February 09, 2014

Great Moments: 1967 NHL Expansion

February 9th marks a pretty important anniversary in hockey history.

On this day in 1966 the NHL announced that six conditional franchises had been granted to Los Angeles, San Francisco, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis for the 1967-68 season. The expansion fee was $2 million.  The new teams would play in their own division, which fostered new rivalries while leaving the Original Six rivalries alone.

The NHL had previously resisted expansion opportunities, most notably from groups in Philadelphia and Cleveland.

Once Major League Baseball and the National Football League started getting significant monies from American television contracts, the NHL wanted a piece of the pie. First they had to establish themselves in more major league markets. It worked, as CBS offered a game of the week broadcast soon after expansion.

This angered Canadians, as Vancouver was passed over in the original expansion of 1967 in the NHL's pursuit American markets began a seemingly endless pursuit of American TV money that they still chase today. Interestingly, Canadian angst should have been directed at Canada's two existing teams, Montreal and Toronto. The Canadiens and Leafs may have killed the Vancouver expansion bid because they did not want to split Canadian television revenue.

NHL expansion also was designed to cut off a growing threat of a second major hockey league emerging. The NHL originally feared the old professional Western Hockey League would emerge as a second major league. Ultimately the NHL fears were accurate, although it was not the WHL but rather the upstart WHA that emerged as a second major league by 1972. That forced more rampant NHL expansion in that decade.

120 players were plucked from the Original Six teams. HockeyDB.com has a listing of players selected in the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft. The first player chosen - the legendary Terry Sawchuk by the Los Angeles Kings.

A few interesting notes: 
- Baltimore was expected to be granted a franchise, but their arena only hosted 12,700 fans. 
- St. Louis was granted a franchise even though they had no owner. Jim Norris, owner of Chicago, owned the arena in St. Louis and wanted it to have a full time tenant.

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