As the Vegas Golden Knights franchise prepares and gears up for their inaugural season in the NHL we take a look back at how league went from the Original 6 teams to it’s current 31 members.
Prior to the 1967 NHL season the league only consisted of 6 hockey clubs, the Montréal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings.
The NHL was founded back in 1917 as the successor of it’s original membership name the National Hockey Association. Under the NHA the league consisted of 11 hockey franchises all of which were based in Canada.
The 11 team league consisted of the following clubs, the Cobalt Silver Kings, Haileybury Comets, Lés Canadiens (Montréal Canadiens), Montréal Shamrocks, Montréal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators (Original Ottawa hockey club), Québec Bulldogs, Renfrew Creamery Kings, Toronto Blueshirts, Toronto Shamrocks, and Toronto 228th Battalion.
Of those 11 organizations the Lés Canadiens, Toronto Hockey Club (formerly the Toronto Blue Shirts), Ottawa Senators, and the Montréal Wanderers started the NHL in the 1917-1918 season.
Unfortunately in the first half of the season the Wanderers franchise saw it’s demise when their home arena burned down. The owner was offered an alternate site but he decided to fold the team leaving the second half of the campaign with just three operational organizations.
In the 2nd year of existence the league operated with just three franchises but that changed when year 3 came along when the NHL added the Québec Athletics/Hamilton Tigers.
From 1920 to 1924 the league continued with 4 members until they decided to expand to two additional hockey teams for the 1924-1925 campaign. Those two new additions became the Montréal Maroons and Boston Bruins.
For the Hamilton Tigers they unfortunately fell victim to the players strike and the franchise disbanded from the NHL.
A year later the league added two news clubs, one to compensate for the lose of the disbanded Hamilton Tigers when they welcomed the Pittsburgh Pirates (later would become the Philadelphia Quakers) and the New York Americans franchise. The Americans played in Brooklyn just outside of New York City.
Probably the biggest expansion in the early stages of the NHL came when the 1926-1927 season came around when the league added 3 more hockey franchises. Those clubs would include the New York Rangers, Detroit Cougars (later changed to the Detroit Falcons), and the Chicago Blackhawks.
This season was the first in NHL history that the league divided the teams into 2 divisions (Canadian and American).
5 seasons later after league expanded the featured 10 teams they lost the original Ottawa Senators and the Philadelphia Quakers. For the Senators (changed to the St. Louis Eagles) they sat out the 1931-1932 campaign due to financial complications.
In 1932-1933 the Senators rejoined the league and slotted back into the Canadian Division. The Detroit Falcons changed their names again for the third and final time when they re-branded themselves to one of the model franchises in the United States of the NHL by the Detroit Red Wings.
From the 1933 thru 1942 NHL seasons the league trimmed down once again when the Brooklyn Americans, Montréal Maroons, and St. Louis Eagles thus creating what would become the Original 6.
Original 6 Era kicked off in the 1942-1943 season when the Montréal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings were born.
For the next 25 years hockey fans around the NHL saw the Original 6 teams battle it out when the league featured a 50 to 70 games season. The franchises that dominated their presence’s in the league were the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montréal Canadiens with 19 combined Stanley Cup Championships to their credit. Chicago and Detroit on the other hand came in with 6.
When the class of 1967 came around the fabric of the NHL would be changed forever as the league doubled in size to 12 teams as they added the Los Angeles Kings, Oakland Seals, Minnesota North Stars, St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Philadelphia Flyers.
After the additional the newest franchises in the league the NHL restructured themselves under the new East and West Divisions with the class of 67 teams slotting into the west. The league increased its schedule again when they added 4 more games to the campaign at 74.
Of the 6 new teams St. Louis was the franchise that experience success in some capacity when they went on a played in the Stanley Cup Finals in their first 3 years of existence (twice against Montréal and other vs. Boston). In each Final’s appearance the Blues came home empty handed.
2 new teams were added in the 1970-1971 season with Vancouver and Buffalo. Vancouver was originally passed over in the 67 expansion because Toronto and Montréal did not want to share in TV revenue streams. The Canucks and Sabres were both slotted into the East division. Chicago moved over the West for realignment.
