First, let’s say congratulations to the city of St. Louis, which is celebrating its first Stanley Cup championship after more than 50 years of existence.
But had it not been for the owners of the Chicago Blackhawks, fans might’ve been celebrating in Baltimore tonight rather than the land of super-thin pizza.
Before a 1967 expansion that doubled the size of the NHL from six to 12 teams, the league was seriously considering Baltimore, then home of the American Hockey League’s Clippers, as one of the cities in which it could start a new franchise.
According to Vice.com, in October 1965, the league had already chosen Los Angeles, St. Louis, Vancouver, British Columbia, and San Francisco-Oakland as expansion cities, with Baltimore still in contention for one of the last spots.
Baltimore would ultimately lose that spot despite the fact that the city was the sixth-most populated city in the country at the time. At least one NHL team president cited problems with the layout of the Civic Center, which opened in 1961.
St. Louis was accepted even though it did not submit a formal application, according to Vice. The NHL liked the state’s geographic location, but the league still need a potential suitor.
The Associated Press reported in February 1966 that the St. Louis franchise “is subject to approval of an applicant satisfactory to the board of governors by April 5, 1966.”
“Otherwise, said league President Clarence Campbell, a franchise will be granted to a Baltimore group headed by Zanvyl Krieger, a major stockholder in the Baltimore Orioles baseball club,” the AP reported at the time.
That’s where the Blackhawks come into play.
According to Vice, James Norris, a part owner of the Chicago team at the time, owned the St. Louis Arena, where the Blues would eventually play.
“The building was dilapidated, and Norris was looking to rid himself of the costly, crumbling infrastructure,” Vice reported. “Part of the conditions for operating a team in St. Louis would be to purchase or rent the arena from him.”
“Although ‘the Gateway to the West’ would’ve merited expansion consideration on its own, additional pressure from Chicago’s ownership group gave St. Louis an advantage at the expense of other viable locations,” Vice reported.
The 1967 expansion ended up creating teams in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Oakland, Minneapolis and St. Louis.
It meant that Baltimore would not be awarded the team and, despite efforts to get into the league during the 1970 expansion, the city never got its own team.
Of course, the NHL eventually expanded to Maryland, creating the Washington Capitals for the 1974-75 season, but they played in Landover, not Baltimore, before moving to the District of Columbia in 1997.