There were owners of the six original NHL franchises and League president Clarence Campbell on one side of the table. On the other side were owners from the NFL, famous entertainers and politicians. On the agenda was the matter of League expansion, and 50 years ago Tuesday it all came together in what was a momentous day in the history of the NHL.
On Feb. 9, 1966, the League doubled in size with the birth of the "Second Six," the Board of Governors awarding franchises to Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul and St. Louis.
From Feb. 7-9, 1966, Campbell gathered the Board of Governors at the St. Regis hotel in Manhattan for three days of meetings that would feature plenty of intrigue. Among those present were Charles Adams of the Boston Bruins, James Norris of the Chicago Blackhawks, Bruce Norris of the Detroit Red Wings, David Molson of the Montreal Canadiens, William Jennings of the New York Rangers and Conn Smythe of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The most significant topic on the agenda was League expansion.
Since the 1942-43 season, the League had the Original Six teams, but expanding the League's footprint, especially to the West Coast of the United States, was a necessity.
The idea of expansion, first raised in 1946, was discussed at a Board of Governors meeting March 11, 1965, and a formal outline of expansion was published after a meeting June 24-25, 1965.
Not all owners were in favor of expanding; some weren't sure if there were enough players or suitable ownership groups. But most came to see it as Smythe did, with the minutes of the meeting revealing his belief that expansion was "necessary and inevitable."
Los Angeles and San Francisco were favored markets early in the process. The Board concluded that six teams -- two in the West, two in the Midwest and two in the East -- would be better than two or four.
Campbell and the Board set parameters for what potential expansion teams needed, among them a $2 million franchise fee and an arena that would seat at least 12,500 fans. The new teams would start playing in the 1967-68 season.
Thirteen groups representing eight cities arrived in New York in February 1966 to present their cases to the Board: five groups from Los Angeles, two from Pittsburgh, and one each from Vancouver, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Baltimore and San Francisco.
In minutes from the meeting, Campbell mentioned groups from St. Louis, Cleveland and Louisville, Ky., had contacted him, but for numerous reasons none would be making a presentation to the Board.
The Cleveland case was especially interesting; the person Campbell spoke with would not reveal where the team would play:
"The President reported that he had been in communication with Cleveland group who wished to make an application but who did not wish to disclose their identity until they were in position to indicate where they expected to play and this could only be disclosed by senior State Government officer who could not be available for this Meeting."
Five groups made their 30-minute presentation Feb. 7, five more the morning of Feb. 8, and three the afternoon of Feb. 8.
It was an eclectic group of bidders for NHL teams, with potential owners coming from the worlds of sports, entertainment and politics.
Among them were George W. Eby, owner of the Ice Capades, representing one of the Los Angeles groups. Another group seeking a team for Los Angeles mentioned having comedian Bob Hope as a director. Los Angeles Rams owner Dan Reeves was part of another L.A. group, and said he would be bringing in Clint Murchison Jr., president of the Dallas Cowboys, as a partner. Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson made his own bid for a team in Los Angeles. Jack Kent Cooke, who owned the Los Angeles Lakers and was part-owner of the Washington Redskins, was trying to bring a team to Los Angeles.
Other candidates were Seymour and Northrup Knox, who were bidding for a team in Buffalo. There was a group from Pittsburgh that featured Pennsylvania state Sen. Jack McGregor as president and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney as a director. Famed broadcaster Foster Hewitt represented the Vancouver bid, and there was a Philadelphia group led by Philadelphia Eagles owner Jerry Wolman.
In "Full Spectrum," a history of the Philadelphia Flyers, Bill Putnam, who was going to be the president of the Philadelphia team, said his group's presentation included a five-page brochure touting the 5.5 million people who lived in the region, the presence of three other major professional sports teams, and the planned construction of a 15,000-seat arena.
"I remember [James] Norris pounding his fist on the table and saying, 'Philadelphia is a lousy sports town,'" Putnam told author Jay Greenberg. "But they did seem impressed with the arena proposal."
After hearing the 13 presentations, the Board adjourned to assess the pros and cons of each group, which ranged from television market size, the ownership group's financial backing and arena suitability.
On Feb. 9, Campbell announced that five cities had been unanimously awarded conditional franchises: Los Angeles, which would be owned by Cooke's California Sports Inc. and included plans for an arena that became the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, Calif.; San Francisco; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Philadelphia, which included plans for the arena that became the Spectrum; and Pittsburgh, to be owned by the group led by McGregor.
The Board also announced St. Louis had been awarded a conditional franchise based on a qualified application being received before April 5, 1966. If none was received, the conditional franchise would be awarded to Baltimore.
Preliminary discussion was held about how an expansion draft would work, with further talks tabled to a meeting to be held April 5, 1966.
A suitable ownership group was found in St. Louis, and when the 1967-68 season started, the California Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues began play in the NHL West Division.