The Original Six is a term for the group of six teams that made up the National Hockey League (NHL) for the 25 seasons between the 1942–43 season and the 1967 NHL Expansion. These six teams are the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. All of the Original Six are still active franchises in the league.
The term, not contemporaneous to the era, originated as early as 1967, so that while only the Montreal and Toronto franchises existed in the NHL's inaugural 1917–18 season, the six existing teams going into the 1967-68 expansion to twelve teams were commonly considered as a traditional set.
|Team Name||Location||Joined the NHL
(National Hockey League)
|Montreal Canadiens||Montreal, Quebec||1917 (founded 1909)|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||Toronto, Ontario||1917|
|Boston Bruins||Boston, Massachusetts||1924|
|Chicago Black Hawks||Chicago, Illinois||1926|
|Detroit Red Wings||Detroit, Michigan||1926|
|New York Rangers||New York, New York||1926|
|National Hockey League|
|Ice hockey portal|
The NHL consisted of ten teams during the 1920s, but the league experienced a period of retrenchment during the Great Depression, losing the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ottawa Senators, and Montreal Maroons in succession to financial pressures. The New York Americans – one of the league's original expansion franchises, along with the Bruins and Maroons – lasted longer, but World War II provided its own economic strains and also severely depleted the league's Canadian player base, since Canada entered the war in September 1939 and many players left for military service. The Americans suspended operations in the fall of 1942, leaving the NHL with just six teams. Despite various efforts to initiate expansion after the war, including attempted restarts of the Maroons and Americans franchises, the league's membership would remain at six teams for the next twenty-five seasons.
The Original Six era has been criticized for having a playoff system that was too easy (only two teams were eliminated after the regular season) and for featuring too many dominant teams (Montreal never missed the playoffs between 1949 and 1967 and Detroit and Toronto only missed three times each, leaving the other three teams to compete for the one remaining berth). Boston, Chicago, and New York were put at a competitive disadvantage by the rule that each team had exclusive rights to negotiate contracts with promising local players within 50 miles of its home ice. Detroit was less affected by this, since southwestern Ontario was part of its local talent pool. If a player was not within the 50-mile limit, that player was free to field offers from any team. Once that player agreed to a sponsorship-level contract, the NHL club could assign him to its sponsored junior squad – its "sponsorship list". In practice, all six teams recruited players from Canada by sponsoring minor league, junior and amateur teams.
This phenomenon had the impact of limiting player movement, and as a result the Original Six rosters were very static. Until the lengthening of careers in the 1980s, only one twenty-year player in NHL history, Larry Robinson, started his career after 1964, and it is generally accepted that the weakest Calder Trophy winners (Rookies of the Year) of all time were selected in the 1950s and 1960s. In partial consequence, the league was almost entirely composed of Canadians who had come up through the junior and minor pro leagues. While the league boasted a handful of good American players during the 1940s (including All-Star goalkeepers Frank Brimsek and Mike Karakas, defenseman John Mariucci, and forward Cully Dahlstrom), these were mostly products of the American Hockey Association, which folded in 1942, and almost all played for the Chicago Black Hawks, whose owner, Major Frederic McLaughlin, was a fiercely patriotic man who tried to stock his roster with as many American players as possible. Very few all American-developed NHL players emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, when Tommy Williams was the only American to play regularly. Both Williams and Mariucci complained about anti-American bias, and U.S. Olympic team stars John Mayasich and Bill Cleary turned down offers from NHL teams. The only European-born and trained player of the era was Sweden's Ulf Sterner, who briefly played for the Rangers in 1965.
After World War II, all six NHL owners consistently rejected any bids for expansion, and in the eyes of many observers changed the criteria for entry every time with a bent to defeating any such bid. They also reneged on promises to allow the still-extant but dormant Maroons and Americans franchises to re-activate.
The league tolerated monopolistic practices by the owners. At one point, for instance, Red Wings owner James E. Norris effectively owned the Black Hawks as well, and was also the largest stockholder in the Rangers. He also had significant influence over the Bruins by way of mortgages extended to the team to help keep it afloat during the Depression. This led some critics to joke that NHL stood for "Norris House League."
