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  • What happened to the Hamilton Tigers NHL Franchise?

    The return of the Quebec Bulldogs (formerly a Stanley Cup winning NHA team) to the city of Quebec for the 1919-20 season ended in failure. Despite having the league's scoring leader (39 goals) "The Phantom" Joe Malone in the line-up, the Bulldogs only managed a pathetic four wins in 24 games. And so the team was put up for sale.

    As it happened, a group from Hamilton, Ontario were interested in bringing a pro team to the city to play in a new artificial-ice arena. They were the owners of the Abso-pure Ice Company, and shortly before the start of the 1920-21 season, they succeeded in making the deal with the Quebec owners, and purchased the franchise for $5,000.

    The new professional team was heartily received by hockey fans, who on opening night came to the Barton Street Arena somewhere around 6,500 strong to watch their team (minus Joe Malone) trounce an unconditioned Montreal Canadiens team 5-0.

    Although the line-up was bolstered by additions from each of the other three teams, the Tigers quickly began to falter. By the end of the first season, the team managed only six more wins, and finished last place.

    The following three seasons saw the Tigers finish dead last each time, although by the 1923-24 season they had worked their way up to nine wins.

    The 1924-25 season saw a complete transformation: unlike in other seasons when the team managed a few good early season wins and then fizzled, this year the Tigers could not stop winning and fought their way to the top of the standings. Hamiltonians were ecstatic: after four years of disappointment, suddenly the city had a Stanley Cup contender.

    But as the season drew to a close, there was growing discord among the Tigers' players: not at one another, but at management. The players were not being compensated for the extra time they were playing (an earlier training camp, as well as six more games than before, and now at least two play-off games) and they wanted something done about it. Thus they justifiably went on strike, but this quickly failed and led to the team's suspension from post-season play.

    Over time, all of the players involved went to the league on their hands and knees begging for forgiveness, and eventually all were re-instated. But none would return to the league as Hamilton Tigers, for in yet another act of injustice the league decided that the city of Hamilton no longer deserved an NHL franchise and the team was sold to some American bootlegger for $75,000.

    Renamed the New York Americans, the franchise continued to exist until the 1941-42 season, at the end of which it went defunct leaving the NHL with only six teams.

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    More Hamilton Tigers History:

    Hamilton Tigers History
    Logos shown are for each time period.

    1920/21: After a disastrous 4-20 season the Quebec Bulldogs relocated to Hamilton, Ontario and were renamed the Hamilton Tigers.  Realizing more than a name change would be needed to improve the club, the NHL ordered the other three NHL clubs to supply players to the club, much like an expansion draft.  The Montreal Canadiens supplied Billy Coutu, while the Toronto St. Patricks supplied Joe Matte, Goldie Prodgers, and future Hall-of-Famer Babe Dye. However, the Tigers would no do much better finishing dead last with a 6-18-0 record. The Toronto St. Patricks realizing they may have made a mistake in sending over Babe Dye for nothing quickly demanded the return of Dye after just one game into the season; the Tigers complied and accepted Mickey Roach from the St. Pats in his place.  Four games into the season the Tigers signed star forward Joe Malone, who would go on to place amongst the NHL leaders with 28 goals. However the Tigers would still play up to the level of the Bulldogs and went 3-7-0 in the first half, and 3-11-0 in the second half, placing last place in both halves.

    The NHL abandoned its split schedule format, but the Tigers still performed sub-par posting a record of 7-17-0, gaining only 2 points over the previous season.  After the season, fed up with coaching the team, and wanting to concentrate on building the team to elite status, head coach Percy Thompson quit and assumed the role of general manager.

    Before the season the Tigers named Art Ross as their new head coach, but that was only minor compared to the moves Percy Thompson had in mind for the club.  His first move surrounding the players of his team, Thompson signed former St Pats goalie Jake Forbes to replace "Holes" Lockhart in goal, and then signed future Hall-of-Famer Billy Burch away from the New Haven Westministers of the United States Amateur Hockey Association.  The most controversial move of the season was the trading away of star forward Joe Malone to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Bert Corbeau and Edmond Bouchard.  The controversy quickly quieted; as Malone would only go on to score 1 goal in 20 games with the Habs in 1922/23, while Bouchard led the league with 12 assists.  Still in a re-building process the Tigers finished the season in last place for a 3rd straight season with a record of 6-18-0.  Head Coach Art Ross was let go after the season in favor of Percy LeSueur.

    Under their new head coach the Tigers performed horribly for a 4th straight season posting a record of 9-15-0.  However the big news of the season was once again the acquisition of players.  The final pieces of the puzzle were obtained in a span of ten days, as Thompson signed brothers Red and Shorty Green from the Sudbury Wolves of the NOHA in November 1923.  The brothers were signed for a two-year contract worth $6000 in total, and were placed on a line with Billy Burch.  Thompson wasn't done; he bolstered the Tigers defense by signing fellow Wolves stars Alex McKinnon and Charlie Langlois. 

    The addition of the four Wolves players made a world of difference for the Tigers, as NHL clubs only had 10 players per team in the 1920s.  Under new head coach Jimmy Gardiner, the Tigers roared off to a 10-4-1 start by the mid-point of the season, and held off a late charge by the Toronto St. Pats to finish first in the NHL with a record of 19-10-1, earning them a birth in the NHL Finals. While the St. Pats and Canadiens began their semi-final series to determine the Tigers opponent in the NHL Finals, the 10 players of the Hamilton Tigers informed Percy Thompson that they would not take place in the NHL Finals unless they would receive an additional $200 each. Under their contracts the Tigers players were to receive the same amount of money no matter how many games they played from December 1, 1924 - March 31, 1925 (even though the season started on November 29, 1924).  NHL President Frank Calder was not amused stating the players would be fined or suspended if they did not play in the final series, but the players stated they would rather retire than to be taken advantage of. The day of the final game of the Semi-Final Shorty Green met with Calder to try and reach an agreement, but to no avail.  The players were all suspended and fined $200 each, therefore eliminating themselves from the playoffs. The NHL awarded its league title to the Montreal Canadiens who had defeated the St. Pats in the semi-final, the Habs went on to be defeated by the Victoria Cougars in the Stanley Cup Final, the only time an NHL team lost in the final series.

    Summer 1925
    With the NHL expanding to the United States for the first time by placing a team in Boston, "Big Bill" Dwyer, New York's most-celebrated prohibition bootlegger purchased the Tigers from Percy Thompson for $75,000 and swiftly relocated them to New York's newly completed 18,000-seat Madison Square Garden, now known as the Americans, all of the Tigers players received raises, with many players salaries jumping almost 200%.