NHL history from the year you were born
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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1927: Kings of New York
There was no sophomore slump for the New York Rangers, as they won the Stanley Cup at the conclusion of the 1927–28 season, becoming the first U.S.-based team to hoist the trophy. Frank Boucher led the Rangers in scoring, tallying 35 points. In the Cup Final, the Rangers topped the Montreal Maroons in five games.
[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.]
1928: Heads up
George Owen of the Boston Bruins became the first player to wear protective headgear in an NHL game. Fifty-one years later, the NHL mandated that all new players wear helmets; Craig MacTavish was the last player to play without a helmet; MacTavish retired in 1997.
[Pictured: Center Craig MacTavish of the St. Louis Blues in 1996, without a helmet.]
1929: So long, good Nighbor
Frank Nighbor, the first player to win the Hart Trophy (MVP) and the Lady Byng Trophy (sportsmanship), retired from the NHL after the 1929–30 season. Over his 13-year career, Nighbor won three Stanley Cups. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1947.
[Pictured: Frank Nighbor, Ottawa Senators, 1920.]
1930: Party of five
1931: Philly farewell
The Philadelphia Quakers entered the NHL in 1925 as the Pittsburgh Pirates, but ceased operations by 1931. Philadelphia was left without an NHL team until 1967, when the Flyers arrived in town.
[Pictured: A jersey from the now-defunct Philadelphia Quakers.]
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1932: Red Wings cleared for take off
Detroit had an NHL team since 1926, but truly found their identity in 1932. After being named the Cougars and Falcons, Detroit’s NHL franchise was renamed the Red Wings. Under this moniker, Detroit won 11 Stanley Cups and became known as “Hockeytown.”
[Pictured: Team photo of the 1952 Detroit Red Wings.]
1933: Hey now, you’re an All-Star
The NHL holds its first (albeit unofficial) All-Star Game. During a December game, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Ace Bailey suffered a devastating injury. The NHL approved an All-Star game in Bailey’s honor. Bailey, who was in attendance, had his number retired by Toronto.
[Pictured: Ace Bailey (left) and Eddie Shore shake hands at the benefit game held in honor of Bailey.]
1934: The NHL welcomes the penalty shot
The first occurrence of a penalty shot in an NHL game takes place on Nov. 10, 1934. Armand Mondou of the Montreal Canadiens was granted the attempt, but was stopped by Toronto Maple Leafs goalie George Hainsworth.
[Pictured: Joseph Armand Mondou in uniform.]
1935: Detroit’s first cup
Three years after changing their name to the Red Wings, Detroit’s NHL franchise brought home their first Stanley Cup title. Detroit led the regular season standings and only dropped one game in the playoffs, but their path to a championship did come with notable struggles. In the Red Wings’ first playoff game, they needed six overtime periods to defeat the Montreal Maroons.
[Pictured: The Stanley Cup championship trophy.]
1937: Ice, ice, baby
For much of the NHL’s early history, a common strategy was “icing” the puck, or sending it down the length of the rink to delay the opposition’s offense. But in 1937, the league introduced a new rule for icing, which resulted in a face-off in the defending team’s zone.
1938: Seventh heaven
The NHL expanded the Stanley Cup Final to a best-of-seven format, which remains today. In other notable news, the Montreal Maroons suspended operations before the 1938–39 season and would never play another NHL game, officially folding in 1947.
[Pictured: Ice hockey player Eddie Shore in 1938, during his final years of his career with the Boston Bruins.]
1939: New York encore
The New York Rangers won their third Stanley Cup. Little did Rangers fans know this would be their last championship celebration for more than 50 years. Notably, this Rangers squad only had two players from the U.S.
[Pictured: Photo of New York Rangers player Lynn Patrick.]
1940: The young Turk
Turk Broda won his first Vezina Trophy. The award, given to the NHL’s top goaltender, was just one of many accolades for Broda, who played his entire 14-year career with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Broda was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and more recently, Broda was named one of the NHL’s “100 Greatest Players.”
[Pictured: Turk Broda with the Stanley Cup victory and his Vezina trophy from the same season in the 1940s.]
1941: Never say never
The Toronto Maple Leafs lost the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final to the Detroit Red Wings. But Toronto staved off elimination and won the next four games, capturing the championship. The Maple Leafs became the first NHL team to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the Final.
