NHL: Cups Won Before and Since Expansion Needs to Be Recognized

As the hockey world prepares to crown another Stanley Cup champion as soon as tonight in Nashville, I think its time we look at how the NHL records their history.

The Stanley Cup goes all the way back to 1893 when it was called “the Challenge Cup”. It was donated by the Governor General of Canada Lord Stanley of Preston in 1892, and is the oldest professional sports trophy in North America.

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Sidney Crosby can raise the 5th Stanley Cup in Penguins history if they finish off the Predators in Game 6.

However, many hardcore NHL fans still get confused with when exactly the “official” tally of Stanley Cup winners goes back to. The history of the league is very confusing also with the amount of teams that came and went going back to 1917 when most NHL publications began registering Stanley Cup championships to teams.

What I’d like to do is break this down into two eras. First there is the era from 1915 to 1966-67. During the first part of that era, the NHL changed the number of teams almost every season. The NHL had as few as four teams from 1922-24 to as many as 10 teams from 1926-31.

When World War II started, the NHL then contracted to the “Original Six” teams. The Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs were the only teams that participated in the NHL “Golden Era” from 1942-43 to 1966-67. Needless to say, having only six teams in the league can add up championships very quickly.

The Edmonton Oilers 5 Stanley Cups won since expansion started in 1966-67 are the second most to the Montreal Canadiens 10. 

In 1966-67 the NHL introduced modern expansion and doubled the size of the league. The “Original Six” played in one conference and the expansion teams played in the other. Since that year, the NHL has continued to add teams and next season will add the 31st team when Las Vegas takes the ice.

The Montreal Canadiens have won the most Stanley Cups overall (24) and since expansion (10).

Looking at how the NHL has tallied the number of Stanley Cups won, I get bothered by the fact that there aren’t any asterisks involved. Clearly, it’s a lot easier to win a Stanley Cup when you have a 1/6 chance as opposed to a 1/30 chance. Before the NHL diehards get crazy on me, its not that I’m saying you need to asterisk every time the NHL adds teams, but I do think there should be a VERY CLEAR recognition of Stanley Cups won BEFORE and SINCE expansion.

Tonight the Pittsburgh Penguins will be looking to win their fifth Stanley Cup. They entered the league during the first year of expansion in 1966-67. That would tie them with the Edmonton Oilers for the second most Stanley Cups won since expansion. If they wind up skating around Bridgestone Arena with the Stanley Cup tonight, I think that distinction between Stanley Cups won before and since expansion needs to be understood and celebrated.

leafs stanley cup
The Toronto Maple Leafs have not won a Stanley Cup since expansion started in 1966-67, yet have the second most Stanley Cups won in NHL history.

Looking at total Stanley Cups won overall, the Montreal Canadiens blow away everyone with 24. However, the next team on that list is the prime example why these distinctions need to be recognized. The Toronto Maple Leafs are next with 13, however, NONE of those Stanley Cup championships have come since expansion started. All 13 of those championships came when there were eight or fewer teams in the league. The fact that there is no mention of that really bothers me.

Stanley Cups Won Overall (Since 1917)

Montreal Canadiens                24>>

Toronto Maple Leafs               13>>

Detroit Red Wings                   11>>

Chicago Blackhawks                 6>>

Boston Bruins                             6>>

Edmonton Oilers                        5

>>Original Six Teams


Stanley Cups Won Since Expansion in 1966-67

Montreal Canadiens         10

Edmonton Oilers                 5

Detroit Red Wings               4

NY Islanders                         4

Pittsburgh Penguins           4

The New York Islanders won 4 straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83, setting a record with 19 consecutive playoff series won.

So while you are watching the Stanley Cup tonight, please keep in mind the totals you see on graphics and what they mean. Honoring the teams that have won Stanley Cups in expansion with a deeper, much more grueling regular season and playoffs, really matter.


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