50 Events That Forever Changed the National Hockey League
The game that we see today hardly resembles the hockey that the "old time" heroes like Eddie Shore used to play. It's apples and oranges, really, when you compare different eras in the same sport.
The best players were the most talented at the time, and given the technology and the equipment that they had at their disposal, they made do.
Could Sidney Crosby skate as well if he were rocking some 1930's blades? Would Pavel Datsyuk be as nifty with his dangles if he had a 45-pound tree trunk of a stick to try and maneuver? How good could the quality of the ice have been back then given the technology?
It's kind of funny to think about, but it gives you an appreciation of where the game of hockey has evolved from. I'm a hockey fan to the core, but I have to admit that I definitely learned a lot when putting this piece together.
Finding 50 different "events" that changed hockey isn't as easy as it might seem. Some of these things are obviously more significant than others, but I felt that all hold their place in the history of the league.
From Stanley Cups to glowing pucks, Zambonis to collective bargaining, you'll find it here!
November 26, 1917: The NHL Is Born
What would a series of slides about the National Hockey League be without first discussing the league's inception? A group of bickering owners took to the Windsor hotel in Montreal and suspended operations of the NHL's predecessor, the NHA (National Hockey Association). The new league consisted of four teams:
- Montreal Canadiens
- Montreal Wanderers
- Ottawa Senators
- Quebec Bulldogs
The Bulldogs were unable to play in the inaugural season and therefore replaced by a Toronto team, using players from the NHA Toronto franchise to spite the NHA's Toronto Blueshirts' owner Eddie Livingstone.
The league wanted a team in Toronto but didn't want Livingstone involved. The Toronto Arenas were created by the league and run by Arena Gardens, which ran the facility that the Toronto franchise played in.
Fires Turn Les Habitants into Les Nomads
In January of 1918, a fire burned down the Montreal Arena, forcing the Montreal Wanderers to cease operations and the Canadiens to play their games in the Jubilee Arena. This nearly forced the league to fold after only one season. The young NHL played with only three teams until Quebec reactivated in 1919.
Ironically and tragically, the Jubilee Arena also burnt to the ground, forcing the Canadiens to move again to the Mount Royal Arena.
The Stanley Cup
The Stanley Cup was originally inscribed the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup. It was first awarded in 1893 to Canada's top amateur hockey club. In ,per an agreement between the NHA (National Hockey Association) and the PCHA (Pacific Coast Hockey Association), the cup would be awarded to the winner of a series between the two league champions.
After the NHA folded, the NHL continued the series in its place. In 1922, with the formation of the Western Canada Hockey League, three league champions competed for the cup.
The PCHA and WCHL would merge and then fold, and by 1926, only NHL teams would compete for the Stanley Cup. In 1947, the league granted an injunction allowing the league to reject any challenge from a team looking to compete for the cup.
The Stanley Cup has been awarded every year since its inception, except for 1919 due to the Spanish flu outbreak and 2004-05 due to the lockout.
The First NHL All-Star Game 1934
The first NHL All-Star game was actually a tribute game put together for fallen Maple Leaf Ace Bailey. Bailey had been injured by Boston defenseman Eddie Shore.
The Stanley Cup Champion Maple Leafs took on a team of NHL All-Stars, including Shore himself. Proceeds from the game were donated to Bailey and his family.
1942-43: The Original Six
After all the goofy additions subtractions, buying and selling, the league settled into these six teams in 1942-43. This group is known now as the "Original Six" franchises.
Rocket Hits 50 in 50
Maurice "Rocket" Richard became the first player to score 50 goals in 50 games in the 1944-45 season.
If you think Richard has crazy eyes, you're probably right. Richard was suspended for the 1955 playoffs for punching a linesman. He may or may not have been asking for it.
January 18, 1958: Willie O'Ree
Willie O'Ree was called up to replace an injured Boston player halfway through the 1957-58 season. He made his NHL debut against the Montreal Canadiens, and would play only part of 1961 with Boston. His appearance in 1958 marked the first time a black player had appeared in an NHL game.
