Typically, in an NHL season, it is easy to separate the strong teams from the less-than-stellar teams.
But what year do you recall that had the most strong teams, most Cup threats/contenders, from a pure 'There are a lot of good, talented teams in this league- we can't take them for granted' perspective?
For the sake of this topic, this will be limited to the post-1967 expansion era.
Just from a random perspective I would pick 1990 as a year where there might have been the fewest elite teams. There was only one 100 point team in Boston. Calgary had 99 and then Buffalo 98, Montreal 93 and Cup champ Edmonton 90. Not a lot of poor teams either. Quebec had 31 points (if we think Columbus is bad this year........) but no one else had less than 64.
But back to the original question. I would say that inexplicably 1991 was the polar opposite. Chicago, St. Louis, LA, Calgary and Boston all topped 100 points. Montreal had 89 but obviously was always a contender. Pittsburgh wins the Cup with 88. I guess in reality Edmonton with an injured Messier during the regular season was still a threat even though only having 80 points.
1993 is another year. Pittsburgh was the cream of the crop for sure. But Boston, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver, Chicago, Detroit and Toronto all had great years. This was caused in large part to the expansion teams and the Sharks were really bad too, NHL record of 71 losses.
In the late 1970s it was pretty much all the same teams who were threats. Montreal being the clear cut best, followed by Boston, Buffalo, NYI and Philly. All perennial 100 point teams.
I thought 2002 was another one of those years. The Wings creamed the field, but Boston, Toronto, Philly, San Jose, Colorado, Vancouver, St. Louis, Jersey and even Ottawa were not to be taken lightly. There were some tough playoff series that year.
2004 is another one. Much of the same teams in 2002 except Tampa Bay catapulting themselves to elite status.
Post lockout, 2009 seemed like one of the tougher years. Detroit, Washington, Pittsburgh, San Jose would have been my top 4. Then Boston, Jersey was always in the mix, Vancouver, Chicago and Philly were not to be taken lightly. Point wise they didn't light the world on fire, but I thought Anaheim was the best 8th place team I ever saw
I would say that inexplicably 1991 was the polar opposite. Chicago, St. Louis, LA, Calgary and Boston all topped 100 points. Montreal had 89 but obviously was always a contender. Pittsburgh wins the Cup with 88. I guess in reality Edmonton with an injured Messier during the regular season was still a threat even though only having 80 points.
It's all the more strange looking back that not one of those West 100-point teams made it to the Conference FInals, and that an 80 point .500 team had home-ice advantage. Right up there with the '10 Flyers and '03 Wild on the 'If you bet moneythey'd have home-ice in round 3, you'd be a rich man' scale.