Sunday, September 25, 2016

The 1926-27 NHL American Expansion - Chicago, Detroit and New York

In the 1923-24 NHL season, the league consisted of a mere four teams, all of them located in Canada. Those clubs were the Hamilton Tigers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Toronto St. Patricks. The league grew by two for the 1924-25, adding the Montreal Maroons, and expanding into the United States for the first time with the formation of the Boston Bruins.

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The 1925-26 Boston Bruins

More changes came the following season of 1925-26 when the Hamilton franchise was dropped and it's players signed by the expansion New York Americans. Additionally, fearing the formation of a competing new league, the NHL awarded a franchise to Pittsburgh, which was christened the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Meanwhile, out west the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, formed back in in 1912-13, had ended its 13 year run after the 1923-24 season, which included both the Vancouver Millionaires in 1915 and the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917 winning the Stanley Cup. For the 1924-25 season, following the demise of the PCHA, the Vancouver Maroons, formerly the Millionaires, and the Victoria Cougars joined the three year old Western Canada Hockey League, raising their league membership to six. League champion Victoria would go on to defeat the NHL's Canadiens for the Stanley Cup that season, making them the final team from outside the NHL to win the cup.

1925 Victoria Cougars photo 1925VictoriaCougarsteam.jpg
The 1925 Stanley Cup champion Victoria Cougars

The league shortened it's name to the Western Hockey League for the 1925-26 season, dropping "Canada" in recognition of the Regina Capitals relocating across the border to Portland, Oregon, where they revived the PCHA's Portland Rosebuds name. The Cougars again won the league playoffs for the right to challenge their NHL counterpart, the Montreal Maroons, but fell three games to one.

1924-25 Portland Rosebuds team photo 1924-25 Portland Rosebuds team.jpg
The 1924-25 Portland Rosebuds

Salaries were now on the rise and the WHL was finding it difficult to keep their best players. With their mounting financial issues too great to overcome, the WHL folded, leaving the NHL as the only top-level professional league in North America.

Pleased with their results in Boston, the NHL purchased the contracts of every WHL player for $258,000 and, on this date in 1926, the NHL granted franchises to the New York Rangers, Detroit Cougars (later the Red Wings) and the Chicago Black Hawks, increasing the number of teams in the league to ten, and, for the first time in league history, the American clubs outnumbered the Canadian franchises. In just three years the four team, all-Canadian NHL had become a ten team league with six of those being in the United States.

The majority of the initial Black Hawks roster came from the Portland Rosebuds while Detroit's roster came mainly from the Victoria Cougars, hence the original name of the eventual Red Wings franchise being "Cougars" in recognition of the source of their roster.

The Black Hawks original owner was Frederic McLaughlin who had been a commander in the 86th Infantry during World War I, a division known as the "Black Hawk Division", which in turn was named after Chief Black Hawk of the Illinois region.

The Black Hawks first ever game was on November 17, 1926 at the Chicago Coliseum where they defeated the Toronto St. Patricks 4-1.

The Black Hawks would lead the league in goals with 115 in 44 games (with no other club reaching 100), but also allow a league high 116 on their way to third place in the American Division with a 19-22-3 record.

The team was led by Babe Dye's 25 goals and in points by Dick Irvin with 36, which was second in the league by a single point. Hugie Lehman was the lone goaltender for Chicago, playing in every game of the season.

Chicago Black Hawks 1924-25 photo ChicagoBlackHawks1924-25.jpg
The inaugural 1926-27 Chicago Black Hawks

Detroit began play on November 18, 1926 with a 2-0 loss to Boston at "home". The Detroit Olympia was not completed in time for the Cougars first season, so the team actually began play at the Border Cities Arena across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario! Their first victory came in their third game against the Black Hawks, 1-0 in Chicago.

The Cougars found the going tough in the NHL, winning just 12 games while losing 28 with 4 ties as they finished last in the league with 28 points.

Detroit scored the second fewest goals in the league that season with 76 in 44 games. While the Maroons only scored 71, their stingy defense left them at +3 for the season, while Detroit was a -29, worst in the league.

Johnny Sheppard led the team in both goals, with 13, and points with 21 while no other player had more than 15. Hap Holmes was their main goaltender, playing in 41 of their 44 games.

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1926-27 Detroit Cougars team

The New York Rangers were owned by Tex Rickard, the owner of Madison Square Garden. After seeing he success of his tenant, the New York Americans, he desired a team of his own and founded the Rangers.

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Madison Square Garden in 1925

Their roster was not imported wholesale from a WHL club, but pieced together from various sources. Brothers Bill Cook and Bun Cook came from the Saskatoon Sheiks of the WHL and Frank Boucher from Vancouver. Other players were plucked from the amateur and junior ranks by none other than Conn Smythe.

The Rangers first game came at home against the Montreal Maroons, who they defeated 1-0. They won the American Division with a 25-13-6 record, good for 56 points. Their offense was mid-pack while their defense allowed just 72 goals, one back of the league leading Maroons' 71, giving the Rangers a +23 goal differential.

Bill Cook led not only the Rangers, but the entire NHL in points with 37, one ahead of Chicago's Irvin thanks to his league best 33 goals while Lorne Chabot was second in goals against with a 1.46 average in 36 of their 44 games.

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The 1926-27 New York Rangers first training camp

The Black Hawks drew the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs that season, but lost 6-1 followed by a 4-4 tie to lose their two-game, total goals series 10-5. Boston then advanced to face the Rangers. After a scoreless tie in the opening game, the Bruins won on the road 3-1 to eliminate New York.

It wouldn't take the Rangers long to become the first of the Class of 1926 to win the Stanley Cup, as they would defeat the Maroons 3 games to 2 the very next season of 1927-28 in only their second try.

The Rangers would win again in 1933 followed by the Black Hawks first championship in 1934 with Detroit, by then known as the Red Wings, following suit in 1936 for their first title. Good things come to those that wait however, as Detroit would go on to win 11 Stanley Cups, more than Chicago's 6 and New York's 4 combined.

Today's featured jersey is a 1926-27 Detroit Cougars Eric Brolin jersey worn by the expansion Cougars during their first season in the NHL. The Cougars name lasted just four seasons, but the team wore a new style sweater for every one of those four years, offering no clues as to what was to come, as the Red Wings name was introduced in 1932 and their red jerseys have now remained unchanged for over 80 years!

Detroit Cougars 1926-27 jersey photo DetroitCougars1926-27jersey.jpg

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1926-27 Chicago Black Hawks Dick Irvin jersey worn for the Black Hawks first season of play. The following season they reversed the colors of their sweaters, now black with white stripes for the next seven seasons of play.

irvin photo: Irvin Irvin.jpg

Extra bonus jersey: Today's extra bonus jersey is a 1926-27 New York Rangers Hal Winkler jersey. While researching this entry we believed that the original Rangers sweaters had white lettering, changing to red for the 1927-28 season before adopting red letters with white outlines from 1928-29 on. However... we found several team photos and player photos attributed to the 1926-27 season, including the below photo of goaltender Hal Winkler, which had to be from 1926-27, as he only played eight total games for the Rangers, clearly with red letters with white outlines two seasons before we believed they were first used.

Perhaps the white only jerseys were used in training camp and were replaced with the jersey shown below for the regular season. Either way, we're confident that the below photo of Winkler is from the Rangers inaugural season leaving us with a mystery to solve.

New York Rangers 26-27 jersey

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