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The Original Six is a term for the group of six teams that composed the National Hockey League (NHL) for the 25 seasons between the 1942–43 season and the 1967 NHL Expansion. The name is something of a misnomer, since there were other NHL franchises that ceased operations before 1942. The term dates from the 1967 expansion which added six new franchises; hence the six expansion teams and the "Original Six". Only two of the six teams were members of the NHL in the inaugural 1917–18 season, but all six do date from the NHL's first decade, and predate the other 24 teams currently in the league by over forty years.

The Original Six teams were:

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The NHL consisted of ten teams during the 1920s, but the league experienced a period of retrenchment during the Great Depression, losing the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ottawa Senators, and Montreal Maroons in succession to financial pressures. The New York Americans – one of the league's original expansion franchises, along with the Bruins and Maroons – lasted longer, but World War II provided its own economic strains and also severely depleted the league's Canadian player base, since Canada entered the war in September 1939 and many players left for military service. The Americans suspended operations in the fall of 1942, leaving the NHL with just six teams. Despite various efforts to initiate expansion after the war, including attempted restarts of the Maroons and Americans franchises, the league's membership would remain at six teams for the next twenty-five seasons.

By the 1960s, however, it was becoming increasingly obvious that if the NHL did not expand, a rival league would fill the void. The American Football League was proving to be highly successful at the time, convincing many people that a rival hockey league would also succeed. In particular, the Western Hockey League had moved into a number of major Pacific Coast markets, and had accumulated strong rosters with talent barred from the static rosters of the NHL. This, plus the prospect of more lucrative U.S. television contracts, convinced the six owners to go ahead with expansion.

All of the Original Six franchises still exist, with no major identity changes and no relocations to other cities.

Though 1942 is the widely accepted year for the beginning of the Original Six era, it was not until the 1959–60 season that every active NHL player had only played for Original Six teams. The last player who did not fall into this category was former Brooklyn Americans player Ken Mosdell, who retired after the 1959 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The last active player from the Original Six era was the Boston Bruins' Wayne Cashman, who last played during the 1983 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The last active goaltender was Rogatien Vachon, who retired in 1982 with Boston.

Criticisms

The Original Six era has been criticized for having a playoff system which was too easy (only two teams were eliminated after the regular season) and for featuring too many dominant teams (Montreal never missed the playoffs between 1949 and 1967 and Detroit and Toronto only missed three times each, leaving the other three teams to compete for the one remaining berth). Boston, Chicago, and New York were put at a competitive disadvantage by the rule that each team had exclusive rights to negotiate contracts with promising local players within 50 miles of its home ice. Detroit was less affected by this, since southwestern Ontario was part of its local talent pool. If a player was not within the 50-mile limit, that player was free to field offers from any team. Once that player agreed to a sponsorship-level contract, the NHL club could assign him to its sponsored junior squad – its so-called "sponsorship list." In practice, all six teams recruited players from Canada by sponsoring minor league, junior and amateur teams.[1]

This phenomenon had the impact of limiting player movement, and as a result the Original Six rosters were very static. Until the burgeoning of career lengths in the 1980s, only one twenty-year player in NHL history, Larry Robinson, started his career after 1964, and it is generally accepted that the weakest Calder Trophy winners (Rookies of the Year) of all time were selected in the 1950s and 1960s.[2] In partial consequence, the league was almost entirely composed of Canadians who had come up through the junior and minor pro leagues. While the league boasted a handful of good American players during the 1940s (including All-Star goalkeepers Frank Brimsek and Mike Karakas, defenceman John Mariucci, and forward Cully Dahlstrom), these were mostly products of the American Hockey Association which folded in 1942, and almost all played for the Chicago Black Hawks, whose owner, Major Frederic McLaughlin, was a fiercely patriotic man who tried to stock his roster with as many American players as possible. Very few all American-developed NHL players emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, when Tommy Williams was the only American to play regularly. Both Williams and Mariucci complained about anti-American bias, and U.S. Olympic team stars John Mayasich and Bill Cleary turned down offers from NHL teams. The only European-born and trained player of the era was Sweden's Ulf Sterner, who briefly played for the Rangers in 1965.[3]

