If you’re an NHL fan, you’ve heard about the “Original Six”. These words should immediately make you think about the league’s long history when goalies wore no masks, and giants like Eddie Shore and Toe Blake would patrol the ice. Should it be the original four? Or should it be the original six? Hockey fans will be surprised to learn the NHL started with only four teams, not six! If you look deep into the history of the NHL, you will discover that only 1 of the original 4 teams is part of what is known as the original six NHL teams.
When was the first NHL Season?
So when was the first NHL season and what teams were in the league? There were only four teams that participated in the NHL’s inaugural season in 1917, and they are Toronto Arenas, Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, and Ottawa Senators. As such, there was a fifth NHL franchise, the Quebec Bulldogs, but they were inactive and did not play any games.
North America’s first professional hockey league was not the NHL. Several professional leagues existed before the NHL. In discussing the NHL founding teams, the NHA or National Hockey Association is most applicable as three of the four NHL founding teams that participated in the NHL in 1917 were part of the NHA. It is important to remember that these three teams did not begin with the NHL. On the contrary, they existed in amateur and professional leagues before the start of the NHL.
Three of the NHL’s teams were brought together because their owners did not want to share a professional league with David Livingston, the owner of the Toronto franchise of the NHA. The owners of three teams left the NHA to form the NHL without Livingston. The NHL was seen as a temporary solution until Livingston left the NHA. As time progressed, however, the NHL would gain the fourth franchise in Toronto, and the original four would be born. Montreal Canadiens are the only team from the Original Four still existing in the form in which it was founded, all other teams have changed their names and logos.
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The NHL Original Six NHL Era
The NHL founding teams and the start of the NHL are usually referred to as the “Original Six.” The six original NHL teams are Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Detroit Red Wings. The confusing part of NHL history is that not all of these teams joined the NHL at the same time, and actually joined in a period of 15 years!
The NHL formally started in 1917, and the Original Six NHL teams came into existence on the following dates:
- Montreal Canadiens – 1917
- Boston Bruins – 1924
- New York Rangers – 1926
- Chicago Blackhawks – 1926
- Toronto Maple Leafs – 1927
- Detroit Red Wings – 1932
Several teams entered and left the early league, but these six were the only ones to play for 25 seasons: 1942-43 until 1967, when the league expanded to 12 teams. Let’s take a look at the history of these original 6 teams and what eventually happened to each one.
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Since 1917, the Montreal Canadiens have been an integral part of the NHL. They are the oldest team in the league, one of the oldest continuously existing sports franchises in the world, and one of the most successful sports franchises in the world. Though the Canadiens are not an American NHL team, their team colors are red, white, and blue. There are 64 players in the Hockey Hall of Fame representing the Canadians who have won 24 Stanley Cups and 24 division titles. Some interesting facts about the Montreal Canadiens:
- Montreal Canadiens were founded as part of the National Hockey Association in 1909 and became a charter member of the NHL in 1917.
- The franchise was founded by Ontario business magnate John Ambrose O’Brien who also founded the NHL and played college hockey for the University of Toronto.
- With 24 Stanley Cup victories, the Montreal Canadiens have won more championships than any other hockey team in the league.
- The Canadiens have retired the numbers of 18 players: Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, Bob Gainey, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey, Elmer Lach, Emile Bouchard, Guy Lafleur, Guy Lapointe, Henri Richard, Howie Morenz, Jacques Plante, Jean Beliveau, Ken Dryden, Larry Robinson, Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Patrick Roy, Serge Savard, and Yvan Cournoyer.
Boston was formed and became a member of the NHL in 1924. The Boston Bruins have six Stanley Cup victories, 25 division titles, and 51 players who are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Their team colors are black and gold. The Boston Bruins have had some of the most iconic hockey plays as part of their franchise including Bobby Orr, who scored the timeless Stanley-Cup winning goal in 1970. Some interesting facts about the Boston Bruins:
- There are currently six Stanley Cups in the Boston Bruins collection: 1928-29, 1938-39, 1940-41, 1969-70, 1971-72, and 2010-11.
