley Cup, with the 1995-96 62-win team being bounced by Colorado in the Conference Finals, and the 2005-06 team that broke 120 points getting beat in the first round by Edmonton and a hot goalie.
What I’m saying is, the best team doesn’t always win in the NHL. And the Red Wings won more in the regular season than anyone else over that span, even if they weren’t rewarded for it.
The Red Wings also might boast the single most talented team in NHL history in the 2001-2002 squad that captured the Stanley Cup. On that team alone were 10 Hall of Fame players. There are All-Star teams that don’t see that much talent, Pittsburgh’s early Cup-winning teams had around 5 or 6, which is still pretty dang impressive, but pales in comparison.
But the knock on the Red Wings is that three of their four Cups came when you could spend at will, and nobody spent more than the Red Wings, as we saw with that 2001-02 team. And since the salary cap was implemented in 2005-06, they’ve been an also-ran for most of with the exception of the first three or four seasons when they had all those great players still on the team.
And that playoff streak, while it did draw a bunch of attention and made for talking points, really hurt the team in the long run.
They have a bunch of bad contracts, no real stars in the pipeline, and haven’t been bad to try to get a great player in the draft. Even this year with the streak finally ending they weren’t bad enough, and are picking in the middle of the lottery in a shallow draft class. If you expand this debate another five years into the future, Pittsburgh might win this in a runaway.
So, your thoughts fans and readers, who has been the best NHL franchise since 1990, Pittsburgh or Detroit?