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Detailed History of NHL Expansion and Realignment


With NHL realignment happening next season I thought it would be good time to go back and visit all the years where the league got some sort of facelift, whether it is one team simply changing their team name or a complete overhaul of the divisions. Let’s start at the beginning way back in the NHL’s first official season in 1917-18.

The first year had only 4 teams with two based out of the same city.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1917-18

4

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

Toronto Arenas

 

 

Ottawa Senators

 

 

Montreal Wanderers


The Wanderers would only last one season which brought the league down to it’s smallest ever size.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1918-19

3

Ottawa Senators

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

Toronto Arenas


We then saw one team added and one name change.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1919-20

4

Ottawa Senators

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

Toronto Saint Patricks

 

 

Quebec Bulldogs


The Bulldogs only lasted on year before moving to Hamilton.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1920-21

4

Toronto Saint Patricks

to

 

Ottawa Senators

1923-24

 

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

Hamilton Tigers


After 3 years without change we had 2 new teams added.
 

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1924-25

6

Hamilton Tigers

 

 

Toronto Saint Patricks

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

Ottawa Senators

 

 

Montreal Maroons

 

 

Boston Bruins


Hamilton would then dissolve but Pittsburgh and New York would join.
 

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1925-26

7

Toronto Saint Patricks

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

Ottawa Senators

 

 

Montreal Maroons

 

 

Boston Bruins

 

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

 

 

New York Americans


The league finally reached double digits in total teams after Chicago, Detroit and a second New York team would join. This was also the first time two divisions were created.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1926-27

10

Canadian

American

to

 

Ottawa Senators

New York Rangers

1929-30

 

Montreal Canadiens

Boston Bruins

 

 

Montreal Maroons

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

New York Americans

Pittsburgh Pirates

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Detroit Cougers


Pittsburgh would then move to Philadelphia for one year before dissolving.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1930-31

10

Canadian

American

 

 

Ottawa Senators

New York Rangers

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

Boston Bruins

 

 

Montreal Maroons

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

New York Americans

Philadelphia Quakers

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Detroit Falcons


Ottawa did not have a team for the 1931-32 season, but would come back for two more seasons before relocating to St. Louis for one year.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1931-32

8

Canadian

American

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

New York Rangers

 

 

Montreal Maroons

Boston Bruins

 

 

New York Americans

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Detroit Falcons

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1932-33

9

Canadian

American

to

 

Montreal Canadiens

New York Rangers

1933-34

 

Montreal Maroons

Boston Bruins

 

 

New York Americans

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Ottawa Senators

 

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1934-35

9

Canadian

American

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

New York Rangers

 

 

Montreal Maroons

Boston Bruins

 

 

New York Americans

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

St. Louis Eagles

 

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1935-36

8

Canadian

American

to

 

Montreal Canadiens

New York Rangers

1937-38

 

Montreal Maroons

Boston Bruins

 

 

New York Americans

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Detroit Red Wings


The NHL went back to one division after the Montreal Maroons left and would stick with that format till the 1967-68 season when they doubled in size through the biggest expansion year in its history.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1938-39

7

Boston Bruins

 

 

New York Rangers

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

New York Americans

 

 

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

Chicago Blackhawks

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1938-39

7

Boston Bruins

to

 

New York Rangers

1940-41

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

Brooklyn Americans

 

 

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

Chicago Blackhawks

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1941-42

6

Boston Bruins

to

 

New York Rangers

1966-67

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

Chicago Blackhawks


The “original 6” created the first ever East Division while the 6 new teams were placed in the West Division.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1967-68

12

East

West

to

 

Montreal Canadiens

Philadelphia Flyers

1969-70

 

New York Rangers

Los Angeles Kings

 

 

Boston Bruins

St. Louis Blues

 

 

Chicago Blackhawks

Minnesota North Stars

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Pittsburgh Penguins

 

 

Detroit Red Wings

Oakland Seals


The league expanded 3 separate times in the 70’s, adding 2 new teams each time. The final expansion was ushered in with a brand new league alignment with inclusion of conferences for the first time.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1970-71

14

East

West

to

 

Montreal Canadiens

Philadelphia Flyers

1971-72

 

New York Rangers

Los Angeles Kings

 

 

Boston Bruins

St. Louis Blues

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Minnesota North Stars

 

 

Detroit Red Wings

Pittsburgh Penguins

 

 

Buffalo Sabres

California Seals

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

Chicago Blackhawks

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1972-73

16

East

West

to

 