- In addition to the six Stanley Cup wins, the Bruins have won four conference championships and 25 division titles.
- The old Boston Garden was the first rink to use a Zamboni to clean and resurface the ice
- The Boston Bruins hockey team has retired the numbers of ten players: Aubrey Clapper, Bobby Orr, Cam Neely, Eddie Shore, Johnny Bucyk, Lionel Hitchman, Milt Schmidt, Phil Esposito, Ray Bourque, and Terry O’Reilly
New York Rangers
In 1927-28, the New York Rangers became the first U.S. franchise to win the Stanley Cup after joining the NHL in 1926. The Rangers have won four Stanley Cups in total, and 49 of its players have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Team colors are blue, red, and white.
One of the most memorable moments in New York Ranger history was in the 1994 Stanley Cup Final when Mark Messier guaranteed a win in game six, on their way to winning the Stanley Cup in game seven.
Some interesting facts about the New York Rangers:
- There are currently four Stanley Cups in the New York Rangers collection: 1927-28, 1932-33, 1939-40, and 1993-94.
- Along with winning four Stanley Cups, the Rangers have also won seven division championships and two conference championships.
- The New York Rangers hockey team has retired the numbers of nine players: Adam Graves, Andy Bathgate, Brian Leetch, Eddie Giacomin, Harry Howell, Jean Ratelle, Mark Messier, Mike Richter, and Rod Gilbert.
Founded in 1926, the Chicago Blackhawks joined the NHL in 1986 under the name Black Hawks but are often simply referred to as “the Hawks.” The Blackhawks are a six-time Stanley Cup champion with 16 division titles and 39 team members in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Red, white, and black are the colors of the team.
Some interesting facts about the Chicago Blackhawks:
- There are currently six Stanley Cups in the Chicago Blackhawks collection: 1933-34, 1937-38, 1960-61, 2009-10, 2012-13, and 2014-15
- In addition to their Stanley Cups, the Blackhawks are also the holders of 16 conference titles
- The Chicago Blackhawks hockey team has retired the numbers of seven players: Bobby Hull, Denis Savard, Glenn Hall, Keith Magnuson, Pierre Pilote, Stan Mikita, and Tony Esposito
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs have undergone a few renamings since they joined the NHL in 1917. The Toronto Maple Leafs were initially called the Arenas, then the St. Patricks, and in 1927 became the Maple Leafs. With 13 Stanley Cups to its name, this franchise has 62 players in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The team’s colors are blue and white.
The Toronto Maple Leafs currently have one of the longest Stanley Cup droughts in league history, with the team not capturing the trophy in 55 years since 1967! They are one of the most watched teams in the NHL with the biggest followings, having secured the prime time slot on Hockey Night in Canada for decades.
Here are some interesting facts about the Toronto Maple Leafs:
- As of now, the Leafs bagged the Stanley Cup trophy 13 times: in 1918, 1922, 1932, 1942, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1967. With 13 Stanley Cup wins, the Toronto Maple Leafs are second behind the Montreal Canadiens
- Although the Toronto Maple Leafs also won division titles five times (1932-33, 1933-34, 1934-35, 1937-38, and 1999-2000), they still waited to taste the first conference championship
- The Leafs have retired the numbers of 19 players: Ace Bailey, Bill Barilko, Borje Salming, Charlie Conacher, Darryl Sittler, Dave Keon, Doug Gilmour, Frank Mahovlich, George Armstrong, Hap Day, Johnny Bower, King Clancy, Mats Sundin, Red Kelly, Syl Apps, Ted Kennedy, Tim Horton, Turk Broda, and Wendel Clark
1926 was the year Detroit Red Wings joined the NHL. The Detroit Red Wings were originally known as the Detroit Cougars. In 1930, it was changed to the Detroit Falcons, and in 1932, it became the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings hold the record for most Stanley Cup wins of any U.S. franchise with 11. The Red Wings also have 19 division titles and have 63 players in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Team colors are red and white. Some interesting facts about the Detroit Red Wings:
- The Red Wings have bagged the Stanley Cup trophy 11 times as of this writing: 1935-36, 1936-37, 1942-43, 1949-50, 1951-52, 1953-54, 1954-55, 1996-97, 1997-98, 2001-02, and 2007-08. The team currently has the most Stanley Cup wins among U.S. NHL franchises, followed by the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, each with six wins.
