The Original Six is the term that refers to the six NHL teams for 25 seasons between the 1942-43 season and the 1967 NHL Expansion. They are the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and the Toronto Maple Leafs – all of which are still active franchises of the National Hockey League (NHL).
During the 1920s, the NHL had 10 teams in all. However, the league lost the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ottawa Senators, and Montreal Maroons when it was forced to downsize during the Great Depression due to financial constraints. When the World War II unfolded, the league was once again troubled as the major participants of the war placed their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities at the service of the war efforts. A lot of the Original Six teams’ players enlisted in the war to fulfill their military service. The New York American, which were one of NHL’s original expansion franchises, suspended operations in the fall of 1942. At that time, the NHL was left with just six teams for the next 25 seasons.
Criticisms and Controversies
Despite the prestigious air, the Original Six era was not without any criticism and controversy. One of the leading criticisms that greeted the era was the playoff system. Some observers deemed that the playoff system was effortless, which resulted to only two teams being eliminated after the regular season.
The Original Six era was also criticized for featuring too many dominant teams.
Between 1949 and 1967, the Montreal Canadiens never missed the playoffs; whereas, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs only missed the playoffs three times each. There was a rule that each time had the exclusive rights to negotiate contracts with bright and favourable local players provided they are within the 50-mile limit of its home ice. The rule further dictated that if a player was not within the 50-mile limit, then he’s free to respond to an offer from any team. Boston, Chicago and New York were put at a competitive disadvantage by this rule since a majority of the top talent came from Ontario, Quebec and even Michigan.
There was also the tolerated practice of monopoly among owners during the Original Six era. Canadian-American businessman, James E. Norris was the perfect example to the monopolistic practice, when at one point, he owned both the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks. He was also the biggest stockholder of the New York Rangers and had significant influence over the Boston Bruins during the Depression era.
The End of the Original Six Era
The 1967 NHL Expansion ended the era of the Original Six – making the first big change in the league since 1942. During this period, more conservative owners have retired and younger generations of franchise owners who are more amenable to change entered the league.
Yale University-graduate, William Jennings, was the key figure in the 1967 NHL Expansion. He was the president of the New York Rangers and held the franchise until his death in 1981. He introduced the idea of expanding to the American West Coast by welcoming two new teams for the 1964-65 season. The other key players included Toronto Maple Leafs’ Stafford Smythe and Montreal Canadiens’ David Molson.
The Expansion process officially began in March 1965. Six new teams were added, including the California Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburg Penguins, and St. Louis Blues.
The new teams brightened the league and added new challenge to the Original Six teams. After seeing the same red/blue/black uniforms for more than 20 years, some refreshing new colors welcomed hockey fans in the form of purple, green, sky blue, and orange. Yet despite the end of the Original Six era, it remained a significant event in the history of professional hockey.