NHL’s Original Six

Anyone familiar with the National Hockey League (NHL) knows the “Original Six:” The Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs. These 6-franchises are the legacy of the “original” NHL teams before the league doubled in size in 1967 to 12-teams.

Growing up, I had the opportunity to watch the last two active players from the “Original Six” era play –Wayne Cashman and Rogie Vachon – but I missed watching the last player in the NHL until 1967 who played for an NHL team that was not part of the “Original Six,” Ken Mosdell. How could someone have played for an NHL team that was not part of the “Original Six” before the league expanded from the Original Six?

With not so much research, one finds that far from being the “original” six, the NHL began in 1917 with 4-teams only two of which – the Montreal Canadiens, and the Toronto Maple Leafs ‘- remain. The only other member of the “Original Six” with a claim to the mantle of “original” is the Boston Bruins, founded in 1924 as the first US based NHL team and the only other team in existence when the NHL became the only league competing for the Stanley Cup. The remaining members of the “Original Six,” the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings – were formed in 1926 as “expansion teams.” Further, while the name “Ottawa Senators” may sound familiar to modern day NHL fans, the team eventually became the St. Louis Eagles before ceasing operations.

As it happens, then, the “Original Six” turns out to be a matter of a bit of marketing and truly only differentiates between the wave of modern-era expansion teams and the teams that comprised the NHL for the quarter century between 1942 and 1967: Like so much in life, the definition of the word “original” depends on one’s starting point. The “Original Four” were the Canadiens, the Montreal Wanderers, Toronto Arenas, and the Ottawa Senators. A fifth team, the Quebec Bulldogs, was technically a member of the league, but did not compete until 1919 and The Arenas were a “temporary” team created by the owners of the Toronto arena to replace still another team as ownership of that team was in dispute.

For 25-years from the founding of the league, it was in flux with teams folding, moving, withdrawing from competition, forming, and even cancelling competition for the Stanley Cup due to a flu outbreak; From 1917-1942, the league expanded and contracted due to economic forces of the Great Depression and the outbreak of World War II. In this era, the league ranged in size from a low of 3-teams when the Montreal Wanderers withdrew, to a high of 10-teams from 1926-1932.

By 1942, the “Original Six” were the remaining teams, and represented a much different league than that which began operation out of the demise of the National Hockey Association (NHA). For the second 25-years of the NHL’s existence, this stable of teams remained constant and became the basis of the expansion of the league. While not wholly inaccurate – after all, the league is not calling this group “Charter Members” only “Original Members.”

Consider this for a moment: that temporary team without even a proper name, the Toronto Arenas, won the Stanley Cup in the NHL’s first season and evolved into the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is interesting then, that the team created to fill a void, became the first champion and one of the two oldest franchises in the modern league.

Perhaps more interesting is that the NHL itself was created as a temporary solution while the National Hockey Association (NHA) sorted out its business dealings. In the meantime, it has grown into a 30-team league and a history just a few years shy of a century ‘” a longevity surpassed only by the two leagues of Major League Baseball.

REFERENCES:

Do Original Six teams still matter in the NHL: http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/columns/story?id=2773591 
Toronto Arenas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto_Arenas

Original Six: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_Six 
History of the National Hockey League (1917-1942):http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_National_Hockey_League_(1917%E2%80%931942) 
NHL Expansion History: http://www.rauzulusstreet.com/hockey/nhlhistory/nhlhistory.html

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4 thoughts on “NHL’s Original Six”

  1. I became a hockey fan because of the 1967 expansion … loved the St. Louis Blues. Meanwhile, thanks for the history lesson of the early days of pro hockey … seems they struggled like the NFL.

  2. Success was never guaranteed. Interestingly enough, the NHL wasn’t even supposed to be more than a temporary fix. Funny how that seems to work.

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