How Toronto Created the NHL

Now passing the 70-day mark, every NHL enthusiast is being burdened by a drought of professional hockey action fed by the business of sports. As players and team owners fight over several billion dollars for the second time in eight years, the scenario appears to be a new acceptance for how professional sports operate behind the scenes.

November 26 marks the 95th anniversary to the day the premier hockey was founded in Montreal. It might be interesting to note how feuding created the NHL and how the city of Toronto revolved around the league’s creation.

In 1915, businessman Eddie Livingstone bought into a Toronto hockey club named the Blueshirts. An asset valued well before the Toronto Maple Leafs’ official existence, the Blueshirts owner often conflicted with other members in the league called the National Hockey Association. Viewed as argumentative, Livingstone’s personality with the other teams also made him an unpopular peer who routinely argued about minor issues in the game and business of hockey.

Whereas with current collective bargaining talks between the NHL and the NHLPA have maintained the notion of negotiating, hockey business in 1917 was decisively different. Voting to shut down the NHA, the other team owners would essentially lockout Livingstone when they re-established themselves into the NHL. A league of only four teams (with one team called the Montreal Wanderers going out of business prior to the conclusion of the inaugural season), the modest organization would slowly thrive to become the elite hockey showcase for the world.

However, as the new league was formed, Livingstone still held an asset that was prized even then: a Toronto hockey team.

Unsuccessful in getting Livingstone to sell the Blueshirts, the NHL crafted a deal with the Toronto hockey team’s then-ice rink Arena Gardens. Allowing them to run a franchise using many former Blueshirts players (possible since the league employed the players rather than individual teams), this NHL team would be a predecessor to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Hitting the ice in 1917 without a name, the hockey organization would eventually assume the name Toronto Arenas. After a rocky start on and off the ice, the Toronto team would triumph winning the 1917-1918 Stanley Cup against the Vancouver Millionaires.

Maple Leafs history records the team’s win as one of 13 successes but does not include the 1913-1914 season win that the Blueshirts collected in the NHA. In comparison, the Montreal Canadiens count a Stanley Cup earned during the NHA period as one of their 24.

Though Eddie Livingstone would never acquire an NHL team he would maintain himself as a thorn in the side of the NHL, exercising several legal challenges. First filing suit against the new hockey league founded by his foes, Livingstone would later turn against The Arena Company who managed the Toronto team under the NHL.

The lengthy and expensive court battles ultimately contributed to the Toronto Arenas suspending play in early 1919 due to poor finances. Eddie Livingstone would exhaust from his legal actions in 1926, ultimately resulting in no gain by the former owner.

Presenting a combative opposition that other team owners could no longer stand, it could easily be said that the NHL wouldn’t have existed if not for Toronto Blueshirts’ Eddie Livingstone.

Even without billions of dollars at stake, the state of professional hockey in Toronto was a contentious battle. Fought by a team owner 95 years ago, Toronto Maple Leaf players in alliance with the NHLPA continue to test the will of hockey.

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