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Throwback Thursdays – Philadelphia Maple Leafs?

Welcome back everyone!

A couple of weeks ago we started looking at the history of the Toronto Hockey Club franchise, where the original owner essentially caused the closure of the NHA and formation of the NHL all on his own.

By now we can all agree Eddie Livingstone was a dick.

In last week’s article we had a brief history lesson on the first NHL Stanley Cup champions, the Toronto Arenas, and the Leafs-predecessor, the Toronto St. Pats.

For this week’s article, we are going to look into how the team almost moved to Philadelphia and the man that saved the club and created the Leafs as we know them.

Where we left off, it was the St. Pats owner, Charles Querrie, was ready to sell the team. As soon as word got around that the Toronto franchise was up for sale, a group from Philadelphia put together a bid of $200,000 – a massive amount at the time. Querrie had a hard time rejecting that deal, but was willing to listen to a group of 14 investors from Toronto trying to keep the team in the city. That group was led by Conn Smythe, and this article is about his purchase of the Leafs.

Conn Smythe looked like the type of guy to bet it all, and bet – and win – is exactly what he did.

The Toronto St. Patricks and Conn Smythe coming together was due to both the club and the man looking for new opportunities at the same time and a set of circumstances that led to them being available at the same time.

In the St. Patrick’s case, the team won the Cup in 1922, but followed that up with a series of disappointing seasons. They actually missed the playoffs in four of the five seasons following the Cup win. With attendance waning and larger crowds attending some of Toronto’s amateur sports at the time, majority owner Charles Querrie decided to put the team up for sale.

At the same time, Conn Smythe had been hired as manager of the newly formed New York Rangers. He helped assemble a group that would go on to win the Cup only a couple of years after their founding, but he would not be there to see it. After a squabble with the owner, Smythe was fired before the start of the season.

“It is impossible to imagine,” wrote Frank Selke, the Hall of Fame executive, in his 1962 autobiography “Behind the Cheering,” “what would have happened to professional hockey in Canada had Smythe stayed in New York.”

Coincidentally, with the Leafs for sale and the Smythe no longer employed, there was an opportunity. This opportunity only presented itself after the Toronto franchise was almost sold to C.C. Pyle, a prominent business in Philadelphia who wanted to move the team to the city of brotherly love.

Rioting in the streets, destroying property, and burning things – a recipe for “celebrating” in Philadelphia.

He had recently lost out to the Rangers bid for a franchise in New York and wanted to get into the NHL. Pyle had visited Toronto in the fall of 1926 and saw the team play, which furthered his love for hockey and cemented his intentions to buy the team. He was almost willing to pay anything for it so he wouldn’t lose out on another chance to have his own franchise.

According to newspapers at the time, Pyle told St. Pats owner Querrie to name his price for the team. Querrie responded with $200,000 – a pittance compared to the $500 million the Vegas Golden Knights paid, but a lot of money for a team during that time. After all the late 20s was not so much the Roaring Twenties as we know it, but closer to the start of the Great Depression. Pyle thought the request was a little high and said he mull it over.

Newspaper articles at the time highlight the offer to sell to Pyle and his intentions to move the team to Philadelphia.

With Pyle deciding on if he wished to counteroffer or accept the deal, the future professional hockey in Toronto was left hanging in the balance.

This is where Smythe and a team of investors were able to rally interest to keep the team in Toronto, not wanting to lose the club to an American investor. Luckily, one of the team’s current share holders, J.P. Bickell, shared Smythe’s sentiment. He agreed to keep his $40,000 in shared invested if Smythe and his group could raise the other $160,000 to buy out Querrie. This would guarantee the sale to the Toronto-based group, and leave Pyle out of the equation.

With that knowledge, Smythe put down $10,000 as a deposit. On Valentine’s Day in 1927, Smythe and his investors officially purchased the team when they paid Querrie $75,000 with an understanding to pay the other $75,000 owed within 30 days.

The Leafs were officially born on that day.

Smythe changed the name to the Maple Leafs officially (reportedly after his Canadian Army Maple Leaf division) and after the season would change to new uniforms. The famous blue and white colours with a maple leaf as the crest.

An iconic jersey in the making.

Pyle, after being rejected by the NHL in New York, and losing out on his bid in Toronto would continue his interest in hockey. He gave up on his dream of an NHL franchise and pursued a different future in the game.

Only months after his failed Toronto bid in 1927, Pyle, along with some other investors, was able to purchase a new rink in Los Angeles, while also making plans to build a new arena in San Francisco. After two other California markets joined, Pyle officially started the California Professional Hockey League (CPHL).

He would run the league for two years, before selling his shares in 1929. The CPHL would run for a further four years before folding in 1933.

Steve Auld

Steve Auld

My name is Steve and I am from the very noble Auld clan of Niagara, where we respect our elders and follow the golden rules: elbows up, and keep your stick on the ice. When not tearing up beer league or ball hockey, I enjoy the occasional downtime I have with my fiancée and son. Love me some music too, all kinds. If you feel I did a good job or you want to argue, feel free to leave a comment!
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