These six teams are the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs, all of which are still active franchises in the league.
Of the Original Six, only the Toronto Maple Leafs have not advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals since the expansion.
All of the other original six teams have appeared in at least three Finals since 1967 and have each won the cup at least once during the most recent 25 seasons (Toronto last won the Stanley Cup during the 1966–67 season when a team only had to win two rounds to claim the cup).
The term, not contemporaneous to the era, originated no earlier than 1967.
While only Montreal and Toronto were charter members of the NHL in 1917, all six existing teams going into the 1967–68 expansion to twelve teams date to the league's first decade, and were commonly considered as a traditional set.
|Team name||Location||Joined the NHL|
|Montreal Canadiens||Montreal, Quebec||1917 (founded in 1909)|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||Toronto, Ontario||1917|
|Boston Bruins||Boston, Massachusetts||1924|
|Chicago Black Hawks||Chicago, Illinois||1926|
|Detroit Red Wings||Detroit, Michigan||1926|
|New York Rangers||New York City, New York||1926|
The NHL consisted of ten teams during the 1920s, but the league experienced a period of retrenchment during the Great Depression, losing the Pittsburgh Pirates\Philadelphia Quakers, Ottawa Senators\St. Louis Eagles and the Montreal Maroons in succession to financial pressures.
The New York/Brooklyn Americans (which was one of the league's original expansion franchises along with the Bruins and Maroons) lasted longer, but World War II provided its own economic strains and also severely depleted the league's Canadian player base, since Canada entered the war in September 1939 and many players left for military service.
The Americans suspended operations in the fall of 1942, leaving the NHL with just six teams.
Despite various outside efforts to initiate expansion after the war (including attempted revivals of the Maroons and Americans franchises), the league's membership would remain at six teams for the next twenty-five seasons.
The Original Six era has been criticized for having a playoff system that was too easy (the top four teams in the regular season advanced to the playoffs) and for featuring too many dominant teams. (Montreal never missed the playoffs between 1949 and 1967 and Detroit and Toronto only missed three times each, leaving the other three teams to compete for the one remaining berth).
The league also had a rule that gave each team exclusive rights to negotiate contracts with promising local players within 50 miles of its home ice.
Since Toronto and Montreal's metropolitan areas contained abundant hockey prospects, this put them at a major recruiting advantage over Boston, New York, and Chicago which had very few such prospects in their territories (Detroit had Southwestern Ontario as part of its territory; it thus did not have the major advantage of the Canadian teams but were better positioned than the other American ones).
If a player was not within the 50-mile limit, that player was free to field offers from any team. Once that player agreed to a sponsorship-level contract, the NHL club could assign him to its sponsored junior squad: its "sponsorship list".
In practice, all six teams recruited players from Canada by sponsoring minor league, junior and amateur teams.
This phenomenon had the impact of limiting player movement, and as a result the Original Six rosters were very static.
Until the lengthening of careers in the 1980s, only one twenty-year player in NHL history, Larry Robinson started his career after 1964, and it is generally accepted that the weakest Calder Trophy winners (Rookies of the Year) of all time were selected in the 1950s and 1960s.
In partial consequence, the league was almost entirely composed of Canadians who had come up through the junior and minor pro leagues.
While the league boasted a handful of good American players during the 1940s (including All-Star goalkeepers Frank Brimsek & Mike Karakas, defenseman John Mariucci and forward Cully Dahlstrom), these were mostly products of the American Hockey Association which folded in 1942 and almost all played for the Chicago Black Hawks, whose owner, Major Frederic McLaughlin was a fiercely patriotic man who tried to stock his roster with as many American players as possible.
Very few all American-developed NHL players emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, when Tommy Williams was the only American to play regularly.
Both Williams and Mariucci complained about anti-American bias, and U.S. Olympic team stars John Mayasich and Bill Cleary turned down offers from NHL teams.
The only European-born and trained player of the era was Sweden's Ulf Sterner, who briefly played for the Rangers in 1965.
After World War II, all six NHL owners consistently rejected any bids for expansion and in the eyes of many observers changed the criteria for entry every time with a bent to defeating any such bid.
They also reneged on promises to allow the still-extant but dormant Maroons and Americans franchises to re-activate.