1967 NHL Expansion

1967 NHL Expansion

The National Hockey League (NHL) undertook a major expansion for the 1967-68 season, adding six new franchises and doubling the size of the league. This marked the first change in the composition of the league since 1942, when the Brooklyn Americans folded.

Background

For many years after the shakeout caused by the Depression and World War II, the NHL owners staunchly resisted applications to expand beyond the so-called "Original Six" clubs (Boston, Montreal, Toronto, New York, Detroit and Chicago).cite book | title = Checking Back | author = Isaacs, Neil | publisher=McLeod Limited | year = 1977] cite book | title = The Trail of the Stanley Cup, Vol III | author = Coleman, Charles L. | publisher=Progressive Publications | year = 1976] Groups representing Philadelphia (which had secured rights to the dormant Montreal Maroons franchise), Los Angeles and the AHL Cleveland Barons were each in turn given conflicting requirements that seemed to contemporary observers designed to disqualify the bids, and it was widely understood that the existing NHL owners wanted no encroachments upon their profits.

The league was an early leader in television broadcasting, both in Canada and the U.S. cite book | title = The Hockey Encyclopedia | author = Fischler, Stan and Fischler, Shirley Walton | publisher=MacMillan Publishing Company | year = 1983] However, by 1960, the NHL had ended its TV contract, and had none until 1963. The owners saw that the televising of other sports enhanced the images of those leagues' players and would provide leverage at salary time. Already, players were starting to get legal help in negotiating contracts. The league did not want to change game start times to suit the networks. However, in 1965, the league was told that it would not receive a contract without expansion, and the networks were considering televising games from the Western Hockey League (WHL), an ostensibly minor league that had by that time expanded into several large West Coast markets and accumulated strong rosters by attracting players excluded from the static NHL rosters of the era.cite book | title = Net Worth: Exploding The Myths of Pro Hockey | author = Cruise, David and Griffiths, Alison | publisher=Stoddart Publishing | year = 1991]

Fears of the WHL becoming a rival major league and the desire for a lucrative TV contract in the U.S., much like the ones Major League Baseball and the National Football League had secured, wore down the opposition; moreover, as more conservative owners retired, a younger guard more receptive to expansion, such as Stafford Smythe in Toronto, David Molson in Montreal, and William Jennings in New York, took power. All the new franchises, except for the Pennsylvania ones, were outside the northeastern area of the Original Six, and locations were chosen specifically to broaden the appeal of the league.

Expansion teams

The expansion process formally began in March 1965, when NHL President Clarence Campbell announced that the league proposed to expand its operations through the formation of a second six-team division. In February 1966, the NHL Board of Governors considered applications from 14 different ownership groups, including five from Los Angeles, two from Pittsburgh, and one each from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, San Francisco-Oakland, St. Louis, Baltimore, Buffalo and Vancouver. Cleveland and Louisville had also expressed previous interest but were not represented.

Six franchises were ultimately added. Four still play in their original cities, one has relocated and one ceased operations.
*California Seals (renamed Oakland Seals and later California Golden Seals; relocated to Cleveland as Cleveland Barons in 1976; ceased operations in 1978 with merger into Minnesota North Stars)
*Los Angeles Kings
*Minnesota North Stars (merged with Cleveland Barons in 1978; relocated to Dallas as Dallas Stars in 1993)
*Philadelphia Flyers
*Pittsburgh Penguins
*St. Louis Blues

Opposition

Many were upset over the expansion. Canadian fans were irate that no Canadian teams were added, even though Vancouver put forward a bid. Politics took a hand in the selections; Vancouver's strong bid reportedly fell to Montreal and Toronto's unwillingness to share CBC TV revenues with another Canadian club, and the powerful Chicago owner's support was reputedly contingent on the creation of a St. Louis team – though no formal bid had actually been received from St. Louis – to purchase the decrepit St. Louis Arena, which the Black Hawks ownership then also owned.

Furthermore, many traditionalists did not like the idea of expansion, claiming it would dilute the talent in the league.cite book | title = Total Hockey | author = Diamond, Dan (ed.) | publisher=Andrews McMeel Publishing | year = 1998] Even many of the proponents of expansion were worried at the idea of immediately doubling the NHL's size, instead of easing teams in gradually, as had Major League Baseball. cite book | title = 50 Years of Hockey | author = McFarlane, Brian | publisher=Greywood Publishing Ltd | year = 1969]

Most experts agreed that the new owners paid a heavy price to join the league: the expansion fee was $2 million US, players in the very strict expansion draft were a hefty $50,000, and most teams had no hope of competing successfully with the established teams in the near future. One advantage of the expansion, however, was that the new teams were all placed in the newly-formed West Division, and as such, an expansion team was guaranteed a slot in the Stanley Cup finals.

Changes

The new teams offered a big change to the league. After seeing virtually the same red/blue/black uniforms for over twenty years, purple, green, sky blue, and orange were introduced. By the mid-1970s, five of the six teams would find success, with the Philadelphia Flyers selling out most of their games in the 1970s and winning the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975. The California franchise, uncompetitive both on the ice and at the box office, was moved to Cleveland and became the Barons in 1976, and then merged with the Minnesota North Stars (now Dallas Stars) in 1978.

The expansion was the end of the Original Six era, and the beginning of the modern era of the NHL. There would be further expansions in 1970, 1972 and 1974. The expansion, Bobby Orr's record contract, and the World Hockey Association forever changed the landscape of the North American professional game.

References

ee also

* 1967 NHL Expansion Draft


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