Who were the NHL Original 6 hockey teams?

The NHL has a long a wonderful history. When you dig into the past there are so many interesting stories, especially about the Original Teams with so much history.

Who were the Original Six NHL hockey teams? The statement of Original Six is a bit of a misnomer as all the teams did not originate with the start of the NHL in 1917. However, the Original Six refers to Montreal Canadiens (1917), Toronto Maple Leafs (1917), Boston Bruins (1924), New York Rangers (1926), Chicago Blackhawks (1926), and Detroit Red Wings (1926)

Let’s look more closely at where the name Original Six came from and an overview of each of the Original Six teams.

Embed from Getty Images

The original 6 hockey teams were not the original six?

It is fair to be confused by the the term ‘original six’ implies that these six teams were around when the NHL started. 

In reality when the NHL started there were only 4 teams and they were all based in Canada. The four actual ‘original’ teams that started the NHL in 1917 were the Montreal Canadians, Toronto Arenas (who became the St. Pats and then the Maple Leafs), Ottawa Senators, and the Montreal Wanderers. 

In fact there were a lot of different teams in the first 25 years of the NHL. Here is a list of the teams that played that started (and some changed locations) and folded during that period: 

  • Montreal Wanderers 
  • Ottawa Senators who became the St. Louis Eagles
  • Hamilton Tigers
  • Quebec Bulldogs
  • Montreal Maroons
  • Pittsburgh Pirates who became Philadelphia Quakers
  • New York Americans who became Brooklyn Americans

Where did the name Original Six come from? 

As we have seen from above the first 25 years of the NHL’s existence was full of changes. A number of teams were started and then either changed locations or folded. 

It was not easy to keep a team financially stable, and all the ups and downs of the early franchises witnessed to this fact. 

When the Brooklyn Americans folded in the summer of 1942 the NHL was left with six teams. What happened after that had never happened before in the history of the NHL – there was great stability. 

From 1942 until the NHL expanded again in 1967 there were only six teams: Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, and Detroit Red Wings.

There were not relocations, additions, name changes or folded franchises during this 25 year period. 

If the first 25 years in the NHL were characterized by franchise movement, the next 25 years were best described as stable. 

So when the NHL finally decided to expand again in 1967 taking the league from 6 to 12 teams, those 6 teams had built a foundation for the NHL that they could go from.

The term ‘Original Six’ began to appear after the 1967 expansion to differentiate between the six teams that were there prior to expansion and the six teams that were added during expansion

Although the term is not technically correct (as there were only 4 original teams) it captures the essence of the start of the NHL as those are the six teams that provided a foundation of stability that the NHL could grow from. 

Let’s take a closer look at each of the Original Six teams. 

Who were the Original Six?

1) Montreal Canadiens 1917

Founded: 1909 (part of the National Hockey Association)

Original Arena: Mount Royal Arena

Stanley Cups: 23

Hall of Famers: 55

Retired Numbers: 15

NHL Playoff Appearances: 84

Franchise Scoring Leaders: All-time Goals: Maurice Richard, 544; All-time Assists: Guy Lafleur, 1246; Single season Goals: Steve Shutt (76-77) and Guy Lafleur (77-78), 60; Single-Season Assists, Guy Lafleur, 136 (76-77)

Overview: Montreal is the gold standard of NHL hockey teams. The own, without a doubt, the best stat of any team – most Stanley Cups at 23. There is really nobody even close to them. 

Montreal is the center of the hockey universe. They have everything going for it – where hockey was invented, where the NHL was founded, most winning franchise of all-time, most tradition, and, probably, most passionate fans. 

If you ever get a chance to go to Montreal to see a Canadiens game do it – it is on my bucket list. 

Quirky Fact: The love of their team and players has even caused the fans to riot. On March 17, 1955 over 6000 fans rioted and protested a suspension to Maurice Richard. Richard was suspended for the rest of the regular season and playoffs due to hitting a linesman.

The fans were so upset at this that a riot ensued on the first game after the suspension causing $100,000 in property damage, 37 injuries, and 100 arrests. It is now known as the Richard Riot. 

3) Toronto Maple Leafs

Founded: 1917

Name Changes: Arenas to St. Patricks in 1919; St. Patricks to Maple Leafs in 1927

Original Arena: Arena Gardens

Stanley Cups: 13

Hall of Famers: 63

Retired Numbers: 13

NHL Playoff Appearances: 69

Franchise Scoring Leaders: All-time Goals: Mats Sundin, 420; All-time Assists: Mats Sundin, 987; Single season Goals: Rick Vaive, 54 (1981-82); Single-Season Assists, Doug Gilmour (1992-93), 127

Overview: Toronto has the most fans of any NHL team. Although they are one of seven teams in Canada they dominate the headlines on the sports stations. Every aspect of every player and play are analyzed and over-analyzed when playing for the leafs. 

The Leafs are the current NHL team that has the longest Stanley Cup drought at 53 years. When they finally win a Stanley Cup the city of Toronto will go absolutely bonkers! A parade of millions will occur. 

Quirky Fact: During the 1930s the Maple Leafs made it to the Stanley Cup Finals six times in eight years but lost each time. However, they would redeem themselves in the 1940s as they won the Cup six times in ten years. 

