January 10, 2010

National Hockey League. The start of the second expansion era, 1967-68 season (6 teams added).

Filed under: Hockey,Hockey-NHL and expansion — admin @ 2:24 pm


The modern era in the National Hockey League began in 1967-68,  when the league doubled its size from 6 to 12 teams.  All 6 expansion teams were grouped together to form the newly created Western Division.  The 6 established teams (aka “the Original Six”) were grouped together to form the newly created Eastern Division.   [The Eastern and Western Division set-up lasted 7 seasons.]

All 6 expansion teams were from the United States,  with two teams from California (the Los Angeles Kings and the Oakland Seals),  two teams from the Midwest (the Minnesota North Stars and the St. Louis Blues),  and two teams from the Northeast…both from the state of Pennsylvania (the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins).  

[Canada was shut out of this expansion,  but a third Canadian team would join the NHL 3 years later,  when the Vancouver Canucks (along with the Buffalo Sabres) joined the NHL in 1970-71.]   

On the map,  there is a sidebar at the top,  left which shows the expansion history of the NHL,  from 1967-68 to 2009-10.


The NHL was pursuing US television broadcast money,  and to do so they felt they had to establish a presence throughout the USA,  not just in the Northeast and the upper Midwest.  This was the reason Canada saw no expansion here,  in 1967-68.  It was also rumored that the Toronto and Montreal owners didn’t want any more Canadian teams because that would force them to split the Canadian television broadcast money.  And the NHL league office refused to seriously consider bids from cities like Edmonton, Calgary, and Winnipeg,  without really explaining why they had no interest in putting teams there.  It was because they were Canadian cities,  and would not contribute to the pursuit of American television broadcast money.  This would become a pattern that persists,  and plagues the game,  to this day…the NHL’s league executives and owners lying about their intentions when it comes to placement of teams.  Basically the NHL would rather have a team in a warm weather locale in the United States that has zero tradition of ice hockey,  rather than a team in a provincial city in Canada where to this day kids play hockey outdoors all winter,  and where there are thousands and thousands of hockey fans willing to regularly attend games of a nearby NHL team they could call their own.  Saskatoon, Saskatchewan;  Winnipeg, Manitoba;  Hamilton/Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario;  and Quebec City, Quebec specifically.  All because of the NHL chasing big television money that never seems to materialize,  and trying to be a continent-wide sporting institution when it is ultimately simply the top league of a regional sport.  Here is an article from The [Toronto],  from October 3, 2009, ‘Ziegler’s NHL dream got burned in Sunbelt’  {click here}.


In 1967,  the NHL wanted all 6 expansion teams in the same division so an expansion team would be guaranteed a place in rhe Stanley Cup finals.  Why the top brass including commissioner Clarence Campbell thought it was so important for an expansion team to be in the Stanley Cup finals was never really adequately explained.  After all,  the other major sports leagues in the United States never felt the need to alter their league’s structure so that brand new teams could advance to the playoff finals.  And most sports fans would probably agree that expansion teams should really have to ”pay their dues”,  or,  basically,  be lousy for at least a couple years,  before they become good enough to qualify for a league’s playoff finals.  And sure enough,  in the three seasons that the NHL had this team/division structure,  the Stanley Cup finalist from the all-expansion Western Division was the loser.  All three seasons it was the St. Louis Blues,  and not only did the Blues lose those 3 consecutive Stanley Cup finals,  they never even won one game.  The Blues were swept by Montreal in 1967-68 and 1968-69,  and by Boston in 1969-70.

The expansion teams didn’t really like the set-up either,  as was shown when,  after the 1967-68 season,  the new teams petitioned for the schedule be more balanced.  The teams in the Western Division wanted more home games versus the established (and more popular) teams in the Eastern Division,  because attendance was suffering as a result of all these games between expansion teams.  So in 1968-69,  teams began playing more inter-divisional games (it went from 24 inter-division games per team to 36,  or from 4 games v. teams in the other division to 6 games v. teams in the other division).


The 1967-68 expansion put pro hockey in 3 markets it never had been in (southern California,  the San Francisco Bay area,  and Minneapolis-St. Paul),  and in 3 markets that never got a decent shot at sustaining an NHL team because of the Great Depression (Philadelphia,  Pittsburgh, and St. Louis).  

Here are league attendance figures from the 1960-61 NHL season to the 1998-99 season {click here (}.  

[These days,  the NHL averages in the mid 17,000-range,  with a 17,475 average for the league in 2008-09.  {team by team attendance figures in 2009-10, here (ESPN).]   


In 1967-68,  the 6 expansion teams all got relatively good,  but not great,  attendance,  with one glaring exception.  That was the Oakland Seals.  The team was never able to tap into the San Francisco market,  and some games were only drawing around 3,000.  Ownership changes,  front office changes,  coaching changes,  personnel changes,  team name changes,  and uniform changes all failed to alter the fact that the Seals,  then the Golden Seals (after 1970) were a doomed entity.  The California Golden Seals ended up being sold and moved to Cleveland,  where the franchise played its last two seasons as the Cleveland Barons (1976-1978).  The owners were able to work a deal with the league where they bought the then-struggling Minnesota North Stars franchise,  and transferred all the Baron players and personnel to Minnesota,  thus dissolving the Barons.  Major league hockey has never returned to Cleveland.   The NHL did return to the San Francisco Bay area 15 years after the Golden Seals.  This time,  the team,  the San Jose Sharks,  were a huge success.  But of course,  in the late 1960s/early 1970s,  there was no Silicon Valley economy to bolster a new sports franchise in the region.

The only other one of the 6 expansion teams in 1967-68 to eventually move out of its original region was the Minnesota North Stars.  The hockey club moved to Texas in 1993 to become the Dallas Stars.  Again,  as with the Bay area,  a new franchise was eventually awarded to the region,  seven years later,  when the Minnesota Wild,  of St. Paul,  began play in 2000.  The Minnesota Wild have the longest currently running sell-out streak in the NHL.  The hockey club has played to capacity in every home game since its inception in 2000-01.  In other words,  a successful expansion team in a cold weather city. Hey NHL top brass – this is not rocket science…cold weather cities produce viable NHL expansion teams, while Sun Belt cities produce NHL expansion teams doomed to fail because of fan apathy.

From, December 17, 2009, ,   by Christina Settini,  ’In Pictures: The NHL’s Best (And Worst) Fans’ {click here}.


Thanks to Jersey,  for the jerseys on the map {click here}.   Thanks to the contributors to the pages at {click here (’1967-68 NHL season’ page}.   Thanks to NHL shop,  for 2009-10 jerseys {click here}.   Thanks to “The Official National Hockey League 75th Anniversaty Commemorative Book”,  edited by Dan Diamond,  published by McLelland and Stewart, Inc., Toronto, 19991; 1994 edition  {at Amazon,  here}. 

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