The NHL’s Original Six – The History of Original Six Teams

Posted on April 19, 2024 by Dan Kent
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Few sports franchises are as iconic as the Original Six in the National Hockey League. The logos, cities, and players. They've all been remembered for nearly a century as the Original Six era spanned from 1942 to 1967.

However, the National Hockey League is much older than this, far older than the MLB, NFL, or NBA, and many may think that the Original Six teams started the league when in fact, they didn't.

We'll get to the bottom of everything inside this article, including who the Original Six NHL teams were, their star players, biggest rivals, how many cups they won, and so much more.

What six teams started the NHL?

You may be surprised to learn that six teams did not start the NHL. There were only 4 in the first NHL season, and all Canadian teams: the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Arenas. Although the Arenas and Canadiens did stick around until the Original Six era, it was over 30 years after the NHL started in 1917 that the era would begin.

Of note, the Toronto team would initially have no name, despite winning the Stanley Cup in the first season of the NHL.

What were the original four teams in the NHL?

  • Montreal Canadiens
  • Montreal Wanderers
  • Toronto Arenas
  • Ottawa Senators

The Quebec Bulldogs would enter the league shortly after, and the first team from the United States would join the league in 1924. That team was the Boston Bruins, which would also be a part of the Original Six teams.

What were the original 6 NHL teams?

  • Montreal Canadiens
  • Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Boston Bruins
  • Detroit Red Wings
  • Chicago Blackhawks
  • New York Rangers

Let's dig into the Original 6 NHL teams and how they came into the National Hockey League in its infancy, starting with the oldest team.

Montreal Canadiens

Canadiens Logo

The Montreal Canadiens were established before the NHL even started. The team was started in 1909 by Ambrose O'Brien and originally played its first years in the National Hockey Association.

The team often goes by its nickname, the "Habs," which stands for Habitants. However, many make the mistake of thinking the H inside of the Canadiens logo stands for Habitants. Its original design is meant to stand for the word hockey.

The team is known for preferring French-speaking players and French-speaking coaches. The team's impact during the Original Six era was nothing short of a dynasty. The team would win 10 of the 25 possible cups given during that era, and its dominance would last beyond the Original Six era until the early 1970s.

The team would then return to dominance in the late 1970s, winning four more Stanley Cups with hall-of-famers like Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson on the roster.

The emergence of solid franchises like the New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames in the 1980s caused the Canadien's dominance to fade. However, they would still win one more cup in the early 1990s and are currently the last Canadian team to hoist the Stanley Cup.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs

Although Toronto was one of the Original Six NHL teams, its origins date back to the beginning of the NHL in 1917. However, the team was not called the Maple Leafs. Instead, they were called the Toronto Arenas until the 1927 season, when the team's owners wanted to make the team more of a symbol of Canada.

The team was not as dominant as the Montreal Canadiens. 

However, they still hold the second most Stanley Cups in the National Hockey League. They would win three straight titles in the 1940s and four more in the 1960s.

The Maple Leafs currently hold the most prolonged drought regarding Stanley Cup victories in the National Hockey League, with their last Cup victory coming in 1967.

The team has one of the most iconic logos in sports and is one of the most expensive sports franchises in the world.

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Boston Bruins were the first American team to enter the National Hockey League and did so during the 1924 season. This makes them the longest-running and oldest hockey franchise in the United States.

The team came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, winning its first cup in 1928 and its second in 1938. However, the team would go on a long draught regarding cup victories, not winning another until 1970.

The Bruin's logo is simplistic, with a B inside of a round-shape spoked logo. However, the B is meant to represent the city where they play, Boston, and not the fact they are called the Bruins.

They've utilized many logos over the years, including many variations of a brown bear. However, the spoked "B" is undoubtedly one of the most iconic logos in sports history.

Detroit Red Wings

Red Wings

With the iconic flying wheel logo, the Detroit Red Wings are one of the most recognizable names in sports and have one of the most straightforward yet most recognizable jersey designs in pro sports.

