The National Hockey League - a brief history and today

Pre-league history and the Stanley Cup:
The earliest North American games were played in Canada. British soldiers stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia,  organized contests on frozen ponds in and around that city in the 1870s, and about that same time in Montreal students began facing off against each other in a downtown ice rink. The continent's first hockey league was said to have been launched in Kingston, Ontario, in 1885, and it included four teams.

The English Governor General of Canada, Lord Stanley of Preston, 1892 bought a silver bowl with an interior gold finish and decreed that it be given each year to the best amateur team in Canada. That trophy has come to be known as the Stanley Cup and is awarded today to the franchise that wins the National Hockey League playoffs. Back when hockey was first played in Canada, the teams had nine men per side. But by the time the Stanley Cup was introduced, it was a seven-man game. The change came about accidentally in the late 1880s after a club playing in the Montreal Winter Carnival showed up two men short, and its opponent agreed to drop the same number of players on its team to even the match. Players began to prefer the smaller squad, and it wasn't long before that number became the standard for the sport. Each team featured one goaltender, three forwards, two defensemen, and a rover, who had the option of moving up ice on the attack or falling back to defend his goal.

The NHL:
Nov. 26, 1917: The NHL was founded. Teams included the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Arenas, and Quebec Bulldogs. Quebec did not play during the 1917-18 season. The first season was won by Toronto, who then beat the Vancouver Millionaires from the Pacific Coast League for the Stanley Cup. In the mid 20-s, several leagues had been incorporated with the NHL, and now consisted of 10 teams in one American and one Canadian division and the Stanley Cup now belonged to the NHL. The games were played five a side.

Teams came and went, and from the 1942-43 season, there were only six teams in the league: Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs. These six teams played 50 games a year and no new franchises were let into the league for 25 years.  

For the 1967-68 season, the old six teams formed a east division, and the following new six teams formed a west division: California Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues. During the 70s, the league got several new teams, and by the start of 1979-80 season, there were 21 teams in four divisions. During this period, the rival league World Hockey Association had been started and finally assimilated into the NHL.

The next phase of expansion came in the beginning of the 1990s and by the beginning of the 2000 season, there were 30 teams in two conferences and six divisions. 


Eastern Conference

Western Conference


Source:, LCShockey, Damien Thompson

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