[Pictured: Toronto Maple Leafs player scoring goal against Detroit Red Wings, 1942 Stanley Cup Playoffs.]
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1942: The birth of the “Original Six”
The Brooklyn Americans left the NHL, leaving the league with six teams: the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Today, these franchises are recognized as the “Original Six.”
[Pictured: Montreal Canadiens in 1942.]
1943: The thin red line
The NHL introduced the center red line on the ice, in an effort to open up the game. According to the Globe and Mail, hockey fans had become bored with “dump and chase” hockey and the implementation of a red line set out to neutralize the languor, by creating a more “up and down” flow.
1944: The rocket goes 50/50
For the first time in NHL history, a player reached 50 goals in a single season. Maurice “Rocket” Richard accomplished the feat in only 50 games. The previous record was 44 goals.
[Pictured: Maurice "Rocket" Richard #9 of the Montreal Canadiens skates with the puck during a game.]
1945: Red light special
The NHL mandates that all arenas must have indicator lights synchronized with the clock to go off whenever a goal is scored. The red goal light (and accompanying siren) becomes a staple of the hockey atmosphere.
[Pictured: A general view of the red goal light flashing during the game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Mighty Ducks in 1996.]
1946: Gordie’s grand entrance
In 1946, Gordie Howe made his NHL debut at age 18. Howe, who hailed from Saskatchewan, only tallied 22 points in 58 games for the Detroit Red Wings. However, Howe doubled that total in his second season, and nearly quadrupled his rookie season points output by the 1950–51 campaign.
[Pictured: Gordie Howe between 1946 and 1947.]
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1947: Playoff sudden death arrives
Beginning this season, the NHL essentially instituted “Sudden Death” overtime rules in the playoffs. According to the league rulebook history: “All playoff games played until a winner determined, with 20-minute sudden-death overtime periods separated by 10-minute intermissions.”
[Pictured: Clarence Campbell, the NHL's third president, serving from 1946 until his retirement in 1977.]
1948: From start to Fin
Pentti Lund wins the Calder Memorial Trophy. Lund, from Finland, was the league’s first Finnish-born player, and its first to earn NHL rookie of the year honors.
[Pictured: Pentti Lund playing for the New York Rangers 1949–1950.]
1949: White ice
All NHL rinks painted their ice surfaces white before freezing, creating a more uniformly colored sheet. A more uniform rink color would be aided by the use of Zambonis, which were invented in 1949, by Frank J. Zamboni in California.
[Pictured: The Zamboni used to clear ice at Maple Leaf Gardens in the '80s.]
1950: Sawchuk supremacy
Terry Sawchuk, only 20 years old when he entered the NHL, wins the Calder Memorial Trophy. Sawchuk became the youngest goalie to ever take home the award. Over his 21-year career, Sawchuk won four Stanley Cups and four Vezina trophies (awarded to the league’s top goaltender), leading to a Hall of Fame induction.
[Pictured: Terry Sawchuk from his time on the Detroit Red Wings.]
1951: Helluva hat trick
On the final night of the 1951–52 NHL season, Bill Mosienko entered the record books. Mosienko notched a hat trick in 21 seconds, the fastest time in which anyone had ever recorded three goals in an NHL game.
[Pictured: Bill Mosienko holds up the three pucks he scored in 21 seconds against the New York Rangers, an NHL record which still holds today.]
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1952: The Rocket reigns supreme
Maurice “Rocket” Richard scored his 325th career goal on Nov. 8, becoming the NHL’s all-time leading goal-scorer. A native of Montreal, Richard played his entire career for the hometown Canadiens. Today, the trophy awarded to the NHL’s leading scorer during the regular season is named after Richard.
[Pictured: The Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy displayed at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in advance of the 2019 NHL Awards.]
1953: A rivalry reaches ridiculousness
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens created one of the NHL’s longest-running rivalries. The hatred between the two clubs was on full display in December 1953, when a game between the Canadian mainstays included a brawl involving almost every player from both teams.
[Pictured: Montreal Canadiens vs theToronto Maple Leafs, late 1950s.]
