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Up-to-the minute updates and insights from the Red Wings locker room at home and on the road. By Chuck Pleiness of The Macomb Daily.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Original Six era not worth reliving

Even the name is egocentric and false. So why do hockey fans in Detroit point to the Original Six era as the ideal to which the NHL should return?

We need to see more Original Six teams play the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. There are too many games against division foes and not enough against the other teams. The new way of scheduling in the NHL is wrong.

No. Not really.

I think that the Original Six ideal has morphed into something that it never was, namely the heyday of the NHL. The Original Six was an era in which the NHL was popular in Detroit, Chicago, New York and Boston. That's the map for American based fandom for the NHL. Believe it or not, the NHL is more popular nationally now that it ever was during the Original Six era.

Let's look at the Original Six without the rose-colored glasses:

-- It wasn't original. At least not as far as number of teams or teams themselves in the NHL. The league existed for 25 years before the Brooklyn Americans -- yes, the Brooklyn Americans -- dropped out to leave the NHL with the Original Six. The league has lasted for 41 seasons since the Original Six era ended. The Original Six era lasted just 25 seasons. You want original? Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. That's the original NHL.

-- The Original Six era was an extremely polarized circuit in terms of success. Detroit, Montreal and Toronto were good. Boston, New York and Chicago were not. (Maybe that's why we pine for those days in Detroit. Then again, the Red Wings are the NHL's royalty right now.) In those 25 Original Six seasons, Montreal (10), Toronto (nine) and Detroit (five) won 24 Stanley Cups. Only Chicago (1961) broke the big three's hold on the title. Montreal, Detroit and Toronto missed the playoffs a combined eight times in those 25 years. Boston, Chicago and New York missed the playoffs 42 times. Maybe it should have been called the Half Good/Half Bad era of the NHL.

-- The Original Six era was repetitive. Very very very very very repetitive. Detroit fans argue that they see Nashville too many times (eight in each of the past three seasons and six this season), Columbus too many times, St. Louis too many times. Well, the Original Six was all about seeing teams too many times.

And come playoff time in the Original Six, the Red Wings were usually playing either Montreal or Toronto. In their 38 Original Six era playoff series, the Red Wings played the two Canadian franchises 24 times. From 1948-61, the Red Wings played 16 of 19 playoff series against either Montreal or Toronto.

The Red Wings played every team in the old NHL 14 times per season. That makes eight games a year seem like the teams are just getting to know each other.

Here's a sample of the Red Wings' schedule from Feb., 1954: Friday night, home vs. Boston; Sunday afternoon, in Boston; Monday night, in Boston. That's pretty boring.

And with 50 years having passed, we like to look at that as a star-studded era when you could watch teams over and over.

Here's a look at the 1953-54 Boston roster: Ed Sandford; Fleming Mackell; Johnny Peirson; Dave Creighton; Joe Klukay. Those were the Bruins' top five scorers that season, by the way. The Maple Leafs' top five scorers were Tod Sloan, Sid Smith, Ted Kennedy, George Armstrong and Tim Horton. The Rangers' top five were Paul Ronty, Don Raleigh, Wally Hergesheimer, Camille Henry and Nick Mickoski.

And just so you don't think I'm hiding the big names, here are Montreal's top five scorers: Rocket Richard; Boom Boom Geoffrion; Bert Olmstead; Ken Mosdell; and Doug Harvey. Gerry McNeil was the Habs' No. 1 goalie. Some great names on Montreal's list, but that's a lot of shift you'd be watching without seeing Richard or Geoffrion or Harvey.

I've never understood the local cry for more Original Six matchups. Chicago played the Red Wings eight times per season over the past three years, but no one seemed to care. The Rangers were in town last week, but that didn't have much buzz.

A love of playing the Maple Leafs seems to be masked as affection for old-time scheduling.

So schedule the Red Wings and Maple Leafs more often. Go with the 84-game schedule that the Detroit management has been pushing for which guarantees a home-and-home with every other franchise. Heck, you could even lop off a few more conference games and have some designated rivalry games, getting four games between Detroit and Toronto every season.

