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1966: National Hockey League doubles its size

The Story

Since the 1942-43 season, the NHL has boasted only six teams in its roster. But in 1966, threats of a competing league on the west coast and a desire to broaden the NHL's appeal lead to expansion. Six new teams join the Original Six, drastically changing hockey's playing field. As this CBC Radio news report demonstrates, the NHL's decision is regarded with much skepticism, and some hockey fans are also upset that no Canadian team is chosen for the newly devised West Division. One thing's for sure: Canada's national sport will never be the same again.

Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: Feb. 9, 1966
Anchor: Harry Mannis
Reporter: Brian Kelleher
Duration: 2:12

Did You know?

• The National Hockey league was founded in 1917. By 1926, salary increases and growth into the U.S. brought 10 teams into the league. But due to the Great Depression, ensuing financial difficulties and the Second World War, as of 1942, the NHL was reduced to what would be known as the Original Six. They were: the Montreal Canadiens, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Detroit Red Wings, the Boston Bruins, the New York Rangers and the Chicago Blackhawks.

• After the Second World War, the rise of talented minor league players strengthened the Western Hockey League. There was fear in the NHL that this growing league was planning on joining the majors, becoming a competitive force in professional hockey. Added to that, the NHL wanted to acquire a new TV contract in the U.S. akin to those of Major League Baseball and the National Football League. The decision to expand the NHL in 1966 was seen as a way to meet both challenges head on.

• Vancouver was one city really upset by the creation of the West Division. Despite a strong bid to add the franchise, it was left out in the cold. It was believed that politics played a big part in the rejection, as Toronto and Montreal were unwilling to share CBC-TV money with another Canadian team. Vancouver would have to wait until 1970 when another expansion brought it into the NHL.

• For many, the years between 1942 and 1967 were seen as the Golden Age of Hockey. By 1967 -- the 50th anniversary of the NHL -- each of the six teams was playing 70 games. With so few teams and the high level of talent adorning the ice, it has been said that the calibre of play during that period was greater than any time since.

• Some argued that, as the league increased in size, less-talented players joined the NHL roster, diminishing the quality of the game. Finesse, these critics argued, was replaced with aggressive tactics and displays of mediocrity. Despite the opponents who mourned the loss of the Golden Age, one expansion led to another and another -- in 1970, 1972 and 1974. As of the 2017-18 season, 31 teams will make up the National Hockey League.

• The changes that began in 1966 had far-reaching implications for those who held the firm belief that the game of hockey belonged to Canada. In 1966, 96 per cent of the league's players were Canadian. By 1991, that figure was at 71 per cent and falling.

• The six teams, termed the Expansion Six, that joined the NHL in 1966 were: The California Seals (later the Golden Seals), the Los Angeles Kings, the Minnesota North Stars, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the St. Louis Blues.


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