Montreal Canadiens

Philadelphia Flyers

1973-74

 

New York Rangers

Los Angeles Kings

 

 

Boston Bruins

St. Louis Blues

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Minnesota North Stars

 

 

Detroit Red Wings

Pittsburgh Penguins

 

 

Buffalo Sabres

California Seals

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

New York Islanders

Atlanta Flames

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1974-75

18

Clarence Campbell

Prince of Wales

to

 

Patrick

Adams

1975-76

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Buffalo Sabres

 

 

New York Rangers

Boston Bruins

 

 

New York Islanders

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

Atlanta Flames

California Seals

 

 

Smythe

Norris

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

St. Louis Blues

Los Angeles Kings

 

 

Chicago Blackhawks

Pittsburgh Penguins

 

 

Minnesota North Stars

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Kansas City Scouts

Washington Capitals


A couple relocations and two teams merging (Minnesota and Cleveland) were made in the late 70’s which resulted in a few minor divisional realignments.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1976-77

18

Clarence Campbell

Prince of Wales

to

 

Patrick

Adams

1977-78

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Buffalo Sabres

 

 

New York Rangers

Boston Bruins

 

 

New York Islanders

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

Atlanta Flames

Cleveland Barons

 

 

Smythe

Norris

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

St. Louis Blues

Los Angeles Kings

 

 

Chicago Blackhawks

Pittsburgh Penguins

 

 

Minnesota North Stars

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Colorado Rockies

Washington Capitals

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1978-79

17

Clarence Campbell

Prince of Wales

 

 

Patrick

Adams

 

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Buffalo Sabres

 

 

New York Rangers

Boston Bruins

 

 

New York Islanders

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

Atlanta Flames

Minnesota North Stars

 

 

Smythe

Norris

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

St. Louis Blues

Los Angeles Kings

 

 

Chicago Blackhawks

Pittsburgh Penguins

 

 

Colorado Rockies

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

 

Washington Capitals


Another big expansion occurred next as 4 more teams were added bringing the total to 21. No new teams would be added until the 1991-92 season. There were multiple minor realignments done in the early 80’s.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1979-80

21

Clarence Campbell

Prince of Wales

 

 

Patrick

Adams

 

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Buffalo Sabres

 

 

New York Rangers

Boston Bruins

 

 

New York Islanders

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

Atlanta Flames

Minnesota North Stars

 

 

Washington Capitals

Quebec Nordiques

 

 

Smythe

Norris

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

St. Louis Blues

Los Angeles Kings

 

 

Chicago Blackhawks

Pittsburgh Penguins

 

 

Colorado Rockies

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Edmonton Oilers

Hartford Whalers

 

 

Winnipeg Jets

 

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1980-81

21

Clarence Campbell

Prince of Wales

 

 

Patrick

Adams

 

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Buffalo Sabres

 

 

New York Rangers

Boston Bruins

 

 

New York Islanders

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

Calgary Flames

Minnesota North Stars

 

 

Washington Capitals

Quebec Nordiques

 

 

Smythe

Norris

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

St. Louis Blues

Los Angeles Kings

 

 

Colorado Rockies

Pittsburgh Penguins

 

 

Edmonton Oilers

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Winnipeg Jets

Hartford Whalers

 

 

 

Chicago Blackhawks

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1981-82

21

Clarence Campbell

Prince of Wales

 

 

Patrick

Adams

 

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Buffalo Sabres

 

 

New York Rangers

Boston Bruins

 

 

New York Islanders

Hartford Whalers

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

Washington Capitals

Quebec Nordiques

 

 

Smythe

Norris

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

Colorado Rockies

Minnesota North Stars

 

 

Edmonton Oilers

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Los Angeles Kings

St. Louis Blues

 

 

Calgary Flames

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

 

Winnipeg Jets

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1982-83

21

Clarence Campbell

Prince of Wales

to

 

Patrick

Adams

1990-91

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Buffalo Sabres

 

 

New York Rangers

Boston Bruins

 

 

New York Islanders

Hartford Whalers

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

Washington Capitals

Quebec Nordiques

 

 

New Jersey Devils

 

 

 

Smythe

Norris

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

Winnipeg Jets

Minnesota North Stars

 

 

Edmonton Oilers

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Los Angeles Kings

St. Louis Blues

 

 

