ARE ‘ORIGINAL SIX’ NHL TEAMS OVERRATED?
A better title for this article is probably ‘why are ‘Original Six’ NHL teams overrated?’. It seems strange, but it’s a fact. Teams that were among the first to join the National Hockey League are often favored by bettors for that reason. Personally, I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it over and over again with my own eyes. From a logical standpoint, it doesn’t make sense that just because a team has been in the NHL since 1942 they have some sort of advantage over ‘younger’ teams. That being said, logic is often in short supply among bettors—even self styled ‘sharps’.
So what are the ‘Original Six’ teams? The National Hockey League has a very tumultuous history but it all started to come together into the sport we know today in the early 1940’s. In 1942, after the Brooklyn Americans ceased operations the NHL was reduced to six teams. At various points during the preceding 25 years there had been as many as sixteen teams in the league. But the ‘double whammy’ of World War II and the ‘Great Depression’ reduced the number down to six. Also in 1942, the NHL named Clarance Campbell as league president. He would preside over the organization until his retirement in 1977.
WHO ARE THE ‘ORIGINAL SIX’?
The ‘Original Six’ NHL teams are (in no particular order):
Toronto Maple Leafs
Detroit Red Wings
New York Rangers
The NHL would remain a six team league until 1967 when it would double in size—among other reasons, they wanted to establish a base on the West Coast. They added two teams in California—the Los Angeles Kings and the now defunct California Golden Seals based in San Francisco.
Even after expansion the ‘Original Six’ continued to dominate the NHL, at least to some extent. The Bruins, Canadiens and Red Wings would have the most initial success though the Chicago Blackhawks have become a powerhouse in the past decade. Since 1967, the ‘Original Six’ teams have won the Stanley Cup 21 times. The 1974 Philadelphia Flyers would be the first expansion team to win the NHL’s championship.
SO IS BEING ‘ORIGINAL SIX’ AN ADVANTAGE TODAY?
This is a case of ‘correlation’ and not ‘causation’. Original Six NHL teams may be overvalued but it’s not because they’re ‘Original Six’ teams. The public perception of their superiority and preferential betting status comes from ancillary factors. Historically, they have been as a group very successful—as we noted above even after the league expanded they’ve won 21 Stanley Cups including the 2014-2015 championship (Chicago Blackhawks). A ‘tradition of success’ often results in a team being overvalued by the betting public across all sports—consider Notre Dame in college football, the New York Yankees in Major League Baseball or the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL. This isn’t to say that they’re not first rate teams or that they haven’t had good years of late. It just means that on balance the public sometimes “thinks” they’re better relative to the rest of the league than they really are.
Another reason for the ‘overvaluation’ of ‘Original Six’ teams is their rabid fan bases and location in what is considered ‘traditional hockey country’. Without exception, the fans of the ‘Original Six’ teams are among the most loyal and enthusiastic of any professional sport. Detroit calls itself ‘Hockeytown USA’ although a number of cities including Minneapolis and Boston might take exception. Hockey is a religion in Canada and the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens are more than sports teams—they’re a significant part of the country’s cultural identity. The Canadiens ‘bleu, blanc et rouge’ uniforms are held in similar regard as the New York Yankees’ pinstripes or the Dallas Cowboys’ trademark star football helmets.
Finally, the ‘Original Six’ teams have another thing that inflates their valuation to some degree—familiarity. Let’s face it, there’s a good percentage of bettors that aren’t experts at the sports they wager on. We talk about this a lot during ‘March Madness’ when the ‘public’ invariably favors teams that they’re familiar with from the ‘power conferences’ over lower profile, mid majors that are in reality the superior team. It’s a similar situation here—if a casual bettor wants to lay a wager on a hockey game without out knowing anything about the teams involves (and this happens often) do you think he’ll bet on the Detroit Red Wings or Tampa Bay Lightning? Even well established teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins have been undervalued relative to their ‘Original Six’ opponents—this year’s New York Rangers team was very mediocre yet they were talked about up until their elimination like they were a Stanley Cup contender.
The reality, however, is that in an age of free agency, mobile betting and salary caps being an ‘Original Six’ team is of little qualitative significance. There are very good hockey teams in Dallas, Texas, Nashville, Tennessee and Tampa, Florida. The ‘Original Six’ may have more tradition and a longer history but on a game by game or series by series basis this means nothing. Nevertheless, you can see it’s impact in the betting line.