- The Detroit Red Wings hockey team has retired numbers for seven players: Alex Delvecchio, Gordie Howe, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sid Abel, Steve Yzerman, Ted Lindsay, and Terry Sawchuck.
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When did the Original Six Era End?
The original six era officially ended in 1967, when the NHL expanded by six additional teams to make it 12 total. The original six era lasted 25 years from 1942 – 1967. Since 1967, the NHL has expanded numerous times and currently has 32 teams in the league!
In 2018, the NHL Board of Governors approved the granting of an expansion franchise to Seattle who start their first season in the NHL in 2021. Following is a brief history of NHL expansion:
- 1942: Since the departure of Brooklyn Americans, the Original Six teams had formed the NHL. During the next 25 seasons, the League was made up of the Chicago Black Hawks, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, and Toronto Maple Leafs.
- 1967: In 1967, the NHL added six teams, which is the largest expansion of any professional sport. By the addition of the California Seals (later renamed to the Oakland Seals and the California Golden Seals), Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, and St. Louis Blues, the NHL had grown from six to 12.
- 1970: NHL’s 14 teams were expanded when the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks joined the NHL.
- 1972: With the addition of the New York Islanders and the Atlanta Flames to the NHL, the South got its first NHL team in the NHL, and the New York metropolitan area got a second NHL team. The New York Islanders, based in the Long Island town of Uniondale, N.Y., joined the NHL along with the Atlanta Flames from Atlanta, though the latter moves to Calgary in 1980.
- 1974: By adding the Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts to the NHL, the NHL continued its pattern of adding two teams every two years. Although the Scouts spent just two seasons in Kansas City, the franchise moved to Denver in 1978 and became the Colorado Rockies; a year later, the club moved again and became the New Jersey Devils.
- 1978: The California Golden Seals relocated to Cleveland and became the Barons when they merged with the North Stars. This resulted in 17 teams in the NHL, as the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas and became the Dallas Stars.
- 1979: NHL gained four more teams from World Hockey Association after they added the Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, and Winnipeg Jets. This brought the NFL’s total to 21 teams.
- 1991: The NHL expanded to 22 teams with the addition of the San Jose Sharks.
- 1992: With the addition of the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL expands again. The original Senators had played in the league from 1917-34, while the latter was the first NHL franchise from Florida.
- 1993: The Florida Panthers (based in Miami) and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim joined the NHL as 25th and 26th teams.
- 1998: The Nashville Predators joined the NHL in 1998, bringing the number of teams to 27.
- 1999: With the addition of the Atlanta Thrashers as the league’s 28th team, the NHL returns to Atlanta 19 years after the Flames left. However, the franchise relocated to Winnipeg in 2011 and became the Winnipeg Jets.
- 2000: The Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets have joined the NHL, raising the total to 30 teams. With the Wild, who play in St. Paul, the NHL returns to Minnesota seven years after the North Stars left.
- 2016: The NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, announced that a Las Vegas franchise team would play next season, adding a 31st team to the league. This was the first major professional sports team from Las Vegas.
- 2018: The league announced the 32nd franchise in Seattle on December 4, 2018, later renamed as the Seattle Kraken and set for play in 2021–22.
In this way, the League has grown from 6 to 32 teams.
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The NHL has a long history, but the term “Original Six” is fairly new. It was used after the league expanded from six to 12 teams in 1967. It is often found difficult for the majority of NHL fans to identify the 6 original NHL teams correctly. But after reading this article carefully, you will be able to correctly identify the teams that make up the Original Six. With their fierce rivalries, legendary players, and extensive histories, these six “first” NHL teams achieved not only statistically but also inspired hockey fans in their home towns and across North America for decades.