The control of owners over their teams was absolute. Players who got on the wrong side of their team owner were often harshly punished, either by being traded out of town or sent to the minors. An example of this is the case of bruising Red Wings forward Ted Lindsay who, after agitating for a players' union, was sent to the last-place Black Hawks. Norris' conglomerate did not invest in Boston, Chicago, and New York; these teams mostly just filled dates for the Norris arenas. A measure of the dominance of Detroit, Montreal, and Toronto in the era can be seen in that between the Bruins' Stanley Cup wins in 1941 and 1970, every single Cup (save for Chicago in 1961) was won by the Red Wings, the Canadiens, or the Maple Leafs, and those three teams failed to make the playoffs only eight times combined in the era.
Labor conditions for the players were also poor. Players' medical bills were paid for only two months after an injury. Moreover, whenever players were sent to the minors, they not only had their salaries cut, but their relocation costs were not covered. The players were also not paid for off-season promotions, and did not share in the funds of promotions such as trading cards as was done in baseball. In the earlier era, players were allowed to play other sports, such as lacrosse, for money in the off-season, but this was disallowed in the standard Original Six-era contract.
The pension plan, formed in 1946, while ostensibly for the players' benefit, was kept secret, hiding large amounts of money under the control of the owners. The pension plan was only exposed in 1989, when it was found that a $25 million surplus existed. The stark labor conditions led to several players' disputes, including a 1957 anti-trust action and attempted union formation, and subsequent actions in the early 1960s by Toronto players Bob Baun and Carl Brewer, leading to the 1967 formation of the NHL Players Association.
The end of the Original Six era
As more conservative owners left the NHL, a younger guard that was more receptive to expansion came into the league. By 1963, when Rangers governor William M. Jennings first introduced to his peers the idea of expanding the NHL, other major sports leagues were growing: Major League Baseball and the National Football League were adding teams, while the American Football League was becoming an attractive alternative to the NFL. Jennings proposed that the NHL add two new teams on the American West Coast for the 1964-65 season, basing his argument around concerns that the Western Hockey League intended to operate as a major league in the near future and possibly compete against the NHL for talent; he also hoped that a West Coast presence would make the NHL truly national and improve the league's chances of returning to national television in the United States (its broadcast deal with CBS expired in 1960). While the governors did not agree to Jennings' proposal, the topic of expansion came up every time the owners met from then on out. In 1965, it was decided to expand by six teams, doubling the size of the NHL. In February 1966, expansion franchises were awarded to Los Angeles, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and the San Francisco-Oakland area; those six new franchises would begin play in the 1967-68 NHL season, a year after Toronto's six-game defeat of Montreal in the 1967 Stanley Cup Finals drew the Original Six era to a close.
The first dozen seasons (1967-68 through 1978-79) of the Expansion Era saw domination by Original Six teams, including the Bobby Orr-led Bruins of the early 1970s and the Canadiens dynasty at the end of that decade. Expansion teams, by comparison, were not as dominant during that same time period, which can be partly attributed to expansion teams in general being weaker than existing clubs when first starting out. During those dozen seasons, only one expansion team hoisted the Cup (the Broad Street Bullies of the Philadelphia Flyers, in 1974 and 1975), and only one Stanley Cup Final featured two expansion teams (the Flyers' 1975 win over Buffalo). By the early 1980s (after further expansion, a merger with the WHA, and changes in conference/division alignment and playoff structure), expansion teams began reaching clear parity with the Original Six; indeed, the 1979 Stanley Cup Finals between the Canadiens and Rangers would be the last Final featuring any Original Six team until 1986 (when the Canadiens claimed the Cup) as well as the last all-Original Six Final until Chicago's win over Boston in 2013, the same year that all Original Six teams made the playoffs, the first time that had happened since 1996. Since the dawn of the Expansion Era, every Original Six team has won the Cup at least once except for Toronto, who has the longest active Cup drought in the NHL.
Original Six head-to-head records
Records current as of January 1, 2012[update].
|Toronto Maple Leafs||3225||1387||1346||470||22||9537||9403||3266|||
|Detroit Red Wings||3079||1347||1248||471||13||9019||8862||3178|||
|New York Rangers||2972||1098||1373||487||14||8326||9348||2697|||
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (March 2009)|
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