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NHL History Expanded:
The National Hockey League - a brief history and today

Pre-league history and the Stanley Cup:

The earliest North American games were played in Canada. British soldiers stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia,  organized contests on frozen ponds in and around that city in the 1870s, and about that same time in Montreal students began facing off against each other in a downtown ice rink. The continent's first hockey league was said to have been launched in Kingston, Ontario, in 1885, and it included four teams.

The English Governor General of Canada, Lord Stanley of Preston, 1892 bought a silver bowl with an interior gold finish and decreed that it be given each year to the best amateur team in Canada. That trophy has come to be known as the Stanley Cup and is awarded today to the franchise that wins the National Hockey League playoffs. Back when hockey was first played in Canada, the teams had nine men per side. But by the time the Stanley Cup was introduced, it was a seven-man game. The change came about accidentally in the late 1880s after a club playing in the Montreal Winter Carnival showed up two men short, and its opponent agreed to drop the same number of players on its team to even the match. Players began to prefer the smaller squad, and it wasn't long before that number became the standard for the sport. Each team featured one goaltender, three forwards, two defensemen, and a rover, who had the option of moving up ice on the attack or falling back to defend his goal.

The NHL:

Nov. 26, 1917: The NHL was founded. Teams included the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Arenas, and Quebec Bulldogs. Quebec did not play during the 1917-18 season. The first season was won by Toronto, who then beat the Vancouver Millionaires from the Pacific Coast League for the Stanley Cup. In the mid 20-s, several leagues had been incorporated with the NHL, and now consisted of 10 teams in one American and one Canadian division and the Stanley Cup now belonged to the NHL. The games were played five a side.

Expansion: 1967 and beyond

Minor leagues, especially in the western United States, often fielded teams that arguably could have defeated Stanley Cup champions. The rise of the Western Hockey League, which many pundits thought planned to transform into a major league and challenge for the Stanley Cup, spurred the NHL in 1967 to undertake its first expansion since the 1920s. Six new teams were added to the NHL roster, and placed in their own newly-created division. They were the Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota North Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Oakland Seals, and Pittsburgh Penguins. Three years later, the NHL added the Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres as franchises.

In 1972, the World Hockey Association (WHA) was formed. Though it never challenged for the Stanley Cup, its status as a viable NHL rival was unquestionable. In response to that, the NHL decided to rush its own expansion plans by adding the New York Islanders and Atlanta Flames that year, along with the Kansas City Scouts and Washington Capitals two years later. The dilution of the talent pool, however, caused the overall quality of play to suffer. The two leagues fought for the services of hockey players and fans until the WHA folded in 1979. Four of the remaining six WHA teams merged with the NHL: The Hartford Whalers, Québec Nordiques, Edmonton Oilers, and Winnipeg Jets. As of 2005, the Oilers are the last remaining original WHA franchise still playing in the city where they began in the NHL.

Labour Issues

There have been three work stoppages in NHL history, all happening between 1992 and 2005.

The first was a strike by the National Hockey League Players Association in April 1992 which lasted for 10 days, but the strike was settled quickly and all affected games were rescheduled.

A lockout at the start of the 1994-95 forced the league to reduce the schedule from 84 games to just 48, with the teams playing only intra-conference games during the reduced season. The resulting collective bargaining agreement was set for renegotiation in 1998 and extended to September 15, 2004.

Negotiations to replace the contract that expired in 2004 turned into one of the most contentious collective bargaining sessions in the history of professional sports. The league vowed to install what it dubbed "cost certainty" for its teams, but the National Hockey League Players Association countered that the move was little more than a euphemism for a salary cap, which the union initially said it would not accept. With no new agreement in hand when the existing contract expired on September 15, 2004, league commissioner Gary Bettman announced a lockout of the players union and cessation of operations by the NHL head office, causing the NHL to lose an entire season.

A new collective bargaining agreement was ratified in July 2005 with a term of six years with an option of extending the collective bargaining agreement for an additional year at the end of the term, allowing the NHL to resume as of the 2005-06 season.

Post Lockout

On October 5, 2005, the first post-lockout NHL season got under way with 15 games. Of those 15 games, 11 were in front of sell out crowds. The NHL, despite negative press generated during the lockout, has success attracting fans to the initial games of the season and extends fan bases into non-traditional markets in the US such as Nashville, Atlanta, and the Carolinas.

Speculation has circulated that the Pittsburgh Penguins might move to Kansas City as funding has not been approved for a new arena to replace Pittsburgh's old Mellon Arena. Other traditional hockey markets were also suggested as possible new homes for the Penguins. Officials in Québec City, Québec and Winnipeg, Manitoba have expressed their desire to host again an NHL team. Approximately 10 years ago the Québec Nordiques and the Winnipeg Jets moved respectively to Denver, Colorado to become the Colorado Avalanche and to Phoenix, Arizona to become the Phoenix Coyotes. Both moves were motivated by financial problems. The two cities both had good attendance figures when they hosted teams previously. Winnipeg may be the first city to be back with the recent construction of the MTS Centre in downtown Winnipeg. But some analysts questioned the viability of this site given MTS Centre's small capacity of 15,150 seats. It was also reported that Québec City is considering replacing the old 15,750 seat Colisée Pepsi for the 400th anniversary of the city. Former Québec Nordiques' owner Marcel Aubut expressed his desire to be back in the NHL.