1954: The Richard riot
Maurice Richard not only set NHL records, but he often played with intense passion. In a game during the 1954–55 season, Richard hit an NHL referee, and Richard was suspended for the season. NHL president Clarence Campbell planned to attend the Canadiens’ next home game, and a riot ensued outside the arena from angry Montreal fans.
[Pictured: Fans attack NHL president Clarence Campbell at the Montreal Forum over Campbell's suspension of player Maurice 'Rocket' Richard.]
1955: The Montreal machine
The Detroit Red Wings entered the 1955–56 season having posted the best regular season record in each of the previous seven seasons. The Montreal Canadiens not only stopped that streak by putting up the best record, but began a notable streak of their own, winning the first of several consecutive Stanley Cups by topping the Red Wings in the Final.
[Pictured: Montreal Canadiens coach Toe Blake drinks from the Stanley Cup.]
1956: Primping power plays
A new rule limited one goal for a minor penalty. Previously, a team on a power play as a result of a minor penalty could score as many goals as possible during the two-minute time limit.
[Pictured: Goalie Terry Sawchuk of the Boston Bruins blocks a shot by Jean Beliveau of the Montreal Canadiens in 1956 at the Boston Garden.]
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1957: Forming a union
Beginning with the 1957–58 season, NHL players could join the “players’ association.” Over the years, this union helped negotiate better pay and conditions for NHL players, even leading to some heated negotiations with NHL owners that led to work stoppages. Ted Lindsay was the first NHLPA president.
[Pictured: Trading card photo of Ted Lindsay as a member of the Chicago Black Hawks in 1959.]
1958: Montreal mastery
The Montreal Canadiens become the first team to win four consecutive Stanley Cups. This season, Montreal topped the rival Toronto Maple Leafs in five games.
[Pictured: Johnny Bower, the Maple Leafs' goaltender from 1958 to 1969.]
1959: High five
The Montreal Canadiens capture their fifth straight Stanley Cup, a feat that has never been duplicated. During their five-year run atop the league, Montreal outscored opponents 182-95 during the playoffs, and posted a 20-5 record in the Cup Final.
[Pictured: Goaltender Johnny Bower of the Toronto Maple Leafs defends the net against the Montreal Canadiens in January of 1960.]
1960: A new era
The Montreal Canadiens failed to win a sixth straight Stanley Cup, setting up a new champion. The Chicago Black Hawks squared off against the Detroit Red Wings, winning their first title since 1938. Elsewhere, Gordie Howe became the first NHL player to tally 1,000 career points.
[Pictured: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Chicago Black Hawks, Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Canada, circa 1960–1962.]
1961: Montreal misery
In a first-round matchup between the last two Stanley Cup Champions, the Montreal Canadiens appeared primed to reclaim their throne. Montreal easily posted the best regular-season record and held a 2-0 series lead on the Chicago Black Hawks. But Chicago won the next four games led by Bobby Hull, before ultimately dropping the Cup Final to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
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[Pictured: Game between the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers in 1962.]
1962: Hall of an effort
Chicago Black Hawks goaltender Glenn Hall was one of the NHL’s most durable players during his career. Hall played in 502 consecutive games over eight seasons, a feat even more impressive since he didn’t wear a mask in net. Hall’s streak finally came to an end during the 1962–63 season.
[Pictured: Trading card photo of Glenn Hall as a member of the Chicago Black Hawks.]
1963: Rocket grounded by Gordie
Four years after Maurice “Rocket” Richard retired, his record of 544 career goals was broken. Gordie Howe notched his 545th career goal on Nov. 10, 1963, becoming the NHL’s all-time leading goal-scorer. Howe added 256 more NHL goals to his total before calling it quits.
[Pictured: Maurice "Rocket" Richard, the first player to score 50 goals in 50 games.]
1964: The European invasion
Players born outside North America had competed in the NHL prior to the 1964–65 season, but all of them eventually moved to Canada or the United States. Sweden’s Ulf Sterner became the first European-trained player to reach the NHL, suiting up for the New York Rangers. Sterner led all players in scoring at the 1964 Winter Olympics.
[Pictured: Ulf Sterner between 1960 and 1964.]
