Jump to content
  • entries
  • comments
  • views

Away With You!




The NHL traces its origin back to the 1917-18 season. Nearly universally, that season is considered to be the beginning of the league, and any league prior to that is considered to be an entirely separate entity. That idea is not entirely based in fact, however. While the legal entity known as the NHL did come into being that season, its roots go back farther, to the NHA -- to a league that was, for all intents and purposes, rebranded as the NHL, simply to get rid of one man. That man was Toronto Blueshirts owner Eddie Livingstone.

The NHA formed in 1910 after the collapse of the East Coast Amateur Hockey Association. Surprisingly, in its earliest seasons, the league had no team based in Toronto. That changed prior to the 1912-13 season, when two teams, the Toronto Hockey Club and the Toronto Tecumsehs. Livingstone entered the league in 1914, when he purchased the Toronto Ontarios (the team previously known as the Tecumsehs), and renamed them the Shamrocks. Not long after, a feud would begin between Livingstone and Sam Lichtenhein, owner of the Montreal Wanderers that would begin the unraveling of Livingstone's team ownership and the NHA itself.

On February 3, 1915, the Shamrocks and Wanderers were scheduled to play one another, but because George and Howard McNamara were away from the team due to their father's being ill, Livingstone informed the league that he was unable to put a full team on the ice, and asked for the game to be postponed. Instead, the NHA and Lichtenhein rejected the request and ruled that the game had been forfeited. Lichtenhein soon reversed course, and offered the Shamrocks another chance to play the game on March 6. Before long, however, he would change his mind once again, after his team became involved in a tight battle for the league title with the Ottawa Senators. Livingstone tried to force the rematch, but the league ruled that the original forfeit stood. They ordered the Wanderers to pay the Shamrocks $300, and the blood began to boil, with Lichtenhein going so far as to petition the NHA for the expulsion of Livingston. The league said no, but Lichtenhein would have the last laugh in the feud.

The situation became further exacerbated the following offseason when Livingstone bought the Blueshirts (the team originally known as the Toronto Hockey Club). Despite purchasing the second team, Livingstone announced that he did not want to operate two teams in the same league and would sell the Shamrocks. That would never come to fruition because of Lester and Frank Patrick and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. The PCHA had managed to lure the day's biggest star, Cyclone Taylor out west, and became infuriated over the NHA's attempts to draw him back east. The PCHA's response came in the form of a player raid which hit the Blueshirts hard. Livingstone did not attempt to retaliate since it helped him to achieve his goal of owning the Blueshirts alone. He simply transfered players from the Shamrocks to the Blueshirts, and allowed to former to fall dormant.

In response to Livingstone's actions with the Shamrocks, the NHA seized the franchise. The next season, the awarded the slot to the Canadian military in the form of the Toronto 228th Battalion team. The arrangement did not last, however, as the team was ordered overseas mid-season, leaving the NHA with an odd number of teams. Desiring to keep an even number of teams, and with the owners wanting Livingstone out, the NHA had a meeting sans Livingstone and voted to suspend the Blueshirts for the remainder of the season, temporarily transferring its players to other teams. The league agreed to send the players back to Toronto before the next season and reinstated the franchise on the condition that Livingstone sell the team within 60 days. Livingstone responded by acquiring a court injunction to block the sale.

But, as Calvin Coolidge once said, persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The other owners were determined to rid themselves of Livingstone, and they would demonstrate persistence in their efforts. The group banded together and voted to suspend NHA operations for a season, and founded the NHL. The new league included a team from Toronto that was largely composed of the same players, but without the official "Blueshirts" name, though it was still generally referred to as such by the nickname in the media. Finally, in 1918, Livingstone forced a shareholders meeting of the NHA, hoping to swing things his way once more, but the plan ultimately backfired, as not only did the league vote down Livingstone's attempt to regain control of his old team, but also voted to dissolve the NHA.

Livingstone continued to battle in the courts looking for compensation for the loss of his franchise and players, taking the battle all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The mounting court costs forced the Toronto Arena Company to suspend team operations 18 games into the 1918-19 season, and led to the creation of a new team, the Toronto Arenas, which was a separate legal entity, though it retained the players of the former team. Eventually, the Arena company went into bankruptcy as a result of the battle and sold the team to a group headed by Charle Querrie, who renamed the team the Toronto St. Pats. A few years later, he would sell the team to Conn Smythe, who changed the team's name to the now-familiar Toronto Maple Leafs.

Thus, both the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs owe their existence to one man, though certainly not in a positive way. If not for Eddie Livingstone, we might not have either the team or the league as we now know it, though the events chronicled above have led to his infamy. One cannot help but think he would have been better served to sell the team and walk away quietly rather than having his fellow owners in effect tell him, "Away with you!"

  • Like 1

1 Comment

Recommended Comments

Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...