In 1972-1973 season the NHL expand once again when they welcomed the New York Islanders and Atlanta Flames. Atlanta fell into the West while the Islanders would fall right with their New York City counterpart the Rangers in the East.
The next class of 67 team that tasted success was the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1973-1974 and 1974-1975 season when they won back to back Stanley Cup’s. The NHL went from 74 game season to 80.
During that same year the league added again with the inclusion of the Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts. The league also restructured itself with activation of 4 new divisions (Adams, Norris, Patrick, and Symthe).
The Adams and Norris divisions fell under the Prince Of Wales Conference and the Patrick and Symthe divsions were slotted beneath the Clarence Campbell Conference.
Shortly after that the Kansas City Scouts moved to Denver and became the Rockies while the struggling Seals relocated to Cleveland and became the Barons. The Barons were welcomed into the Adams Division while Colorado took Kansas’s spot in the Symthe.
When the 1979-1980 season came the NHL and WHA came together and merged the Edmonton Oilers, the original Winnipeg Jets, Hartford Whalers, and the Québec Nordiques.
Thus forming a 21 membership institution. Québec and Hartford played under the Prince Of Whales Conference while Edmonton and Winnipeg joined the Clarence Campbell Conference.
This expansion was considered the biggest since the 1967 class and also making it the second time in league history to absorb a franchise(s) from another entity.
The NHL remained a steady 21 team club in the 80’s where the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders were the league elites franchises when the Isles captured 4 Stanley Cup’s lead by Mike Bossy while the Oilers went on to win 5 under Gretzky and Messier.
During that span the Atlanta Flames moved north into Alberta Province of Canada and became the Calgary Flames making them the 7th Canadian based franchise. In addition the Rockies moved east to New Jersey and became the Devils.
In 1990 the league would add an additional team in Northern California and welcomed the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks would be the NHL’s 2nd chance in the Bay Area.
San Jose began play in the NHL’s 75th anniversary season under the Symthe division with So-Cal rival Los Angeles.
Also in the short span the Pittsburgh Penguins finally reaped the reward and collected their 1st two Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992.
A year later the league added two more clubs in Ottawa and Tampa Bay. The Ottawa based franchise would assume the name of the original Senators while Tampa called themselves the Lightning (given the region that is prone to tropical storms and hurricanes).
Two more teams were added in the 1993-1994 season with addition of the Florida Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (who were originally owned and operated by the Disney Corporation).
The Norris, Adams, Patrick, and Symthe divisions were disbanded and the NHL realigned again with the activation of the new Atlantic, Northeast, Central, and Pacific. Those new divisions would formed the Western and Eastern Conferences.
That same season saw the North Stars move to the Big D and became the Dallas Stars.
3 years later the league saw another relocation when the Québec Nordiques moved to Denver by the name Avalanche and thus giving the Mile High City a 2nd opportunity from their first franchise moved to New Jersey.
Hartford and Winnipeg moved under similar circumstances. For the Jets they couldn’t find an approved buyer that the Gary Bettman would sign off on and the team played at an arena that did not meet NHL standards so the team relocated the Phoenix under the Coyotes nickname.
Hartford fell victim to poor attendance records, lack of corporate sponsorship and an out of date venue in the Civic Center. The Whalers moved to Raliegh-Durham and became the Carolina Hurricanes.
When the 1998-1999 season came along the league saw expansion for the first time since the San Jose Sharks were accepted back in 1990 when NHL went into Tennessee’s music city Nashville and added the Predators. The following year they added another franchise in Atlanta under the Thrashers name following the string of 2nd chances by the NHL (Bay Area and Denver).
At the turn of the century the league saw another round of expansions came with the introduction of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild. The Wild organization would fill the void that was left by the North Starts.
These additions from the 90’s and 2000’s were known to the hockey world as the modern era expansion. That span also included the league schedule changing from 80 to 84 games and also including the 48 pro rated game season in 1994-1995 campaign to its current 82 game format.
16 years later the league finally tempted fate at giving Las Vegas it’s much awaited professional sports team by awarding Nevada’s thriving Metropolis with the Golden Knights.
Vegas along with it’s 30 counterparts are gearing up to celebrate the league’s next 100 years of existence for the 2017-2018 season.