1965: Times they are a changin’
During the 1965–66 season, the NHL announced plans for expansion. Six new teams would double the league’s size by the 1967–68 season. The new additions were planned for the California Bay Area, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis.
[Pictured: Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston Bruins at the Boston Garden in Boston, Mass., 1960s.]
1966: End of an era
The NHL celebrated its 50th season beginning in 1966. The league would soon expand to 12 teams, making the 1966–67 campaign the last NHL season with six teams. The Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup, giving them 13 total. However, the Leafs have not won a Cup since the 1967 Final.
[Pictured: 1967 Stanley Cup Finals - Game 1: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens.]
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1967: Division of the dozen
With 12 teams now competing for the Stanley Cup, the NHL created two divisions with six teams apiece. The regular season schedule expanded to 74 games. Within this new setup, a member of the old guard came out on top, as the Montreal Canadiens captured the Stanley Cup. The St. Louis Blues, an expansion team, fell to Montreal in the Final.
[Pictured: Jim Roberts on the St. Louis Blues, he was the first selected skater by the Blues in the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft.]
1968: The century club
No NHL player had ever totaled 100 points in an NHL season prior to 1968, but during the 1968–69 season, three players broke the century mark: Phil Esposito, Bobby Hull, and Gordie Howe. All three, naturally, are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
[Pictured: Trading card photo of Bobby Hull as a member of the Chicago Black Hawks.]
1969: Postseason blues
The St. Louis Blues made an immediate impact after their 1967 debut. In their first three seasons, the Blues reached the Stanley Cup Final. However, the Blues were swept in all three series and fell to the Boston Bruins during the 1969–70 Final.
[Pictured: Bobby Orr flies through the air after scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1970.]
1970: Buffalo and Vancouver, come on down
The NHL opened in two new markets, choosing to place teams in Buffalo and Vancouver. The Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks both failed to qualify for the playoffs in their maiden seasons, but increased the NHL’s footprint across North America. To determine which team received the first pick in an expansion draft, the league decided on a coin toss, won by Buffalo.
[Pictured: Rene Robert of the Buffalo Sabres skates in game against the Boston Bruins at the Boston Garden.]
1971: Dryden’s double dip
Ken Dryden made his NHL debut just before the end of the 1970–71 regular season. Taking advantage of injuries affecting the Montreal Canadiens’ goaltending depth chart, Dryden became the starter in net during the playoffs and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. The next season, Dryden still qualified as a rookie because of the few regular-season games he tallied in 1970–71, and won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in 1971–72.
[Pictured: Ken Dryden from the book, "Hockey In The Seventies: The Game We Knew."]
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1972: Two more teams added
The New York Islanders and Atlanta Flames joined the NHL in 1972. The Islanders, based on Long Island, would experience great success in the coming years. One decade later, at the same time as the Islanders were reaching the apex of the league, the Flames were being doused in Atlanta and moving on to a new locale.
[Pictured: William Alfred "Bill" Shea, the lawyer best known for his part in the return of National League professional baseball to New York City.]
1973: A new beginning
Despite doubling in size in the 1960s, the NHL had yet to see one of its expansion team’s reach the pinnacle of the league. That changed when the Philadelphia Flyers were crowned Stanley Cup champions at the conclusion of the 1973–74 season. Bernie Parent, who made his NHL debut with the Boston Bruins, stifled his former team in goal for the Flyers and won the Conn Smythe Trophy.
[Pictured: Dave Schultz playing for the Philadelphia Flyers during either the 1972–73 or 1973–74 season.]
1974: Rapid growth continues
The NHL adds the Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts, upping their stable to 18 teams. As a result, four divisions are created and the playoffs are restructured to create four rounds of postseason play.
[Pictured: Capitals left winger Errol Rausse chasing Boston Bruins defenseman in the 1970s.]
1975: Cold War clashes
For the first time, teams from the Soviet Union traveled to North America to play NHL clubs in exhibition games. The Soviets had long been considered world powers of the sport. These highly competitive games continued on until the end of the Cold War, and featured quality players previously unseen in the West.
[Pictured: Goalie Vladislav Tretiak of the Red Army with Peter Mahovlich and Yvan Cournoyer of the Montreal Canadiens after the Cold War on Ice game on Dec. 31, 1975.]
