Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Best First Year Ever

There have been a number of awards who have dealt with the best player in certain positions and the best player per season that we've seen. Today, we examine the history of the Calder Memorial Trophy and how it came to be. The Calder Trophy is awarded annually by the NHL "to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League." This trophy was actually awarded to the top first-year player in a season after the NHL had begun naming those players. With the introduction of the Calder Trophy, the NHL retroactively awarded those players with the trophy after they had been named as their respective season's best player. So how did the award come about? Who is the trophy named after? Is there anything interesting about the Calder Trophy?

The trophy was named after Frank Calder, President of the NHA in 1917, and President of the NHL from 1917 until 1943. Calder was instrumental in the formation of the NHL, and his history is quite remarkable.

Frank Calder was born in Bristol, England on November 17, 1877 to Scottish parents. Growing up, he was an excellent athlete, excelling in rugby, handball, golf, and soccer. As a young man, Calder decided to emigrate to North America as opportunities were expanding with the Industrial Revolution. Calder actually flipped a coin to decide on whether to go to the United States or Canada, and Canada won the coin toss. Calder emigrated to Montreal, Quebec where he became a teacher at a private school. It was there where he met his future wife in Amelia Cole, and they were soon married after their meeting.

After working as a sports editor in a number of Montreal newspapers, he was appointed as the secretary-treasurer for the NHA on November 15, 1914. His workload was considerable, but he enjoyed it. However, in the spring of 1917, there was turmoil in the ownership ranks of the NHA.

The other NHA owners had decided to drop the Toronto Blueshirts from the league. NHA President Frank Robinson resigned as President as he viewed his position as "powerless" to stop the owners from turning on one another. Calder seized the opportunity with the President's job vacant, and became the representation for the allied NHA owners against Blueshirts' owner Eddie Livingstone. In knowing the rules, Calder was a powerful ally for the owners, and a new league - the National Hockey League - was formed with Livingstone on the outside looking in. November 27, 1917 saw the National Hockey League open its doors with Frank Calder as the NHL President.

Calder became all-powerful as the President of the NHL. It was his way or the highway, and the owners rarely challenged him on any decisions with his knowledge of the league's rules. However, Calder wasn't ruling with malevolence. Instead, he worked hard for the owners and the league. Struggling franchises were quickly moved to new locations with new owners, and he backed the owners in struggles with the players. A good example of this was when the Hamilton Tigers' players went on strike before the NHL Final in 1925 after they demanded more money. Calder heard their case, but he backed the owners 100% and suspended the Tiger players. Along with the suspension, he fined each of the players $200. Because of his actions, the players never played another game in Hamilton, and Calder moved the franchise to New York City.

Calder was quite outspoken about his league as well. When it was brought to his attention that there was a team in Boston named the "Black Panthers" composed entirely of African-American men, Calder immediately stated, "Pro hockey has no ruling against the colored man, nor is it likely to ever draw the line". Calder's remarks were clearly aimed at Major League Baseball, but the door was swung wide-open in the NHL for all men to participate.

Starting in 1933, Calder began naming the season's top first-year player in the NHL. Carl Voss of the Detroit Red Wings was the first player to receive this award. In 1936, Calder convinced the owners to allow him to purchase a trophy to award to the best rookie each season. At the conclusion of the 1936-37 season, the first Calder Trophy was awarded by Frank Calder to Syl Apps of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The 1942 Calder Trophy was the last one that Frank Calder would award. On January 25, 1943, Calder suffered a heart attack during an NHL Board of Governors meeting in Toronto. While he was being treated at the hospital, he suffered a second heart attack. Eight days after suffering two consecutive heart attacks, Calder traveled to Montreal and checked into Montreal General Hospital. It was there where his heart finally gave out as he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 66. After his passing the Calder Trophy was renamed as the Calder Memorial Trophy in Frank Calder's honour.

There's the story of how the Calder Trophy became an annual award for rookies in the NHL. There have been a number of fantastic players who have won this award for their efforts in their first year. Here are some of the more interesting facts about the Calder Trophy:

  • Sergei Makarov is the oldest "rookie" to have won the Calder Trophy. Makarov won the Calder Trophy in 1990 at the age of 31 while with the Calgary Flames after starring for HC CKSA Moscow in the Russian Super League. Because of his age, the NHL changed the rules as to rookie ages. Rookies would only be eligible for the award if they were 26 years of age or younger by September 15 of their rookie season.
  • The Calder Trophy is the only major award that Wayne Gretzky never won. The reason for this was his professional play in the WHA with the Indianapolis Racers. According to the rules, "a player cannot have played any more than 25 games previously in any single season, nor have played in more than six games in two separate preceding seasons in any major professional league". Because of his participation in the WHA, Gretzky was ineligible for the Calder Trophy despite putting up a then-record 137 points in his first NHL season.
  • Toronto Maple Leaf rookies have won a combined nine Calder Trophies - the most in NHL history. The New York Rangers have had eight winners, while the Boston Bruins have had seven winners.
  • In the 72 times that the Calder Trophy has been awarded, defencemen have only won nine times.
  • From 1942-45, the Toronto Maple Leafs won three consecutive Calder Trophies, the most consecutive victories in the 72 instances. The Calder Trophies were won by right-winger Gaye Stewart ('43), centreman Gus Bodnar ('44), and goalie Frank McCool ('45).
  • Detroit centreman Carl Voss, the first recipient, was the first American to win the award. Jim McFadden, a centreman for Detroit as well, was the first player born outside of North America to win the Calder Trophy. McFadden was born in Belfast, Ireland.
  • 1993 saw Winnipeg's Teemu Selanne and Boston's Joe Juneau battling for the Calder Trophy all season long. However, Selanne's record-setting season gave him the Calder Trophy. Selanne set the rookie goal-scoring record with 76 goals in his first season, and he also smashed the rookie point-total record with 132 points that season. Those records still stand today.
There's the story on the Calder Trophy. As we've seen with all the trophies thus far, each one has had an interesting man behind the trophy, and Frank Calder was no different. And without Frank Calder, there would be no NHL as we know it today.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


JTH said...


Do you have any idea what Frank Calder's connection to the AHL was? The Calder Cup is named after him as well, right?

The Cup even kind of looks like a flattened-down version of the Trophy. (Or maybe I have it backwards and the Trophy is a slimmer version of the Cup?)

Teebz said...

According to all info I can find, the Calder Cup was named for Frank Calder as he was instrumental in helping hockey become mainstream during his time as NHL President. Due to the growth of hockey in the USA, the AHL named their most prestigious trophy after Frank Calder. :o)