January 14th 2014 9:26 am
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Canadian (and Canadien) Domination:
The 1950s had been primarily controlled by two teams: the Red Wings and the Canadiens. The ‘60s would be no different, only this time, it was Toronto who shared the decade with Montreal. Of the 10 Stanley Cup series in the decade, all but one were won by a team from Canada. Montreal won five titles, Toronto four and the Chicago Black Hawks won their first Stanley Cup in 23 years when they hoisted the Cup in ’61 – and would not do so again for 49 years. Until 1968, only four teams even played in the Stanley Cup finals: Montreal (who won in ’60 and ’65-’66), Toronto (who won from ’62-’64 and in ’67), Chicago and Detroit (losers in ’61, ’63, ’64 and ’66). Finally, in the last two years of the decade, a new team arrived on the scene, the St. Louis Blues (a new team to the league, as well). However, the Blues could not get past the Canadiens, who finished the decade with back-to-back wins. The Blues were coached by Scotty Bowman, who, when his career was done, would have more Stanley Cup victories than any coach in history with nine (compiled with three different teams, none of them the Blues, who have never won a Stanley Cup).
The Maple Leafs, however, enjoyed their success in the ‘60s without a familiar face at the helm: in 1961, Conn Smythe, now 66 years old, decided to sell his shares of the team to his son. His son immediately sold the team and the arena away. Though Smythe stayed on as chairman of the board until 1964, his days of running the team were over. In 1964, upon his retirement, the league awarded a new trophy at the end of the Stanley Cup finals, the Conn Smythe Trophy, to the player voted most valuable in the playoffs.
The St. Louis Blues were not the only new hockey team to appear in the late 1960s; 1967 saw the first large-scale expansion in league history, with the NHL adding six teams to its existing six. The existing six teams (the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Black Hawks) were nicknamed the Original Six, a moniker that has stuck to this day. The expansion was spurred by a league that had formed in the 1950s, the Western Hockey League. The WHL, which began in 1952, focused its attention on California, and experienced early success there. The WHL even intended to establish itself as a major league, competing for the Stanley Cup. They never reached that status, and in 1974 went under. However, their success on the West Coast (in addition to the NHL’s desire to cash in on the TV market there) led to NHL expansion.
The six new teams were the Los Angeles Kings, California Seals, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues. The Seals would, in the span of just ten years, change their name to the Oakland Seals, California Golden Seals, Cleveland Barons (after moving to Cleveland) and then merge with the North Stars. The omission of a Canadian team from the expansion caused considerable ire in Canada, made worse by the addition of St. Louis. Vancouver had been considered a strong candidate for expansion, but Montreal and Toronto reportedly didn’t want to share TV revenues. St. Louis hadn’t even put in a bid, but Chicago Black Hawks owner Bill Wirtz owned a stadium in St. Louis, and therefore supported putting a team there. The Blues were easily the most successful expansion team early on, making three straight Stanley Cup finals.
The addition of the six new teams also divided the league for the first time. Previously, the league had only one division; now that six more teams were added, the league split into two divisions, the East and West. With expansion also came an increase in the number of regular season games, which went up to 74 in the 1967-68 season. Just one year later, they increased to 76. New to the divisions were awards for regular-season triumph: the winner of the East Division received the Prince of Wales Trophy. The winner of the West got the Clarence Campbell Bowl, named for a former president of the NHL.