1976: Geography shuffle
The expansion of the NHL did not always lead to fruitful results. By 1976, the Kansas City Scouts packed up for Colorado, and the Bay Area’s California Golden Seals moved to Cleveland. In more movement, the Washington Capitals and Scouts played a preseason series in Japan.
[Pictured: Kansas City Scouts from the book: "Shooting Stars."]
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1977: The name game
Beginning this season, the NHL mandated that all teams put a player’s surname on the back of jerseys. The Toronto Maple Leafs defied orders at first, with their owners believing such an act would lead to a decrease in program sales, which contained roster information.
[Pictured: The Colorado Rockies battle the Atlanta Flames in 1978.]
1978: A rare merger
The Cleveland Barons and Minnesota North Stars merged into one franchise. That left the NHL with 17 teams, and a dispersal draft allowed the remaining clubs to pick off players from the bygone Barons.
[Pictured: 1977 Cleveland Barons home jersey at the Hockey Hall of Fame.]
1979: Gordie’s goodbye
Gordie Howe played his final NHL Game in the waning days of the 1979–80 season. Howe ended his NHL career having played pro hockey in five decades, beginning in the 1940s. The Hall of Famer would also make a one-time appearance in the International Hockey League in 1997, giving him a sixth-decade appearance. Meanwhile, as Howe left the NHL, Wayne Gretzky made his much-anticipated debut.
[Pictured: Gordie Howe from the book, "Hockey In The Seventies."]
1980: Gretzky tops Orr
Wayne Gretzky, in only his second NHL campaign, broke Bobby Orr’s single-season assist record. Gretzky tallied 109 assists, and his 164 total points also topped Phil Esposito’s single-season scoring record.
[Pictured: Wayne Gretzky skates on the ice during an NHL game against the New Jersey Devils in 1982.]
1981: Playoff shuffling
The playoff format begins to reward the top four teams in each division. Those four divisional foes competed against each other in the first two rounds, before meeting their conference’s other division champion, and finally the other conference champion.
[Pictured: Bryan Trottier of the New York Islanders hoists the Stanley Cup over his head as he celebrates their championship victory over the Vancouver Canucks.]
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The New York Islanders won their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup at the conclusion of the 1982–83 season. Since then, the Islanders have not won another championship. Elsewhere, the Colorado Rockies moved east and were christened as the New Jersey Devils.
[Pictured: Brent Sutter of the New York Islanders hoists the Stanley Cup over his head after the Islanders defeated the Edmonton Oilers.]
1983: Regular-season sudden death
The NHL adds a five-minute, sudden-death overtime period to all regular-season games that end in a tie after 60 minutes. Previously, tie games were recorded as such after regulation.
[Pictured: Bobby Clarke playing for Philadelphia Flyers in 1983.]
1984: Super Mario arrives
The Pittsburgh Penguins selected Mario Lemieux first overall in the 1984 Draft. Later that year, Lemieux debuted in the NHL and won the Calder Trophy after tallying 100 points in his rookie season.
[Pictured: Center Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates on the ice during a game in April 1985.]
1985: Wayne Gretzky makes history
Wayne Gretzky already held five of the top 10 scoring totals entering the 1985 season. Over his next 80 games, Gretzky would surpass them all by tallying 215 points—163 of which came on assists, a mark that also set a new single-season high.
[Pictured: Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers sitting on the bench during the NHL Smythe Division conference game against the Los Angeles Kings in April 1987.]
1986: Edmonton’s exuberance
The Edmonton Oilers won their third Stanley Cup in four years. Mark Messier took the trophy home to Alberta, where local fans celebrated by drinking from the Cup. The trophy had to be repaired from the damage incurred.
[Pictured: Jimmy Carson of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Los Angeles Kings during a game in 1988.]
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1987: Canada Cup clashes
Before NHL players began suiting up in the Olympics in the 1990s, they represented their countries in events like the Canada Cup. The 1987 event teamed up Canadians Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux for the first time, and the duo led Canada to a memorable championship win over the Soviet Union.
[Pictured: Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky raise their sticks in the air and celebrate the game-winning goal against the Soviet Union team.]
