The Greatest

10 greatest achievements by the first NHL expansion class

first NHL expansion class
The 2016-17 Penguins made their franchise the first to win back-to-back titles in this century, and the first in the salary-cap era to make back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances more than once. (Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the NHL’s first modern expansion class. That class consisted of the St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota North Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings and California Seals.

Throughout those 50 years, these franchises have accomplished many impressive feats. This includes 22 Stanley Cup Final appearances and nine championships. Some teams have stood out more than others, but overall the accomplishments of this class are noteworthy.

Only accomplishments by the teams in their original locations were considered. As such, the 1999 Dallas Stars’ Stanley Cup victory in 1999 was not considered an accomplishment of the class, even though the Dallas franchise was originally Minnesota’s. These are the top 10 achievements by the first NHL expansion class.

10. Philadelphia’s eight Stanley Cup Finals 

This is the most appearances of any original expansion team. Unfortunately for the Flyers and their fans, they have only won twice. Nonetheless, appearing in eight Stanley Cup Finals in 50 years is an impressive accomplishment.

That total is equal to the combined number of appearances by the Kings (three), Blues (three), North Stars (two) and Seals (none). The only fellow expansion team that has come close to the Flyers in terms of appearances is the instate rival Penguins with six.

9. L.A.’s OT magic in the 2014 final

Though it only lasted five games, the 2014 Stanley Cup Final was a tightly-contested series. Three of the five games went to overtime, with two requiring double overtime.

The Kings came out on top in all three cases, including the decisive Game 5 when Alec Martinez scored in double overtime. The Kings remain only modern expansion teams to clinch the Cup on an overtime goal.

8. Three years, three finals for St. Louis

Expansion teams are typically not expected to perform very well. The upcoming Vegas Golden Knights, for example, have 150-to-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup in their first season next year.

with that in mind, the fact that the Blues advanced to the final round in each of their first three seasons is significant.

The three paths to the Finals were all very different, but all ended with the same result. In 1967-68, they beat fellow expansion teams, 4-3, in the first two rounds, then got swept by Montreal. In 1968-69, they swept the first two rounds, then got swept by the Canadiens again. In 1969-70, they won the first two rounds in six games apiece, then got swept by the Boston Bruins.

NHL expansion

The Flyers were the first modern NHL expansion team to win a Cup and to repeat as champions. In addition, they lead the 1967 class with four appearances in the final, of which Bobby Clarke participated in four. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

7. Kings win the Cup as an eighth seed

The 2012 Kings were the second No. 8 seed to make the Stanley Cup under the playoff format of the time, following the 2006 Oilers. This meant that they never had home ice and had to face the best of the West to get that bar.

The Kings didn’t let this slow them down, as they were dominant on the road that spring. They went 8-0 away from the Staples Center in the first three rounds. Starting the final round on the road again in New Jersey, they won two more road games before raising the Cup at home after Game 6.

6. Philadelphia flies in 1974 

The Flyers were the first of the expansion teams to win the Stanley Cup. The run to the championship was an impressive one, as they first swept the Atlanta Flames in the first round, then edged the rival New York Rangers in seven games.

Finally, they faced the favored Bruins, who had gone 1-3-1-1 against them in the regular season, but managed to win the Cup on home ice in Game 6.

5. Pittsburgh goes back-to-back in 1991-92

When the Penguins won the Cup in 1991, they became the second team from the class of 1967 to win, and the first since the Flyers repeated in 1975. That year the Penguins defeated the Devils in seven games, the Capitals in five, and the Bruins in six. In the finals, it was the first matchup of expansion teams, and they defeated the North Stars in six games.

The Penguins followed this up with another impressive playoff run in 1992. They defeated the Capitals again, this time in Round 1 and in seven games. Then they beat the Rangers in six, before sweeping the Bruins and Blackhawks to win their second straight Cup.

4. Los Angeles lions roar ahead in 2012

Despite the aforementioned lack of home ice to start each round, the 2012 Kings built four consecutive 3-0 series leads, making them the first team to accomplish this in NHL history. While they only managed to finish one sweep, doing so to St. Louis in the second round, this feat of going up 3-0 in each is extraordinary.

The Kings had their longest wait to close out an opponent in the Stanley Cup Final, winning in six games against the Devils. Otherwise, L.A. really cruised to the championship that year, staying fresh as a result of playing so few games.

NHL expansion

Before they raised their first Stanley Cup banner at home, the 2012 Kings earned their title the hard way by spawning most of the festivities on the road as the lowest seed in the playoff bracket. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

3. Three straight finals for the Flyers 

This was an impressive run by the Flyers in the mid-’70s. After becoming the first expansion team to win the Cup, they followed it up with another championship in 1974-75. This obviously made them the first expansion team to win two Stanley Cups, and the first to win back-to-back.

Just like their first championship, they swept the first round, won the second round in seven games, then the Cup in six. This time they defeated the Maple Leafs, Islanders and Sabres along the way. To continue the run, the Flyers returned to the Stanley Cup Final in 1976, but were swept by the Canadiens, who would add three more titles in a row.

2. Pittsburgh’s pair of back-to-back finals under the cap

Pittsburgh has been extremely successful in the salary-cap era. The Penguins made its first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in the cap era in 2007-08. That year they lost to the Red Wings in six games. The following year, they again faced the Red Wings, this time winning game seven on the road.

The Penguins have, of course, appeared in back-to-back finals again in the past two seasons. This time around, they won them both, defeating the Sharks and Predators in six games each, which brings us to No. 1.

1. Penguins reign as 2016-17 emperors

Given that it was the 50th anniversary of the first NHL expansion class, it is fitting that one of these teams won the Cup this year.

More impressively, when the Penguins defeated the Predators, it marked the second time in team history that they won back-to-back titles. No other team in this expansion class has accomplished that. To make these victories stand out even more than when the Flyers won back-to-back Cups, these were completed with 30 teams in the league as opposed to 18, and with a salary cap in place.

No other team has won back-to-back Cups in the salary-cap era. The fact that the Penguins have been able to enjoy sustained success when no one else has elevates them not just from the original modern expansion class, but from the entire league.

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Andrew Wisneski

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