Hockey holds firm to the notion of the Original Six being a grand collection of teams. There is something to be said about respecting the history of the game and treasuring the teams that help build the NHL. But to assume that the Original Six equals greatness is way off the mark.
Most of the championship stats for the six—Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs—were made when they were the only teams. It is easy to have inflated numbers when there were so few competing. Starting in 1942, these were the only teams for 25 years. The 1967-68 season saw the league double and by the start of the 1974-75 season, there were 18 teams in the league.
Since the expansion, which has now resulted in a 30-team league, most of the original six teams have been quiet for far too long. Most no longer should be looked at as a great tradition but just old and busted. It is not difficult to have nice stats when you only had to beat five other teams. Really only the Detroit Red Wings' success over the past 15 seasons has helped keep any mystique to the Original Six teams.
Other sports do not really hold onto this type of ideal. People know the Packers, Bears, Lions and Giants are some of the oldest teams in the NFL, but it does not matter. There is no specialness to it. MLB recognizes older teams even less and the NBA not at all. For those three leagues it all comes down to what have you done lately.
Here is a review of some rather sad stats for the Original Six teams since the league started expanding in 1967. Some of these teams were able to have moderate success in the first few years of expansions and the fledgling organizations tried to build their teams. Once these newer teams were established though, the Original Six, for the most part, have taken a back seat.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs are perhaps the poster child for what used to be for the Original Six teams. Despite 13 Stanley Cup wins in their history, they have none since NHL expansions began. To make matters worse, they have not even made it to the Stanley Cup finals since their last win during the 1966-67 season.
New York Rangers
The Rangers hold the unglamorous distinction of having the longest championship drought ever, which was 53 seasons. Their 1994 win was only their fourth in franchise history and their only one since NHL expansion began. Beyond their ’94 win, they have made only two final round appearances over this time frame and both of those were in the 1970s.
The Blackhawks ended a dreadful streak of their own last year. Until then, they had gone 47 seasons without a Stanley Cup championship. They had made it to the finals only three times since NHL expansion began; however, prior to their win last year, it had been 18 seasons between final-round appearances.
The Bruins have won two of their five Cup wins since expansion, but the last was in 1972. They have come close with five final-round appearances but none since 1990. They are still alive in this year’s playoffs and maybe can help strengthen the Original Six resume.
Montreal is the most successful franchise in NHL history, with 24 Stanley Cups wins. They have won 10 championships since the expansion; however, eight of those came in the late 1960s and into the ‘70s when the expansion teams were still building and growing.
One has to wonder if they really have the strongest resume or the most bloated. The do have wins in 1986 and 1993 and a runner up in 1989. Of course one of those 24 wins was pre-NHL days and 21 came either in a six-team league or over expansion teams. Is it more accurate to claim two championships over the 43-year new NHL?
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings went through the Dead Wings era in the 1967-82, a time where they only made the playoffs twice. They, however, have rebounded nicely and currently are riding a 20-season playoff appearance streak. Since expansion they have four Stanley Cup wins in six appearances, all of which have happened since 1995. They really have been the only Original Six team to keep up with the new NHL on a regular basis.
What makes matters worse is how well several of the younger teams have done. The Edmonton Oilers have won five cups since joining the league. The New York Islanders have four and the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins each have three. This means that since 1980 these four newer teams have 15 Cup wins compared to seven for the Original Six.
Perhaps realignment needs to happen that will put these six teams into the same division as it seems only the fans in those cities really cling to the Original Six greatness mantra. After all, when these teams do play each other we hear the announcers clamor on about how it is an Original Six matchup. That should mean something more than the ineptness and years of futility that it currently means for at least four of these teams.
Maybe an even better notion is for these teams and cities to quit living in the past. Congratulations on being old, now set the walkers aside, go lace up the skates and go win something more current. Become relevant again and not just once every 30 or 40 years. The term Original Six should have meaning and weight to it.
It is time to prove that they can play in a bigger playground with the new, younger teams. If not, then they can just continue to sit as they do now. Retired on the sidelines, talking about what used to be and the good old days. You know, those days when it was easier to win since there was not as much competition.