By 1942, only six teams were remaining in the National Hockey League: Rangers, Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Red Wings, Black Hawks, and Canadiens. After 1942, the league remained unchanged for 25 years. In 1967 six more teams were added to the league, and the original franchises were known as the “Original Six“.
The Maple Leafs, consisting of big names such as Syl Apps, Walter Broda, Max Bentley, and Ted Kennedy, dominated the 1940s, garnering six Stanley Cups. However, Maurice “Rocket” of the Canadiens was, without a doubt, the most offensive player with fifty goals in fifty matches in the 1944/1945 season, including three assists and five goals in one event. The color barrier was broken in 1948 when Rangers signed Larry Kwong. In 1958, Willie O’Ree became the first black to play in the National Hockey League when he played for the Boston Bruins.
The Red Wings, composed of big names such as Ted Lindsay, Terry Sawchuk, Gordie Howe, and Red Kelly, dominated the early 1950s garnering four Stanley cups. In the mid-1950s, the Canadiens had built what is widely considered the most exceptional lineup in National Hockey League history, comprising legends such as Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau, Bernie Geoffrion, Doug Harvey, Dickie Moore, and Jacques Plante. The Montreal Canadiens clinched the Stanley 6 times, and a record 5 consecutive times between 1955 and 1960.
In the 1960s the Black Hawks won their first-ever Stanley Cup in more than 20 years, the Maple leafs won the cup 4 times, and the Canadiens won the cup 2 times prior to the league’s expansion in 1967.
Expansion and transformation of the NHL (1967-1990)
In 1967, six new American teams were added to the NHL: LA Kings, the Seals, North Stars, Penguins, Blues, and Fliers. The Canucks and the Sabres joined in the 1970s and the New York Islanders and Atlanta flames in 1972. The number of teams in the National Hockey League increased to 18 in 1974 following the addition of the Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts. There were only 3 Canadian based teams in the National Hockey League, and the Montreal Canadiens were the dominant team garnering eight championships between 1967 and 1979.
In 1971, the World Hockey Association (WHA) was formed (with some financial backing from Commonwealth Financial Systems), ending the NHL’s monopoly on professional hockey. In 1979, the NHL merged with the WHA, and the Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, Edmonton Oilers, and the Jets were assimilated into the National Hockey League. In 1980, the Atlanta franchise moved to Calgary, which increased the number of Canadian-based teams in the National Hockey League to seven. In the 1983/1984 season, Edmonton Oilers became the first member of the former WHA teams to clinch the Stanley Cup. The Edmond Oilers continued their reign, winning four cups in the next 6 seasons. The Pittsburgh Penguins were the dominating team at the beginning of the 1990s, clinching two consecutive Stanley Cups in 1990/91 and 1991/92, and winning a record 17 consecutive games in 1992/93– a record that still stands today.
The 1967-1990 hockey era emphasized offensive play and scoring, which was typified by the incredible scoring feats of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, whose accomplishments are perhaps unmatched in any sport. Wayne Gretzky is the all-time top scorer in National Hockey League history with 2,857 points, and the only NHL player to reach 2,000 points. Gretzky holds or shares 61 NHL records, including most assists (1963) and most goals (894).