NHL history from the year you were born
Even though the National Hockey League's 103rd season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, the year was still somewhat saved with the exciting announcement of the Seattle Kraken team name—the league's newest franchise. Set to debut in 2021, this team will join a historic league that is always filled with surprising moments, unexpected upsets, and iconic athletes that have become household names.
The NHL has one of the richest traditions in all of the professional sports. There may be no trophy more revered than Lord Stanley’s Cup (despite some of the more risqué situations the silver prize has been a part of). Not to mention the Zambonis, fuzzy mascots, and a sport where fighting is all but accepted as part of the flow of the game.
Digging through a variety of NHL record books and historical sources, Stacker takes a look at NHL history from the year you were born, beginning with 1917. Back then, the league only had four teams all based in Canada, but over the years the NHL grew into the massive sports enterprise it is today. Reasons for growth include entrepreneurial owners, the expansion of the game into non-traditional (and warm-weather) hockey markets, and of course, the creation of superstars who marketed the game beyond North America, like Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, and Mario Lemieux.
Click through to learn about the NHL’s pioneers, its unbelievable feats, and how hockey has become ingrained in the cultural fabric of the U.S. and Canada more and more each year. Please note that the year associated with each slide is referencing the hockey season which begins in the fall and ends in the following year during spring. Few companies have a history like the NHL and 104 years is quite a span—enough time to grow quite the gnarly playoff beard.
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[Pictured: The New York Ranger's famous "Bread Line" that existed between 1926–1937. It consisted of Hall of Famers Bill Cook, Bun Cook, and Frank Boucher.]
1917: The NHL drops its first puck
1918: Floored by the flu
NHL players were not immune to the worldwide Spanish Flu epidemic. Four members of the Montreal Canadiens landed in the hospital during the Stanley Cup Final, and no trophy was awarded that season.
[Pictured: Walter Reed Hospital during the great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.]
1919: Senators sweep
The NHL season was split into two halves, with the first place team from each half meeting in a playoff. The Ottawa Senators took a shortcut, though, to the championship, winning both halves and negating a playoff.
[Pictured: Group photograph of the 1914–15 Ottawa Senators.]
1920: A new team on the prowl
The Quebec Bulldogs became the Hamilton Tigers. The franchise lasted five seasons in Hamilton before the players’ contracts were sold off.
[Pictured: Team photo of the 1913 Stanley Cup champions, the Quebec Bulldogs, prior to becoming the Hamilton Tigers.]
1921: A New path to Lord Stanley
The Stanley Cup, named after Lord Stanley of Preston, had been awarded to the champion of the NHL and Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA). But beginning with the 1921–22 season, the PCHA champion squared off with the winner of a new league, the Western Canada Hockey League, to face the NHL champion for the trophy. Despite the new competition, the NHL’s Toronto St. Patricks (now known as the Maple Leafs) won the Stanley Cup.
[Pictured: Team photo of the club during the 1921–22 season, then known as the St. Patricks.]
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1922: Hockey hits the airwaves
The 1922–23 season included the first NHL game broadcast on radio. The third period of a contest between the Toronto St. Pats and the Ottawa Senators was broadcast on CFCA in Toronto; before the game went live, recaps of the first two periods were announced to listeners.
[Pictured: Foster Hewitt, a radio play-by-play announcer from 1927 to 1968.]
1923: At the Hart of the matter
Beginning this season, the NHL awarded a trophy "to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team." The first Hart Trophy, or MVP award, was given to Frank Nighbor of the Ottawa Senators, who had 11 goals and six assists in 20 games.
[Pictured: The original version of the Hart Memorial Trophy (although this version was just referred to as the Hart Trophy), on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame.]
1924: Migrating south
The Boston Bruins became the first American NHL team. In the Bruins’ first home game, an estimated 1,340 fans witnessed the Bruins’ 2-1 win over the Montreal Maroons, who were also a new expansion franchise. However, Boston finished the season in last place, with a 6-24 record.
[Pictured: "Tiny" Thompson, famous goalie of the early Boston Bruins.]
1925: Bringing the NHL to the Big Apple
The NHL continued to expand in 1925, granting New York a new franchise. The New York Americans were comprised of a number of players from the former Hamilton Tigers franchise, and called Madison Square Garden home. However, the Americans would unpatriotically be booted out of their base in the years to come, as a new New York NHL team moved in.
[Pictured: 1925–26 New York Americans.]
1926: Future cornerstones arrive
In 1926, the NHL welcomed new franchises in Chicago, Detroit, and New York, which would eventually become the Blackhawks, Red Wings, and Rangers. Together, this trio have won a multitude of Stanley Cups and have served as anchors of the league, holding down three major markets in the U.S.
[Pictured: Team photo from Detroit's inaugural season (1926–27), then known as the Detroit Cougars.]
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