Over the course of a 23-year period from 1956 to 1979, the Montreal Canadiens franchise won 15 Stanley Cup championships. They literally won the cup more often than they didn't for almost a quarter of a century. No other team in NHL history has come close to that period of dominance.
The Russian Five
Vyacheslov Kozlov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, and Igor Larionov, as members of the Detroit Red Wings, were often put on the ice as a five-man unit. In the same manner as the former Soviet teams used to rotate lines, the five Russians were often kept together.
As products of identical training and development, the players had an uncanny ability to maintain puck possession in either zone for extended periods of time.
The Russian Five played a major role in the Red Wing's 1997 Stanley Cup victory. Unfortunately, their success would be cut short after a post-cup celebration resulted in a limousine accident, paralyzing Konstantinov.
Between 1970 and 1974 the NHL added six more teams to the twelve for various reasons.The Canucks and Sabres were added in response to Canadian complaints that all six previous expansion teams were U.S. based. The Islanders and Flames were geographically selected to grab the market against the competing WHA (World Hockey Association).
- Vancouver Canucks: 1970
- Buffalo Sabres: 1970
- New York Islanders: 1972
- Atlanta Flames: 1972
- Kansas City Scouts: 1974
- Washington Capitals: 1974
The 1990s saw hockey expand to non-traditional markets. Solid leadership and intelligent hockey minds made most of these teams competitive rather quickly and exposed the NHL to regions of North America that were "hockey-challenged" to say the least.
- San Jose Sharks: 1991
- Tampa Bay Lightning: 1992
- Ottawa Senators: 1992
- Mighty Ducks of Anaheim: 1993
- Florida Panthers: 1993
- Nashville Predators: 1998
- Atlanta Thrashers: 1999
- Columbus Blue Jackets: 2000
- Minnesota Wild: 2000
1979: WHA Merger
From its inception in 1972, the WHA battled with the NHL in free agency and in the courts for legitimacy. After tangling for the better part of the 1970s, the WHA could no longer sustain operations and agreed to a merger. The 1979 NHL-WHA merger had the NHL absorb four more teams:
- Winnipeg Jets
- Edmonton Oilers
- Hartford Whalers
- Quebec Nordiques
1997: Good Bye Whalers/Hello Hurricanes
In 1997, the Hartford Whalers, their fly Cooperalls and their Brass Bonanza headed to Tobacco Road, i.e. Raleigh, North Carolina, to become the Carolina Hurricanes. While the Canes said no thanks to the Cooperalls and the catchy jingle, they were able to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.
1995: Quebec Nordiques Head for the Mountains
In 1995 the Quebec Nordiques would pack their bags and take their talents to the Rocky Mountains. The newly renamed Colorado Avalanche would almost immediately become one of the dominant teams in the NHL, winning two Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and in 2001.
1996: Winnipeg Jets Fly South to Phoenix
In 1996, the Winnipeg Jets headed south for the summer, specifically Phoenix, and never came back. They became the Coyotes, masters of the first-round playoff exit (until this year), and have had problems finding a reliable owner ever since.
Atlanta Heads to Winnipeg and Becomes the Jets. Again.
In 2011, the NHL returned to Winnipeg in the form of the Atlanta Thrashers. They renamed the franchise the Winnipeg Jets, got some fancy new uniforms, and played in the Eastern Conference's Southeast Division. Hopefully the Jets 2.0 can get some realignment and cut down on the frequent-flier miles.
President of the NHL John Ziegler declared in 1979 that all players entering the NHL would be required to wear a protective helmet. An addendum to this hockey litigation was that any player who had signed a contract prior to June 1, 1979 could be "grandfathered" in if they chose not to wear a helmet.
The first player to wear a protective helmet was George Owen of the Boston Bruins in 1927, and Craig MacTavish was the last player to play without one.
