History #16 - Eddie buys a(nother) team


"History is written by the victors." - Winston Churchill

(Not everything I write will come from Holzman and Nieforth's Deceptions and Doublecross: How the NHL Conquered Hockey - actually, quite a bit doesn't - but it's a good bet that this book will have influenced it.  Seriously - go get a copy and read it.  It's good.  Wikipedia is also your friend.)

Eddie buys a(nother) team

For reference, the not-terribly-good bit of wikihistory:

Prior to the 1915–16 season, Toronto Shamrocks team owner Eddie Livingstone made two moves that infuriated the NHA and the PCHA. At that time Quebec was to be one of the designated NHA teams which the PCHA would draft players from. Livingstone arranged a trade with Quebec to hide some players from the draft, infuriating the PCHA. He bought the Toronto Blueshirts without league permission for its players, and ended up with no players for the Shamrocks team as the PCHA in retaliation raided the Blueshirts for players.[10] The league ordered Livingstone to sell his Shamrocks franchise[11], but he was unable to do so as he had only enough players for one team. The 1915–16 season was played with only five teams, a situation whereby one team each week would not play, a situation limiting team owner revenues and infuriating the other owners.[12] Instead of two games in Toronto to cover travel expenses from the other cities, there was only one per trip.

Going over the history of Eddie Livingstone, 1914-15 and pretty much anything from 1916 forward bascially reads as "different ways in which Eddie gets hosed." 

1915-16 is a little different.  This was the year in which Eddie made the boldest moves of his entire time as an NHA owner.  Nothing he does in this season is as unethical as what has been and what will be done to him, but it's also probably the most ethically nebulous point of his tenure, as well.  I'm still torn as to what I think of this.

There were two conflicts that would come into play for Eddie Livingstone in the fall of 1915.  The first of these was the Great War, drawing people from all walks of life into the maelstrom in Europe.  The second was the hockey war being fought between the NHA and PCHA.  The combination of these two things would propel Eddie into the position of owning both of Toronto's NHA teams.

The Blueshirts had already lost rising star and captain Scotty Davidson to the war in Flanders.  In 1915, team owner Frank Robinson would enlist as well.  As he wouldn't be around to take care of the team, he decided to sell it.  There were two bidders of note - Livingstone, of course, and one of his players, George McNamara.  The NHA was torn - Livingstone had much more money in his bid and was based in Toronto (as opposed to McNamara from the Soo).  On the other hand, owning two teams would give Livingstone two votes in league matters, and this didn't sit too well with some of the others.

(Note - by and large, the suppositions here with respect to the acquisition of the team belong to H&N - I'll muse later.)

On November 5, 1915, a bombshell went off - the PCHA announced that it had acquired the entire roster of the Toronto Blueshirts to stock its new team, the Seattle Metropolitans. 

The PCHA/NHA conflict had been simmering for quite some time.  The revised draft rules had never been formally defined and the PCHA was less than thrilled about how the entire Tommy Smith affair had been handled.  Sending Smith back to Quebec was not the same as actually making him available to the PCHA.

The Seattle club had come into existence for 1915-16 due to concerns about the Victoria club, who was in danger of having its arena appropriated by the army.  When it became clear that Victoria would be able to play the season, Seattle needed players.  Without a draft agreement in place, the PCHA went on the offensive and snagged the Blueshirts.

The two key players that wouldn't head to Seattle were the truculent Minnie McGiffen, who was unsigned, and blueliner Harry Cameron, who was slated for Victoria. 

The Patricks drafted a letter  - a broadside, really - explaining the PCHA's frustration the the NHA, particularly with Emmett Quinn, the president, and their decision to stock their new team in this manner.

The next day, Eddie Livingstone dropped his own bombshell - he had purchased the player-less Blueshirts and would sell the Shamrocks to the highest bidder.

For public consumption, Livingstone played the stalwart defender of the NHA.  He announced that he managed to bring Harry Cameron back from the Patrick's clutches and that he'd gotten his hands on a "crack goaltender."  Not to worry, Toronto fans, he would put a Blueshirt team together that would be worth watching.

The "crack goaltender" turned out to be the Shamrocks' Percy LeSueur.  Over the next few days, the Blueshirts would also acquire the Dennenys, Skene Ronan and Alf Skinner.  It was apparent that while the Blueshirts had been the team that was raided, the Shamrocks were quickly becoming team without players.

A week after his purchase of the Blueshirts, Livingstone was ordered to sell the Shamrocks.  He was given one week to accomplish this, after which the league would appropriate the team and sell it on his behalf.  George McNamara took a run at this team, too, though financing turned out to be an issue (not to mention the lack of players) and he actually wound up signing with Livingstone again as a player.

As threatened, the NHA took control of the Shamrocks on Nov. 20, 1915, a scant two weeks after the player raid and Livingstone's purchase.

Holzman and Nieforth's take on this series of events is quite interesting.  They see the raid of 1915 as being orchestrated by Robinson, Livingstone and the PCHA.  There were no other NHA players signed that year - just those from Toronto.  For all that the other owners worried, schemed and accused each other of treason (the two Montreal teams, in particular, really went at it with tremendous entertainment value), there was no raid on the rest of the league.  Instead, three parties wound up with exactly what they wanted: Robinson got out from under his team, Livingstone got the Blueshirts and the PCHA got the players they were after for Seattle.  (Seattle would win the 1917 Stanley Cup on the backs of those players.)

One thing that they don't mention but that stands out for me is that Livingstone also got to play the hero in the recovery of Harry Cameron - the one Blueshirt player supposedly signed by the PCHA, but NOT assigned to Seattle.  It seems a mite convenient.

I can get behind their notion of how this played out.  I do wonder, though, just what Livingstone's end game was.  He'd done a good job in transforming the Shamrocks and had almost made them profitable in his first season (they were within a couple hundred dollars of breaking even).  Their Cup win aside, the Blueshirts weren't really going anywhere great and he would have possibly been able to eclipse them given another season.  The Shamrocks were a team on the rise. 

Livingstone made the comment at one point that it was better to have one good team in Toronto than two weak ones (this was during the time when he was moving players from one team to the other).  It may be that he simply liked the chance of eliminating a rival and having the market all to himself with as strong a team as he could field.  I don't know whether he particularly wanted the Blueshirt name and provenance (such as it was) or whether it was simply better optics to stock his new team rather than let it wither on the vine. 

No matter the case, the Shamrocks were finished.  After failing to find a buyer (Hamilton was considered, but didn't have a proper building yet), the NHA drew up a five-team schedule, precisely the scenario they hadn't wanted.  They'd have one team idle at any given time and there was no second game to play on a Toronto road trip.  Even at this early juncture, Ottawa was musing aloud about dropping Toronto from the league altogether.

The Shamrocks franchise was under the control of the league, which may have suited Livingstone just fine.  They were no longer his problem, at least not yet.  That would come next season.  For now, he had his Blueshirts to play.

Next: 1915-16 - a curious move.

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