1988: Olympic pride
Following the success of the 1987 Canada Cup, the International Olympic Committee allows NHL players to compete at the 1988 Olympics on a limited scale. Despite the boost to Canada’s roster, the Soviet Union took home gold at the 1988 Games. One player not competing for Canada was Wayne Gretzky, who was traded later that year from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings.
[Pictured: Soviet Union and Germany during the 1988 Winter Olympics.]
1989: Swedish superlative
Swede Mats Sundin became the first European player selected first overall in the NHL Draft. Sundin was taken by the Quebec Nordiques, and over his 18-year NHL career he amassed enough accolades to reach the Hockey Hall of Fame after retiring.
[Pictured: Mats Sundin during his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2000s.]
1990: Pittsburgh pomp
The Pittsburgh Penguins win their first Stanley Cup, buoyed by Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. One other notable member of the team was Jim Paek, who was the first player born in South Korea to compete in the NHL.
[Pictured: Pittsburgh Penguins players celebrate with the Stanley Cup.]
1992: Signs of growth all around
The NHL added two teams: the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning. The league also moved away from naming its divisions after league pioneers after this season, opting for geographic indicators. In addition, the NHL signed a contract to broadcast games on ABC television.
[Pictured: Defense Brad Marsh of the Ottawa Senators warms up prior to a game against the Buffalo Sabres in 1992.]
1993: Mourning in the state of hockey
Minnesota has long been known as the “State of Hockey,” but in 1993, Minnesotans lost their NHL team. The North Stars franchise relocated to Dallas, and Minnesota wouldn’t field an NHL team until 2000, when the Minnesota Wild began playing at a new arena in St. Paul.
[Pictured: Neal Broten of the Dallas Stars against the Buffalo Sabres in 1994.]
1994: From Mickey Mouse to Mighty Mouse
During the New Jersey Devils' early years in the NHL, Wayne Gretzky infamously referred to them as a “Mickey Mouse” club. The Devils’ struggles eventually gave way to a more refined team and by 1994, they were on their way to the top of the league. With Martin Brodeur in goal and the Devils deploying a befuddling “neutral zone trap” system, Gretzky’s former targets became Stanley Cup Champions
[Pictured: President Bill Clinton holds up the Stanley Cup won by the New Jersey Devils at the White House, surrounded by Devils team captain Scott Stevens and other players.]
1995: Europe uprising
For the first time in NHL history, European players comprised more than 20% of all roster spots. Also, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jaromir Jagr, a native of the Czech Republic, became the first European to lead the league in scoring.
[Pictured: Jaromir Jagr during the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2003.]
1996: Continued change
The Winnipeg Jets relocated to Arizona and became the Phoenix Coyotes. Before the end of the season, the Hartford Whalers announced plans to move to North Carolina. And Craig MacTavish, the last player to not wear a helmet, retired from the NHL.
[Pictured: Defenseman Teppo Numminen of the Phoenix Coyotes moves the puck during a game against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1996.]
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1997: All-Star shuffle
Instead of having conferences battle at the All-Star Game, the NHL switched to a new format for the 1997–98 season. All-Stars from North America took on a team of All-Stars from around the world in Vancouver. North America was victorious, 8-7.
[Pictured: A team photo of team North America during NHL All-Star Weekend at General Motors Palace in Vancouver, Canada.]
1998: The great one calls it a career
Fittingly, Wayne Gretzky, who wore #99 throughout his career, retired in 1999. The 1998–99 season was the last campaign for “The Great One,” and he finished his career with 2,857 points, over 1,000 more than hockey great Gordie Howe scored in his career. Howe was in attendance for Gretzky’s final game, as was Jaromir Jagr, who ranks second on the all-time points list, and scored the game-winning goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins against Gretzky’s New York Rangers.
[Pictured: The crowd of spectators, players, and teammates applaud as Wayne Gretzky of the New York Rangers waves in salute on his retirement.]
1999: The NHL returns to Atlanta
Despite the lack of success experienced by the Flames franchise when in Georgia, the NHL once again placed a hockey team in Atlanta. The Atlanta Thrashers debuted in 1999, but hockey failed to maintain a strong fan base after initial interest died down. The Thrashers moved to Winnipeg in 2011.
