The Prince of Wales and Campbell Conferences are names that some newer fans to hockey might not recognize. Yet they formed the genesis of today’s conferences.
Until 1974, the NHL only had 16 teams. When the league hit 18 teams, it became apparent that the league would need to break off into two conferences.
From 1974 to 1993, the NHL’s primary conferences consisted of the Prince of Wales Conference (the eastern conference) and the Clarence Campbell Conference (the western conference).
The Prince of Wales Conference (now known as the Eastern Conference) consisted of two divisions: the Adams Division and the Patrick Division. The name remains in the form of the Prince of Wales Cup, the award that’s given to a team in the Eastern Conference before the Stanley Cup.
The Campbell Conference (now known as the Western Conference) also consisted of two divisions: the Smythe Division and the Norris Division.
Some of the biggest rivalries were born out of the old conferences. A few great examples were the Boston Bruins/Hartford Whalers rivalry and the rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens and Maple Leafs rivalry goes back to World War I and is the oldest rivalry in NHL history. Many of these rivalries resulted because of the geographical proximity of the teams.
Today, the Canadiens and Maple Leafs are obviously still hardcore rivals. Had the Whalers not moved to Raleigh (and subsequently changed their name), the rivalries would almost certainly still be alive and well. In 2017, the Bruins even made a trip to Hartford to try to recruit Bruins fans.
The NHL has expanded so much, it needed to add the Central and Metropolitan Divisions to the Eastern and Western Conferences. There was plenty of debate over the new names of the conferences and divisions. Many fans felt slighted that some of the old camaraderie and passion was being deflated from the game by the renaming.
Ultimately, the NHL felt that renaming the conferences after geographic locations would give newbie hockey fans an inside edge to understanding the makeup of the divisions and remove and confusion.
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