How much do you know about the storied Original Six? Throughout the world, the National Hockey League (NHL) is the top professional ice hockey league. As one of the top four professional sports leagues in North America and the fifth wealthiest league in the world, the NHL has popularity in both the United States and Canada.
Presently, there are 32 teams in the NHL, located throughout the US and Canada. The “Original Six” are among the best NHL teams, according to die-hard hockey enthusiasts. But it still begs the question: Were they the first NHL teams?
The history of the National Hockey League (NHL), the league’s founding franchises, and details on the fabled “Original Six” will all be covered in this article.
First Teams In The NHL: Before the Original Six
Contrary to popular belief, the National Hockey League started in 1917 with four teams. The four teams at the start of the NHL were:
- Montreal Canadiens
- Toronto Arenas
- Ottawa Senators
- Montreal Wanderers
These teams, except the Toronto Arenas, came out of another hockey league that existed back in the day. Two of the four teams grew to become part of the Original Six, although one of them goes under a different name. To understand why the NHL started as a four-team league, we have to look into why it was formed initially.
Brief History of The First Four NHL Teams
How was the NHL founded? Historical precedent dates back to the National Hockey Association (NHA), which was the NHL’s precursor. The NHA, which was the major league at the time disbanded, and the remaining four owners left the league to found the NHL following a dispute with one of the owners (Eddie Livingstone). Subsequently, the NHA permanently discontinued all operations and ceased to exist as a hockey league due to one owner and numerous litigation.
Three NHA teams made the switch to the NHL to become the first three franchises when the NHL was founded. The three teams were the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Wanderers, and Montreal Canadiens. However, one of Canada’s largest cities, Toronto, did not have an NHL franchise to call their own, which presented a difficulty.
Subsequently, a franchise was handed to the owner of the Toronto Arena Gardens as a remedy, which made it possible for the fourth club, the Toronto Arenas, to be added. Although the term “Original Four” is used frequently to refer to these four teams, I guess the term “Founding Four” will be a more accurate representation.
The Origin Of The Original Six
The NHL has added and lost a lot of franchises over the years. The phrase “Original Six” first appeared in 1963, when the league expanded. The NHL was damaged by the World War and Great Oppression era when several clubs disbanded as players were called for enlistment in the military.
The NHL eventually had six clubs by 1942, and with those six teams, a stable era began. By stable, I mean that the NHL did not record any franchise relocations, contractions, or even expansions. For titles and prizes, the six teams competed against one another season in season out.
The six teams are:
- Montreal Canadien
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Boston Bruins
- New York Rangers
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Detroit Red Wings
After 25 years of play, the NHL was to have its first expansion in almost three decades. The new explanation brought about a doubling of the league’s original size of just six.
At that time, other sports leagues like the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League, and other sports leagues had expanded past the NHL. The new six teams of the NHL during the expansion are:
- California Seals
- Los Angeles Kings
- St Louis Blues
- Minnesota North Star
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Pittsburgh Penguins
The term “Original Six” was adopted during this period by the media to differentiate between the first six teams and the new six teams. Eventually, this is how the name Original Six became a thing.
So now you know, the original six are not the first teams of the NHL, but the team that made up the NHL from 1942-1967.
The Teams That Make Up The Original Six
In this part of this article, we will be talking about each of the original six NHL teams. We will start from the Montreal Canadiens and make our way all the way to New York Rangers.
One of the Original Six still playing in the NHL today is the Montreal Canadiens. Although the professional ice hockey team was founded in 1909, they joined the NHL as one of the first three teams in 1917.
The French-Canadian team has had red, blue, and white color schemes as a component of their kit since 1914. The Montreal Canadiens, who presently hold an unbroken record of 24 Stanley Cups, dominated the NHL throughout the era of the original six, winning 14 of those championships. They also hold the record for winning the most consecutive Stanley Cups, five, from the 1955–1956 season through the 1959–1960 season.
The Montreal Canadiens are still regarded as one of the best NHL ice hockey teams.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs were one of the original three NHL teams. Yet, it went by the name Toronto Arenas when it first joined the NHL in 1917, not the name it now goes by.
After their first NHL season (1917–18), Toronto Arena was given that name. The team’s name underwent numerous changes over time, finally becoming Toronto St. Patricks in 1919. As Conn Smythe acquired the franchise, the name was eventually changed to Toronto Maple Leafs in 1927.
As the team closest to the Montreal Canadiens, the Maple Leafs have won 13 Stanley Cups. 62 of their players are also in the NHL Hall of Fame.
The Boston Bruins, unlike the first 2 teams, were not part of the founding teams of the NHL, however, they joined later on in 1924. The name of the club (Bruins) is from a classic English folk tale which means Brown Bear. The Bruins are also the oldest American ice hockey team in the NHL.
The color of the team is black and gold. They have a record of 6 Stanley Cups with the most recent being in the 2010/11 season after battling with the Vancouver Canucks. The game ended in a 4 out of 3 game victory for the Eastern Conference champions. The original colors of the Boston Bruins were brown and yellow, however, they traded the brown for black after changing their logo.
Since the NHL’s founding in 1926, the Chicago Blackhawks have been one of the Original Six. Once known as the Portland Rosebud, the team was renamed by its first owner, Fedrick McLaughlin.
During the War of 1812, Fedrick commanded soldiers for the US Army. He used this as one of the motivating factors for changing the team’s name to “Black Hawks”—the nickname given to soldiers in his division.
Red, black, and white are the colors of the Chicago Blackhawks. The most recent Stanley Cups they won were in the 2012–13 and 2014–15 seasons. They also hold the distinction of having won six of them.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings were one of the clubs that entered the NHL during the 1926 expansion, along with the Chicago Blackhawks. Keeping the name of the original team, “Victoria Cougars,” they were first known as the Detroit Cougars. Before joining the NHL, the Victoria Cougars team was purchased and had its name changed to Detroit Cougars.
The Cougars underwent two name changes between 1930 and 1932. Before James Norris changed the name to Detroit Red Wings, the team was once known as the Detroit Falcons. With 11 Cup victories to date, the team holds the record for the most Stanley Cups of any American franchise. The group is red and white in color.
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers are the final member of the NHL’s Original Six. They started playing in 1926, and a year later they became the first US team to win the Stanley Cup. The New York Rangers have won four Stanley Cups overall, beginning with their first in the 1927–28 season.
Red, white, and blue are the team’s colors. In addition, they are proud to call Madison Square Gardens their home and have 49 players in the NHL Hall of Fame.
Conclusion | The Original Six
The teams of the Original Six are still recognized in the NHL today with all six teams being active clubs. The same can not be said for the founding four teams, of which only the Canadiens and Toronto Arenas (now Maple Leafs) are still in existence.
Do you think the term “Original Six” holds any prestige today? Or is it just a glorified title that these teams are trying to hang onto? Especially when considering that most of them haven’t seen a Stanley Cup in years!