After World War II, all six NHL owners consistently rejected any bids for expansion, and in the eyes of many observers changed the criteria for entry every time with a bent to defeating any such bid.[4] They also reneged on promises to allow the still-extant but dormant Maroons and Americans franchises to re-activate.[5]

Corruption

While many books on the period focus on the high level of play, giving it glowing terms such as "golden era," it was also a period of corruption, where teams were found to be "scalping" their own tickets and hiding ticket sales for the purpose of avoiding taxes on the proceeds.[citation needed]

The league tolerated monopolistic practices by the owners. At one point, for instance, Red Wings owner James E. Norris effectively owned the Black Hawks as well, and was also the largest stockholder in the Rangers. He also had significant influence over the Bruins by way of mortgages extended to the team to help keep it afloat during the Depression. This led some critics to joke that NHL stood for "Norris House League."[6]

The control of owners over their teams was absolute. Players who got on the wrong side of their team owner were often harshly punished, either by being traded out of town or sent to the minors. A chief example of this is the case of bruising Red Wings forward Ted Lindsay who, after agitating for a players' union, was sent to the last-place Black Hawks. Norris' conglomerate did not invest in Boston, Chicago, and New York; these teams mostly just filled dates for the Norris arenas. A measure of the dominance of Detroit, Montreal, and Toronto in the era can be seen in that between the Bruins' Stanley Cup wins in 1941 and 1970, every single Cup (save for Chicago in 1961) was won by the Red Wings, the Canadiens, or the Maple Leafs, and those three teams failed to make the playoffs only eight times combined in the era.

Labor conditions for the players were also poor. Players' medical bills were paid for only two months after an injury. Moreover, whenever players were sent to the minors, they not only had their salaries cut, but their relocation costs were not covered. The players were also not paid for off-season promotions, and did not share in the funds of promotions such as trading cards as was done in baseball. In the earlier era, players were allowed to play other sports, such as lacrosse, for money in the off-season, but this was disallowed in the standard Original Six-era contract.

The pension plan, formed in 1946, while ostensibly for the players' benefit, was kept secret, hiding large amounts of money under the control of the owners. The pension plan was only exposed in 1989, when it was found that a $25 million surplus existed. The stark labor conditions led to several players' disputes, including a 1957 anti-trust action and attempted union formation, and subsequent actions in the early 1960s by Toronto players Bob Baun and Carl Brewer, leading to the 1967 formation of the NHL Players Association.

See also

References

  • Coleman, Charles L. (1964). Trail of the Stanley Cup, Vol I. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company. ISBN ISBN 0-8403-2941-5. 
  • Cruise, David and Griffiths, Alison (1990). Net Worth:Exposing the Myths of Pro Hockey. Stoddart Publishing. 
  • Diamond, Dan, ed (1998). Total Hockey. Andrews McMeel Publishing. 
  • McFarlane, Brian (1969). 50 Years of Hockey. Greywood Publishing Ltd. 
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Notes

  1. ^ Diamond, Dan (ed.) (1998). Total Hockey. Andrews McMeel Publishing. 
  2. ^ Klein, Jeff Z. (1986). The Klein and Reif Hockey Compendium. McClelland and Stewart. 
  3. ^ "Swede Ulf Sterner - the first European in the NHL". IIHF. http://www.iihf.com/iihf-home/the-iihf/100-year-anniversary/100-top-stories/story-70.html. Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  4. ^ Trail of the Stanley Cup, Vol I., Charles L. Coleman, Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1964, ISBN 0-8403-2941-5
  5. ^ McFarlane, Brian (1969). 50 Years of Hockey. Greywood Publishing Ltd. 
  6. ^ Boyle, Robert H. (1959-02-02). "Black Hawks On The Wing". http://vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1070137/index.htm. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 

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