Are the Carolina Thunderbirds the greatest team in FHL history?

Some of our readers may remember that last year we did a piece breaking down the greatest teams in FHL history to try and determine which team had the greatest single season over the league’s first eight years.

Our only rule for that post was that you had to win the Commissioner’s Cup to be in consideration for the crown.

Well, after the regular season and playoffs the Carolina Thunderbirds just completed it’s safe to say they have to be in the discussion for best team ever, so we decided to put their accomplishments head-to-head with our runaway winner of that initial greatest team ever post, the 2011-12 New Jersey Outlaws.

And honestly, this gets pretty interesting and could come down to what you value more: Regular season or playoff domination.

Tale of the Tape

2011-12 New Jersey Outlaws

53 GP, 40-9-3-1, 127 points, 1st in regular season, won regular season title by 32 points, led league in goals for and goals against, +128 GD , 276 goals scored, 148 goals against, 6-0 in playoffs with +19 GD.

2018-19 Carolina Thunderbirds

58 GP, 48-6-1-3, 149 points, 1st in regular season, won regular season by 50 points, led league in goals for and goals against, +150 GD, 266 goals scored, 116 goals against, 5-1 in playoffs with +3 GD.

First off, let’s get it out of the way that basically everything the Thunderbirds did in the regular season was record-setting. That is the most win, most points, highest points percentage, largest goal differential and fewest goals ever given up in a season.

But at the time, pretty much everything we just said about Carolina was true of New Jersey, and it’s also worth noting that New Jersey scored 10 more goals than Carolina in five fewer games.

Had New Jersey gotten to play 58 games, let’s assume they go 4-1 in those remaining five for a 44-10-3-1 record and roughly 139 points, and they likely come pretty close to that +150 goal differential Carolina posted.

But how was the competition each team faced during the regular season? Because as we just saw in the SPHL this season, there can be a paper champion who gets to play weak teams a bunch.

First, here is a look at the competition the Carolina Thunderbirds faced this season.

birds stand

And now, here’s what New Jersey was up against during its season.

laws standings

Honestly, this is tough, because New Jersey had five teams in the standings that year who won over 50 percent of their games that season, while Carolina just had three. But, Carolina also had five teams that were actual legit challenges, while the Outlaws had two teams who won a combined eight games in 62 tries. Though it is worth noting that New Jersey only played Danville and Delaware a combined seven times, so they didn’t just beat up on the league’s weaklings.

If you made me assess the league each of those two years, I would say the New Jersey year had better teams below the Outlaws for the next 4-5 teams, but that the Carolina year had more depth top to bottom, and there truly were no easy games on their schedule this season.

Also worth mentioning: Carolina went 13-0-0-1 against the second-place team this year, Elmira, proving that even against the best of the rest they were that much better.

So looking at all this, I think the Carolina was the better regular season team, because even if the Outlaws got those five extra games and went 5-0, Carolina still has the better regular season record, more points, gave up fewer goals, and would likely have the better goal differential.

So case closed right? Carolina is the great team of all-time. Well. Not so fast.

Take a look at the playoff numbers we posted for each team in the Tale of the Tape listed above.

Carolina went 5-1 with a goal differential of just +3, winning four of their five games by just one goal. They had one win where they flexed their total dominance, a 7-3 win in the opening game of Commissioner’s Cup Final, but that was negated in Game 3 when Elmira waxed them to the tune of 7-2. A run of 5-1 in the playoffs is impressive, but they didn’t run away and dominated, and won both games against fourth-place Port Huron by just a single goal, and Port Huron finished the year nine games under .500 and with a -34 goal differential, not exactly a great team.

Conversely, New Jersey went 6-0 in the playoffs with a whopping +19 goal differential, and had just one game decided by one goal, the final game of the playoffs which they won in OT. Due to a really bizarre playoff format that year (1 played 6, 2 played 5, 3 played 4, with the highest remaining seed after the opening round getting a bye to the finals, then the two other remaining teams playing a Best of 3 for a berth in the Finals. We know it makes no sense.), the Outlaws played no. 6 Cape Cod (who was 13-32-3-4 during the regular season, and just 1-8 against NJ) in the first round a swept in dominating fashion, winning 9-5, 3-0 and 5-3. After Danbury swept 1000 Islands in the “second round” the Outlaws then smashed the Whalers in Finals, winning the games 7-2, 5-1, and 5-4 (OT), to claim the Commissioner’s Cup.

So if you’re the type who is more into how a team did in the second season, then the New Jersey Outlaws are your clear best team ever.

Honestly, this is really hard to pick, because you like to see a team dominate for the full season, playoffs included, which makes me sort of lean towards New Jersey just because of how impressive their playoff run was, especially that finals against a pretty good Danbury team.

But Carolina was just so good in the regular season, particularly on defense where they gave up fewer goals than any team in league history, despite playing more games than any team before them, and I would argue against tougher competition top to bottom than any other year makes me think they are the more complete team.


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