January 13, 1968: Bill Masterton Incident
Bill Masterton was a center for the Minnesota North Stars and scored the first goal in franchise history early in the season. On January 13, 1968, Masterton was checked by two players from the Oakland Seals and fell backwards, slamming his head on the ice. He suffered a massive brain injury because of the impact and died two days later.
Masterton was not wearing a helmet at the time of the incident, and because of his death, the stigma of wearing a helmet in a "tough guy" sport started to disappear. It took the NHL 11 years after Masterton's death to mandate all players wear protective head gear.
Jaques Plante took the stigma of wearing a goalie mask away. His coach actually told him that he wasn't allowed to wear it in a game. When Plante took a shot off his face against the Rangers, he refused to go back into the game unless he was allowed to wear his mask.
The first goalie to wear a mask was Clint Benedict of the Montreal Maroons. It obstructed his vision so much that he only wore it for one game.
Plante went on a big winning streak after playing with the mask, which lent instant credibility to the idea for other goalies .
When I decided that I was going to add the Zamboni to my list, I joked to my wife that I pictured a guy named Joe Zamboni wearing a candy striped shirt, with suspenders and a large mustache. He would also have a straw hat and spats as he rode around on some donkey-powered, ice resurfacing contraption.
Little did I know that it was actually not Joe, but Frank Zamboni, who attached his early ice resurfacers to Jeep CJ's. I can't speak to the outfit that he wore, but his patented invention turned a 90-minute three-man job into a 10-minute one-man job.
If I didn't have a picture, you would still know that Mr. Hockey is the legendary Gordie Howe.
Epitomizing everything that hockey was during his playing days, Howe was rough and rugged with a deadly scorer's touch. He held every offensive record in the NHL until some wispy kid from Brantford, Ontario, came along. Gordie was such a stud that they named a hat-trick after him.
Power Play Rule 1956-57
As a testament to the dominance of Montreal during this time period, the league (consisting of six teams) voted 5-1 to allow a power play to end after a goal is scored for the 1956-57 season.
The Curved Blade
The curved blade apparently occurred by accident when Chicago's Stan Mikita was attempting to break his stick, and it got caught between the door to the bench and the boards. True or not, Mikita is given the credit for it due to his goal-scoring skills as a result.
Unfortunately, shooters like Bobby Hull and Mikita took it to extremes, and the NHL stepped in with the "Banana Blade" rule in 1970.
Before Gretzky took offense to a new level, Bobby Orr revolutionized the way a defenseman played. Traditionally, defensemen would hang out in their own end before Orr started leading the rushes up the ice. He set the bar for all defensemen, and his talent on the blueline has yet to be equalled.
In the 1970s and 1980s, a large number of European players, mostly Scandinavian, came over to try their hand in the NHL.
Though highly skilled, the Europeans had a reputation for playing "soft" until players like Bjore Salming helped dispel that myth. These days, some of the top players in the NHL are from Europe, both Eastern and Western.
One of the most devastating blows to the NHL and the sport of hockey was the 2004-2005 NHL lockout. The league was lost amidst bitter negotiations over the collective bargaining agreement. When the NHL finally did return, it was without a TV contract from ESPN and suffered from some fan backlash.
Positives that occurred during the CBA negotiations would be the elimination of the two-line pass, the tag-up offside rule and the acknowledgement that there would never, ever be another glowing puck.
Fox-Trax: Glowing Puck
Wait? Glowing puck, you say? What sort of sorcery or witchcraft could produce such an entity?
If you ever had your volume turned down for an NHL game between 1996 and 1998, you may have wondered why there were Stormtroopers shooting lasers at your favorite NHL stars.
Fox-trax was a good idea in theory, but it ended up looking pretty silly during game play. It was designed to help the casual fan follow the action a little better, but ended up being more of a distraction than anything else.
Plus you couldn't help but make the Han Solo blaster noise every time the puck went over 80 mph and the streak turned red.
