Origins of Every NHL Team: Eastern Conference

In the first of a two-part post, learn how the Eastern Conference grew to its current size of 16 teams. Through expansion, league merger, and relocation, the conference increased from five of the Original Six teams in the north to having teams in Florida. Learn the story behind each franchise.

Atlantic Division

Origins of Every NHL Team: Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins

  • Began play in 1924
  • Original-Six franchise
  • Although the Bruins are considered a member of the NHL’s Original Six, they didn’t enter the league until 1924, seven years after the league began play. The Bruins were founded by Charles Adams (the Adams Division was named in his honor), who was the owner of a large grocery store chain. After witnessing the 1924 Stanley Cup Final, he convinced league president Frank Calder to grant him a franchise. The Bruins became the first team based outside of Canada and also played the first NHL game in the United States. They have remained in Boston ever since.

Related: Boston Bruins Logo History

  • The Bruins won their first Stanley Cup in 1929 and have won a total of six Cups. They won their sixth Cup in 2011 and returned to the Final in 2013, losing to Chicago in six games.

Buffalo Sabres

  • Began play in 1970
  • Along with the Vancouver Canucks, the Sabres joined the league for the 1970-71 season. They were founded by brothers, Seymour and Northrup Knox, who had made it to the final stage of bidding for an expansion franchise in 1967. After winning one of the bids in 1970, they named the team the “Sabres” after the Buffalo Bisons, a successful AHL franchise located in the city from 1940 to 1970. Despite rumors of relocation in the early 2000s, the franchise has always remained in Buffalo.
  • The Sabres have never won a Stanley Cup but have been to two Stanley Cup Finals, most recently in 1999 when they lost to the Dallas Stars. They have not been to the playoffs since the 2010-11 season.

Detroit Red Wings

  • Began play in 1926
  • Original-Six franchise
  • The Detroit Red Wings started as the Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League and were based in Victoria, British Columbia. Following the collapse of the league in 1926, the Cougars were sold by Lester and Frank Patrick to a group of Detroit investors in May. That fall, the city of Detroit was awarded an NHL franchise and they kept the Cougars team name. The team became the Red Wings and adopted the “winged wheel” logo in 1932 when James Norris purchased the team. He created said logo to pay respect to the city’s auto industry and to the Montreal Winged Wheelers hockey club for which he played earlier in his life. Out of it, arguably the most recognizable NHL logo was born.
  • The Red Wings have 11 Stanley Cups, the most of any American franchise, including four different decades with two championships.

Related: 8 Unbreakable Detroit Red Wings Records

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

  • Began play in 1910
  • Original-Six franchise
  • Founded in 1909, the Canadiens pre-date the league and are the oldest hockey professional hockey franchise in the world. The Canadiens were founded as a French-speaking rival to the English-speaking Montreal Wanderers of the National Hockey Association (NHA). In 1917, the Canadiens were a founding member of the NHL. The Wanderers folded in 1918 but another Anglo team joined the NHL in 1924: the Montreal Maroons. The Maroons folded in 1937 and the Canadiens have been the only NHL franchise in the city since.
  • The Canadiens won their first of 24 Stanley Cups in 1916 and won their most recent in 1993. Their 24 championships are the most of any NHL team and the second most in North American sports after the New York Yankees.

Related: The Founding of the Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

  • Began play in 1992
  • The current version of the Senators is the second edition after the original Senators left Ottawa in 1934 after winning four Stanley Cups. The first major movement to bring an NHL team back to Ottawa started in 1987 with real estate developer Bruce Firestone leading the efforts. On Dec. 6, 1990, the bid was approved with the team based in Kanata, a location 25 kilometers west of downtown Ottawa. Recently, the Senators have struggled with attendance and income, partially due to their location and a weakened economy.
  • In their 25-plus years as a franchise, the Senators have made the playoffs 16 times, including a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007 when they lost to the Anaheim Ducks.

Tampa Bay Lightning

  • Began play in 1992
  • The Lightning joined the league during the same round of expansion as the Ottawa Senators. They became the first NHL franchise in Florida after a group led by Phil and Tony Esposito was awarded franchise rights. Of the two teams in the Sunshine State, the Lightning have been the most successful, winning three Stanley Cups in five Finals appearances. Despite being in a southern state, the Lightning appear to have sustainability moving forward, having above-league-average attendance every season since 2010-11.

Toronto Maple Leafs

  • Began play in 1917
  • Original-Six franchise
  • The franchise that became the Maple Leafs officially began when team owners in the NHA created a new league to rid themselves of a fellow owner. Toronto was awarded the new league’s fourth and final spot in its inaugural season and both the NHL and Maple Leafs were born. Officially, the club was named the Torontos, but because the team was owned by the Arena Company, they were known as the Arenas. Two years later, in 1919, an ownership transfer led to the team being called the St. Patricks. Finally, in 1927, the franchise was sold again and were named the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club, as they are officially called to this day.
  • The Maple Leafs have won 13 Stanley Cups, second-most to only the Canadiens, but haven’t won one since 1967. That was also the last time they reach the Cup Final.

Metropolitan Division

Carolina Hurricanes

  • Began play in 1971 as the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association (WHA)
  • Joined the NHL in 1979 as the Hartford Whalers
  • Relocated to Carolina in 1997 and became the Hurricanes
  • The franchise that became the Hurricanes started in 1971 when businessmen bought the rights for a WHA franchise in Boston. After three seasons, the team relocated to Hartford but kept the New England location name until the WHA/NHL merger in 1979. They struggled for success in the small market of Hartford and the team was relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina in 1997. This occurred following the purchase of the team by Peter Karmanos in 1994. It was then that they adopted the Hurricanes team name.
  • In 2006, the Hurricanes won the franchise’s only Stanley Cup with a second Final appearance in 2002.
  • On Jan. 11, 2018, the team was sold to a group led by Tom Dundon. In 2018-19, the first season under the new ownership group, the Hurricanes made the postseason for the first time since 2009, advancing to the conference finals.