[Pictured: Scott Langkow of the Atlanta Thrashers looks on the ice during a game against the Buffalo Sabres at the Marine Midland Arena in Buffalo, N.Y.]
2000: Ray of sunshine
Ray Bourque never won a Stanley Cup over his first 21 years of his NHL career. Bourque was already likely destined for the Hall of Fame when the 2000–01 season began, but the cherry on top came when Bourque and the Colorado Avalanche toppled the New Jersey Devils in seven games in the Stanley Cup Final. Bourque retired after the season, finally able to call himself an NHL champion.
[Pictured: Ray Bourque in action against the New Jersey Devils in game six of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals.]
2001: Pond patriotism
A series of events brought out patriotic pride on the pond. After the attacks on 9/11, players wore commemorative patches on their uniforms, and games were even stopped for televised speeches from President George W. Bush. Later, a record 146 NHL players competed in the Olympics, with Canada taking home gold for the first time since 1952.
[Pictured: Steve Heinze of the Los Angeles Kings wears the stickers on his helmet in memory of those who died in the Pentagon and New York Twin Towers attacks.]
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2002: An MVP in Defeat
The Stanley Cup Final pitted the New Jersey Devils against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Throughout the playoffs, the Ducks, seventh seed in the West, surprised behind the strong play of goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere. In the Final, matched up against Martin Brodeur, the goalie of the Devils, Giguere led his team to a decisive Game 7, which was won by New Jersey. Still, Giguere took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP.
[Pictured: Jean-Sebastien Giguere receives the playoff Conn-Smyth MVP trophy.]
2003: A change of color
NHL teams switched to wearing white jerseys on the road and darker colors at home, a trend that continues today. Today, the MLB and NBA are the only major American sports where home teams still frequently wear white uniforms.
[Pictured: Toronto Maple Leafs play the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 20, 2003, at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta.]
2004: Locked out of hockey heaven
For the first time since 1919, the Stanley Cup was not awarded during the 2004–05 season. The NHL and NHL players’ association could not agree on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), leading to the 10-month lockout. Many players went overseas to compete until a new CBA was signed in 2005.
[Pictured: Fans show their feelings regarding the NHL lockout at the Men's Basketball Championship on March 20, 2005.]
2005: The arrival of Sid the Kid
With the first overall pick of the 2005 Draft, the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Sidney Crosby. Nicknamed “Sid the Kid,” Crosby debuted for Pittsburgh later that fall and immediately lived up to the hype. Crosby tallied 102 points in his rookie season. However, Crosby finished second in voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy awarded to the NHL’s top rookie, as Alex Ovechkin had an equally, if not better, debut season.
[Pictured: Sidney Crosby skates against the New Jersey Devils on October 2005 in East Rutherford, N.J. ]
2006: First game in Puerto Rico
In the NHL’s effort to continually increase its worldwide footprint, the league held its first game in Puerto Rico. The New York Rangers and Florida Panthers played an exhibition contest in San Juan.
[Pictured: Juraj Kolnik of the Florida Panthers and Michael Nylander of The New York Rangers battle for the puck during their game in San Juan, Puerto Rico.]
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2007: Lacing them up in London
The first regular-season games are held in Europe, as the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings play two games in London, England. An estimated 17,000 fans watched the first game at the O2 Arena.
[Pictured: Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks faceoff during the NHL game at O2 Arena on Sept. 30, 2007, in London, England.]
2008: Crosby’s cup
Pittsburgh Penguins wunderkind Sidney Crosby wins his first Stanley Cup. During the playoffs, Crosby led all skaters with 15 goals. However, teammate Evgeni Malkin earned Conn Smythe honors.
[Pictured: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman presents Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins with the Stanley Cup.]
2009: Crosby carries Canada
The NHL decided not to hold an All-Star Game due to the timing of the 2010 Winter Olympics, where over 140 NHL players would be participating. However, the Olympics provided more than enough drama. In the gold medal game in Vancouver, Canada defeated the U.S. in overtime when Sidney Crosby scored the game-winning goal. On the women’s side, Canada also topped the U.S. to win gold.
[Pictured: Sidney Crosby of Canada plays the puck through the neutral zone before scoring the match-winning goal during gold medal game between USA and Canada.]
