Saturday, 30 June 2012

American Eagle Senators?

Way back in the 1930s, there was significant movement in the NHL as the Great Depression hit some NHL teams hard. There were a few of the Original Six teams that suffered through some dry spells, but a few teams were hit very hard and were forced to relocate or fold entirely. Today, HBIC wants to take a look at a story that was developing in 1933 when it appeared that one Canadian team would make one American team stronger by merging with it. However, the story that played out in history is entirely different than what was being tossed about in the newspapers, but the idea was pretty grandiose.

December 7, 1933 saw a major story published in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix that the Ottawa Senators' players would be playing to keep jobs as a potential merger was on the horizon between the Senators and another struggling franchise in the New York Americans. In reading through the info, both clubs denied that a merger was on the horizon, and NHL President Frank Calder also dismissed the rumors.

There had to be some truth to the rumors, though. After all, how would a story like this come to light if it hadn't at least been discussed by someone in the know?

Well, it seems that the Americans, led by Frank Patrick, had tried to purchase some of the Senators' players in an effort to improve their team while shoring up Ottawa's bottom line, according to Americans' secretary Marty Schenker. Ottawa representative William McIntyre suggested differently, though, stating that the club was "doing very nicely at present". It seems that the Board of Governors meeting that happened earlier that week was doing nothing to help the press get a true story out.

The following day saw a story published in The Montreal Gazette that had Senators owner Frank Ahearn denying the merger outright, telling his players that the "reports were groundless" and that the team would remain as part of the NHL. The ticket booth, as the story states, saw the sold-out sign go back up after the Senators defeated the Bruins, and, following Ahearn's announcement, the Senators beat the Maple Leafs 4-1. If the team needed a cash infusion, winning games certainly helps at the ticket window for a little extra money.

December 11, 1933 saw another blow to a merger as the Senators made their win streak a three-game streak. St. Petersburg's The Independent reports that the win on December 10 over the Americans, combined with the Montreal Maroons' loss to the Detroit, helped Ottawa leap past the Maroons into third-place in the Canadian Division. The win over the Americans kept the New York-based team in last-place while the Senators moved within three points of the second-place Montreal Canadiens. Could the Senators keep the good karma rolling?

The Independent picked up the race between the Maroons and Senators as they battled for third-place just ten days later. Obviously, the Senators had not caught the Canadiens, and the fortunes of the Maroons must have picked up if they were battling the Senators for third-place with just a point separating the two clubs. Yet the merger talk seems to have died down. Maybe it was just a way of getting some inspired play out of the 1933 Senators?

If it was inspirational, it seemed that nothing really came of it as the Senators continued to drop games. After reaching third-place with a 5-7-0 record on December 11, the Senators were left reeling as they went 3-12-5 in their next twenty games to drop them to last-place in the Canadian Division by February 5, 1934. Worst of all, they were looking up at the New York Americans, four points ahead of them in the standings. Would the merger talks begin to heat up again for the worst two teams in the NHL?

By March 3, the Senators' season was nearly over. One month of play in which the Senators needed to make up some ground on the teams in front of them saw the team go 3-6-0 to essentially kill any chance of the team making the playoffs. Worse yet, the attendance at Senators games was dismal. Poor attendance combined with a bad team in difficult economic times is the best way to see a club moved.

One month later, the teams' poor play, poor attendance, and poor financial situation had caused some dominoes to fall as the Ottawa Senators would be no more come the start of the 1934-35 NHL season. On April 2, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix stating that the team would relocate to either Chicago or St. Louis for the upcoming season. Owner Frank Ahearn had no comment, but the NHL seemed to indicate that the arena in St. Louis would be the more suitable place to relocate the franchise based upon the quality of the arena.

I will say that Frank Ahearn was right: there would be no merger as the team simply would leave Ottawa. Whether they ended up in Chicago as the Windy City's second NHL team or in St. Louis would be decided in the weeks to come.

Nine days later, the American Hockey Association made a statement that they will not deny the move of the Senators to St. Louis if compensated for the loss of the territory. While there could be some negotiating with the Black Hawks if the Senators were to move to Chicago, the move to St. Louis now only has one obstacle: money. If the NHL intends to move the team to St. Louis, they have no opposition to prevent them from moving into the American midwest.

June 15, 1934 was one of the last days that the Senators would exist in Ottawa for a long time. The Calgary Daily Herald published the headline that the deal to send the Ottawa Senators to St. Louis was "as good as closed". Indeed, the St. Louis Eagles would take flight the following year as the Senators closed up shop for good in their first iteration.

While the team saw its success in December fend off a merger with the New York Americans, poor play and poor attendance continued to plague this club in its latter days. While the team recorded 17 years of play in the NHL, it wouldn't last beyond 1934 as the team officially moved to St. Louis.

Hockey history is always cool, and I really think this story about the first version of the Senators is pretty neat. The denials issued by both the Senators and Americans of a merger were indeed true, but the writing was on the wall for the struggling Senators. And now you know how the St. Louis Eagles came to be part of the NHL.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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