NHL Stanley Cup Champions With Losing Regular Season Records
It the modern age of the NHL with 30 teams competing for 16 playoff spots, it is inconceivable that a team could win the Stanley Cup with a losing record during the regular season. In the modern era, teams with a better than .500 record often do not even make the playoffs.
Believe it or not, twice in the history of the National Hockey League, teams with a losing record have not only made it to the Stanley Cup final but have taken the Cup home as league champions. It happened once during the ‘Original Six’ era and once even before that when there were eight NHL teams split into two divisions of 4 teams.
The first time this happened was during the 1937-38 season. At the time, the teams in the league played just a 48 games schedule and long lost teams, the New York Americans and Montreal Maroons were still going strong. The Toronto Maple Leafs took the Canadian Division during the regular season with a record of 24 wins, 15 losses and 9 ties. The Boston Bruins ran away with the American Division with a record of 30 wins, 11 losses and 7 ties.
The Chicago Black Hawks finished third in the American Division, just two points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings with a dismal record of 14 wins, 25 losses and 9 ties. The only team worse was the Montreal Maroons who were in their last year of existence. Yet, when all was said and done, the Black Hawks were crowned Stanley Cup Champs.
The second time the situation arose was during the 1948-49 season. There were only six teams in the league and only the top four teams competed in the post season playoffs. The Detroit Red Wings took first place easily with 75 points over the 60 game season. Boston and Montreal were second and third with 66 and 65 points and the Toronto Maple Leafs rounded out the top four with 57 points on 22 wins, 25 losses and 13 ties.
Toronto went on to take their third straight Stanley Cup despite the weak regular season showing. This was the last time the feat was ever accomplished and probably will be the last time ever unless the league downsizes or changes its playoff structure in the future. It should be noted that most every season during the ‘Original Six’ era, the fourth place time had a losing record during the regular season so almost every year the opportunity was there for a severe underdog to take the Stanley Cup home.