I've always thought that the effectiveness of a power play is directly proportional to the fear it inspires.
The best don't simply score goals every third chance or so. They're a looming specter that buys time and space during 40-odd minutes of even strength play -- a constant, overhanging threat that forces defenders to hesitate, to keep sticks and elbows to themselves in order to not take the trip to the box that their coach specifically warned them to avoid.
It's been a few years since the NHL has seen a truly frightening power play, but there have been some holy terrors in the past.
Here are my picks for the 10 greatest in league history:
10. 1987-88 Winnipeg Jets
Out of 432 chances, these Jets strafed the opposition a franchise-record 110 times, accounting for 38 percent of their total offense that season. With Randy Carlyle and Dave Ellett working the point and getting the puck down low, Dale Hawerchuk (above), Paul MacLean and Andrew McBain each topped the 20-goal mark on the power play.
9. 1987-88 Calgary Flames
The Flames matched their Smythe Division rivals in Winnipeg goal-for-goal that season, scoring one less but leading the league with a 28.46 success rate. Rookie sensation Joe Nieuwendyk notched 31 of his 51 goals with the extra man -- the third-highest single-season total in history -- and Mike Bullard chipped in with 21. But the most intimidating element of the unit might have been the bombers on the blue line: Al MacInnis (above) and Gary Suter.
8. 1982-83 Edmonton Oilers:
No surprise that he most prolific power play in Edmonton history centered around Wayne Gretzky. The Great One had 18 goals and 36 assists with the extra man, meaning he was directly involved in 63 percent of the 86 power play goals that Edmonton scored that season. When he was shut down (which wasn't all that often), the Oilers relied on Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, and Glenn Anderson to exact a toll.
7. 1980-81 New York Islanders
No Islanders team ever scored more often on the power play -- 93 times on 317 chances for the sixth-best conversion rate in NHL history -- and they did it as a team. Mike Bossy (above) tallied 28 times to lead the league, but it was a group effort after that with four players including Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies and Bob Bourne each chipping in nine. Denis Potvin was highly effective as the QB, scoring nine times and assisting on 32 others, the second-highest total of his career.
6. 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins
This might be hockey's equivalent of baseball's famed Murderers Row (from left to right above): Jaromir Jagr, Mario Lemieux, and Ron Francis -- three of the NHL's top-eight scorers all-time -- along with a very dangerous Tomas Sandstrom combined for 80 of Pittsburgh's 109 power play tallies, the second-most all-time. It's worth noting that this was the only season that the sublimely gifted Sergei Zubov manned the point for the Pens. The team scored just 74 times on the PP the following season. Probably not a coincidence.
5. 1969-70 Boston Bruins
Ruthless execution on the power play was a key factor in Boston's run to the 1970 Stanley Cup. Led by the incomparable Bobby Orr, the B's were a volume-shooting team. With Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk and Freddy Stanfield taking root down low for deflections and rebounds, the B's cashed in 29.03 percent of their chances.
4. 1975-76 New York Islanders
It's surprising to look at the talent on this team and see that they drew just 290 penalties over the course of the season. But when the Isles were on the power play, they were almost unstoppable, scoring on 31.72 percent of their chances, the second-highest success rate in history. They were still three years away from the beginning of their Cup dynasty, but theese Isles already boasted plenty of firepower. Denis Potvin (above) led the way with 18 power play goals while Clark Gillies and Billy Harris cashed in with a combined 31 from the greasy areas.
3. 1988-89 Pittsburgh Penguins
Led by Mario Lemieux and Paul Coffey, the Pens toyed with their opponents while scoring a record 119 times with the extra man. The two future Hall of Famers keyed the unit, usually playing catch on the left side while the other team watched helplessly and waited for the dart down low to Lemieux or Rob Brown, who scored 24 of his 49 goals with the man advantage. Lemieux led the league with 31 while Coffey talled 11 during the season he posted a career-best 83 assists.
2. 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens
With a record setting 31.88 percent success rate, no team in the modern era can boast of a more effective power play. Led by Steve Shutt (16) and Guy Lafleur (15), with a rotating group of blueliners including Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard, the Habs connected on 73 of 229 chances that season. Yvon Lambert was a big contributor as well, scoring seven of his 18 goals with the extra man.
1. 1955-56 Montreal Canadiens
We've all seen dangerous power plays. Now imagine one so lethal that every other team in the league banded together and demanded a rule change to rein it in. At the time, teams were allowed to score as often as they could on a minor penalty and this Montreal squad that boasted future Hall of Famers Rocket Richard (above), Jean Beliveau, Bert Olmstead, Bernie Geoffrion, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey and Henri Richard as its top-seven scorers took full advantage. At the end of the season, a vote passed by a 5-1 margin that limited teams to scoring a single goal on a minor penalty.