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On This Date in Sports October 11, 1967

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

It’s new era for the National Hockey League as it celebrates its 50th Anniversary. After playing with just six teams for a quarter-century the league doubles in size to 12 teams as six new expansion teams take the ice. Expansion takes the NHL into new markets building new fans with the addition of the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars Oakland Seals, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues.

While baseball, football and basketball were all growing throughout the 1960’s, the NHL seemed to be content playing with just six teams (Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs). At one time the league has many as ten teams, but the depression and World War II and left hockey with just six teams following the 1941/42 season. Among the teams lost during the depression were the Montreal Maroons and Ottawa Senators both of whom won the Stanley Cup and were vital to the early years of the NHL. Before folding the Senators relocated, becoming the St. Louis Eagles. The Maroons meanwhile went on a hiatus as they lost the battle for the city’s hearts with the Montreal Canadiens. A similar situation with the New York Americans who before folding attempted to get an arena built in Brooklyn, that was cancelled after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. There even was an early team in Pittsburgh (Pirates) and Philadelphia (Quakers) that just could not get an arena in either city.

Over the 25-year period from 1942-1967 there were calls for the NHL to expand, but the league’s Original Six owners became entrenched, even blocking the Maroons and Americans from restarting their dormant teams. By 1967 it became a matter of survival as owners worried about a rival league similar to the American Football League starting up, so owners decided to double the league from six to a dozen teams for its Golden Anniversary season. The six new teams were all placed in the Western Conference in their first year, with the Original Six teams competing in the Eastern Conference. This did not produce the most riveting Stanley Cup Final series as the established Original Six Teams swept the expansion champion St. Louis Blues in each of their first three seasons.

Not everyone was happy about the NHL’s first expansion, as fans in Canada were upset that all six new teams were based in the United States, including two teams in California. To satisfy fans in Western Canada the NHL added the Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres in 1970. Two years later the NHL expanded to 16 teams, adding the New York Islanders, with the hopes of cutting down the upstart’s WHA’s designs to crack the New York market. Also joining the league in 1972 was the Atlanta Flames.In 1974, the NHL added another pair of teams with the Kansas City Scouts and Washington Capitals joining the league. However, as both teams proved to be uncompetitive future expansion was put on hold, especially after the Cleveland Barons were forced to merge with the Minnesota North Stars in 1978.

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The NHL got a big influx of talent in 1979 when the World Hockey Association folded. Like the NBA did adopting four former ABA teams, the NHL welcomed the Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets into the league. The Oilers quickly became an elite team as their addition to the NHL included the Wayne Gretzky who would shatter all NHL scoring records.

Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988, setting the stage for a new era growth for the NHL, as it helped create a new generation of fans in the Southern United States. This started in 1991, when the Minnesota North Stars ownership split becoming the San Jose Sharks. Ironically the team that was merged into the North Stars was the Cleveland Barons who were one of the first six expansion teams, playing as the Oakland Seals. So in a circuitous way, the Sharks were the reincarnation of the Bay Area’s first team. The Sharks would not be the only reincarnation in the 1990’s. One year later, the Ottawa Senators were reborn, joining the NHL with its first team from Florida the Tampa Bay Lightning. One year later, the Lightning were joined by the Florida Panthers who made it 26 teams when it joined the league with Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

As the new millennium dawned the NHL expanded one more time adding four teams in a three-year period, starting with the Nashville Predators in 1998. A year later, the Atlanta Thrashers owned by Ted Turned attempted to succeed were the Flames failed before moving to Calgary in 1980. The last of the millennial expansion teams were the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild, who came aboard in the 2000/01 season. The Wild were replacing the North Stars, who moved to Dallas in 1993, while Columbus was trying to break new ground in the middle of Ohio.

The NHL’s growth from six to 30 teams, was not always met with success. The Seals had several rebrands in the Bay Area, before moving to Cleveland in 1976. The Kansas City Scouts lasted just two years before becoming the Colorado Rockies in 1976 and the New Jersey Devils in 1982, while the Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary in 1980. Additionally, three of the four WHA teams relocated in the 90’s with the Quebec Nordiques becoming the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, the Winnipeg Jets becoming the Phoenix Coyotes a year later and the Hartford Whalers becoming the Carolina Hurricanes. Meanwhile, the Thrashers repeated the failures of the Flame and became the new Winnipeg Jets.

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Fifty years of expansion the NHL continues to grow and enter uncharted waters as the Vegas Golden Knights became the first major professional team in Las Vegas. The Kings playing their first home game fifty years after the first six expansion teams took the ice, bring the NHL to 31 teams for the 2017/18 season, with at least one other new team likely to be added in the near future.