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Top Power-Plays since 1963

If you had to guess, what would you say was the best PP unit of all-time? Surprisingly, it's the New York Islanders - before they rattled off their string of four Stanley Cups. With Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies up front, and Denis Potvin and Stefan Persson on the blue line, the Isles put away nearly 30% of their power-play opportunities over a six-year period:

Year Team PP%
1977-78 Montreal Canadiens 31.88
1975-76 New York Islanders 31.72
1977-78 New York Islanders 31.28
1978-79 New York Islanders 31.15
1973-74 New York Rangers 29.73
1980-81 New York Islanders 29.34
1982-83 Edmonton Oilers 29.25
1979-80 Montreal Canadiens 29.17
1969-70 Boston Bruins 29.03
1971-72 Boston Bruins 28.91
1973-74 Boston Bruins 28.89
1972-73 Philadelphia Flyers 28.79
1974-75 Boston Bruins 28.76
1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers 28.62
1987-88 Calgary Flames 28.46

The Orr-Esposito-Bucyk Bruins of 1969-75 were almost as good as the Isles. The late 1970s Canadiens dynasty makes a couple of appearances - unlike the Islanders and the Bruins, the Habs rolled two power-play units. Stanley Cup-winning Oilers, Flyers and Flames squads also show up.

What if we adjust teams relative to the league-wide PP%?

Year Team PP% REL LGE
1973-74 New York Rangers 29.73 55.74
1975-76 New York Islanders 31.72 54.43
1972-73 Philadelphia Flyers 28.79 53.87
1973-74 Boston Bruins 28.89 51.34
1977-78 Montreal Canadiens 31.88 50.73
1971-72 Boston Bruins 28.91 49.17
1969-70 Boston Bruins 29.03 49.10
1972-73 Boston Bruins 27.8 48.58
1977-78 New York Islanders 31.28 47.90
1970-71 Boston Bruins 27.68 47.00

Interestingly, our top teams don't move around very much - what these teams have in common is that they all played during an era of massive talent dilution and little player movement. Montreal, Boston, New York and Philadelphia were all able to concentrate talent in a way that would be unthinkable today and use that advantage to dominate the weakest entries in the NHL. While you can put together a truly bad team any time you want, it is simply no longer possible to build teams that are this much better than their opponents.