In 1963, Rangers governor William Jennings introduced to his peers the idea of expanding the league to the American West Coast by adding two new teams for the 1964–65 season. His argument was based around concerns that the Western Hockey League intended to operate as a major league in the near future. He also hoped that teams on the west coast would make the league truly national, and improve the chances of returning to television in the United States as the NHL had lost its deal with CBS. While the governors did not agree to the proposal, the topic of expansion came up every time the owners met from then on out. In 1965, it was decided to expand by six teams, doubling the size of the NHL. San Francisco–Oakland and Vancouver were declared "acceptable cities" with Los Angeles and St. Louis as potential sites. Fourteen applications were received from across Canada and the United States, including four from Los Angeles.
In February 1966, the governors met and decided to award franchises to Los Angeles, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and St. Louis. The league rejected bids from Baltimore, Buffalo and Vancouver. The six winning bids each paid $2 million for their franchises. St. Louis was awarded despite no bid being received. The league's decision to grant the city a team if a potential owner stepped forward was influenced by the Norris and Wirtz families, who owned the St. Louis Arena.
Canadians were outraged that none of the expansion teams were awarded to Canada. Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson stated that "the NHL decision to expand only in the U.S. impinges on the sacred principles of all Canadians." Maple Leafs coach Punch Imlach stated that Vancouver was "sold out" and that Toronto and Montreal did not want to share television revenue with another Canadian team. Leafs co-owner Stafford Smythe put the blame on the city of Vancouver. Smythe had offered to build and operate an $8 million facility in the city's downtown area but a proposal to sell a $2.5 million section of land to Smythe for $1 was defeated in a municipal referendum. "Vancouver lost its chance the day it turned down the referendum on our arena proposal", Smythe said. "That proved to me that the people out there aren't interested in going major league."