Calgary Flames

Chicago Blackhawks


The 90’s brought us expansion into the southern United States as San Jose, Tampa Bay, Florida and Anaheim would all be given teams. It was also a time of relocation as Quebec, Hartford and Winnipeg would all see their teams move south.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1991-92

22

Clarence Campbell

Prince of Wales

 

 

Patrick

Adams

 

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Buffalo Sabres

 

 

New York Rangers

Boston Bruins

 

 

New York Islanders

Hartford Whalers

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

Washington Capitals

Quebec Nordiques

 

 

New Jersey Devils

 

 

 

Smythe

Norris

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

Winnipeg Jets

Minnesota North Stars

 

 

Edmonton Oilers

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Los Angeles Kings

St. Louis Blues

 

 

Calgary Flames

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

San Jose Sharks

 

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1992-93

24

Clarence Campbell

Prince of Wales

 

 

Patrick

Adams

 

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Buffalo Sabres

 

 

New York Rangers

Boston Bruins

 

 

New York Islanders

Hartford Whalers

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Montreal Canadiens

 

 

Washington Capitals

Quebec Nordiques

 

 

New Jersey Devils

Ottawa Senators

 

 

Smythe

Norris

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

Winnipeg Jets

Minnesota North Stars

 

 

Edmonton Oilers

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Los Angeles Kings

St. Louis Blues

 

 

Calgary Flames

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

San Jose Sharks

Tampa Bay Lightning

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1993-94

26

Eastern Conference

Western Conference

to

 

Atlantic

Central

1994-95

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

New York Rangers

Dallas Stars

 

 

New York Islanders

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Washington Capitals

St. Louis Blues

 

 

New Jersey Devils

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Winnipeg Jets

 

 

Florida Panthers

 

 

 

Northeast

Pacific

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Vancouver Canucks

 

 

Buffalo Sabres

Edmonton Oilers

 

 

Boston Bruins

Los Angeles Kings

 

 

Hartford Whalers

Calgary Flames

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

San Jose Sharks

 

 

Quebec Nordiques

Anaheim Ducks

 

 

Ottawa Senators

 

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1995-96

26

Eastern Conference

Western Conference

 

 

Atlantic

Central

 

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

New York Rangers

Dallas Stars

 

 

New York Islanders

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Washington Capitals

St. Louis Blues

 

 

New Jersey Devils

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Winnipeg Jets

 

 

Florida Panthers

 

 

 

Northeast

Pacific

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Vancouver Canucks

 

 

Buffalo Sabres

Edmonton Oilers

 

 

Boston Bruins

Los Angeles Kings

 

 

Hartford Whalers

Calgary Flames

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

San Jose Sharks

 

 

Ottawa Senators

Anaheim Ducks

 

 

 

Colorado Avalanche

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1996-97

26

Eastern Conference

Western Conference

 

 

Atlantic

Central

 

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

New York Rangers

Dallas Stars

 

 

New York Islanders

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Washington Capitals

St. Louis Blues

 

 

New Jersey Devils

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Phoenix Coyotes

 

 

Florida Panthers

 

 

 

Northeast

Pacific

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Vancouver Canucks

 

 

Buffalo Sabres

Edmonton Oilers

 

 

Boston Bruins

Los Angeles Kings

 

 

Hartford Whalers

Calgary Flames

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

San Jose Sharks

 

 

Ottawa Senators

Anaheim Ducks

 

 

 

Colorado Avalanche

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1997-98

26

Eastern Conference

Western Conference

 

 

Atlantic

Central

 

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

New York Rangers

Dallas Stars

 

 

New York Islanders

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

Washington Capitals

St. Louis Blues

 

 

New Jersey Devils

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Phoenix Coyotes

 

 

Florida Panthers

 

 

 

Northeast

Pacific

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Vancouver Canucks

 

 

Buffalo Sabres

Edmonton Oilers

 

 

Boston Bruins

Los Angeles Kings

 

 

Carolina Hurricanes

Calgary Flames

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

San Jose Sharks

 

 

Ottawa Senators

Anaheim Ducks

 

 

 

Colorado Avalanche


The late 90’s would end with a few more expansion teams from the US as Nashville and Atlanta were given teams to bring the league total to 28. We were also introduced to 6 divisions with the 3 in each conference.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1998-99

27

Eastern Conference

Western Conference

 

 

Atlantic

Central

 

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

New York Rangers

St. Louis Blues

 

 

New York Islanders

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Nashville Predators

 

 

New Jersey Devils

 

 

 

Northeast

Northwest

 

 

