A Brief History of the NHL’s Original Six Franchises

Hockey Hall Of Fame

The National Hockey League’s celebrated “Original Six” franchises are not original.

When the NHL debuted for the 1917-18 season, the regular season opened with four teams and closed with three when the Montreal Wanderers disbanded after their arena burned down.

The league expanded by two teams in 1924, with the Boston Bruins and Montreal Maroons joining the fold. The NHL continued to fluctuate over the next 18 years, gaining as many as 10 teams. With the Brooklyn Americans disbanding in 1942, the league was back to operating with just six teams.

Over the next 25 years of the league, from 1942-1967, the six teams still remaining were the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs. The NHL expanded again in 1967, which saw the first use of the term “Original Six” to differentiate the existing franchises from the expansion franchises.

Here is a look at the team histories of the Original Six franchises:

Boston Bruins

The image of Bobby Orr soaring over the Boston Garden ice and flashing a timeless expression after scoring the 1970 Stanley Cup-clinching goal stands as the most memorable moment in franchise history.

The elder statesmen among American NHL teams, the Bruins have enjoyed a proud history. Since their inaugural season in 1924, they have hoisted six Stanley Cups and claimed 25 division titles.

Among the 51 Hockey Hall of Famers who donned the Bruins’ sweater, Orr and Phil Esposito remain Beantown icons after leading the Bruins to the ’70 Cup, the franchise’s first in 29 seasons.

Before Orr and Esposito established themselves as seasoned professionals, the Bruins finished last in six of seven seasons as the Original Six era came to a close.

Of note, the Bruins at the old Boston Garden were the first team to use a Zamboni ice resurfacing machine.

Chicago Blackhawks

Winger Patrick Kane retrieved a loose puck along the boards, withstood a defender’s check, and drove toward the Philadelphia Flyers’ net; he flipped a shot toward it. For a few seconds, confusion. Goal? No goal?

Kane and other teammates started celebrating. While the Flyers stood around wondering if the puck slid past the red line, Kane knew he’d scored a Stanley Cup-clinching goal, ending the franchise’s 49-year drought in 2010.

Among the teams joining the NHL in 1926 as part of the affiliation’s first major expansion into the United States, the Black Hawks became the first team to field an all-American lineup.

Three years after becoming a part of the NHL, the Black Hawks moved into Chicago Stadium, the largest indoor sporting venue in the world at the time. The rink did have its quirks, though.

Like the cramped locker rooms located under the stands, and the 22 steps the players had to climb before each period just to get to the ice surface.

Aided by a 3,663-pipe organ, Chicago Stadium was known to be one of the loudest arenas in sports.

The organization has six Stanley Cups to its credit, but suffered through two long championship droughts. After winning in 1934 and ’38, the Hawks did not win again until ’61, and then, not until 2010.

Sparked by Kane and center Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks enjoyed a recent renaissance, also winning Cups in 2013 and ’15.

Through the tough Chicago winters, the club established some cool traditions, like its fans cheering passionately during the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” since 1985.

Among the franchise’s 39 Hockey Hall of Famers, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Glen Hall, and Pierre Pilote led the Hawks to three finals appearances during the 1960s.

Before the 1986-87 campaign, the franchise officially altered its nickname from Black Hawks to Blackhawks.

Detroit Red Wings

During the biggest games, at the peak of excitement, through the air, over the glass, and onto the ice…SPLAT!

There goes an octopus, with all eight limbs. Every time, Detroit fans cheer uncontrollably.

Once symbolic of the number of postseason wins it took to capture a two-round, best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff format, octopus throwing remains a family tradition.

Throughout most of the 1970s and early 1980s, fans have served up a lot of octopuses. Among 24 finals appearances, the Red Wings’ 11 Stanley Cups, including four from 1997 to 2008, established a mark for U.S. franchises.

The Red Wings qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs an NHL-record 25 consecutive seasons (1991-2016) and also hold the league’s fourth-longest playoff streak, securing bids in 20 straight seasons (1939-58).

Founded in 1926, the Red Wings organization has roots going back to the Victoria, B.C. Cougars of the Western Hockey League.

After the roster was sold to the new Detroit franchise, it debuted as the Cougars. Four years later, the Cougars became the Falcons. And two years later, they were permanently rebranded as the Red Wings, with the iconic red-and-white Winged Wheel logo.

