The Vegas Golden Knights are in rarefied air with a championship appearance in year one

The Las Vegas Golden Knights are headed to the Stanley Cup Finals after defeating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday to win the series in five. Going into the 2017-18 season the first-year expansion team had long odds to make it to this point. In fact, many predictions had them being a bottom-feeding team before the start of the year.

With this historic playoff run nearing its culmination in one way or another, it begs the question. How many teams have made it to the championship game in their first season between the four major sports?

This will only count teams in their first season as a franchise and not as a new team. For example, the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup during their first season in the city but they were not a new franchise since they had previously been the Quebec Nordiques.

It will also not count the first year of a league. For example, the Akron Pros won the APFA (NFL) Championship in 1920. That was their first season as a franchise but also the league’s first ever season.


Teams to make it in there 1st year in a new league

I went through every current and defunct team listed on the Sports Reference sites for football, baseball, basketball, and hockey to see which franchises made the championship game in there first ever season of existence.

The teams I went through were in the following leagues in each sport from the Sports Reference sites:

Hockey: NHL and WHA (World Hockey Association)

Football: NFL, AAFC (All-American Football Conference) and AFL (American Football Conference)

Basketball: NBA and ABA (American Basketball Association)

Baseball: MLB (NL and AL), NA (National Association), AA (American Association), UA (Union Association), PL (Players’ League), FL (Federal League)

Sport (League) Team Team formation Year Season record Playoff record Champ Result
Hockey (NHL) Toronto Arenas first season 1917-18 13-9 (.591%) 4-3 Won series 3-2
Basketball (BAA) Baltimore Bullets came from ABL 1947-48 28-20 (.583%) 9-3 Won series 4-2
Basketball (BAA) Minneapolis Lakers came from NBL 1948-49 44-16 (.733%) 8-2 Won series 4-2
Basketball (NBA) Syracuse Nationals came from NBL 1949-50 51-13 (.797%) 6-5 Lost series 4-2
Football (NFL) Cleveland Browns came from AAFC 1950 10-2 (.833%) 2-0 Won 30-28
Hockey (NHL) St. Louis Blues Expansion draft 1967-68 27-31-16 (.473%) 8-10 Lost series 4-0
Hockey (NHL) Vegas Golden Knights Expansion draft 2017-18 52-24-7 (.665%) 12-3 TBD

Notes on above chart

While the 1917-18 season was the NHL’s and Toronto’s first they did play the PHCA (Pacific Coast Hockey Association) champion Vancouver Millionaires for the Stanley Cup.

Despite teams coming from the ABL (American Basketball League) and the BAA (Basketball Association of America) merging with the NBL (National Basketball League), Pro Basketball Reference does not keep records from either the ABL or NBL on its site.

Baltimore did make the ABL Finals in their first season, losing the series 2-1. Meanwhile, the Lakers won the NBL Finals 3-1 in their first and only season in the league.

The Browns won all four AAFC Championships that were played before the league merged with the NFL.

When the NHL added six teams in the 1967 expansion, they put all of them in the East Division, meaning one was destined to make the Stanley Cup Finals.

Sources and info:

Featured Image: “Zamboni Ice-resurfacing machine” by mark6mauno is licensed under CC BY-2.0

Tables made using Google Spreadsheet


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