Related: The Demise of the Hartford Whalers

Columbus Blue Jackets

  • Began play in 2000
  • The Blue Jackets joined the league during the 2000 expansion with the Wild, with John H. McConnell at the helm. The team received fan input for its nickname, ultimately deciding on “Blue Jackets” to pay homage to Ohio’s role in the Civil War. Initially the team played in the Western Conference but made the switch to the Metropolitan Division as the Winnipeg Jets moved to the Central.
  • In their 22 seasons as a franchise, the Blue Jackets have qualified for the playoffs six times. They won their first series in 2019 with their first-round sweep of the Presidents’ Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning

New Jersey Devils

  • Began play in 1974 as the Kansas City Scouts
  • Relocated to Denver in 1976 and became the Colorado Rockies
  • Relocated to New Jersey in 1982 and became the Devils
  • The franchise that became the Devils entered the league with the Washington Capitals in the 1974 expansion as the Kansas City Scouts. They lasted just two seasons there before poor attendance, salary inflation, and a weak economy forced owners to sell, and the team relocated to Colorado. The Rockies brought in Don Cherry as head coach for credibility but still managed just one playoff appearance in six seasons. Another sale of the team, this time to New Jersey native John McMullen, led to the team moving to New Jersey and becoming the Devils.
  • In 40 seasons since the move to New Jersey, they have qualified for the playoffs 22 times and have won three Stanley Cups, all from 1995 to 2003.

Related: Martin Brodeur Immortalized in New Jersey

New York Islanders

  • Began play in 1972
  • The Islanders joined the league the same year the WHA started. With the WHA’s New York Raiders seeking to play in Nassau County, the county sought to bring an NHL franchise to the county instead. With the help of William Shea (of Shea Stadium namesake), NHL president Clarence Campbell supported the new team but faced push back from the Rangers. With the promise of increased revenue, the Rangers signed off on the expansion, and the Islanders began play in 1972.
  • Two years of mediocrity got the franchise started but the 1973 and 1974 drafts yielded Denis Potvin, Clark Gilles, and Bryan Trottier, and the rest was history. The 1973-74 season started a string of 14 straight playoff appearances which included four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983.

New York Rangers

  • Began play in 1926
  • Original-Six franchise
  • Prior to the Rangers, New York City had an NHL franchise, the New York Americans, that played at Madison Square Garden. MSG president George ‘Tex’ Rickard recognized the success of the Americans and wanted a second team in the city. Prior to the 1926-27 season, he was granted an expansion team and MSG was its owner. They were called the Rangers because of Rickard’s nickname and the connection to the law enforcement officers in Texas. Rickard hired Conn Smythe to lead the club and they had almost instant success, winning the Stanley Cup in their second season.
  • In total, the Rangers have won four Cups, with their last one coming in 1994.

Philadelphia Flyers

  • Began play in 1967
  • Long before the Flyers became a team in the 1967 expansion, Philadelphia had an NHL team, the Quakers, for one year in 1930. The Quakers had relocated to Philly from Pittsburgh but folded quickly after having one of the worst seasons in NHL history, when they won four games. Movement to bring a team back to Philadelphia took off in 1964 when Ed Snider made plans to build a new ice arena after hearing rumors of potential NHL expansion. The Flyers’ name came to be after the wife of co-owner Bill Putnam referred to the players as “flyers” upon comparing skating to flying. Five seasons of sub-.500 play started the franchise but they won a round in the 1973 playoffs and won consecutive Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975.
  • The back-to-back Cups have been the only two in franchise history, but they have been to six other Finals. The Flyers also have a storied history, most notably with the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970’s.

Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Began play in 1967
  • The history of NHL hockey in Pittsburgh dates back to the 1920s when the Pirates (not the baseball team) called the city home. In 1930, the Pirates moved to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh was without an NHL franchise until the Penguins. When the league announced expansion, state senator Jack McGregor formed a group of investors including H.J. Heinz, Steelers owner Art Rooney, and a member of the Mellon family. Members of this group used their influence to convince fellow team owners to vote in favor of Pittsburgh as a market. These efforts were successful and the bid was awarded in 1966. The team’s history in Pittsburgh has been anything but smooth with multiple rumors of relocation due to financial issues. One occurred immediately before the drafting of Mario Lemieux and another during the 1990s that led to Lemieux stepping in and purchasing the team.
  • Recent success in the past decade has led to sustainability, with three Stanley Cups since 2009. In total, the Penguins have won five Cups in six Finals. There was also a period between 1988 and 2001 in which Lemieux or Jaromir Jagr won the Art Ross Trophy all but three times. The other player to win it was Wayne Gretzky.

Related: A Tribute to the Magnificent Mario Lemieux

Washington Capitals

  • Began play in 1974
  • The Capitals entered the league the same year as the Kansas City Scouts (now the New Jersey Devils). Owner of the NBA’s Washington Wizards, Abe Pollin, submitted a bid to the NHL for an expansion team. He was awarded a franchise in 1972, beating the cities of Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Indianapolis, Phoenix, and San Diego. The first few seasons were rough with a combined 19 wins in the first two seasons and six last-place finishes in the first eight seasons. Luckily for the franchise, Pollin was able to absorb years of financial loss, unlike the Scouts, and the Capitals remained in Washington.
  • After years of failure, they went on a run of 14 consecutive playoff appearances beginning in 1983. They had just one Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history, in 1998, losing to the Red Wings in four games, until attaining the ultimate championship prize in 2018.
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