Editor's Note: It's a nice conundrum to have so much good content being thrown up here every day. 1967ers checks in with a look at the Leafs' prehistory (ie everything pre-Conn Smythe) and the possibility that not only are the Leafs the successors to the real Les Canadiens (gasp!) but that the franchise, in all its iterations, surpassed the century mark last year a full season ahead of that team from Montreal.
This is the 1909-10 Renfrew Creamery Kings, better known as the Millionaires - a team which, through the complex legal shenanigans only possible in the National Hockey League, both is and is not the direct antecedent of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
(A little note to both clarify and muddy things - depending on who you read and believe, a second team that later went on to merge with the Toronto Blueshirts could well have been the 1909-10 Montreal entity known as "Les Canadiens". This would be enormously amusing if proven. The muddiness comes out of the way in which multiple suspended teams owned by a single person, Ambrose O'Brien, were dispersed to multiple buyers. It's not dead clear who bought what.)
A while ago, I read up on whatever I could find about the early days of the NHL and the league that preceded it, the NHA. I found a couple of things - the first is that all the proceedings have a distinct "high-school politcs" feel to them. Group A didn't like person B, so they formed a league to get rid of him, etc. It's actually kind of remarkable that supposedly adult businessmen would a) act this way and b) get away with it.) The second is that there really is a pretty good line tying the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas to the 1916-17 Toronto Blueshirts. Various legal shenanigans were attempted to obscure this, but the net result is that the NHL wanted to be rid of owner Eddie Livingstone, but they still wanted his team. So they took it.
See whether you can follow how all this played out:
The Origins of the NHA
In 1908-09, the ECAHA had four teams in it - the Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs, Montreal Wanderers and Montreal Shamrocks. To freeze out the Wanderers, the other three dissolved the old league and created a new one, the CHA, to which the Wanderers weren't invited (nyaah, nyaah). A new team, the Montreal Nationals, was added instead. Ambrose O'Brien had a team in Renfrew and asked if he could join. Not being cool enough (maybe he didn't smoke with the kewl kids out back), he was rejected.
O'Brien and the head of the Wanderers hatched the idea of a competing league (we'll make our OWN clique!) called the NHA, though the Wanderers didn't end up joining right off. There would be teams in Renfrew, Haileybury, Cobalt, and just to rub it in to the NHA, a new team in Montreal made up of Francophones and called "Les Canadiens." Sounded good, and the Wanderers joined up a month later.
Well, the CHA promptly went belly up and the kewl kids crawled over to the new NHA and knocked on the door (So sorry about excluding you from our club. Can we join yours?). The Shamrocks and Senators joined up. The Bulldogs took the season off and the Nationals dropped off the face of the earth. The NHA played 1909-10 as a 7-team league.
In 1910-11, the Club Athletique-Canadien wanted into the league and launched (or threatened) a copyright infringment suit against "les Canadiens" for the use of their name. The "les Canadiens" club dropped out and was sold to Toronto interests. It reappeared as the Toronto Tecumsehs in 1912, and was later renamed the Shamrocks and still later the Ontarios. The Club Athletique-Canadien purchased the Haileybury club and moved it to Montreal, renaming it the Canadiens. The Cobalt team was moved to Quebec to restock the dormant Bulldogs team.
Renfrew sat out the 1911-12 season and was sold to Toronto to become the Blueshirts for 1912-13.
(Note: With us so far? Renfrew and one of Les Canadiens or Haileybury are now going to be the Toronto Blueshirts and Tecumsehs, respectively.)
This is where it gets interesting. Well, sort of, if you're into this sort of thing.
Eddie Livingstone arrives
After their first season in Toronto, Eddie Livingstone buys the Ontarios, and two years later buys the Blueshirts, one year off their 1914 Cup win. The Ontarios played out of the Mutual Street Arena, later home to the Leafs. So one guy owns both Toronto teams (not that odd - O'Brien owned Renfrew and Haileybury and may well have owned Cobalt and les Canadiens as well). Livingstone wasn't kewl, however, and didn't get along with the others - particularly the head of the Wanderers, who was the one the other NHA owners wanted frozen out of the ECAHA in the first place.
Later in 1915, the PCHA started up and the Patrick brothers raided the Blueshirts (think Pal Hal and the WHA). Missing half a team, Livingstone merged the Blueshirts and Ontarios and played them as the Blueshirts. The other franchise was left to rot. The league seized it and in 1916-17 played a team from the 228th Battalion in its place, which worked great until the Battalion was called up. The Battalion was suspended from the league, and, since the kewl kids thought they had an opening, they threw out the Blueshirts as well. (Balancing the schedule, they called it.)
Livingstone threatened to sue the league, and they responded by doing what had been done 8 years earlier - they created a new league and left him out of it. The NHL was to be a temporary league that would exist while they tried to force Livingstone to sell his team.
The NHL needs a team in Toronto, and they know just the team....
They still wanted a team in Toronto, though, so they pulled a fast one. They struck a deal with the company that owned the Mutual Street Arena. This company leased the Blueshirts from Livingstone in 1917 and basically played a team with no name for the first NHL season (and won a championship, which - oddly - wasn't engraved on the Cup until 1947). This was the same team with the same players, same uniform, same arena, different owner.
After 1917-18, the Arena Company was given a new franchise to which it transferred all of the players. This was the Arenas, which went on to become the St. Patricks and later the Maple Leafs.
Livingstone launched a bunch of lawsuits which he ultimately lost, as his NHA team was still there, if he didn't mind playing in a league by himself. (Now, he did actually win damages in a number of cases - he just never got his franchise back.) He tried his hand at creating another league, but the NHL moved into markets he'd targeted, like Hamilton, and it never went anywhere.
I've remarked a number of times about the fact that the Leafs have dumped all their prehistory down the memory hole, suggesting that anything prior to Conn Smythe's 1927 purchase simply never existed.
It occurs to me now that there might have been a practical reason for this. Livingstone was still very much alive and filing lawsuits at that time. There had been questionable legal games played to legally split off the Arenas and St. Pats from the entity Livingstone had owned. It might have been legal prudence on Smythe's part to disavow anything that preceded his ownership of the Leafs.
One final point - the Renfrew Creamery Kings were actually a semi-pro team from the old Federal League. Their first season was in that league was 1907-08. Prior to that, the Creamery Kings played in the Upper Ottawa Valley Hockey League. So the Leaf century mark was actually a couple of years ago. Not that anybody noticed.
So we hit our century first.
(history gleaned from umpteen wikipedia articles - start with Toronto Blueshirts and click around, plus pages dedicated to the Renfrew team)