3) Boston Bruins

Founded: 1924

Original Arena: Boston Arena

Stanley Cups: 6 (First: 1928-29; Last 2010-11)

Hall of Famers: 52

Retired Numbers: 11

NHL Playoff Appearances: 73

Franchise Scoring Leaders: All-time Goals: Johnny Bucyk, 545; All-time Assists: Ray Bourque, 1506; Single season Goals: Phil Esposito, 76 (70-71); Single-Season Assists, Phil Esposito, 152 (70-71)

Overview: The Boston Bruins were the first American team in the NHL. They played the first NHL game on USA soil in December 1924 when they beat the Montreal Maroons 2-1.  

Boston has a long-tradition and love for hockey, as they have passionate fans who love all levels of hockey. The most famous college tournament in the U.S. is called the Beanpot, and involves the four major college hockey schools of Boston. 

Quirky Fact: In the 1988 Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers at the Boston Garden, the Boston Bruins played in the fog game. During the second period of the 4th game all 40 players on the teams had to go out and skate around the ice because a thick fog had developed in the building. The skating dissipated the fog that had been built up.

Then with a little over 3 minutes to go in the second period and the score tied 3-3 there was a power failure in the building, which ended up cancelling the game. The game was made up back in Edmonton, who would win the Stanley Cup. 

4) New York Rangers

Founded: 1926

Original Arena: Madison Square Garden

Stanley Cups: 4

Hall of Famers: 53 

Retired Numbers: 8

NHL Playoff Appearances: 60

Franchise Scoring Leaders: All-time Goals: Rod Gilbert, 406; All-time Assists: Rod Gilbert, 1021; Single season Goals: Jaromir Jagr 54, (05-06); Single-Season Assists,Jaromir Jagr, 123 (05-06)

Overview: The Rangers are the team that every American (and foreign born players) want to play for. They are so often the number one destination for Free Agents and a number of college kids have been known to try maneuver themselves so they can sign with them. 

There is a lure about playing for them. You can’t blame the players – who wouldn’t want to play in Madison Square Gardens? They have won the Stanley Cup the least of the Original Six, but I would say they are the most popular American NHL team. 

Quirky Fact: During the 1945-56 season head coach Frank Boucher became the first coach to popularize using two goalies during the season. He also popularized the strategy of pulling the goalie at the end of the game to get an extra attacker to try and tie the game.

5) Chicago Blackhawks

Founded: 1926

Original Arena: Chicago Coliseum 

Stanley Cups: 6 (First: 1934; Last 2015) 

Hall of Famers: 40

Retired Numbers: 7

NHL Playoff Appearances: 63

Franchise Scoring Leaders: Goals Leader: Bobby Hull, 604; Points Leader: Stan Mikita 1467

Most Goals, Season: Bobby Hull, 58 (68-69); Most Points, Season: Denis Savard, 131 (87-88)

Note: The Blackhawks nickname was spelled Black Hawks until 1986. 

Overview: The Blackhawks have been the most successful of the Original Six during this present century. They won three Stanley Cups on the core of a Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith dynasty. 

The Blackhawks have always had one of the most intimidating arenas to play in for opposing teams. It started at the old Chicago Stadium where the whole crowd would be on its feet cheering and singing the national anthem giving the Hawks a huge momentum push at the start of the game. 

Quirky Fact: The Chicago Blackhawks are the only team to have won the Stanley Cup (1938) with a team that finished with a record of less than .500 in the regular season at 14-25-9. 

A part of the reason for their poor performance was the construction of the team as the owner wanted only American born players – the season before they had only one. At this time most of the quality players were Canadian. However the Black Hawks managed to upset the heavily favoured Montreal Canadiens, New York Americans, and Toronto Maple Leafs. 

What makes this additionally noteworthy is that they one game one of the finals with emergency goaltender Alfie Moore!

6) Detroit Red Wings

Founded: 1926

Name Changes: Detroit Cougar (1926-30); Detroit Falcons (1930-1932) Detroit Red Wings (1932-Present)

Original Arena: Olympia Stadium

Stanley Cups: 11 (First: 35-36; Last: 07-08)

Hall of Famers: 65

Retired Numbers: 8

NHL Playoff Appearances: 64

Franchise Scoring Leaders: All-time Goals: Gordie Howe, 786; All-time Assists: Gordie Howe, 1809; Single season Goals: Steve Yzerman, 65 (88-89); Single-Season Assists: Steve Yzerman, 155 (88-89)

Overview: Detroit is known as Hockeytown USA, and for good reason. They are the most winning American NHL franchise of all-time, and have turned Michigan into a hockey hotbed. 

Michigan is home to amazing college teams, the U.S. National Development Program, and has produced a number of NHLers. This is all a trickle down from the Red Wins success both through the Gordie Howe and the Steve Yzerman years. 

Quirky Fact: Did you know it is a tradition for fans to throw an Octopus on the ice at home playoff games? 

It started in 1952 to symbolize the necessary 8 wins a team must get to win the Stanley cup (it takes 16 now). The tradition continues and fans will throw an Octopus on the ice during a Red Wings home game. 

Leave a Reply

Related Articles
Hockey Answered Secondary Logo

Welcome to Hockey Answered: a resource for anyone curious to learn & understand more about the great game of hockey.

I am a lifelong fan who grew up in a major market (Calgary), and I have played, coached, and watched a lot of hockey!

As my daughter began watching NHL games with me, I realized how many questions come up about the sport. Hockey Answered is full of, well, answers! If you are a new fan or lifelong enthusiast, I hope that you can enjoy hockey even more by learning something new around here.

How can we help?