2010: Hockey dreams thrashed in Atlanta
In 1999, Atlanta regained an NHL franchise after losing the Flames to Calgary. However, Atlanta’s second hockey experience would only last a dozen years, as the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg at the conclusion of this season. In 1996, Winnipeg had lost the Jets, who moved to Arizona and were renamed the Coyotes.
[Pictured: Atlanta Thrashers fans hold a rally to keep the team in Atlanta at Philips Arena on May 21, 2011, in Atlanta, Ga.]
2011: Concussion awareness grows
Before the season, the NHL changed rules about hits to the head. As concussions became a growing concern in hockey, criticism of how the NHL handled head injuries grew louder. A serious concussion to Sidney Crosby that kept him sidelined for months only exacerbated concerns.
[Pictured: In his second game back from a concussion, Sidney Crosby skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center in 2012.]
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2012: Lockout redux
Once again an NHL season was affected due to failed labor negotiations between owners and players. The 2012–13 season led to the cancelation of over 600 games, before the season finally kicked off in January 2013. In a shortened campaign, the Chicago Blackhawks hoisted the Cup.
[Pictured: Bryan Bickell of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates with the Stanley Cup.]
2013: Wild card
The NHL created wild card playoff spots to shake up playoff races. Of the four divisions, the top three teams qualified for the playoffs. Then the two teams in each conference with the best remaining records qualified as wild cards.
[Pictured: Los Angeles Kings celebrate a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.]
2014: Brodeur bids adieu
Martin Brodeur played his last game in New Jersey for the Devils at the end of the 2013–14 season. Still pining to play, Brodeur signed with the St. Louis Blues after 21 years in New Jersey. Brodeur lasted only seven games with the Blues before retiring. Brodeur’s 691 career wins are the most by any goaltender.
[Pictured: Martin Brodeur addresses the fans during his jersey retirement ceremony in 2016.]
2015: Canada dry
For the first time since 1970, no teams from Canada qualified for the playoffs. Canadian broadcasters feared ratings dips and had to broadcast the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the Stanley Cup.
[Pictured: The Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks.]
2016: Viva Las Vegas
In the summer of 2016, the NHL granted an expansion franchise to Las Vegas. The Vegas Golden Knights became the first professional sports team in Las Vegas, which had often been a taboo candidate to host a team, due to its association with legalized sports gambling.
[Pictured: Alex Tuch celebrates with teammates after scoring a power-play goal against the San Jose Sharks during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.]
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2017: Vegas longshots
In one of the more memorable underdog stories in recent sports history, the Vegas Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final. Before their first season in the NHL, Vegas was a 500-1 longshot to win the championship. They ultimately fell in the Final to the Washington Capitals, who celebrated their first Stanley Cup title.
[Pictured: Devante Smith-Pelly #25 of the Washington Capitals scores a third-period goal past Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Vegas Golden Knights.]
2018: The buoyant Blues
The St. Louis Blues were founded in 1967, as part of the second six teams to enter the NHL that increased the league’s size to 12 clubs. Among those expansion teams that still exist, St. Louis had been the only franchise to not have won a championship. That all changed after the 2018–19 season, when the Blues outlasted the Boston Bruins in seven games to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time.
[Pictured: Alex Pietrangelo #27 of the St. Louis Blues celebrates with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Boston Bruins.]
2019: Jack Hughes, American Hope
The 2019 NHL Draft Lottery unofficially became the Jack Hughes sweepstakes. For years, Hughes, a teenager from Florida, had been hyped in hockey circles as the next great American prospect. The New Jersey Devils won the lottery and selected Hughes first overall in the 2019 Draft; on Oct. 19, he scored his first NHL goal against the Vancouver Canucks, for whom his brother Quinn, also a rookie, plays.
[Pictured: Jack Hughes smiles after being selected first overall by the New Jersey Devils during the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft.]
2020: Seattle releases the Kraken
Even though the sports world shut down in the wake of COVID-19, the NHL brought some exciting news at the end of July: its newest team has been named the Seattle Kraken. Set to debut for the 2021-2022 hockey season, Kraken was the product of nearly two years of deliberation, with Sockeyes, Totems, and Metropolitans—Seattle’s original pro hockey team and 1917 Stanley Cup champions—being other top contenders.