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The Original Six refers to the six NHL teams that made up the NHL from 1942 to 1967, which was before the league expanded from six to twelve teams. The teams that make up the Original Six are the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks and the Montreal Canadiens. The term is misleading because people tend to assume that these were the first teams in the NHL while in fact this is not the case.
The time between the formation of the NHL in 1917 and the war in the 1940s was a turbulent time for the fledging sport. Many teams were formed and many folded due to a variety of issues with the Great Depression and both wars taking their toll. By the start of the 1942 season, as the war raged on, the league was left with just six teams. It was these six teams that came to be known as the original six.
The Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens are the oldest team in the NHL having started operation in 1909, before the league started. The team was initially known as the “le Club du Hockey Canadien” before changing to “Club Athletique Canadien.” The aim of the club was initially to showcase the best of francophone hockey heritage and it was a prerequisite in the early days to be a French speaker for one to play for the Canadiens.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs are the only true ‘Original’ in the league today. They are the only current team that exiseted at the beginning of the NHL, having come into existence during the 1917/18 season. They were known as the Toronto Arenas before changing temporarily to the Tecumsehs and then the St. Patricks. They assumed the name Toronto Maple Leafs in 1926/27 as the team was bought by Coon Smythe.
The Boston Bruins
The Bruins were the first American NHL team having come into existence in 1924. The name ‘Bruins’ was an old term for bear in England and it was selected to reflect the virtues of power, speed, cunning and strength envisioned by owner Charles Adams.
The Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings entered the league as one of three expansion franchises in 1926. The team’s roster was filled with players from the Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey even used the name Detroit Cougars during their first season. League they assumed the name Red Wings for the first time in 1932 after they were bought by James Norris Sr.
The Chicago Black Hawks
The Black Hawks was another team that joined the league in the 1926 expansion. The owner of the franchise Major Frederic McLaughlin bought the roster of the Portland Rosebuds for his new team. The name of the team came from his own past as a member of the Blackhawks brigade in the armed forces.
The New York Rangers
The last of the Original Six is the New York Rangers, who were also a member of the 1926 expansion class. They were owned by the owner of the Madison Square Gardens President G.I. Rickard, who used the stadium as leverage to run an earlier New York franchise, the Americans out of town.
The Legacy of the Original Six
The Original Six era was characterized by corruption and monopolistic policies aimed at keeping the market to themselves. The owners has total control over their teams and players who wronged their teams were often harshly punished by being traded to unfavorable places.
The owners were allowed to cross own teams. For example Red Wings Owner James Norris at one point also owned the Black Hawks and had stakes in the Rangers and the Bruins as well. Labor conditions were very poor during this era, and there was little in terms of redress because of the immense power the owners held. The pension plan which was enacted in 1946 was later revealed to have been filled with loopholes that gave the owners control over large amounts of this money.
The era was characterized by a very easy playoff system which saw some teams become dominant. The Canadiens did not miss the playoffs a single time between 1949 and 1967 while the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs only missed out three times each, leaving the other teams to scramble for the remaining berths.
The Original Six era eventually came to an end as the conservative owners who were opposed to expansion paved way for younger owners who dreamt of growing the NHL like other sport leagues. In 1965 the league expanded for the first time since 1942, adding six teams to double in size.