During the 1920’s, the NHL actually consisted of ten teams. However, during the Great Depression, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Maroons, and the New York Americans fell to financial pressure. World War 2 also greatly depleted Canadian players, because Canada entered the war in September 1939. The Americans came to halt with their operations in 1942, leaving the NHL with just six teams. Although there were many attempts to restart a few of the teams, membership of the league would remain to only six teams for the next twenty-five seasons.
By the 1960’s, it was obvious that without expansion, rival sports leagues would overtake them. Scare that maybe the Western Hockey League would fill the gap with fantastic roster, the six franchise owners decided to go ahead with expansion. All six teams still exist today with minor changes (Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks). The last active player from the Origianl Six was Wayne Casman who retired with the Boston Bruins after the 1983 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The last active goaltender was Rogatien Vachon, who also retired with the Boston Bruins, except in 1982.
Many began their criticism with the playoff system at the team. There were only two teams to eliminate after the regular season, so only eight wins were necessary to capture the Stanley Cup (4 for the semi-finals, then 4 for the finals). Half of the teams were way too dominant (Montreal never missed a playoff spot from 1949-1967, and Detroit and Toronto only missed it three times each). So, to even out competition, all six teams were allowed to recruit players from minor league, junior, and amateur teams.
At the time, the Original Six rosters’ statistics were very dominant. Montreal, Boston, and Detroit had the most impressive players at the time. Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Phil Esposito and many others were key to their many victors. Toronto also at the top, had Dick Duff, and Red Kelly at the time, which have proved vital to their now 13 championships.
After World War 2, all of the six NHL owners rejected any bids for expansion time-after-time. They also made sure that they would not allow the non-active Maroons and Americans franchises to re-activate into the league. Although this caused controversy, we know that the decision ended with the fully functional and widely expanded NHL that we love today.
For more information about the Original Six teams, please refer to the ‘Teams’ portion of the website for background and player comparison.