Three Periods is a weekly column touching on hockey’s past, present and future.
“Original Six” is, perhaps, one of the most iconic terms in the world of sport. Any semi-respectable hockey fan knows instantly the phrase refers to the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Bruins, Rangers, Red Wings and Blackhawks. What many fans don’t know, however, is that “Original Six” is a wildly inaccurate term. Though entire books have been written on the early days of the NHL, I’ll summarize in a few paragraphs:
The National Hockey League began play in 1917 with four (not six) teams: the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Arenas and Montreal Wanderers. The Wanderers folded six games into the twenty-two game season, and the Habs’ Joe Malone set a record which will probably never be broken, scoring 44 goals in 20 games.
The NHL played the following season with just three clubs. 1919-20 brought the expansion Quebec Bulldogs and a name change, as the Toronto Arenas became the St. Patricks. In 1920-21, the Bulldogs were gone, replaced by the Hamilton Tigers. The league remained stable for the next three seasons, then expanded to six clubs for the first time in 1924-25 with the addition of the Montreal Maroons and the first American club, the Boston Bruins.
The following season saw the demise of the Hamilton Tigers and the introduction of the New York Americans (composed largely of ex-Tigers) and Pittsburgh Pirates. 1926-27 was a watershed moment for the NHL, as the league welcomed the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Cougars into the fold and shifted to a two-division format for the first time.
The NHL’s ten-team harmony would be disrupted by the Great Depression. For the 1930-31 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates became the Philadelphia Quakers, while Detroit simply changed names, from Cougars to Falcons. Prior to the following season, both Philadelphia and Ottawa ceased operations, though the Senators would return for the 1932-33 campaign (in time to see the Detroit Falcons become the Red Wings).
The Senators lasted just two more seasons in Ottawa before moving to St. Louis (as the Eagles) for 1934-35. The Eagles would fold at the end of the season, leaving the NHL with eight teams. Montreal’s Maroons would bleed out in 1938, forcing the league’s remaining seven clubs to drop the two-division format for the 1938-39 season.
The New York Americans survived – barely – the Great Depression, but became a casualty of World War II. After changing their name (though not their home arena) from New York to Brooklyn for the 1941-42 season, the Amerks folded. The NHL began the 1942-43 season with six clubs and would remain static for the next twenty-five years, until doubling in size for the 1967-68 campaign.
So now you know: In the beginning, the NHL consisted of four – not six – clubs, expanded to ten, then contracted to six, only two of which – the Habs and Leafs – could be considered “original.” At this late date, it’s not realistic to expect a name change for the sake of accuracy. The next time you want to dazzle (or perhaps just annoy) your fellow hockey fans, though, tell them why the Original Six should really be known as the “Surviving Six.”
I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a stat geek. I’ve long been fascinated by hockey statistics and have spent countless hours studying them, hoping to derive from cold, hard numbers a Great Truth about both individual teams and the NHL as a whole. I’m not alone, either – just look at the quantity of stat categories tracked on NHL.com. Elsewhere, talk of Corsi and Fenwick prevails. It’s a far cry from the good old days of GP, G, A, Pts and PIM.
Lately, I find myself steering toward the conclusion that stats contain nuggets of truth, but the Great Truth we statmongers seek comes from gut instinct, not Goals Per Game. That gut instinct can only be developed by watching a particular team night after night, absorbing information on team performance on a subconscious level. Case in point: The 1998-99 and 99-00 Dallas Stars. For four seasons, starting in 1996-97, I watched every single Stars game. Every single one. I knew that team inside and out, knew it in ways I can’t begin to explain. Before the 98-99 campaign was a month old, I knew the Stars were going to win the Cup. I didn’t think, hope or wish; I KNEW. The following season, I hoped they’d hoist the Cup again, but my gut told me otherwise. Frankly, I’ve never forgiven my gut for being right about the 2000 Cup.
Statistics are important, but they’re no substitute for gut instinct. So when you see that the St. Louis Blues are currently allowing a league-leading 23.2 Shots Against per Game, but also surrendering an appalling 3.13 Goals Against per Game, you might want to watch them play a few games to figure out what’s really happening in old Saint Lou.
Time for a little speculation on the NHL’s pending (with NHLPA approval) realignment for next season…
According to Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe, the league appears set to maintain two conferences while dropping from three to two divisions in each. Dupont says to expect playoff seeding to be 1-4 in each division, with divisional playoff winners meeting in the Conference Finals. To this, I say: For the love of Gordie, NO!!!
Divisional playoffs in the first two rounds is an idea as odious as the shootout. Not only would fans be subjected to two playoff rounds featuring matchups of teams which have already played each other at least five times during the regular season, but the annual injustice of inferior clubs making the playoffs while more worthy teams in the opposing conference stay home will be multiplied, not decreased. Because I can’t stand folks who offer complaints without potential solutions, here’s my proposal for NHL realignment:
A: LAK, ANA, SJS, PHX, COL, VAN, CGY, EDM
B: DAL, STL, MIN, CHI, DET, WPG, CBJ
C: TBL, FLA, CAR, NSH, WSH, PIT, PHI
D: NYR, NYI, NJD, BUF, BOS, TOR, MTL, OTT
Regular-season conference champs are seeded 1-4, with teams 5-16 taken from the league at large. Though this could result in long-distance first round matchups such as Vancouver vs. Florida, it wouldn’t be much different from the norm for Detroit.
To add importance to winning the conference, allow seeds 1-4 to choose their first-round opponent. Talk about adding a layer of strategy to the Stanley Cup Playoffs! Imagine winning the conference (and the Presidents Trophy) as Vancouver: Do you minimize travel by choosing San Jose, or go cross-continent to play 16th-seeded Carolina? The conference champs, seeded 1-4, would “draft” their opponents one hour after the final game of the regular season ends. Oh, the pressure! The rampant speculation! The wailing and gnashing of teeth when a conference champ bows out in the first round! As I type this, my eyes are glazing over and my mouth is watering…