When the puck drops in the center ice of the Stanley Cup Finals, the two best teams in the National Hockey League (NHL) square off to crown a champion. While it was first awarded in 1893, it’s history with the NHL begins in 1927. Also called La Coupe Stanley in French, hockey’s top prize is named after British politician Lord Stanley of Preston, the 6th Governor General of Canada. More than 100 years after his death, the Stanley Cup is still coveted by every hockey team—and their many fans.
View Stanley Cup Winners in a full screen map
Explore the Stanley Cup winners and losers on the map above, or read on to see the insights we’ve pulled from the data.
It’s pretty clear that the Montreal Canadiens are the most successful NHL playoff team. The Habs, as they’re known, have won Lord Stanley’s Cup 22 times, twice that of the closest competitor. Further, they’ve only lost on seven occasions. Tied for second-most wins are the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. Interestingly, these are two of only three teams to have beaten the Canadiens in an NHL Finals series.
|Toronto Maple Leafs||11||19|
|Detroit Red Wings||11||24|
|New York Islanders||4||5|
|New York Rangers||4||11|
|New Jersey Devils||3||5|
As the table above shows, no other teams have double digit championships. Boston and Chicago each have six victories, while the Oilers and Penguins have tallied five each.
The Canadiens have the most appearances with 29 vs 24 for the Red Wings. Toronto and Boston are tied with 19 each and Chicago’s 13 rounds out the top five for appearances.
Some matchups are more common than others when it comes to the Stanley Cup Finals. Due to the number of overall appearances, it’s unsurprising that Montreal has several rivalries.
- Montreal Canadiens vs Boston Bruins (7)
- Toronto Maple Leafs vs Detroit Red Wings (7)
- Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens (5)
- Montreal Canadiens vs Chicago Blackhawks (5)
- Montreal Canadiens vs Detroit Red Wings (5)
The Canadiens have played the Boston Bruins seven times in the finals (1930, 1946, 1953, 1957, 1958, 1977, 1978). But it’s not much of a rivalry, since Montreal has won each time.
Toronto first played Detroit in the finals in 1936. While the Red Wings took that first series three games to one, the Maple Leafs showed them by winning the next six times they faced each other for the Cup (1942, 1945, 1948, 1949, 1963, 1964).
The Maple Leafs have had almost as much success against the Canadiens, winning three of their five contests (1947, 1951, 1959, 1960, 1967).
Montreal has done a lot better against Chicago, besting them all five of the times they’ve played against each other in the finals (1931, 1944, 1965, 1971, 1973).
The good luck hasn’t held out against Detroit. The Red Wings have won three of the five finals where they appeared against Montreal (1952, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1966).
In the 1930s and 40s, the Maple Leafs faced off against the New York Rangers in three Stanley Cup Finals. Additionally, 11 teams have played each twice. A whopping 36 matchups have never been repeated.
Only one NHL team has won in every Stanley Cup Finals appearance. The Colorado Avalanche beat the Florida Panthers in 1996 and the New Jersey Devils in 2001.
|New York Islanders||0.800||4||5|
|Los Angeles Kings||0.667||2||3|
|New Jersey Devils||0.600||3||5|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||0.579||11||19|
As you can see in the table above, eight teams have won more than half of their appearances in the finals. The Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders, and Los Angeles Kings have all lost only once.
The Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers join the Islanders, Penguins, and Avalanche as the five teams with a .700 or higher winning percentage.
Despite having the second-most victories (11), Toronto barely makes the cut with a .579 record. Detroit is even worse off—it’s 11 victories have only netted it a .458 record.
While we’ve been focusing on the winners, each series also has a loser. Seven teams have been to at least one Stanley Cup Final series and never come out victorious:
- Vancouver Canucks (3 appearances)
- St. Louis Blues (3 appearances)
- Buffalo Sabres (2 appearances)
- Florida Panthers (1 appearance)
- Washington Capitals (1 appearance)
- Nashville Predators (1 appearance)
- San Jose Sharks (1 appearance)
And five other teams have never even had the chance to compete for the Cup:
- Winnipeg Jets
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Arizona Coyotes
- Minnesota Wild
Ice Hockey is one of two official sports of Canada (the other is Lacrosse). By contrast, hockey doesn’t even make the top three in the United States, which sees football, basketball, and baseball as its primary sports. So, that must mean Canadian NHL teams are a lot better than those in the US, right? Well, yes and no.
The United States NHL teams have won 49 championships, compared to 41 for Canadians teams. That said, there are only seven NHL teams in Canada vs 24 in the United States. When we take the number of teams into consideration, Canada has more than two times the wins per team as the US. Canada also has a much higher winning percentage (.631 vs .434). And that’s with nearly two times the number of appearances per team.
Of course, NHL players are not only signed from the countries where teams play. With over half of professional hockey players coming from Canada, there are obviously many Canadians on US-based teams. Other popular nationalities (in addition to the United States, which is second) are Swedish, Russian, and Czech.
One last regional comparison we can make it between NHL conferences. Like NBA teams are organized, NHL uses Eastern and Western conferences. For the playoffs, the best from each conference play each other until there is a finalist in that conference. Then, the best play each other.
For hockey, the Eastern Conference far outperforms the Western in Stanley Cup appearances, wins, and winning percentage. There is no criteria upon which the West beats the East. Granted, the top three winners—and eight of the top 10—are in the Eastern Conference.
It should be noted that the conference champion type of playoffs only started in 2014. Previously, the NHL used seeding, which meant there could be two teams from the same conference battling for best in the league. In fact, many of the rivalries above are between two Eastern teams. Further, a few teams have also changed conferences throughout the years, and our stats count their victories for the current conference.
Despite the caveats above, the message is still clear when it comes to the NHL: when it gets toward the end of the hockey season, the Eastern conference is the favorite to take Lord Stanley’s Cup back to their city.