But stop waving the Original Six flag. That was an era where the standings were predictable and you saw the same teams over and over again.

The Original Six era has been dead for more than 40 years. Let it rest.


Blogger John said...

Have I posted my idea for a new schedule here before??? And new alignment for that matter.. something that is easier to manage and travel and remember, just like in the NFL.

Northern Conference
North East OTT - BOS - MON - BUF
North Central DET - TOR - TOR2 (Balsillie) - MIN
North Atlantic NJ - NYI - NYR - HAR
North West CGY - VAN - EDM - WPG

Southern Conference
South East FLA - TB - - CAR - ATL
South Atlantic WAS - PHI - PIT - CLB
South Central DAL - COL - CHI - STL
South West ANA - LA - PHO - SJ

Then you'd play divisionals 6 times (18)
Conference 3 times (36- total 54)
Geography 4 times (SE vs NE, SA vs NA: 16 - total 70) That leaves you with 12 games left and 12 teams you haven't played so you see them at home every other year.

Location is more important to fans than conference (4 vs. 3)
6 divisional keeps a balance in standings and you play every single team every year.

And, you move NAS to TOR2. You add HAR(tford) and WPG (Manitoba!).

PS, after I get the Wings Video Coaching job (in my dreams) I will move to the NHL main office. (delusions delusions)

October 24, 2008 at 4:12 PM 
Blogger John said...

Also, I agree. The original six, or rather the first year there were six teams, was the 7th year of the NHL. 1924. The teams were Montreal, Montreal Maroons, Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton and... wait for it.... Boston.

Admittedly, the NHL as a company/product reorganized in 1928-9 (see great depression) and again in 1942-3 (see world war 2). So technically it is not the same NHL as 1917-1942. Oh, and here's a fact many readers won't know... in 1926-1927 there were 10 NHL teams, not 6 or 7. Canadian Division (NY A, MTL M, MTL, TOR, OTT) and American (NY, BOS, CHI, PIT, DET). By 1938, they were down to 8 teams and 1939 and the start of World War 2 whitled it back to 1 division where it would stay until the original six era.

Just some hockey geekdom for you to ensure that you seem less geeky Bruce.

October 24, 2008 at 4:23 PM 
Anonymous Garth said...

Re: the schedule - Sure, they played every team 14 times, but they PLAYED EVER TEAM at home AND away! Sure, they "only" play divisional teams eight times, but there is a whole CONFERENCE full of teams that they only place ONCE, and for a couple years before this season, they didn't even play every team ONCE. What's so wrong about wanting your team to play EVERY time once at home and once as a visitor?

October 24, 2008 at 4:44 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're serious!! You've lost my respect of your writing!

October 24, 2008 at 5:28 PM 
Blogger ryan stiner said...

this may be more controversial than your conklin comments earlier ... but thanks for the history lesson. I couldn't agree more.

October 24, 2008 at 5:50 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the sentiment has something to do with watching the best team in hockey play teams named "Ducks" "Thrashers" "Lightning" and the "BJs"... its sort of silly to an old-time hockey fan. And what's with the silly jerseys? -- Can't we make a jersey simple and a name more to do with the people of the town than the weather or some imaginary stuffed animal?

Hockey isn't gay. Let's not make it gay. Play the game. Be tough. And don't call yourself a BJ.

October 24, 2008 at 11:07 PM 
Blogger sanka said...

Right on John. Original 6 ain't no thing. Red Wings in the East, that's where it's at.

October 25, 2008 at 1:37 PM 
Anonymous Justin said...

I agree with your post Bruce. Nice work.

I also wanted to comment on the comment by "anonymous" about hockey getting "gay", but I think I'll just let it slide and leave him to wallow in his ignorance.

October 25, 2008 at 3:15 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe it's just the older style uniforms I like to see, but there's just something a little better to me about playing against Chicago, NYR, Boston, Toronto, or Montreal. I always make sure not to miss those games. The teams seem to think it matters too, so whassa problem eh? That doesn't mean I'm pining for it, I just enjoy it.

October 25, 2008 at 4:59 PM 
Anonymous SYF said...