Ups and Downs: the 1970s:
The ‘70s were a tumultuous time for hockey in North America. In the ‘70s, seven different professional leagues closed down operations. The Western, Eastern, North American, Pacific, Southern and Northeastern Hockey Leagues all closed up shop, as did the World Hockey Association. Each league was either set up as a rival to the NHL or as a minor pro league. The World Hockey Association, however, had a far greater impact on the league than any other. The WHA, which began operations in 1972, was mostly made up of teams from cities that had been rejected by the NHL for being too small-market: the New England Whalers, Alberta Oilers, Houston Aeros, Calgary Broncos, Ottawa Nationals and Quebec Nordiques. The new league received a boon when they successfully challenged the NHL’s reserve clause, which allowed NHLers to move to the WHA. The most high profile of these defections was that of Bobby Hull, the Black Hawks star who signed with the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA for a then-record ten year, $2.75 million deal (worth $12.8 million today). Another notable name to join the WHA was Gordie Howe. Howe had retired from the NHL in 1971, but returned with the Houston Aeros in 1973 to play on a line with his two sons. Howe tallied 100 points in his first year back (at age 46), and would play six seasons in the WHA. The WHA also began recruiting European players, something the NHL had not yet done, believing European hockey players to be inferior to North American players. In 1979, the WHA folded, but not before agreeing to a merger with the NHL. The Edmonton Oilers (whose name had been changed from Alberta to Edmonton), the Winnipeg Jets, the Quebec Nordiques and Hartford (nee New England) Whalers all joined the NHL. All four teams still play in the NHL, though only one (the Oilers) still play in the city in which they originated. The WHA also helped end the reserve clause, raise player salaries and give credence to Canadian teams (who didn’t happen to be located in Montreal or Toronto).
The four WHA teams were not the only ones to join the NHL in the ‘70s. In 1970, the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks joined the league, in ’72 the Atlanta Flames and New York Islanders joined the fold and in 1974, the Kansas City Scouts and Washington Capitals were added. Each of those franchises still exists, though some have moved/changed their name, including the Scouts, who moved to Denver just two years after they came into the league and became the Rockies.
The increase in the number of teams also altered the landscape of the NHL’s number of games played and divisions. In 1970, the games had increased to 78 in the regular season, and in ’74, they went up further, to 80. They would remain at that number for almost 20 years. Additionally, no longer would teams play in the East and West divisions; now, the NHL was divided into two conferences, with two divisions in each. The Prince of Wales Conference, with the Norris and Adams divisions, and the Campbell Conference, with the Smythe and Patrick divisions made up the new NHL. The conferences got their names from the trophies awarded to their regular-season winners. The divisions were named for significant figures in hockey: James Norris was the former owner of the Red Wings, while Jack Adams was the former coach and manager of the Wings (the Adams trophy was also introduced that year, awarded to the league’s top coach). The Smythe division was named for Conn Smythe, and the Patrick division for Lester.
The ‘70s also saw the first Summit Series played, a matchup of a Canadian national team (made up of NHL stars) and the Soviet Union national squad. Helped along by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the Summit Series was a worldwide event, with all eyes of the hockey world turned on the eight-game series. The Canadian public (and most of the press and players) expected to win easily. Though they won, it was not easy, as the Soviets proved to be an incredibly fierce opponent. However, it would be years before a Soviet hockey player laced up skates in the NHL.
Also in the ‘70s, Bobby Orr came to the forefront of the sport. Orr, a young defenseman playing for the Boston Bruins, helped lead the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup title since 1941 when, in 1970, he won the Art Ross Trophy, the Hart Trophy, the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Norris Trophy. No other player in history has even won all those awards in the same year. The Norris Trophy had been give to the NHL in 1953 to recognize the late James Norris, awarded annually to the player considered the best defenseman. Orr’s 1970 win was his third, and he would go on to win five more, winning it an unmatched eight times (all in a row). No player before or since has accomplished that feat. Orr also collected three Hart Trophies in his career, the last defenseman to win the award until Chris Pronger did it almost 30 years later. Orr is credited with revolutionizing the defense position, making it a more offensive position than it had ever truly been.
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Yea for the Vancouver Canucks! (I had to sat that as Talley, Murphy and Raven play for VFP)
The history that you are presenting to us is not only informative, but it increases our appreciation of the sport.
Thank you. In 1990, dad had the opportunity to fly the owners and several of the players for Chicago Black Hawks from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale. At the time their yacht ( a 110 foot Fedship ) was berthed in Fort Lauderdale at Bahia Mar Marina. They were having a big party aboard and dad got to stay so that he could fly them back to Chicago. (He didn't get to drink though)
Purrs and treat number 833.
Mom remembers the excitement when the Vancouver Canucks joined the NHL. Mom must be really OLLLDDD.
Wow! Hockey sure has had a turbulent history. Great work teaching us all about it my furiend. We left you treat 841!
Purrs and hugs to you.
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