** Originally published on April 2010 by Bruce Wilkie/THW
The 1950s and 60s were a time of great growth for professional sports in the United States. Three of the four “major” sports had expanded to become nationwide entities. The National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball had expanded or had teams move to have franchises span from the East Coast to the West Coast. With the introduction of television, it was important that professional sports leagues have teams nationwide to attract growing TV audiences.
The National Hockey League was the exception to the rule among the four “major” sports. They had been the most stable of the four, keeping the same six teams in the same six cities, basically in the northeast, since 1942. As the other sports experienced growth, the NHL seemed to be happy where they were,
The NHL Second Six Are:
In the mid-sixties that changed. The NHL, which had experienced unprecedented stability by keeping the same franchise lineup for 25 years, now experienced unprecedented growth, becoming the first major North American sport to double in size by expansion.
The Original Six, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, New York and Toronto, were joined by teams in California (Oakland), Los Angeles, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
The six new teams were placed in their own division, the West. They played all the other NHL teams during the regular season, but in the playoffs they played only fellow expansion teams, eventually sending their playoff champion to the Stanley Cup Finals against the playoff champion of the East Division (Original Six) teams. For the first three seasons, the West Division playoff champions were the St. Louis Blues.
Stanley Cup Success for the Second Six
The so-called “Second Six” franchises have met with varying degrees of success:
The Philadelphia Flyers were the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup, winning it in 1973-74 and again in 1974-75. They have appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals on five other occasions.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have had issues, having ownership problems throughout their lifetime to the point of filing bankruptcy twice, in 1975 and 1998. On the ice, they have won three Stanley Cups, back-to-back in 1990-91 and 1991-92 and then again in 2008-09. They were also in the Finals in 2007-08, losing to Detroit in 6 games. [A couple more Cups since this was originally written]
The St. Louis Blues were the only team of the Second Six to be awarded a franchise before ownership was in place. The Chicago Blackhawks owned the St. Louis Arena and lobbied for St. Louis to be awarded an expansion team so that they could sell the Arena to whoever was awarded the St. Louis franchise.
The Blues have had off-ice problems over the years. In 1983 the Blues ownership refused to participate in the NHL draft and tried to sell the team to interests that would have moved the team to Saskatoon. Despite the Saskatoon group claiming over 17,000 season ticket deposits, the move was not allowed and the team stayed in Missouri.
On the ice, the team was the early success of the Second Six. Due to the NHL’s playoff structure that saw the expansion teams play amongst themselves, the Blues made the Stanley Cup Finals in the first three seasons of the Second Six. They were swept by Montreal in 1968 and 1969, and Boston in 1970. They have not returned to the Finals since. * The 1970 series was where the iconic Bobby Orr flying goal happened.
The NHL Hits the West Coast
Los Angeles, along with Oakland, gave the NHL a much-needed West Coast presence. They were owned by Jack Kent Cooke, who also owned the Los Angeles Lakers and their arena, the Forum, as well as the Washington Redskins of the NFL.
Attendance at Kings home games was not overwhelming in the beginning, causing Cooke to remark “I put the Kings in LA because there are 500,000 ex-Canadians living in Southern California. They moved there because they hate hockey.”
The Kings experienced great success on and off the ice when they acquired Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers in 1988. With Gretzky, they made their only appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals, losing in five games to Montreal in 1993.
The Oakland/California franchise was an unusual organization to say the least. Charley O. Finley, “colorful” owner of baseball’s Oakland A’s, purchased the team in 1970 and made several changes. He changed the team’s colors to green and gold and had the players wear white skates, similar to his baseball teams white cleats. The team’s name also changed, several times. The team was known, at various times, as the Oakland Seals, the California Golden Seals and the California Seals.
Finley eventually tired of the team and gave the franchise back to the NHL. They were able to find a local owner, but when plans for a new San Francisco arena fell through, the team was relocated to Cleveland, where they were called the Barons. After two seasons in Cleveland they merged with the Minnesota North Stars.
The state of Minnesota was a hotbed for hockey in the United States, but the North Stars faced competition from high school and college hockey from the start. The 1978 merger with the Cleveland Barons brought the Stars solid ownership and several good players. They appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1980-81 where they lost 4-1 to the New York Islanders. They returned to the Finals in 1990-91, where they lost to Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins in 6 games.
The Stars Move to Dallas
In 1993 owner Norm Green moved the team to Dallas, where the “North” was dropped from their name and they became the Stars. They won the Stanley Cup in 1998-99, beating Buffalo 4 games to 2. They returned to the Cup Finals the next year, but lost to New Jersey 4-2.
Four of the NHL Second Six teams, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and St. Louis are in their original cities. The two teams that moved, Oakland and Minnesota, were eventually replaced by expansion teams, the San Jose Sharks in 1991 and the Minnesota Wild in 2000.
While the original Oakland and Minnesota franchises had attendance problems that led to their relocations, the new franchises have been box office successes from the start.