Buffalo Sabres

Vancouver Canucks

 

 

Boston Bruins

Edmonton Oilers

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

Calgary Flames

 

 

Ottawa Senators

Colorado Avalanche

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

 

Southeast

Pacific

 

 

Washington Capitals

Dallas Stars

 

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Phoenix Coyotes

 

 

Florida Panthers

Anaheim Ducks

 

 

Carolina Hurricanes

San Jose Sharks

 

 

 

Los Angeles Kings

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

1999-00

28

Eastern Conference

Western Conference

 

 

Atlantic

Central

 

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

New York Rangers

St. Louis Blues

 

 

New York Islanders

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Nashville Predators

 

 

New Jersey Devils

 

 

 

Northeast

Northwest

 

 

Buffalo Sabres

Vancouver Canucks

 

 

Boston Bruins

Edmonton Oilers

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

Calgary Flames

 

 

Ottawa Senators

Colorado Avalanche

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

 

Southeast

Pacific

 

 

Washington Capitals

Dallas Stars

 

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Phoenix Coyotes

 

 

Florida Panthers

Anaheim Ducks

 

 

Carolina Hurricanes

San Jose Sharks

 

 

Atlanta Thrashers

Los Angeles Kings


The NHL then saw an 11 year break from changes of any kind until Columbus and Minnesota joined to bring the total up to 30. This was the last year of expansion and it may stay that way for the foreseeable future.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

2000-01

30

Eastern Conference

Western Conference

to

 

Atlantic

Central

2010-11

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

New York Rangers

St. Louis Blues

 

 

New York Islanders

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Nashville Predators

 

 

New Jersey Devils

Columbus Blue Jackets

 

 

Northeast

Northwest

 

 

Buffalo Sabres

Vancouver Canucks

 

 

Boston Bruins

Edmonton Oilers

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

Calgary Flames

 

 

Ottawa Senators

Colorado Avalanche

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Minnesota Wild

 

 

Southeast

Pacific

 

 

Washington Capitals

Dallas Stars

 

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Phoenix Coyotes

 

 

Florida Panthers

Anaheim Ducks

 

 

Carolina Hurricanes

San Jose Sharks

 

 

Atlanta Thrashers

Los Angeles Kings


Another consistent stretch of years would follow as nothing changed until the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg where the Jets 2.0 were born.

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

2011-12

30

Eastern Conference

Western Conference

to

 

Atlantic

Central

2012-13

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

New York Rangers

St. Louis Blues

 

 

New York Islanders

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Nashville Predators

 

 

New Jersey Devils

Columbus Blue Jackets

 

 

Northeast

Northwest

 

 

Buffalo Sabres

Vancouver Canucks

 

 

Boston Bruins

Edmonton Oilers

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

Calgary Flames

 

 

Ottawa Senators

Colorado Avalanche

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Minnesota Wild

 

 

Southeast

Pacific

 

 

Washington Capitals

Dallas Stars

 

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Phoenix Coyotes

 

 

Florida Panthers

Anaheim Ducks

 

 

Carolina Hurricanes

San Jose Sharks

 

 

Winnipeg Jets

Los Angeles Kings


And so this brings us to the present day where the NHL will face its first major realignment since 1999. The division names have yet to be announced but it’s a good guess that they will be based on location.
 

Year

Number of Teams

Teams, Divisions and Conferences

2013-14

30

Eastern Conference

Western Conference

 

 

Division C

Division A

 

 

Buffalo Sabres

Vancouver Canucks

 

 

Boston Bruins

Edmonton Oilers

 

 

Montreal Canadiens

Calgary Flames

 

 

Ottawa Senators

Phoenix Coyotes

 

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Anaheim Ducks

 

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

San Jose Sharks

 

 

Florida Panthers

Los Angeles Kings

 

 

Detroit Red Wings

 

 

 

Division D

Division B

 

 

Washington Capitals

St. Louis Blues

 

 

Carolina Hurricanes

Chicago Blackhawks

 

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Nashville Predators

 

 

New York Rangers

Colorado Avalanche

 

 

New York Islanders

Minnesota Wild

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dallas Stars

 

 

New Jersey Devils

Winnipeg Jets

 

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

 


The big question now is what happens if the Coyotes leave Phoenix as has been rumoured for the past couple years. Ideally, they could be moved to a location like Seattle but what happens if Quebec City is finally given a second chance at having a team? I’ll leave those questions to Mr. Bettman to answer.

 



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