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Of Bradley County Tn.








Growing Pains

by Jerry Keys

Baseball had already began to expand. Football and basketball were beset with rival leagues. Hockey had nothing to worry about, after all it is a northern sport. Right? Right? By the summer of 1967, everything was set in place for NHL growth.

For decades NHL fans were regional. Outside of the pocket where the 'Original Six' played, little coverage was available. The Original Six cities were Detroit, Boston, Chicago, New York, Montreal and Toronto. The 1967-68 expansion doubled the number of NHL teams, bringing puck action to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Minnesota, Los Angeles and Oakland (later renamed California).

Jerry Keys

In years leading up to expansion, four of the six NHL teams reached the playoffs. To increase competition, playoff teams were increased to eight. The Original Six made up the East division and the new teams, the West. The four teams from each division would compete in two round action. The winner from the East and West would face off for the Stanley Cup.

The East, with clearly superior talent, rolled to three straight Cups. Beginning with 1970-71 action, the East and West grew to seven teams. Chicago moved to the West and the East added two new teams, Buffalo and Vancouver. The playoffs were now mixed with the #1 and #3 East seed winner facing the West #2 and #4 winner (the West #1 and #3 winner facing East #2 and #4 respectively).

The playoff format was altered after only one year due to speculation of Minnesota throwing games to receive a better seed. The #1 seed teams would face #4 seed and #2 face #3. The NHL grew to eight teams in each division, adding NY Islanders to the East and Atlanta to the West for 1972-73 action. The following year, 1973-74, Philadelphia became the first expansion team to capture the Stanley Cup.

Before the 1974-75 season, the NHL grew to 18 teams. The teams were also realigned geographically to cut travel costs. Two conferences were formed, the Prince of Wales and Clarence Campbell, and two divisions were formed in each. Wales was broken into the Adams and Norris, the Campbell into Patrick and Smythe. Adams had teams in Buffalo, Boston, Toronto and California; Norris with Montreal, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Washington (new). The Patrick contained Philadelphia, Atlanta, NY Rangers and NY Islanders; while Smythe consisted of Vancouver, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota and Kansas City (new). The playoffs were expanded to twelve teams.

Hockey pundits began to claim the NHL grew too fast. With some truth to the pundits, coupled with a late 1970's recession, the NHL did struggle. Kansas City moved to Colorado, California to Cleveland, and Cleveland merged with Minnesota. Much like any other major sport, the NHL had competition from the upstart World Hockey League. As with the (then) recent mergers of the NBA and ABA, and NFL and AFL (basketball and football), the two merged for the 1979-80 season.

Four of the six World Hockey League teams were added to total 21 NHL teams. The four additions were Edmonton, Winnipeg, New England (Hartford), and Quebec. Additional teams meant additional playoffs, the number of teams who saw playoff action increased to 16. A year later Atlanta moved to Calgary. The 1981-82 season saw another geographical realignment and a slowed movement of franchises. For the next ten years, the only movement was Colorado to New Jersey.

From 1991-92 to 1993-94, the NHL added five team (totaling 26), San Jose, Tampa, Ottawa, Florida and Anaheim. The conferences and divisions were renamed to support more geographic terms (Eastern Conference consisted of Atlantic and Northeast division, Western Conference contained Central and Pacific divisions). The 16 team playoff format was altered to the system currently used today. After the latest expansion and promise for future growth, the NHL owners and players went on strike (gasp!).

The reasons for the strike are for another time, but it set in motion franchise movement. Over the next three seasons after the strike, Quebec moves to Colorado, Winnipeg to Phoenix, and Hartford to Carolina. To exacerbate the financial woes of many NHL teams, the league expanded again. From 1998-99 to 2000-01, the NHL added four teams (30 total), Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota and Columbus, and.....another realignment. To repeat history, after the period of additional teams, the NHL owners and players went on strike. The entire 2004-05 season was lost.

Set forth after the 2004-05 strike was a salary cap and a measure of stability. The only franchise move post-season lost was Atlanta to Winnipeg. The current 2013-14 season is coming off another strike, which wiped away around half of the 2012-13 season. Yet again, there was realignment. The East has two 8 team divisions, the Atlantic (Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa and Toronto) and Metropolitan (Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, NY Rangers, NY Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington).

The West has two seven team divisions, the Central (Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota -their previous franchise moved to Dallas for the 1993-94 season-, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg) and the Pacific (Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver). With a new collective bargaining agreement everyone is hoping to see a time of growth in the NHL's popularity; while die-hard fans just wish to see stability.

There is speculation the NHL has plans to add additional teams, anywhere from one to six teams. After each large scale expansion in the NHL, it was followed by a strike. Hold your ears NHL fans, maybe circle the calendar for 2021?

2014 World Cup qualifications are almost complete. Four spots from Europe and five from Africa are yet to be clinched (eight Europe teams are vying for the four, ten African teams are vying for the five). Two inter-confederation spots are also available. One spot will be decided between the #5 seeds from Asia (Jordan) and South America (Uruguay), the other between the #4 seed from North America (Mexico) and #1 seed from Oceania (New Zealand).

The 21 teams who already secured a position for Cup '14 play are: (Asia) Japan, Australia, Iran, South Korea, (Europe) Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Russia, England, Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, (South America) Argentina, Columbia, Chile, Ecuador, (North America) Honduras, Costa Rica, and the United States. The host country of Brazil gets an automatic spot in Cup action.

The remaining spots will be decided before the Thanksgiving weekend and group seeding for Cup play should be announced before the conclusion of 2013. The United States wrapped up qualifying by posting a 7-2-1 record in fourth round North American action.