21 February 2019

A National Hockey League

The National Hockey League was founded through discussions set forth in November 1917 at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal.  Disgruntled owners in the National Hockey Association were gathering their druthers in response to the actions of Toronto Blueshirts’ owner, Edward J. Livingstone. 

Disregarding Livingstone and creating a separate league to challenge for the Stanley Cup, ex-National Hockey Association (NHA) secretary Frank Calder became the first President of the NHL.  Calder led the fledgling league through a rough first year and various hard times, due to the Great World War and later the Great Depression.

Four teams in the Montreal Wanderers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Arenas (eventually the St. Patricks) emerged from the smoky drawing room.  The Quebec Bulldogs were part of the primary discussions, deferred to play the following season and subsequently lost the NHL’s first star, ‘Phantom’ Joe Malone.  

Wanderers’ talent Harry Hyland and Canadiens’ new star Malone opened the league’s season in style, each potting five goals in the first game. Malone also went on to establish the first scoring record with 44 goals in 20 games.  Georges Vezina, nicknamed the ‘Chicoutimi Cucumber’, leads the NHL with a 3.93 GAA and records 13 wins and a shutout for the Canadiens.

The Wanderers folded due to a fire that ruined the building that they shared with the Canadiens, while the latter moved to the diminutive Jubilee Rink in the first year.  The Toronto Arenas, a late-hour addition in the original NHL meetings in November, won the initial championship.  Led by goaltender Hap Holmes and forwards Alf Skinner and Reg Noble, the Arenas were challenged by the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s Vancouver Millionaires.  The Millionaires piloted by the dynamic Fred ‘Cyclone’ Taylor, pushed the series to Game 5, in which Toronto’s Corbett Denneny sealed the 2-1 victory.  The Arenas became the first NHL club to claim the coveted Stanley Cup.

Hockey was also embracing the United States, with the Boston Bruins inception in 1924. New England grocery store magnate Charles Adams was enamoured with the Montreal playoff hockey he witnessed.  Adams hired innovator Art Ross to manage his Bruins.  The New York Americans became a hit on Broadway the year after and the Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Cougars (later the Red Wings) and New York Rangers were established shortly afterwards.

The Victoria Cougars of the WCHL stand as the final recipient of the Stanley Cup in 1925, from a league other than the NHL.  Soon-to-be Rangers' manager Lester Patrick put together a fine club.  In spite of financial woes league-wide, Victoria trumped the Canadiens 6-1 in the final match.  Interestingly, Cougar netminder Hap Holmes again persevered in securing the result.

As time went on, teams came and went.  On through the ‘Roarin’ Twenties’ the Great Depression began to hammer down like monsoon rains; the NHL fought for its survival well into the 1940’s. 

A new Montreal-based team, the Maroons, came into a short but fruitful existence.  The Toronto Maple Leafs came to life as the result of the Toronto St. Pats being sold to Hugh Aird and Conn Smythe in 1927.  Built on the excellent play of stars Ace Bailey, Frank ‘King’ Clancy, and Charlie ‘Big Bomber’ Conacher, Toronto had immediate successes.  Leafs’ manager Conn Smythe encouraged his team members to provide their service to their country in the Second World War and still remained competitive.

With the mounting pressures world-wide and instability amongst the league, the NHL regressed from a ten team league to a six team league by 1942.  The Norris family which controlled much of the league’s finances had dominant control and the league remained a static six teams for the next 25 years. 

The Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks (after a slight name-change), Toronto Maple Leafs, and Detroit Red Wings were the only members of the premier hockey league during this period.  It was a grand time for the NHL; fanatics were impressed by the fierce competition and its captivating stars.  Radio play-by-play had been well established in the 1920’s and the impact of the television was only a decade away in 1952.

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