A Brief History of NHL Expansion

A Brief History of NHL Expansion

Early in the 2018-19 NHL season, the National Hockey League unanimously approved to add an expansion team for the league in Seattle, Washington. This team will be the thirty-second team in the league and will begin play in the 2021-22 season. They will play their home games at the currently-in-renovation Key Arena, former home of the Seattle Supersonics. Until then, the league will remain with the thirty-one teams they currently have unless something happens. But while fans wait for the team name and jerseys and all the other whatnot, one should delve into the history of the NHL in terms of expansion. Seattle is only going to be the first expansion team since Vegas, but the history goes way back. Before Vegas, the last time expansion teams joined the league was for the 2000-01 season, or when the majority of the senior class of 2019 was born. But the expansion goes back farther and farther. In order to understand a history of expansion, one has to go all the way back to 1909. Listed below is a history of NHL expansion from 1917-2021.


1917-18: The National Hockey League begins their first season of play with the Montreal Wanderers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators (I), and Toronto Hockey Club. The Canadiens had been a team since 1909 was well as the Wanderers while the Senators had been around since 1910. The Senators fold in 1935 as the St. Louis Eagles.


1924-25: The Boston Bruins and Montreal Maroons join the league. The Maroons fold in 1938.


1925-26: The Pittsburgh Pirates join the league and fold in 1935 as the Philadelphia Quakers. The New York Americans join the league and fold in 1942 as the Brooklyn Americans.


1926-27: The New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, and Detroit Cougars join the league. The Cougars are renamed the Red Wings.


1967-68: After 25 years of a six-team league, the NHL expands the league for the first time in over forty years adding up to a total of twelve teams. The teams that join include the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, St Louis Blues, Minnesota North Stars, and the California Golden Seals. The North Stars move to Dallas and become the Stars in 1993 while the Seals move to Cleveland in 1976 to become the Barons and merge with the North Stars.


1970-71: The Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks join the league. They are the thirteenth and fourteenth teams to join the league.


1972-73: The Atlanta Flames and New York Islanders join the league. The Atlanta Flames move to Calgary in 1979. These are the fifteenth and sixteenth teams in the league.


1974-75: The Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts join the league. The Scouts move to Colorado to become the Rockies in 1976 and then move to Newark to become the New Jersey Devils in 1982. The league now has nineteen teams.


1979-80: The World Hockey Association merges with the NHL and in the process, four teams join the league. Those teams are the Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques, Winnipeg Jets, and Hartford Whalers. The Nordiques move to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, the Jets move to Phoenix to become the Arizona Coyotes in 1996, and the Whalers move to Raleigh to become the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997. This gives the league a total of twenty-one teams.


1991-92: After twelve seasons of having the same number of teams, the San Jose Sharks join the league as the twenty-second team.


1992-93: The Tampa Bay Lightning and the second version of the Ottawa Senators join the league. They are the twenty-third and twenty-fourth teams in the league.


1993-94: The Anaheim Ducks and Florida Panthers join the league. They are the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth teams in the league.


1998-99: The Nashville Predators join the league. This expansion gives the league twenty-seven teams.


1999-00: The Atlanta Thrashers join the league. They move to Winnipeg and become the Jets in 2011. This expansion gives the league twenty-eight teams.


2000-01: The Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets join the league. The league now has thirty teams.


2017-18: After seventeen seasons of thirty teams, the Vegas Golden Knights join the league. They become the thirty-first team in the league.


2021-22: The Seattle team joins the league. The NHL now has thirty-two teams.


So there’s a brief history of how the NHL has grown, shrunk, and regrown into the professional league it is today. Who knows what the league has instore for the future. Will they become a league with forty teams? Will current teams be moving somewhere? Will teams fold? But until then, congratulations Seattle for getting an expansion team. Here is to being just like Vegas in their first season of hockey.