Other cities interested in a relocation for another team, or an expansion are Houston, Texas, San Antonio, Texas, Cincinnati, Ohio, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Hamilton, Ontario and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Trophies and awards

Stanley Cup on display at the Hockey Hall of FameThe National Hockey League also presents numerous trophies, in addition to the Stanley Cup for the overall playoff champion, as well as the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl for the Western Conference playoff champions and the Prince of Wales Trophy for the Eastern Conference playoff champions. They include:

Art Ross Memorial Trophy (1948 - present) -- regular season league scoring champion
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (1968 - present) -- perseverance and sportsmanship
Calder Memorial Trophy (1933 - present) -- rookie of the year
Conn Smythe Trophy (1965 - present) -- most valuable player during the playoffs
Frank J. Selke Trophy (1978 - present) -- top defensive forward
Hart Memorial Trophy (1924 - present) -- most valuable player during the regular season
Jack Adams Award (1974 - present) -- coach of the year
James Norris Memorial Trophy (1954 - present)-- most outstanding defenceman
King Clancy Memorial Trophy (1988 - present) -- leadership and humanitarian contribution
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (1925 - present) -- player combining ability and sportsmanship
Lester B. Pearson Award (1971 - present) -- most outstanding player as selected by peers
Maurice 'Rocket' Richard Trophy (1999 - present) -- to the goal-scoring leader during the regular season
NHL Plus/Minus Award (1968 - present) -- highest plus/minus statistic
Presidents' Trophy (1986 - present) - best regular season by a team
Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award (2000 - present) -- best save percentage by a goalkeeper
Vezina Trophy (1927 - present) -- voted to be the most outstanding goaltender
William M. Jennings Trophy (1982 - present) -- goalkeeper(s) for the team with the fewest goals against
The O'Brien Trophy was awarded in the NHL before it was retired following the 1949-50 NHL season.

The Lester Patrick Trophy has been presented by the National Hockey League since 1966 to honour a recipient's contribution to hockey in the United States.

Three years after retirement, players are eligible to be voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. In the past, if a player was deemed significant enough, the pending period would be waived. However, only 10 individual have been honoured in this manner. In 1999 Wayne Gretzky became the last player to have the three years waived. After Gretzky's induction, the NHL declared that he would be the last one to have the waiting period omitted.

The Pearson Award is the only award named after a politician.


Each team in the NHL plays 82 regular season games, 41 games at home and 41 on the road. Teams used to play all other teams in the league at least once, but this will no longer be the case following implementation of post-lockout changes. Teams will now play 10 interconference (that is, not in their own conference) games throughout the entire season, 1 game against each team in two of the three divisions in the opposite conference. On an observational basis, it seems as if these interconference games are being block-scheduled in two different blocks (much like baseball does with interleague play. Teams will also play 40 games against non-divisional, conference opponents (4 games against each), and 32 games within their division (8 games against each). Two points are awarded for wins, one point for losing in overtime or a shootout, and zero points for a loss in regulation time. At the end of the regular season, the team that finishes with the most points in each division is crowned the division champion. Each Conference consists of three divisions, so these three division champions and five more teams fill out each Conference's playoff field. In total, 16 teams (3 division champions and 5 additional teams, for a total of 8 from each Conference) qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs is an elimination tournament, where two teams battle to win a best-of-seven series in order to advance to the next round. If the score is tied at the end of the third period an overtime period is played. If the score is tied at the end of an overtime period, additional overtime periods are played until a winner is determined. Overtimes are also full periods of twenty minutes (of five-on-five hockey), rather than the five minutes (of four-on-four hockey, followed by a shootout) in the regular season. The overtime is played with golden goal rule (sudden death) so the game ends as soon as either team scores a goal. The higher-ranked team is said to be the team with the home-ice advantage. Four of the seven games are played at this team's home venue - the first and second, and, where necessary, the fifth and seventh, with the other games played at the lower-ranked team's home venue.

The most recent playoff that was contested in the NHL used the following format: the division winners were seeded one through three, and then the next five teams with the best records in the conference were seeded four through eight. However, the league has yet to announce the playoff format for the 2005-06 season, and with the new scheduling format that emphasis division play, the league is reportedly exploring placing greater emphasis on division standings by taking the top 2 teams in each division, along with the teams with the next two best records for each Conference's playoff field. In the event of a tie in points in the standings, ties are broken first by amount of wins, then by record against the team that is tied (disregarding the first game played at the arena of the team that hosted more games than the other during the season series, if applicable). Next, the tied team with the better positive differential between goals scored for and against is given preference, and in the rare circumstance these tiebreakers are insufficient, the Commissioner has the authority to devise some other means of breaking the tie. The first round of the playoffs, or Conference Quarterfinals, consists of the first seed playing the eighth seed, the second playing the seventh, third playing the sixth, and the fourth playing the fifth. In the second round, or Conference Semifinals, the NHL re-seeds (unlike the NBA), with the top remaining Conference seed playing against the lowest remaining seed, and the other two remaining conference teams pairing off. In the third round, the Conference Finals, the two remaining teams in each conference play each other, with the Conference champions proceeding to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Presidents/Commissioners of the NHL

Frank Calder (1917-1943) President
Red Dutton (1943-1946) President
Clarence Campbell (1946-1977) President
John Ziegler (1977-1992) President
Gil Stein (1992-1993) President
Gary Bettman (1993-present) Commissioner


Western Conference

Central Division
Chicago Blackhawks
Columbus Blue Jackets
Detroit Red Wings
Nashville Predators
St. Louis Blues

Northwest Division
Calgary Flames
Colorado Avalanche
Edmonton Oilers
Minnesota Wild
Vancouver Canucks

Pacific Division
Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
Dallas Stars
Los Angeles Kings
Phoenix Coyotes
San Jose Sharks
Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins

Northeast Division
Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Montreal Canadiens
Ottawa Senators
Toronto Maple Leafs

Southeast Division
Atlanta Thrashers
Carolina Hurricanes
Florida Panthers
Tampa Bay Lightning
Washington Capitals