The minutes of the first NHL Board of Governors meeting, which concluded 100 years ago Sunday in Montreal, note that it was called "to ascertain if some steps could not be taken to perpetuate the game of hockey." But the men who announced the formation of the new league couldn't have dreamed what it would become a century later.
Though the NHL we know today began play on Dec. 19, 1917, the two first-night games in the League's history wouldn't have taken place without a series of meetings and backroom maneuvers that saw it emerge from the ashes of the National Hockey Association.
The NHA, which began play in 1909, had been beset by franchise problems. The most notable was that the most popular team, the Toronto 228th Battalion, had been called away to fight in World War I midway through the 1916-17 season, reducing the NHA to a five-team league. The talent market got even tighter after Canada passed the Compulsory Service Act, which took effect in August 1917 and mandated conscription for men ages 25 to 35, a range that covered most players. The NHA announced at its annual meeting it was suspending operations, citing the scarcity of players and saying operating a five-team league was not feasible.
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Beginning on Nov. 24, 1917, the NHA's directors, George Kendall (better known as George Kennedy) of the Montreal Canadiens, Sam Lichtenhein of the Montreal Wanderers, Tom Gorman of Ottawa, M.J. Quinn of Quebec and NHA secretary-treasurer Frank Calder, held three days of meetings at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal and decided to start over. Gorman, seconded by Kendall, proposed, "That the Canadiens, Wanderers, Ottawa and Quebec Hockey Clubs unite to comprise the National Hockey League." The motion was carried, and the NHL was officially formed on Nov. 26, 1917.
The NHL's arrival on the sporting scene wasn't exactly big news back then.
Unlike the unveiling of the League's newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, on Nov. 22, 2016, an event that attracted worldwide media coverage, the only writer reportedly on hand was Elmer Ferguson, sports editor of the Montreal Herald. When Calder emerged from the closed-door meeting, Ferguson yelled to him in an effort to find out what happened. Calder replied, "Nothing much, Fergie."
Even before play began, the NHL had a lineup change. Quebec wasn't prepared to ice a team for the 1917-18 season, so the franchise suspended operations until 1919-20 and its players were dispersed among the other teams. However, the Toronto Arena Company was granted a franchise, keeping the NHL at four teams.
Calder was elected president and secretary-treasurer at an annual salary of $800. More important perhaps was that he took the job, as the minutes note, "on the understanding that there could be no appeal from his decisions."
The new league adopted the NHA's playing rules and used its 25-page constitution as its governing document. A 24-game schedule of Wednesday and Saturday games was implemented, with the NHL champion earning the right to play the winner of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association for the Stanley Cup. Though the Wanderers folded after a fire destroyed their arena, Toronto won the first championship and defeated the Vancouver Millionaires in a five-game Final, allowing the NHL to proclaim it was the best professional hockey league in existence.
One hundred years later, that's still the case.