‘Mr. Hockey’ Gordie Howe, and Steve Yzerman, the team’s current general manager, are two of the most influential players in team history.

Montreal Canadiens

The standard-bearer for North American professional hockey, the Canadiens remain one of the longest running and most-scrutinized franchises in NHL history.

They also boast a record 24 Stanley Cup championships—and 34 appearances—and they’re followed by a legion of diehard fans who monitor every nuance of each stat line in each match.

“The Canadiens are us,” said Nicolas Moreau, contributing editor of Le Canadien de Montréal: Une Légende Repensée, a book focused on the economic, political, and sociological impacts of the Canadiens’ franchise. “They are part of our identity.”

Founded in 1909, the organization predated the NHL and dominated hockey headlines for much of its opening century. Joining the NHL in its inaugural 1917 season, the Canadiens amassed a record 24 Stanley Cups, and they boast a lofty 64 alumni in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The franchise was known as “Le Club de Hockey Canadien” during its inaugural season, and early in its existence revealed the iconic “CH” logo (the “H” denoting “hockey” rather than “Habs,” contrary to a common misconception.)

Led by generational stars including Jean Beliveau, Ken Dryden, Guy Lafleur, Jacques Plante, Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Larry Robinson, and Patrick Roy, the Canadiens became the first NHL franchise to capture 3,000 wins, which they accomplished on December 29, 2008.

For all the records the Canadiens have set, they remain the lone franchise to claim five consecutive Stanley Cups (1956-60) and 10 appearances in a row (1951-60).

New York Rangers

Trailing 3-2 in the best-of-seven 1994 Stanley Cup final, future Hall of Famer Mark Messier issued a guarantee: “We will win tonight.”

The captain backed up his words by recording a hat trick, helping to clinch the Game 6 victory.

The Rangers went on to capture a memorable Game 7, snapping the franchise’s 54-year Cup drought.

With confetti falling all around him, Messier is remembered for jumping for joy after the final buzzer and displaying unbridled emotion while accepting the Cup from Commissioner Gary Bettman.

It remains the snapshot of the fabled franchise.

The Rangers came into existence in 1926, formed by owner Tex Richard. When the New York media proclaimed the franchise as “Tex’s Rangers,” the moniker gained popularity and was soon adopted as its official nickname.

The Rangers exploded onto the NHL scene, capturing the Stanley Cup in their second season (1927-28). They became the first U.S. franchise to claim the Cup.

In the decades that followed, the Rangers claimed only three more Cup titles.

Forty-nine former Rangers have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, highlighted by former stars including Andy Bathgate, Frank Boucher, Bill Cook, Rod Gilbert, Brian Leetch, Brad Park, and Jean Ratelle.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The irony is inescapable. The Maple Leafs’ last Stanley Cup title came in 1967, the final championship round of the “Original Six” era.

When Maple Leafs captain George Armstrong muscled the Cup over his head in triumph 52 years ago, few could have imagined it would take so long for the NHL’s first franchise to hit the $1 billion valuation milestone to earn another title—or return to a Cup final.

As recently as 2015, the Maples Leafs were the highest-valued franchise in the NHL, at $1.3 billion. In 2018, they were valued at 1.45 billion, according to forbes.com.

Joining the NHL in 1917, the franchise was initially known as the Arenas, and then the St. Patricks, and captured two of the fledgling league’s first five championship series.

Not long after the New York Rangers fired Conn Smythe in 1927, he purchased the Toronto St. Pats, partly with his severance pay and gambling winnings. Smythe renamed the team to the iconic Maple Leafs, paying homage to the bravery of Canada’s soldiers during World War I.

Throughout its existence, the Maple Leafs have remained at the forefront of NHL progress. They played in Canada’s first coast-to-coast broadcast of an NHL game, falling to the New York Americans, 3-2, in 1936.

The Maple Leafs’ championship pedigree includes 13 Stanley Cup titles, second only to the Canadiens, and they enjoyed two dynasties, winning five titles from 1945-51, and four from 1962-67.

Honoring 19 players, the franchise has retired 13 numbers, including Dave Keon, Syl Apps, Johnny Bower, Tim Horton, Red Kelly, Frank Mahovlich, Doug Gilmour, and Darryl Sittler.

The “Original Six” may not be original, but the rivalries they developed over the 25 seasons they ruled the NHL remain unique and continue to intrigue fans of all ages.