The 1967 NHL Expansion

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The 1967 NHL expansion was that involved the addition of six new teams to the National Hockey League prior to the 1967/68 season. The expansion doubled the size of the NHL from six to twelve teams. This was the first time that the league was expanding since 1942, effectively marking the end of the Original Six era. This expansion remains the largest ever conducted by an established major sports league in North American sport.

What Necessitated the 1967 NHL Expansion?

During and after the Great Depression and the World War II many teams found themselves unable to survive and many of them folded leaving behind just six teams that were known as the ‘Original Six’. These teams were the Boston Bruins, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers, the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Black Hawks.

The owners of these franchises resisted any attempts by new teams to enter the league and the primary motive was understood to be the reluctance to share TV broadcasting profits. The status quo was however starting to work negatively for the league as rival hockey leagues and those of other sports enjoyed the benefits passed up by the NHL. The Western Hockey League was absorbing most of the talent that the constricted NHL rejected and was growing stronger, expanding into many cities in the US West Coast.

By 1965 the existing television broadcasting contracts had expired and one of the conditions that the NHL received for renewal was that they embrace expansion. Another sticking point to the new television contracts was the reluctance to change game starting times to fit the schedules of TV networks. The fear of losing lucrative television deals and strengthening of the WHL and other alternative sports necessitated a realignment of thought among NHL owners and they began to embrace the idea of expansion.

Additionally, the league owners were progressively younger and less conservative than the older guard who stood for the status quo. The process of expansion began in March 1965 with NHL President Clarence Campbell announcing that the league intended to add a second six team division. 14 applications were received with the league left with the task of vetting that number to six.

Which New Teams Were Added in the 1967 NHL Expansion?

The teams that were added were the California Seals, the Los Angeles Kings, the Minnesota North Stars, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pittsburg Penguins and the St. Louis Eagles. Of these six franchises, four are still in operation in their original cities, one has relocated and one has folded. The California Seals were renamed Oakland Seals and later the California Golden Seals relocated to Cleveland in 1976 and became the Cleveland Barons and then ceased operation in 1978 to merge with the Minnesota North Stars.

Despite being the birth place of the NHL, Canada did not receive a single franchise and this was a major bone of contention among Canadian fans. The city of Vancouver was particularly aggrieved since it had been considered an unpassable candidate for an expansion team. It is speculated that Montreal and Toronto were looking to avoid sharing their television market with any other teams.

Moreover the Chicago Black Hawks owners who also owned the St. Louis Arena were keen on having a team placed in the city despite the fact that St. Louis did not place a bid. There was also general opposition over the high expansion fees ($2 million for each club) and the draft fees ($50,000 for each player). This was seen as a stranglehold on the fledging teams’ ability to compete with the more established teams. Some of the more conservative league governors still resisted expansion claiming that it would dilute the talent in the league.

The Aftermath of the 1967 NHL Expansion

The expansion marked the end of the era of the Original Six and changed the landscape of the NHL dramatically. The league continued expanding and by 1974, it had grown to 18 teams.

In 1979, the NHL and the WHA merged, leaving the new look NHL as the dominant force in the ice Hockey scene. Success with regards to the lucrative TV deals was however delayed, with CBS and NBC who held broadcasting rights at different times refusing to carry a full schedule of NHL fixtures as was the case with other sports.