1956-1960 Habs- Best Team during the 5 straight Cups run?
Plain and simple- which of the 5 straight Canadiens' Cup winning teams was their best one?
The great dynasties we recall had a team that stood out from the other great championship teams (1977 Habs, 1982 Islanders, 1984 Oilers), but which of those legendary Habs teams during their iconic run of 5 consecutive Cups was the best of the bunch?
Personally, I though the 1956 team was their best bunch.
It was Beliveau at his most dominant (47 goals, 88 points, 1st team All-Star, Hart). Rocket Richard's last standout scoring season (38 goals, 71 points). The arrival of the Pocket Rocket. Bert Olmstead leads in assists. the HOF-caliber depth begins to arrive and establish themselves as well as the Habs as an absurdly deep team.
Jacques Plante beginning his amazing stretch of goaltending (42 wins, 1.85 GAA, 7 shutouts- other than shutouts, those would be his best numbers in terms of wins/GAA as a Hab. Under today's criteria, he still wins those 5 straight Vezinas from 1956-1960 had the trophy been that instead of the Jennings Trophy equivalent.
And it was arguably their most dominant. 45 wins and a then-record 100 points- which prior to their 1970s run they only otherwise pulled off in 1969.
Ending Detroit's run of seven straight first place finishes (Montreal would nearly match that feat with 6 first place finishes in 7 years from 1956-1962).
A dynastic torch passing ala Islanders/Oilers. Detroit won 4 Cups in 6 years, 3 at the Habs expense- 1952 sweep, 1954 game 7 OT, 1955 7 game home cooking series. Not exactly the '83 Oilers getting schooled by the veteran Isles, but it had seemed up to that point Detroit had Montreal's number in the early 50s save for that '51 playoff shocker. (And worth noting Montreal's 1953 Cup win aided by Boston's semifinal surprise of DET)
Montreal finally overcomes all that in '56 (Overcoming a 2-goal deficit in game 1 really was pivotal for the Canadiens. Down 4-2 at home going into the third, against a team that had owned them for a stretch. Then they score 4 goals in like 5-6 minutes. Kind of like Grant Fuhr's shutout on Long Island decades later, the established dynasty had been beat at their own game.
Establishing a new tone and identity under Toe Blake. Dick Irvin left the Habs after 1955, ending a run that while dominant at times, they kind of left a lot on the table (Won 3 Cups, but lost 4 finals in 5 years in the early 50s, an all-time head scratcher of a playoff loss to the '45 Leafs).
It would be crazy to suggest those 1944-1955 Habs were underachievers, but considering that Montreal went from 3 Cup wins in that stretch to this stretch of epic dominance, it seemed like Montreal really should have won more Cups than they did before this run.
But Toe Blake takes over and they go on perhaps the greatest run in NHL history. And it started in all-timer fashion. Stacked team loaded with greats, out to prove themselves, beating the champs, and thus starting a run of Canadien (and Canadian Cup dominance- for after '55, the Cup would stay north of the border save for 1961 for nearly a decade and a half)
Right off the bat you want to say the 1956 team, and I don't necessarily disagree because the Rocket was still as good as anyone in the league and Beliveau had that huge year even for his standards. Plus, Detroit in 1956 still might have been the best team they faced over those 5 years. Still had Lindsay playing elite and while Sawchuk was gone in favour of Hall, it still was the best team they faced.
However, you can say the 1960 team might be the best too. I know Denis Potvin claimed the 1983 Isles were the best of the bunch even though the regular season didn't show it, but there is something to be said about winning 4 in a row having a target on your back and still winning the 5th one. Not to mention it was pretty easy for them in 1960 as well. Not that they ever made it hard on themselves, they never had a 7th game in that run, but 1960 just seemed easier for them.
I always thought 56. The year before they took Detroit to 7 games without the Rocket, so they were already on par with Detoit, and then in '56 Beliveau had possibly the best regular season and playoffs up to that point in time. Rocket was still a dominant player (as BP noted), Harvey was near his peak, and a lot of young future HOFers like Geoffrion and Moore were reaching their prime.
This is the Team that forced the change in the rule so that the penalized player gets back out if scored on shorthanded during a minor penalty.