History of organizational changes in the NHL

Since being founded in 1917, the National Hockey League (NHL), which in its first two seasons started out as a three-team league and eventually grew to thirty-one in its current state, has expanded and contracted numerous times throughout its history. The following is a complete history of organizational changes in the NHL.

Early years

Four/three teams (1917–19)

The four teams that began the inaugural NHL season were the Montreal Canadiens, the Montreal Wanderers, the original Ottawa Senators, and the Toronto Arenas. However, after completing four games out of the scheduled 22, the Wanderers withdrew from the league due to their arena burning down, and the NHL continued this season and the next with only three teams.

Four teams (1919–24)

In its third season, 1919–20, the NHL underwent its first expansion, adding the Quebec Bulldogs. Toronto changed its name to Toronto St. Patricks. The next season, however, Quebec relocated to Hamilton, becoming the Hamilton Tigers. These same four teams continued playing for four seasons, up to 1923–24.

Six teams (1924–25)

Two new teams joined the NHL in its eighth season, the Boston Bruins, and the Montreal Maroons.

Seven teams (1925–26)

The next season, the NHL added two new teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Americans. The Americans were stocked by purchasing the contracts of the Hamilton Tigers players, and the Tigers franchise was subsequently revoked by the league.

Ten teams (1926–31)

The NHL continued to expand the following season, adding the Chicago Black Hawks, the Detroit Cougars, and the New York Rangers, growing to ten teams, thus more than doubling its size in its first decade of existence. During the 1926–27 season, Toronto was renamed the Toronto Maple Leafs, taking effect next season. For the 1930–31 season, the Pirates moved from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, becoming the Philadelphia Quakers, and Detroit was renamed the Detroit Falcons.

Eight teams (1931–32)

After fourteen seasons of steady expansion, the NHL contracted to eight teams, dropping the Philadelphia Quakers and the original Ottawa Senators for the 1931–32 season.

Nine teams (1932–35)

For the 1932–33 season, after missing one season, the original Ottawa Senators rejoined the NHL, and the Detroit Falcons were renamed the Detroit Red Wings. Two seasons later, for the 1934–35 season, the Ottawa Senators relocated, becoming the St. Louis Eagles.

Eight teams (1935–38)

The Eagles folded after one season, and the NHL was once again an eight-team league for three seasons.

Seven teams (1938–42)

The Montreal Maroons withdrew from the league for the 1938–39 season, further reducing the number of teams in the NHL to seven, shrinking to the size the league was in 1925–26. Play continued for four seasons with seven teams, with the New York Americans changing their name to the Brooklyn Americans for the 1941–42 season, their last.

Original Six (1942–67)

The 1942–43 season saw the folding of the Brooklyn Americans, thus ushering in the Original Six era of the NHL, which lasted without any organizational changes for twenty-five seasons.

Expansion years (1967–91)

Twelve teams (1967–70)

The 1967 expansion doubled the number of teams in the league, with an upfront expansion fee of $2 million each ($14.7 million today).[1] For the 1967–68 season, six new teams were added to the NHL: the California Seals, the Los Angeles Kings, the Minnesota North Stars, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the St. Louis Blues. During their first season, the California Seals were renamed the Oakland Seals.

Fourteen teams (1970–72)

The Oakland Seals were renamed the Bay Area Seals for two games before changing their name again to the California Golden Seals for their fourth season in 1970–71. The same season the NHL added two new teams, the Buffalo Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks, paying an expansion fee of $6 million each ($37.8 million today).[1]

Sixteen teams (1972–74)

Two more teams joined for the 1972–73 NHL season, the New York Islanders and the Atlanta Flames. With the competing World Hockey Association (WHA) starting that same season, the NHL was not able to raise its expansion fee from the price of two years earlier, $6 million ($35.1 million today), with the Islanders paying an additional $5 million ($29.3 million today) to the New York Rangers for infringing on their territory.[2]

Eighteen teams (1974–78)

Two more teams joined for the 1974–75 NHL season, the Washington Capitals and the Kansas City Scouts, but the ongoing competition from the WHA meant that the overall revenue stream of the NHL had not improved, so the league kept the expansion fee for new owners at the $6 million ($29.8 million today) of two years and four years earlier.[2] The earnings situation for the new franchises was so poor that (at least) the Capitals were able to negotiate a reduction to a total fee of $2.85 million ($14.1 million today).[2]

Going into the 1977–78 NHL season, the California Golden Seals relocated and became the Cleveland Barons, and the Kansas City Scouts moved as well, becoming the Colorado Rockies.

Seventeen teams (1978–79)

For the first time since the 1942–43 season the NHL contracted, merging the Cleveland Barons into the Minnesota North Stars.

Twenty-one teams (1979–91)

Following seven seasons of revenue draining competition, the NHL–WHA merger was completed for the start of the 1979–80 NHL season. Four teams came over from the WHA, paying an expansion fee of $7.5 million each ($25.3 million today).[1] These new NHL teams were the Edmonton Oilers, the Hartford Whalers, the Quebec Nordiques, and the (original) Winnipeg Jets. This also doubled the number of Canadian teams in the league. The following season, Atlanta relocated and became the Calgary Flames. In turn, for the 1982–83 season, the Colorado Rockies moved, becoming the New Jersey Devils. Chicago changed the spelling of their name from the Black Hawks to the Blackhawks for the 1986–87 season, based on its original franchise documents. Standing at 21 teams for twelve seasons, this was one of the longer stable periods of NHL history, though surpassed by the twenty-five seasons of the Original Six period, when no additions, moves nor name changes occurred.

