Last modified on 19 April 2009, at 17:35

History of the National Hockey League/1917–1942/Early years/WCHL

Competition with the WCHLEdit

Beginning in 1921, the NHL faced competition from a third major league, the prairie-based Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL). With three leagues competing for talent, ice hockey players were among the highest-paid athletes in North America. They commanded salaries equivalent to the top Major League Baseball players of the era. The WCHL only survived for six seasons, merging with the PCHA in 1924, but challenged the NHL for the Stanley Cup four times. In the 1923 Stanley Cup Finals, the Senators defeated the Edmonton Eskimos after eliminating the PCHA's Vancouver Millionaires. In 1924, the Canadiens defeated the PCHA's Millionaires and the WCHL's Calgary Tigers on the strength of two shutouts by Georges Vezina and a strong offensive showing by rookie forward Howie Morenz.

In 1924–25, the Hamilton Tigers finished first in the NHL after four consecutive last-place finishes. While the Canadiens and St. Patricks prepared to play in a semi-final playoff round, the Tigers' players, upset that the team had turned a sizable profit despite claiming financial difficulty, went on strike to demand a C$200 playoff bonus each. Threatened with fines, suspension and a possible lawsuit by league president Frank Calder, the players, led by Billy Burch and Shorty Green, held firm. Calder then suspended the entire team and declared Montreal the NHL champions after they defeated Toronto in the semi-final.

The Canadiens faced the Victoria Cougars, then of the WCHL, in the 1925 Stanley Cup Finals. Victoria defeated Montreal three games to one in the best-of-five final. In doing so, they became the last non-NHL team to win the Stanley Cup. The WCHL ceased operations one year later, with its assets purchased by the NHL for $300,000. The rights to the Tigers' players, meanwhile, were purchased for $75,000 by New York mobster Bill Dwyer to stock his expansion New York Americans. The Americans began play in 1925, replacing the Tigers.