Book Review: The NHL – A Centennial History

D’Arcy Jenish likes milestones. In the past he has produced volumes commemorating the centennials of both the Stanley Cup and the Montreal Canadiens. His most recent offering is a revisiting of the NHL’s first hundred years, on the market some four years before the league will be celebrating the event.

Extensively researched, using public sources and augmented by both access to previously unexamined transcripts of league meetings,and interviews with some of the men involved in the past half-century of league operations, in The NHL – A Centennial History Jenish brings up the possibility that the widely perceived view of NHL teams as making money hand over fist while exploiting their under-compensated skate-wearing employees is not necessarily an accurate picture.

Walking his readers through the first quarter-century of the NHL’s existence, Jenish enumerates the expansions, contractions and relocations that were off-season constants until the advent of the so-called “Original Six”, which featured at least two, and ofter three, weak sisters in its ranks.

When the NHL doubled in size in time for the 1967-68 schedule it resulted in a number of the new additions joining the ranks of the financially unstable with owners being forced to pony up on short notice on several occasions to ensure that the payroll obligations could be met and teams changing hands on a frequent basis as initial investors bailed, finding the expense of maintaining and operating a money-losing NHL team too rich for their blood.

The WHA’s arrival, lauded in most quarters as a turning point in players finally being able to command market value of their services but Jenish, without declaring that the players were overpaid, sees it as another stone in the path to the NHL achieving a secure financial equilibrium. He also details the several convoluted and less than eager courting attempts between the rebel loop and the NHL before the majority of surviving WHA franchises were absorbed.

More recent times have seen more challenges with  team owners being sentenced to prison time, losing an entire season and the bulk of another to work stoppages and

If Jenish expresses a sympathy towards any of the players in the hockey business, it is with the men who were charged with riding herd on the game, maintaining consensus in a group of men who were not the easiest to manage.

Frank Calder, Clarence Campbell, John Zeigler and Gary Bettman all come in for recognition in the book, with the two later men sitting for extended  interviews with Jenish.

Focusing largely on the back-room aspects of the NHL through the years, occasional mentions of on-ice activities provide a  reference point to readers more familiar with scoring stats than league balance sheets and establish a context through which to analyze, Jenish gives fans interested in the history of the game a new angle to consider when casting a look back.

Well presented and engaging, not adjectives usually used when describing the description of corporate operations,  The NHL – A Centennial History, is a good read and one that could serve as a starting point for more than a few discussions.

The NHL, A Centennial History -100 years of on-ice action & boardroom battles
Author – D’Arcy Jenish
Publisher – Random House of Canada Limited – Doubleday Canada
32.95 (US) 34.95(CDA)
Click Here to Order

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