FanPost

Connections #1 - Lester Patrick, Conn Smythe and the Leafs

Editor's Note: 1967ers gives us something a little different from his traditional (and quite good) fare. It's like hockey's version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon but interesting.

Connections #1 - Lester Patrick, Conn Smythe and the Leafs.

(I used to really like this show, even after the second season when the connections got pretty tenuous.)

Today, it's Lester Patrick, Conn Smythe, the NHL, Babe Dye and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Lester Patrick today is best known for the Trophy that bears his name, the NHL division that used to bear it, and coming in from behind the bench to replace his injured goaltender while in his 40s.  He and his brother Frank introduced a lot of innovations that are still part of the game today.

Lester, though, was also a tremendous player and one of the real stars of the beginning of professional hockey.  He was a member of the Cup-winning Wanderers teams of the ECAHA, and in the inaugural season of the NHA, he played for the Renfrew Creamery Kings, a team laden with big name, big ticket stars who ended up not winning.

Renfrew spent far more money on players than it could ever hope to recoup from its market, and there was almost immediate labour trouble in the NHA as they tried to impose a salary cap (the things that never, ever change in hockey are really quite remarkable).  Lester Patrick packed up and went out west to play.  The Renfrew team folded and the franchise was sold and later reconstituted in Toronto as the Tecumsehs.

Frank and Lester's father made a lot of money in lumber in BC, and the boys used some of this to establish a new western league, the PCHA.  A number of NHA stars followed, including Newsy Lalonde and Cyclone Taylor.

The Tecumsehs struggled financially and were sold twice in quick succession.  By 1914 they were the Ontarios and were owned by a man named Wall, who sold them to Eddie Livingstone.  Livingstone signed a bunch of players to make the team more competitive, and in so doing, he had a run-in with Lester Patrick over the services of Tommy Smith.  Livingstone signed him for the Ontarios while Patrick felt he was PCHA property (there was something of a draft arrangement between the two leagues).  This threatened any sense of contract respect between the NHA and PCHA and in 1915, this escalated into an all-out raid by the PCHA.

Prior to the 1915-16 season, Livingstone also managed to purchase Toronto's other NHA team, the Blueshirts.  He'd renamed his Ontarios as the Shamrocks and now he had the winner of the 1914 Cup in his stable as well.

Then the raid began.  The PCHA targeted the NHA in general and Livingstone in particular and no team was hurt worse by the raid than Livingstone's Blueshirts. They lost every starter but one (reminds one of the Leafs and the WHA 60 years later) and really had no team to start the season.  Livingstone then made the fateful decision to merge his two franchises - the Shamrocks ceased to exist and their players became Blueshirts for 1915-16.

This merger led to the conflict with the other NHA owners that escalated to the point where the Blueshirts were suspended, the NHA disbanded, the NHL created and the Blueshirts taken in everything but name to become the Toronto nonames/Arenas.

The new Toronto NHL franchise was more than a little shaky and went through a few different ownership setups as they looked for both financial stability and legal security from a very litigious Eddie Livingstone.  By the early 1920s they had become the Toronto St. Patricks and had both their second NHL Stanley Cup and a great young star by the name of Babe Dye.  Babe wasn't a great skater and wasn't one to rack up a lot of assists, but man, could he ever score goals.  He scored 176 of them in his first 175 games, a pace that stood until a kid named Gretzky came along.

While Babe was in Toronto, the NHL was looking to expand its footprint into the USA.  One of the early US additions was an expansion team named the New York Rangers.  Backed by Tex Rickard, the Rangers were assembled by a young GM named Conn Smythe.  He brought in a number of western stars like Bill and Bun Cook and Frank Boucher. 

One player Smythe didn't sign, though, was Babe Dye.  Rickard's hockey brain, a man named John Hammond, found out that Dye had gone to Chicago and demanded to know why Smythe hadn't signed him for New York.  There are a number of versions of Smythe's reply, but the gist is that Conn said he wanted no part of Dye.  Smythe was let go almost immediately.  The day before the season started, he found himself out of a job.  The Rangers would turn to PCHA founder Lester Patrick to run the team.

As it turned out, Smythe's team was very good and the Rangers won a Cup in 1928 (in which Lester famously played goal).  Dye had one great year in Chicago, then broke a leg and never really was right again.

Smythe, spurned by the Rangers, managed to purchase the St. Patricks a year later and renamed them the Maple Leafs.  He turned them into a winner and had his first Stanley Cup in 1931-32, defeating Lester Patrick and the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup final.  Interestingly, Smythe did sign Babe Dye for the Leafs in 1930-31, but he only lasted 6 games. 

The Rangers, for their part, won Cups in 1933 and 1940, both times defeating Smythe's Leafs.

Both Conn Smythe and Lester Patrick would have NHL divisions named after them, though oddly, the Smythe Division played in the west and the Patrick was in the east.

So - to sum up, former Creamery King Lester Patrick forms a league that ends up raiding the owner of his old NHA team in their new city.  The reaction to this raid causes his old team to merge with another and forces a crisis that ends up with the dissolution of the NHA and the  creation of the NHL.  Through interesting legal manouverings, the remnants of Patrick's old team is effectively transported lock, stock and barrel to the new league.  Patrick replaces Conn Smythe in New York because Smythe wouldn't sign one of the players from Patrick's mostly-former team.  Smythe responds by buying that team and his first victory comes at the expense of Lester Patrick.

Clear as mud.  It always is.

PensionPlanPuppets.com is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor of PensionPlanPuppets.com.

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