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.
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
Source: nhl.com, LCShockey, Damien Thompson