The team was started in 1926 and was originally named the Detroit Cougars. However, the team would be renamed in 1932 to the Red Wings.

Although the team had numerous decades of dominance, none was more dominant than in the 1950s, in which the team would go on to win four Stanley Cups. They did so with hall-of-fame players like Gordie Howe and Terry Sawchuk at the helm.

The team is known to have had some of the most dominant players ever to play the game. Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg are some that come to mind just from recent times.

The team is not far removed from dominance, winning four Stanley Cups from 1997 to 2008. However, while writing this piece, the team is in rebuilding mode.

Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks

Like the Detroit Red Wings (Cougars at the time), the Chicago Blackhawks came into the league in 1926. The team was originally named the Chicago Black Hawks before being combined into a single word. The team won a Stanley Cup relatively quickly after their inception in 1934.

The team was named the Blackhawks in honour of the U.S. 86th Infantry Division, which was called the Blackhawk Division. 

The main reasoning behind this was to honour not only the soldiers in that division but the owner of the team at the time, Frederic McLaughlin, who also served in the division during the First World War.

The team has had long periods of success and struggles, routinely struggling during the Original Six era before winning some Stanley Cups, and the same can be said in recent times, as the team was one of the most dominant in the league in the mid to late 2000s.

New York Rangers

New York Rangers

The New York Rangers were the last team out of the Original Six to enter the National Hockey League. They were also the quickest Original Six team to win the Stanley Cup, just two years after entering the league. They won the cup twice up to the 1940 season but did not win it again until the 1994 season, led by all-star Mark Messier.

The team was originally named the New York Americans prior to changing their name to the Rangers in 1942.

The Rangers have the least success out of the Original Six teams, having only won 4 Stanley Cups. They certainly did not take advantage of the limited number of teams in the National Hockey League over that time and have gone on several multi-decade cup slumps that have tallied up to 54 years and nearly 30 years.

However, despite the lack of success from the franchise, it has one of the most loyal fan bases in the league, and the New York City arena is packed night in and night out. Undoubtedly, they're one of the most popular hockey teams on the planet.

How long were there only six teams in the NHL?

There would be six teams in the National Hockey League for 25 years, from 1942 to 1967. However, these six teams did not begin playing in 1942; all of them had been around the league for much longer than that. The youngest team of the Original Six era would have been the New York Rangers, which entered the league in 1926.

What is the oldest NHL team?

The oldest team in the NHL is the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens were formed in 1909 as a part of the National Hockey Association (NHA), which would go on to the National Hockey League. Although there are teams much older than the Canadiens, some formed in the 1800s, the Canadiens are certainly the oldest team of the most prolific league on the planet.

What ended the Original Six era?

The expansion draft of 1967 was what ended the era of the Original Six NHL franchises. The expansion draft would see the league double in size, the largest expansion in the league's history.

The California Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and St Louis Blues were the six teams added to the NHL at the time.

How many Stanley Cups have the Original Six teams won?

The Original Six teams have a total of 63 Stanley Cup wins. All of the top 5 most cup-winning teams are Original Six, with only the New York Rangers sitting outside the top 5.

During the Original Six era, the Montreal Canadiens would dominate and win 10 of the 25 Stanley Cups awarded.

  • Montreal Canadiens: 23 cups
  • Toronto Maple Leafs: 13 cups
  • Detroit Red Wings: 11 cups
  • Boston Bruins: 6 cups
  • Chicago Blackhawks: 6 cups
  • New York Rangers: 4 cups

Has any NHL player played for all original Six teams?

A single player, Vic Lynn, has played for all Original Six NHL teams. He would go on to play the following games for the following Original Six teams:

  • New York Rangers: 1
  • Detroit Red Wings: 3
  • Montreal Canadiens: 2
  • Toronto Maple Leads: 248
  • Boston Bruins: 73
  • Chicago Blackhawks: 96

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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