Rob Ray Rule
The "Rob Ray" rule could just as well been called the Bob Probert rule, because of Probert's ability and preference to tear away all his equipment during a fight. The implementation of the fight strap was meant to keep all players clothed and the fights fair.
1991-92 Rule Changes
In 1991-92, several rule changes came about that directly affected play in the NHL. The most significant change was the video review of goals. The goal size was also increased; the crease became a semicircle; and the time clock would go down to tenths of a second in the last minute of a period or overtime.
No More Ties
In 2005-06, the NHL decided that all regular season and exhibition games would be decided by a shootout if the score was tied after overtime. No more ties. Thank you NHL.
2000-01: Two-Referee System
After experimenting with arbitrary numbers of games with the two-referee system, the NHL decided to go to a full-time system with every game looked after by two referees
Hits to the Head/Concussions
Believe it or not, this was still a legal play back in 2010. Thanks to Matt Cooke and the other head hunters in the NHL, the rules have changed and sheriff Shanahammer is watching. If he sees you take a run at somebody, he may or may not suspend you.
January 26, 1961
That's the day Wayne Douglas Gretzky was born. Do you like the NHL now? Trust me, it's a hell of a lot better than it was before this guy came around and rewrote the record book.
Of course, the game has evolved even more beyond Gretzky's influence, but no single player in the last 50 years has had a bigger impact on the game of hockey. Say what you want about him, but there's a reason nobody else can wear No. 99.
The Russians and Czechs Are Coming!!
With the fall of the Soviet Eastern bloc, there was a super highway of talent headed to the NHL. While some players weren't able to successfully transition, there were dynamic players like Fedorov, Bure, Hasek and Jagr who left an indelible mark on the NHL.
Wayne Gretzky getting traded from the Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers to Los Angeles was a big moment. Gretzky immediately made hockey relevant in L.A. and helped the NHL expand to other non-traditional markets. It was a dark day in Canada as their favorite son headed to the City of Angels.
There were whispers of treason by the Great One, but he restored the love of his homeland upon his return to Edmonton.
Sakic Hands the Cup to Bourque
Let me say first of all, as a Red Wings fan, I don't often enjoy the success of Colorado. However, you have to be a robot if this gesture didn't move you. Joe Sakic, captain of the 2001 Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche received the Stanley Cup, but rather than lifting it, gave it to Ray Bourque to be held aloft. It epitomizes who Sakic was as a player and is as a person.
Mario Lemieux vs. Cancer
December 27, 2000, Mario Lemieux returned to the ice after missing three years due to Hodgkin's lymphoma.
In his return, after not playing for three seasons, Lemieux had a goal and three assists. After already being inducted into the Hall of Fame immediately following his retirement in 1997, Lemieux's courageous and incredible comeback is legendary.
One of the main resolutions of the 2004-05 lockout was establishing a salary cap, salary floor, revenue sharing and luxury tax. As the only major sport in North America lacking in these areas, the NHLPA refused to accept a salary cap in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season.
When the agreement expired in 2004, the new negotiated deal derived a hard salary cap based on league revenues and also incorporated revenue sharing so that the collective increase in revenue could push the salary cap up.
With the current CBA set to expire September 15, 2012, let's hope that we can avoid any labor stoppages from the game we love.
The advent of outdoor hockey games in the NHL is still a cool novelty that has typically been reserved for New Year's Day. The first incarnation of this style of game was held in 2003 in Edmonton as the "Heritage Classic." Since 2008, it has been called the "Winter Classic" and typically is held at a large unique venue in an NHL host city.
The 2012-13 version of the "Winter Classic" will be played at the "Big House" at the University of Michigan, featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Detroit Red Wings.
1983 Stanley Cup Final
photo: official islanders photo stream
While it's recognized that the Edmonton team that lost this series was a dynasty, the last North American sports franchise to win four championships in a row were the 1983 New York Islanders. No NHL team has won more than two in a row since.