That's the NHL marketing engine pushing that crap on us, Bruce. It's force-fed "tradition" that has some roots in the early days of the NHL but as you said, if they're going to push the O6 scheme, do it right by getting the history right.

With the Winter Classic coming up real soon, on Super Saturday, the Wings and Hawks one-time retro uniforms were speculated upon and finally revealed. Imagine my intense and thoroughly satisfying exploration of the possibilites for the Wings' uniform when I surfed Just from a few pictures, it told the whole history of the NHL so the Original Six marketing ploy is FALSE as you said.

I totally agree with you. It's got to stop.

October 26, 2008 at 2:00 AM 
Blogger dfansl said...

What is the point you're trying to make here? Are you arguing that the original six shouldn't be a consideration for the schedule? That the idea of the original six should be discounted and we should collectively remove the myth from our minds? Here's a question: Since when does something have to be historically accurate to fuel the imagination?

Nostalgia can be good. The original six, whether historically accurate or not, is an idea. It is part of what makes this sport rich in tradition. It's what people point at when they talk about the hockey "code." If you're simply saying that you don't think the original six should be considered when making the schedule I suppose I'd agree with you. But let the idea and the myth live on.

I don't know about you, but thinking of "old-time hockey" certainly puts a smile on my face.

October 26, 2008 at 11:07 AM 
Blogger Jeff said...

Great blog entry Bruce. You made some really good points, and I agree with them.
The Maple Leafs and Canadiens are the teams Detroit fans seem to miss the most. The Bruins, Blackhawks and Rangers not so much.
I posted in my blog after the opening night game that I thought it was my first O6 game at The Joe, but I was wrong. I'd seen a Blackhawks - Wings game at the close of the 2006 - 2007 season. Yet that game didn't have the same resonance as the Leafs game did the other night. Even I'm guilty.
Thanks for setting the record straight. This article should be required reading for all Wings fans, and NHL fans, who are snobbish about the Orginal 6 era and who get misty eyed for it.

October 26, 2008 at 5:25 PM 
Blogger John said...

Okey dokey, more geekdome from medumb.

I get giddy about playing Chicago. Why. I can tell you. Because I have watched Detroit and Chicago play rough, rival, venomous games for 26 years. Add the Original six era, 25 years where the Wings were good and the Hawks fans hated them and you have half a century of great entertainment.

Now consider Geography. Chicago and Detroit are 4 hours apart, depending on Traffic (you have to say that about anything involving Chicago). Michigan is only 90 minutes from Chicago. Michigan is Wing country, all the way to Indiana state line along Lake Michigan. Justin Abdelkader grew up closer to Chicago, in Muskegon, than Detroit, but he was a Wing fan growing up and now a GR Griffin, some day a wing.

I've been to several Hawks games to see Federov and Hull and Yzerman invade the United Center. All you can hear when you walk in is the locals saying "there's an awful lot of Wings fans here."

Notice I haven't said a single thing about Boston or New York. They are far away. No recent rivalry. No geographic presence.

Toronto's fan base on the other hand starts 1 kilometer from the Joe Louis Arena. In Windsor. I remember the Domi-Probert bouts. I played Amateur with an Ottawa native who grew up playing pick-up with Yzerman but he's a leafs fan and hates the Wings. We are great friends, but we don't talk about our two teams to each other.

You can't get more intense than that.

Then, Montreal. They created organized hockey in the 1850s with a couple clubs who played each other on a pond. They changed the puck from square to round. They parlais Francais! Their fans are as rabid today as ours were in 1995. I get all adrenalined and testosteroned when I think about Wings and le Habs.

For sure, we should play them. We should beat them. Hockeytown against Hockey History.

But not for the "original six." It is simply a notion that the uneducated fan buys into. And more power to the NHL for finding another way to get fans into a game. Finding out that the O6 is a farse of sorts does not make a real fan want to leave, and in fact, it gives you a good reason to find out on your own that it is wrong and thus educate yourself.

That is all I have to say about that... chocolate?

October 27, 2008 at 8:26 AM 

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