History of the National Hockey League/1917–1942/Founding

In the 1916–17 season, the NHA was facing numerous problems. The Quebec Bulldogs were in financial difficulty, while the league's most popular team, the Toronto 228th Battalion, was called away to fight in World War I. Several of the league's team owners were growing frustrated with Toronto Blueshirts owner Eddie Livingstone, with whom they had been having problems since 1915. Prior to the start of the season, the owners of the Montreal teams, Sam Lichtenhein of the Wanderers and George Kennedy of the Canadiens, threatened to drop the Blueshirts from the league over a player dispute Livingstone was having with the 228th Battalion. Livingstone was also in a dispute with the Ottawa Senators over the rights to Cy Denneny, while Kennedy and Livingstone had a mutual dislike that occasionally threatened to come to blows at league meetings.

The Ottawa Senators, pictured in 1914–15, became a charter member of the National Hockey League

The remaining owners used the loss of the 228th Battalion as a reason to eliminate the Blueshirts on February 11, 1917. The Montreal teams led a motion to reduce the NHA to four teams by removing the Blueshirts, ignoring Livingstone's attempts to create a revamped five-team schedule. Livingstone was promised that his players would be returned to him after the season. The dispersal of the Blueshirts' players, organized by league secretary Frank Calder, was described by the Toronto Mail and Empire as a "raid of the Toronto players". At the same meeting, the league adopted a motion commanding Livingstone sell the Blueshirts by June 1.

We didn't throw Eddie Livingstone out. Perish the thought. That would have been illegal and unfair. Also, it wouldn't have been sporting. We just resigned, and wished him a fine future with his National Association franchise.

Sam Lichtenhein, as told to sports journalist Elmer Ferguson

By November 1917, with the sale of Livingstone's Blueshirts still not completed, the remaining owners, realizing they were powerless under the NHA constitution to forcibly eject Livingstone, decided to suspend the NHA and form a new league without Livingstone. On November 26, 1917, following several meetings of the NHA owners throughout the month, the National Hockey League was created at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal. The new league was represented by Lichtenhein's Wanderers, Kennedy's Canadiens, Tommy Gorman on behalf of the Senators, and Mike Quinn of the Bulldogs. A new team in Toronto, under the control of the Toronto Arena Company, completed the five-team league. The NHL adopted the NHA's constitution and named Calder its first president. Quebec retained membership in the NHL, but did not operate that season, so their players were dispersed by draft among the other teams.

Minutes of the first meeting edit

At a meeting of representatives of hockey clubs held at the Windsor Hotel, Montreal, the following present, G.W. Kendall, S.E. Lichtenhein, T.P. Gorman, M.J. Quinn and Frank Calder, it was explained by the last named that in view of the suspension of operations by the National Hockey Association of Canada Limited, he had called the meeting at the suggestion of the Quebec Hockey Club to ascertain if some steps could not be taken to perpetuate the game of hockey.

Frank Calder was elected to the Chair and a discussion ensued after which it was moved by T.P. Gorman, seconded by G.W. Kendall: “That the Canadiens, Wanderers, Ottawa and Quebec Hockey Clubs unite to comprise the National Hockey League”. The motion was carried.

It was then moved by M.J. Quinn seconded by G.W. Kendall that: “This League agrees to operate under the rules and conditions governing the game of hockey prescribed by the National Hockey Association of Canada Limited”. The motion was carried.

At this stage, Mr. W.E. Northey, representing the Toronto Arena Company asked to be admitted to the meeting and was admitted. Mr. Northey explained that he was empowered by the interests he represented to say that in the event of a league being formed to contain four clubs, the Toronto Arenas desired to enter a team in the competition.

Upon this assurance M.J. Quinn on behalf of the Quebec Hockey Club declared the latter willing to withdraw provided a suitable arrangement could be made regarding players then the property of the Quebec Hockey Club.

After discussion it was unanimously agreed that the Quebec players be taken over by the league at a cost of $700 of which amount 50% should be paid to the Quebec Hockey Club by the club winning the championship, 30% by the second club and 20% by the third club in the race.

The meeting then proceeded to the election of officers. The following directors were elected S.E. Lichtenhein (Wanderers), Martin Rosenthal (Ottawa), G.W. Kendall (Canadiens) and a director to be named by the Toronto club.

M.J. Quinn was elected Honorary President with power to vote on matters pertaining to the general welfare of the league.

Frank Calder was elected President and Secretary-Treasurer at a salary of $800 on the understanding that there could be no appeal from his decisions.

After a schedule of Wednesday and Saturday games was adopted the meeting was adjourned.

From the Minutes of the
First NHL Board of Governors Meeting
November, 1917

The NHL was intended to be a temporary league, as the owners hoped to remove Livingstone from Toronto, then return to the NHA in 1918–19. Livingstone had other ideas, filing lawsuits against the new league, the owners and the players in an attempt to keep his team operating. Nonetheless, the NHL began play three weeks after it was created, with the first games held on December 19 in Ottawa and Montreal.