A Brief History Of The NHL Stanley Cup

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A brief history, summary, and some interesting facts about the NHL Stanley Cup
Almost two hundred and fifty years ago, Lord Stanley Preston, the governor-general of Quebec, purchased a silver bowl that he declared would be awarded to the best amateur hockey team in the province. This bowl, forever known as the Stanley Cup, has since become the championship emblem of the National Hockey League; each season the NHL playoffs contest the two best teams in the league in the Stanley Cup Final with the winner taking home the 35-pound silver Cup.

In The Beginning

Before the 20th century, most hockey teams were not professionals but rather amateur franchises made up of college students, factory and mine workers, and farmhands. Playing on a hockey team paid very little, if anything, requiring full-time employment for athletes in another job. By the outbreak of World War One, however, several professional hockey leagues had developed in North America based in Canadian and northern US cities. The NHL officially formed in 1917 and took control of the Stanley Cup, awarding it in every year except for 1919, during the influenza epidemic, and in 2005 during a lockout.

The Original Six Era

For nearly thirty years, only six teams played for the Stanley Cup: the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, and Chicago Blackhawks. Since Canadian NHL teams had the right to sign Canadian players as teenagers, both the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens stockpiled the best talent in the league while American teams took second-rate players. The end result was that Montreal and Toronto combined for 28 Stanley Cup championships in the span of 37 years. Montreal and Toronto are still the leaders in championships won, having taken home the Cup twenty-four and thirteen times, respectively.

Expansion And Dynasties

In 1967, the NHL expanded from six teams to twelve. Though dynasty teams (defined as having won at least three Cups in four years) existed prior to the expansion, they became commonplace for the next two decades. The Montreal Canadiens dynasty won four straight Stanley Cups and had the best record ever in 1977, winning sixty games while losing only eight. Immediately following the Canadiens dynasty was the New York Islanders dynasty between 1980 and 1983, where the Islanders won four straight Cups as well as an NHL-record sixteen straight playoff series. As soon as the Islanders` fire dimmed, the Edmonton Oilers under Wayne Gretzky promptly won five Cups in the span of seven years -- their first coming against the former dynasty Islanders themselves.

Money And Hockey

By the end of the 1980s, player salaries had escalated to new heights; only a decade earlier the average salary was $20000, but by the early 1990s players could demand multi-million dollar salaries. NHL teams quickly divided between haves and have-nots, since teams with high payrolls could dominate the league. The 1995 NHL lockout took out half the season as players and owners feuded over money; the 2004 lockout took the entire season. During the late 1990s, high-payroll teams like the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings dominated the league, while poorer franchises like the Anaheim Ducks struggled to make the playoffs.

Salary Cap Era

Since the implementation of the NHL salary cap in 2006, only one team has been able to win more than one championship: the newly-crowned Chicago Blackhawks took home the 2010 and 2013 Stanley Cup. Since the salary cap, furthermore, only three other teams have made more than one Stanley Cup Final, while every NHL team has qualified for the playoffs. Going forward, it appears that it will be much more difficult for dynasty teams to dominate the league and win multiple Stanley Cups in a short period of time.

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