Messier Lifts the Cup Ends the Drought
Mark Messier put his money where his mouth was in 1994 after guaranteeing a conference-finals win over the New Jersey Devils. With the burden of a 54-year dry cup spell on Broadway, Messier practically willed the Rangers to victory in seven games over a feisty Vancouver team.
The NHL Network/Center Ice
Making the NHL available to cable subscribers on a 24/7 basis has certainly helped grow the product with the NHL Network. The advent of NHL Center Ice means that you can watch every NHL game being played that night. Never before has there been complete access to the NHL, beyond the limited coverage provided by ESPN and other online sports entities.
Glenn Cratty/Getty Images
With the collective bargaining agreement of 2004, the NHL instituted a new substance-abuse policy: 20 games for a first offense, 60 games for a second offense and a lifetime ban for a third positive test.
I just finished reading Bob Probert's autobiography, and though it's fantastic and entertaining, Big Bob's career would have been considerably shorter had he played about 10 years later.
As fast and violent as the NHL is, we take for granted how fast the little piece of galvanized rubber is also moving. The puck comes off the sticks of world class athletes at speeds of over 100-mph. The guys diving in front of the shot are wearing protective gear designed to absorb most of the brunt from the puck.
The picture above would look different in 2001 because the protective netting above the glass wouldn't be there. It's hard to conceive that over ten years ago a 13-year old girl lost her life when she was struck by a deflected puck. In 85 years prior to March 16, 2002 there had never been a fan fatality.
Unfortunately, it took one for the nets to go up in 2002-03.
Red Wings/Avalanche Rivalry
In the mid to late '90s and through the turn of the century, there was no greater rivalry in hockey, and possibly sports than the Detroit-Colorado rivalry. Both teams were at the top of their respective games, with each team taking turns eliminating each other from the playoffs. The two franchises combined to win five Stanley Cups between 1996 and 2002, with miles of penalty minutes and brawls for days.
While there was a fair share of ugly moments between the two, the talent trumped all in some of the most passionate and inspired hockey ever seen. The two teams seemed to bring out the best, and often times the worst, in one another.
Canada Cup Series vs the Russians
Though this was an international tournament, it put arguably the two greatest players in NHL history on a line together against a great Soviet Union team. At this point in time there were no Soviets in the NHL, so the international tournaments were where the Russians could showcase their talent.
The final series between the two is considered by many to be the finest display of hockey in history. Three consecutive 6-5 scorelines, the first game in overtime, the second a double overtime Canadian victory, and the third culminating with Gretzky assisting on Lemieux's Cup winner in Game 3.
Eric Lindros Trade
If you think Anaheim hates the newest Edmonton Oiler, ask someone in Quebec what they think about Eric Lindros. He literally threatened to and then did sit out a year not to play in Quebec. Then he demanded a trade because he refused to learn French and didn't like the Quebec market.
The deal became Lindros to Philadelphia for Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne, Chris Simon and two first-round picks and $15 million cash. The Nordiques ultimately moved to Denver (an English speaking town) and became the Avalanche. After the trade, they would go on to become a dominant franchise in the NHL.
NHL Players in the Olympics
Professional athletes competing in amateur competition isn't something I personally favor, but it does make the quality of the product a lot better. Ever since NHL players were allowed into the Olympics (1998), the intensity has seemed to get amped up a little more, and the rivalry between the U.S. and Canada seems to be pretty legit as well. No finer example than the gold-medal game of 2010.
Following the 1992-93 season, the NHL renamed the Clarence Campbell Conference and the Prince of Wales Conference as the Western and Eastern Conferences respectively. The Patrick and Adams Divisions were divided into three regional smaller divisions in the East, while the Smythe and Norris did the same in the West.
Expansion and franchise relocation have brought about tentative proposals for a new realignment, but last year's proposal did not get passed and the Winnipeg Jets get to hang out in the Southeast Division for at least another year.