The NHL is home to 32 NHL teams, but that was not always the case. Throughout the history of the league there have been numerous expansions to grow the game of hockey and add more and more teams to the league. Today, let’s focus on the success of those expansion teams, as the Vegas Golden Knights currently compete for the Stanley Cup.
The success of expansions teams throughout NHL History
From 1942-1967 the NHL had just six teams, making up the Original Six era in league history. Those six teams were the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. For 25 seasons those teams were the only six to duke it out for the Stanley Cup, which then brought the league to their first expansion in 1967.
The league doubled in size adding the California Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues. Then three years later in 1970 the league added the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks bringing the total amount of teams to 14.
In 1972, the league would once again expand adding two new teams this time with the New York Islanders and Atlanta Flames, who would later move to Calgary in 1980. Then two years later the league would add two new expansion teams bringing the total team count to 18 with the Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts. The Scouts would bounce around in a few cities and are now the New Jersey Devils.
The first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup were the Philadelphia Flyers in 1974. They would win back to back championships beating the Bruins in ’74 and the Sabres in ’75. The 1974 Flyers were not just the first expansion team to win the Cup, but also the first expansion team to beat an Original Six team in a playoff series. It took the Flyers till their seventh season to win the Stanley Cup, something the next expansion team to win a championship would not be able to beat.
Then in 1979 the league added four new teams adding from the WHA. Those four teams were the Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets. The league would now have 21 teams due to the Golden Seals merging with the North Stars in 1978.
In 1980 another expansion team would win the Stanley Cup, this time in the New York Islanders. The Islanders would win the Stanley Cup in just their eighth season in franchise history, and they would win four championships in a row before falling to the Edmonton Oilers in 1984. The Oilers won the Stanley Cup in just their fifth season in the league which is the fastest expansion win in league history.
In 1991 the NHL expansion process began again adding the San Jose Sharks. This would bring the league total to 22 teams. The Sharks expansion process was not as helpful as the Golden Knights and Kraken’s expansions rules. San Jose’s owners were the previous owners of the Minnesota North Stars. So they were allowed to draft players from the Stars and then the two would go through an expansion draft from the other 20 teams. Every team was allowed to protect two goalies and 16 skaters, which would have been a big help for all the teams struggling to pick players to protect against Vegas and Seattle.
Then in 1992 the NHL would expand again to 24 teams by adding the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning would win the Stanley Cup in 2004, their 12th season in the league.
In 1993 the league would then add two more teams with the Florida Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The Ducks took home the Stanley Cup in 2007, their 14th season in the league.
Then in 1998 and 1999 the league would add two more franchises, both still looking for their first Stanley Cup in the Nashville Predators in ’98 and Atlanta Thrashers ’99. The Thrashers would relocate to Winnipeg in 2011.
The final leg of the 30 team expansion would come in 2000 when the league added the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild. Minnesota was without a team for seven years when the North Stars relocated to Dallas in 1993.
Then in 2017 the league expanded to 31 teams adding the Vegas Golden Knights and to 32 teams in 2021 with the Seattle Kraken. The Golden Knights have the opportunity to win their franchise’s first Stanley Cup this summer. If they manage to beat the Panthers they will have won the Cup in just their sixth season, second to only the Edmonton Oilers who won in their fifth season in the NHL.
Expansion teams throughout NHL history have struggled off the bat. But the Seattle Kraken and Vegas Golden Knights certainly have rewritten that narrative. Seattle made it to the second round of the playoffs in just their second season. The Vegas Golden Knights have been to the Conference Final in three of their six seasons, have made the playoffs five times, and have been to the Stanley Cup Final twice, to say nothing of the fact that they are two wins away of winning it all as of this writing. If Vegas takes home the Stanley Cup they will become that much more successful.