Original Six

Original Six


The Original Six is a term for the group of six teams that composed 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 name is something of a misnomer, since there were other NHL franchises that ceased operations before 1942, including some that were founded before some of the Original Six. The term dates from the 1967 expansion which added six new franchises; hence the six expansion teams and the "Original Six". Only two of these six teams were members of the NHL in the inaugural 1917–18 season, but all six do date from the NHL's first decade, and pre-date the other 24 teams currently in the league by over forty years.

List of the Original Six teams

Team City Founded Joined the NHL
Boston Bruins Boston, Massachusetts 1924
Chicago Black Hawks Chicago, Illinois 1926
Detroit Red Wings Detroit, Michigan 1926
Montreal Canadiens Montreal, Quebec 1909 1917
New York Rangers New York City, New York 1926
Toronto Maple Leafs Toronto, Ontario 1917


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Leafs v Red Wings 1942.jpg
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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.

All of the Original Six franchises still exist, with no major identity changes and no relocations to other cities.


The Original Six era has been criticized for having a playoff system which was too easy (only two teams were eliminated after the regular season) and for featuring too many dominant teams[citation needed] (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.[citation needed] Detroit was less affected by this,[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[1]

This phenomenon had the impact of limiting player movement, and as a result the Original Six rosters were very static.[citation needed] Until the burgeoning of career lengths 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.[2] 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, defenceman 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[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] They also reneged on promises to allow the still-extant but dormant Maroons and Americans franchises to re-activate.[6]


The league tolerated monopolistic practices by the owners.[citation needed]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.[citation needed] 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."[7]

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] Players' medical bills were paid for only two months after an injury.[citation needed] Moreover, whenever players were sent to the minors, they not only had their salaries cut, but their relocation costs were not covered.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] 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 retired, a younger guard more receptive to expansion came into the league. In 1963, Rangers governor William M. Jennings introduced to his peers the idea of expanding the NHL to the American West Coast by adding two new teams for the 1964–65 season. His argument was based around concerns that the Western Hockey League intended to operate as a major league in the near future. He also hoped that teams on the west coast would make the league truly national, and improve the chances of returning to television in the United States as the NHL had lost its deal with CBS. While the governors did not agree to the 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. And by February 1966, expansion franchises were awarded to Los Angeles, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and St. Louis.

The Original Six era ended with the Toronto Maple Leafs defeating the Montreal Canadiens in the 1967 Stanley Cup Finals in six games.

See also

  • List of Stanley Cup playoffs broadcasters (Original Six era)


  • Coleman, Charles L. (1964). Trail of the Stanley Cup, Vol I. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company. ISBN ISBN 0-8403-2941-5. 
  • Cruise, David and Griffiths, Alison (1990). Net Worth:Exposing the Myths of Pro Hockey. Stoddart Publishing. 
  • Diamond, Dan, ed (1998). Total Hockey. Andrews McMeel Publishing. 
  • McFarlane, Brian (1969). 50 Years of Hockey. Greywood Publishing Ltd. 


  1. ^ Diamond, Dan (ed.) (1998). Total Hockey. Andrews McMeel Publishing. 
  2. ^ Klein, Jeff Z. (1986). The Klein and Reif Hockey Compendium. McClelland and Stewart. 
  3. ^ Swift, E.M. (2001-06-11). "Going Out With A Shout". Sports Illustrated. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1022701/index.htm. Retrieved 2011-06-20. 
  4. ^ "Swede Ulf Sterner - the first European in the NHL". IIHF. http://www.iihf.com/iihf-home/the-iihf/100-year-anniversary/100-top-stories/story-70.html. Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  5. ^ Coleman, Charles L. (1964). Trail of the Stanley Cup. I. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8403-2941-5. 
  6. ^ McFarlane, Brian (1969). 50 Years of Hockey. Greywood Publishing Ltd. 
  7. ^ Boyle, Robert H. (1959-02-02). "Black Hawks On The Wing". CNN. http://vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1070137/index.htm. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 

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