Further expansion

Twenty-two teams (1991–92)

The 1991–92 season saw the dawn of rapid expansion and relocation in the NHL, which lasted for the next ten years, starting with the addition of the San Jose Sharks, paying an expansion fee of $45 million ($80.9 million today).[1]

Twenty-four teams (1992–93)

Two new teams joined the league the following season, the Ottawa Senators and the Tampa Bay Lightning, paying an expansion fee of $45 million each ($78.5 million today).[1]

Twenty-six teams (1993–98)

The next season, another two teams were added, the Florida Panthers and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, paying an expansion fee of $50 million each ($84.7 million today), with Anaheim paying an additional $25 million ($42.4 million today) to the Los Angeles Kings for infringing on their region.[1] The Minnesota North Stars relocated, becoming the Dallas Stars. Two seasons later, for the 1995–96 season, the Quebec Nordiques relocated and became the Colorado Avalanche. The following season, the Winnipeg Jets also moved, becoming the Phoenix Coyotes. The season after that, the Hartford Whalers relocated, becoming the Carolina Hurricanes.

Twenty-seven teams (1998–99)

The Nashville Predators joined the league for the 1998–99 season, paying an expansion fee of $80 million ($120.1 million today).[1]

Twenty-eight teams (1999–2000)

The following season, another team started play, the Atlanta Thrashers, paying the same expansion fee of $80 million ($117.5 million today) as the Predators paid a year earlier.[1]

Thirty teams (2000–2017)

For its 2000–01 season, the NHL added the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild, each paying the same expansion fee of $80 million ($113.7 million today) as Nashville and Atlanta paid in the previous two years.[1] The NHL had reached a slate of 30 teams, entering the second longest period (after the Original Six period) of membership stability in its history. While it stayed at 30 teams for eighteen seasons, there were some moves and name changes. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim changed their name to the Anaheim Ducks in the 2006–07 season. The Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, becoming the second version of the Winnipeg Jets in the 2011–12 NHL season. The Phoenix Coyotes changed their name to Arizona Coyotes for the 2014–15 NHL season.

Thirty-one teams (2017–present)

On June 22, 2016, the Board of Governors voted 30-0 to add an expansion franchise in Las Vegas for the 2017–18 season, charging an expansion fee of $500 million ($509.8 million today).[1] An announcement was made the same day by Gary Bettman in Las Vegas.

Expansion and dispersal drafts

Draft Location City Date Expansion team(s) Players drafted #1 pick(s)
1967 Queen Elizabeth Hotel Montreal, Quebec June 6, 1967 California Seals
Los Angeles Kings
Minnesota North Stars
Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins
St. Louis Blues
120 Terry Sawchuk (Toronto Maple Leafs)
1970 N/A N/A June 10, 1970 Buffalo Sabres
Vancouver Canucks
40 Tom Webster (Boston Bruins)
Gary Doak (Boston Bruins)
1972 N/A N/A June 6, 1972 Atlanta Flames
New York Islanders
42 Phil Myre (Montreal Canadiens)
Gerry Desjardins (Chicago Black Hawks)
1974 N/A N/A June 12, 1974 Kansas City Scouts
Washington Capitals
48 Michel Plasse (Montreal Canadiens)
Ron Low (Toronto Maple Leafs)
N/A N/A June 15, 1978 Cleveland Barons
Minnesota North Stars
2 N/A
1979 N/A N/A June 13, 1979 Edmonton Oilers
Hartford Whalers
Quebec Nordiques
Winnipeg Jets
65 Cam Connor (Montreal Canadiens)
Alan Hangsleben (Montreal Canadiens)
Dave Farrish (New York Rangers)
Peter Marsh (Montreal Canadiens)
1991 N/A N/A May 30, 1991 Minnesota North Stars
San Jose Sharks
44 Shane Churla (Minnesota North Stars; dispersal)
Jeff Hackett (New York Islanders)
Rob Ramage (Toronto Maple Leafs)
1992 N/A N/A June 18, 1992 Ottawa Senators
Tampa Bay Lightning
42 Peter Sidorkiewicz (Hartford Whalers)
Wendell Young (Pittsburgh Penguins)
1993 Quebec Coliseum Quebec City, Quebec June 24–25, 1993 Florida Panthers
Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
51 John Vanbiesbrouck (Vancouver Canucks)
Guy Hebert (St. Louis Blues)
1998 Marine Midland Arena Buffalo, New York June 26, 1998 Nashville Predators 26 N/A
1999 FleetCenter Boston, Massachusetts June 25, 1999 Atlanta Thrashers 26 N/A
2000 Pengrowth Saddledome Calgary, Alberta June 23, 2000 Columbus Blue Jackets
Minnesota Wild
52 Rick Tabaracci (Colorado Avalanche)
Jamie McLennan (Florida Panthers)
2017 T-Mobile Arena Paradise, Nevada June 21, 2017 Vegas Golden Knights 30 Calvin Pickard (Colorado Avalanche)

Possible expansion

Despite statements from the NHL in recent years that no further expansion or even relocation was planned for the foreseeable future (a statement partially contradicted by the relocation of the Thrashers to Winnipeg), there have been rumors and talks of potential new sites for existing or new teams in various locations in the United States and Canada. Since Winnipeg (the previous frontrunner) received the Jets in 2011, Quebec City and Seattle have been the most-discussed potential relocation sites; other potential markets for relocation that have seen action in recent years include Houston, Saskatoon, Kansas City, and Southern Ontario (which would be Hamilton, Toronto or Markham, although the league has actively blocked all of the Southern Ontario efforts to date, citing territorial concerns with the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs). On February 13, 2018, a Seattle group placed a bid to start play in the 2020 season.


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