By David F. Pendrys
With the recent rumors of lawsuits and scandal in the NWHL and the natural speculation that follows it is important to remember in context, that many businesses go through start up troubles. One such business might be familiar to you… the NHL. Before the NHL’s founding, and indeed after it, there were numerous other hockey leagues in existence trying to make a go of it professionally. The NHL essentially rose from the ashes of the National Hockey Association (NHA).
As the NHL notes on its website:
“The NHL was created to eliminate Toronto Blueshirts owner Eddie Livingstone, a litigious individual whose gamesmanship destroyed his relationships with the other team owners. Livingstone’s players were distributed around the league and he, as was his nature, filed several lawsuits against the new league, its teams, arenas and players.”
The story of the NHL’s first games told by the NHL itself is a story of conflict, as Livingstone continued to interfere with the teams that remained. Another owner, this time of the Montreal Wanderers, demanded parity by having players being sent to his team to make the Wanderers more competitive. The Wanderers arena burned down and the aftermath led the owner to leave the league. Though not before the NHL kicked the team out for not playing and assessing a fine.(Source: Canada’s History) A new Quebec franchise was unable to join the league in its first year and later would, only to move to Hamilton later on as All Funked Up recounts.
Aside from those types of machinations, The league also noted that “the captain of the original Senators team, was still negotiating his contract in owner Tommy Gorman’s office during the first period of the team’s first NHL game.” (Source: NHL)
For even further detail, a book excerpt from “Deceptions and Doublecross: How the NHL Conquered Hockey” by Morey Holzman & Joseph Nieforth showcased a great deal of conflict and chicanery that emerged between owners and leagues in competing for players during the collapse of the NHA and rise of the NHL. Some of the names mentioned are ones that sit in places of honor in hockey history as there was a massive amount of volatility in the leagues.
As a final note, it should be noted that the Stanley Cup, the pinnacle of hockey, has been won by representatives of the AHAC, MHA, CAHL, FAHL, ECAHA, MPHL, CHA, NHA, PCHA, NHL, and WCHL leagues in the history of the trophy. This illustrates again that the growth of professional hockey was not exactly smooth. (Sources: 1, 2)
The point of this brief foray into history, which I urge readers to explore further, is that as we now judge the development of new sports leagues, especially those for often maligned women’s sports. We should be mindful that the stable leagues we look at now as examples were once where these new leagues are now.