Why Wayne Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes are Wanted as the Hamilton Tigers

Martin AverySenior Writer IMay 17, 2009

OTTAWA - OCTOBER 17:  Head Coach Wayne Gretzky of the Phoenix Coyotes answers questions from the media after the game against the Ottawa Senators on October 17, 2008 at the Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)

It's time for the National Hockey League and the Hamilton Tigers to return to Hamilton, according to millions of Canadians, and other hockey fans.

The NHL is buzzing about Wayne Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes moving to southern Ontario.

Most of the Tigers fans are from Hamilton or nearby in southern Ontario. They are buzzing about BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie's bid to bring the Phoenix Coyotes to the Copps Coliseum.

The story of how NHL hockey moved from Hamilton to New York in 1925 proved to be the single most important franchise relocation in league history, according to Myer Siemiatycki, a professor at Ryerson University.

Siemiatycki wrote an opinion piece for the Toronto Star as a fan of the Hamilton Tigers. He says it was a "distress sale" that took the Tigers away from Hamilton more than 80 years ago and paved the way for the NHL to make it big in the United States.

Founded in 1917 as a four-team Canadian league, the NHL had its first expansion in the 1924-25 season. A second team was added in Montreal (the Maroons), and the addition of the Boston Bruins brought the first American city into the league.

After the 1919–20 season, the NHL took back the Quebec Bulldogs franchise and sold the team to the Abso Pure Ice Company of Hamilton. The club was moved to Hamilton for the 1920–21 season and renamed the Hamilton Tigers.
In 1920, Hamilton was the fifth-largest city in Canada with a population of 114,200 when Toronto had half a million.

After four years, things started to come together for the Hamilton Tigers in the 1923–24 NHL season. They signed four players from the Sudbury Wolves of the Northern Ontario Hockey Association (NOHA): Red Green and Shorty Green, Alex McKinnon, and Charlie Langlois.

The Hamilton Tigers roared off to an impressive 10–4–1 start in the 1924–25 NHL season. Halfway through the season, they had more wins than any other season in their NHL history.

The team finished first overall with a record of 19 wins, 10 losses, and one tie, just ahead of the Toronto St. Patricks. The Hamilton Tigers had a chance at winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since they won it as the Quebec Bulldogs in 1913.

The Hamilton Tigers lost their championship chance in March 1925, when the  league president disqualified the club from the Stanley Cup playoffs. It was the only time in NHL history that an entire team was disqualified and all its players suspended.

The Hamilton Tigers players went on strike to protest unfair salary treatment. The NHL schedule grew from 24 to 30 games but the hockey players were paid the same.

They were not pleased about playing 25 per cent more games with no additional salary. Also,the players got no share of playoff game revenues.

At the end of the regular season, all Hamilton players served notice they would not suit up for a playoff game unless paid to play. The NHL's first president, Frank Calder, had the Hamilton Tigers players terminated.

After the season's final game, the Tigers' players went to their general manager, Percy Thompson, and demanded $200 pay for the six extra games they played that season. He refused.

The Montreal Canadiens were declared league champions and each player on the Hamilton Tigers was fined $200.

The Canadiens went on to play the Victoria Cougars for the Stanley Cup but lost. That marked the last time that an NHL team had lost the Stanley Cup to a rival league.

Fearing the start-up of a rival league in the U.S., the NHL began looking to move south in the 1920s.
In the summer of 1925, New York's most prominent Prohibition-era bootlegger, "Big Bill" Dyer, purchased the NHL's top team—the Hamilton Tigers—and took them to Manhattan.

Thomas Duggan of Montreal, owner of the Mount Royal Arena, held two options for expansion teams in the United States. He sold the first of the two to Boston. He sold the second to "Big Bill" Dwyer.
Dwyer purchased the Hamilton players and wanted to keep them in Hamilton, if Abso-Pure built a new arena.

Dwyer bought the rights to the Tigers' players from Thompson for $75,000, and gave the players raises, some as high as 200 percent. Dwyer's team was known as the "New York Hamilton Tigers" but was changed to the New York Americans.

They played in a new 18,000 seat arena called Madison Square Garden.

The new building needed to maximize bookings and the NHL was looking for prime American locations.

In the summer of 1925 the Hamilton franchise—complete with players, equipment and uniforms—was sold to New York buyers.

The Tigers played the 1925-26 season in New York as the Americans. Hockey has been a fixture at Madison Square Garden ever since.

The New York Americans' success on in New York City inspired other American cities that hockey was for them, too.

The NHL expanded quickly to other U.S. cities. The next year, the NHL was a 10-team league, with six clubs in the U.S., including a second team playing out of Madison Square Garden called the New York Rangers.

The Hamilton Tigers have been called the best NHL team never to win the Stanley Cup. They were the first-place team following the 1924-25 regular season.
Twenty per cent of the roster from what were then ten-player squads made it into the Hockey Hall of Fame: Billie Burch and Shorty Green.

William Burch, born in Yonkers, New York was the first American hockey player in the NHL. He played for the Hamilton Tigers, New York Americans, Chicago Black Hawks, and Boston Bruins.

Although he was born in the USA, Burch moved to Toronto, at an early age, where he grew up playing hockey and football.
Burch was the second person to win the Hart Memorial Trophy (1925) and the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (1927). He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1974.

Cecil Henry "Babe" Dye was born in Hamilton.He played 11 seasons for the Toronto St. Pats, Chicago Black Hawks, New York Americans and Toronto Maple Leafs.

He was the NHL's top goal scorer of the 1920s and is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

He also played professional baseball with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League and played football with the Toronto Argonauts.

Dye was known for his hard and accurate shot. He won the Art Ross Trophy as top scorer in 1923 and 1925, and finishing second in goals scored in 1921–22 and 1923–24.

Over his first six seasons in the NHL, Dye scored 176 goals in 170 games. Dye was loaned to the Hamilton Tigers for that team's NHL debut in the first game of the 1920–21 season.

Dye scored two goals in the game and then returned to the St. Pats for the rest of the season.

He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1970. In 1998, he was ranked number 83 on The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players.

Wilfred "Shorty" Green, from Sudbury, Ontario, played 4 seasons for the Hamilton Tigers and New York Americans. Shorty was captain of Tigers when they went on strike in 1925 during the playoffs.

Shorty also scored the first goal in Madison Square Garden after the team moved to New York. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962.

Joseph "Phantom Joe" Malone, from Quebec, played for the Hamilton Tigers and scored the second most career goals of any player in major hockey's first half-century.

Phantom Joe played for the Quebec Bulldogs when the team was relocated to Hamilton for the 1921 season. Malone finished fourth in league scoring with 28 goals. He finished fourth in scoring the following season as well.

Malone was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1950, and is also a member of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
He was ranked number 39 on The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players.

Hamilton had another Tigers hockey team. The city's senior amateur OHA Senior A League team was also named the Tigers and wore the same colors.

The Senior A Tigers were just as popular as the NHL team. In fact, when the newspapers reported about "the Tigers" it was usually in reference to the amateurs. The NHLers were called "the Professionals."

The senior Tigers continued into the 1950s, winning the OHA championship in 1919, 1931, 1934, 1942 and 1944–1948. The team won the Allan Cup in 1919.

The Tigers name was revived as a professional team in the Canadian Professional Hockey League in 1926. The professional Tigers survived until 1930, including a time in the International Hockey League.

Now the NHL is a 30-team league with just six Canadian clubs.

The Phoenix Coyotes' filing for bankruptcy and Jim Balsillie wants to relocate the team to Hamilton. A poll in the Hamilton Spectator proved the name Tigers is the most popular.