Early NHL: Montreal 1917-1918
Arena fire, corner Wood Avenue & Western, Westmount, QC, 1917 | MP-1977.76.168
Image courtesy of the McCord Museum. More information about the photo can be found on their website.
The 1917–1918 NHL season should’ve been one of celebration. The league was in its inaugural season with four teams ready to compete for the league’s first ever title. Yet, just as the party hats were brought out and the tacky commemorative coins were given, the NHL was dealt two sucker punches.
First, Montreal Wanderers owner Sam Lichtenhein demanded three players from each of the other three teams. He claimed the Wanderers were at a competitive disadvantage to the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Arenas, and Ottawa Senators. Lichtenhein wanted a better team or he wanted out of the league.
Second, the Montreal Arena — the rink of both the Montreal Canadiens and the Montreal Wanderers — burned down on January 2 in a series of fiery explosions, leaving nothing but rubble.
While tension was already high with Lichtenhein, things only got worse when the Montreal Arena burned down. The Canadiens and Wanderers no longer had a home rink.
An emergency meeting was held to determine where the teams would play. For the Canadiens, the solution to the fire was simple: the team resumed play at the Jubilee Arena, the rink where they played before joining the NHL.
Lichtenhein on the other hand, once again said the Wanderers wouldn’t be playing anywhere if his demands weren’t met. When his request was turned down, Lichtenhein said the Wanderers would never compete again and resigned from the league.
The Wanderers’ withdrawal was not accepted immediately. On January 5, the Wanderers were supposed to play against the Arenas in Toronto. When the Wanderers didn’t show up, the team was assessed a $500 fine and stripped of its league membership.
The NHL continued with only three teams for the remainder of the 1917–1918 season and the 1918–1919 season. The next year, the Quebec Bulldogs joined the NHL.
— Text by Ryan Kessler