Boston Bruins, 1924-1954
Prince of Wales Trophies, 1938-1941
American Division Titles, 1927-1931, 1932-1933, 1934-1935, 1937-1938
Playoff Appearances: 1927-1931, 1933, 1935-1943, 1945-1949, 1951-1954
Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 1927, 1929-1930, 1939, 1941, 1943, 1946, 1953
Stanley Cup Victories: 1929, 1939, 1941
The late Art Ross was one of the founding fathers of the NHL. He was no less an innovator than Frank and Lester Patrick. (Art Ross designed the puck still in use by the NHL today. He re-designed the nets which remained in use until 1984. He was the first head coach to use film as an instructional tool for his players and he was the first head coach to pull the goaltender to increase scoring chances).
Art Ross was a legend as a player, head coach, and general manager. He is a member of a rare hockey club: he is one of the few men to won Stanley Cups as a player, head coach, and general manager. The Art Ross Trophy awarded to the NHL’s top scorer is named after him.
He became the Boston Bruin’s first general manager and remained so for thirty years. He gave the Bruins their name; their team colors; their emphasis on strong offense and their tradition of acquiring, developing, and unleashing fantastic defencemen upon their opponents.
Still, it took Ross time to do all this. The Bruins started poorly and it took Ross time before his successes allowed him to stand on the same par as other great general managers of his era like Tommy Gorman, Lester Patrick, and Leo Dandurand.
It wasn’t until 1929 (when the Bruins won their first Stanley Cup) that Ross entered the top five ranks in the pantheon of NHL general managers.
According to my rating system, Art Ross was the fifth best GM of the 1920s; the second best GM of the 1930s; and third best GM of the 1940s; and the fifth best GM of the 1950s (even though he quit managing in 1954).
He was the greatest general manager of the NHL’s expansion and contraction era (1926-1942) by a wide margin (18 points ahead of Lester Patrick).
Even more significantly, based on my calculations, Art Ross was the greatest NHL general manager of all time from 1941 until 1945 (when he was surpassed by the third greatest NHL general manager who ever lived—whose name I will reveal six weeks from now).
Ross’ eye for hockey talent was astounding. Time and again, he was able to locate, sign, and develop some of the game’s greatest players. When the rival Western Hockey League folded, he bought Frank Frederickson, Harry Oliver, and greatest prize of all: Eddie Shore.
He discovered Cooney Weiland who was playing in the minor leagues in Minnesota. He found Tiny Thompson and later Frank Brimsek (who also came from Minnesota).
Later on he discovered Dit Clapper and the immortal Kraut Line: Woody Dumart, Bobby Bauer, and Milt Schmidt.
When he couldn’t grow his own, Art Ross acquired by trade. He got Cy Denneny and Lionel Hitchman.
All of these men (save for Hitchman) are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
While Ross was doing all this: he was (for the most part) doing double duty as head coach of the team. Still, from time to time, Ross would step aside as head coach and allow someone else to serve as head coach. Cy Denneny, Frank Patrick, and Cooney Weiland spelled Ross as head coach—with Denney and Weiland winning Stanley Cups.
Ross was cantankerous and rough hewn as a player and he never lost those qualities as head coach and general manager. He feuded with the late Conn Smythe for decades and would get in brawls even at NHL Governors meetings. Ross, when it came to negotiating salaries was typical for his time: utterly devoted to not spending one dollar more on player’s salaries than he absolutely had to. Milt Schmidt later told Dick Irvin Jr. that he had an off season job working for Bell Telephone. Art Ross found out about it and sent Schmidt a rocket demanding that he switch jobs at once. Schmidt had his sister draft and mail a tart reply to Ross stating that if Ross were willing to pay Schmidt a decent wage then he wouldn’t have to work for Bell Telephone during the off-season (Ross was not amused by Schmidt’s response).
Before World War Two intervened Ross had at his disposal a team formidable enough to dominate the NHL. Sadly for Ross the war gutted his franchise. The Kraut Line entered the Canadian military. Frank Brimsek was lost for the duration as well.
The Bruins remained competitive but in the long run they never recovered and slowly began to decline into mediocrity. Still, in 1949, Ross was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
By 1954 it was time for Art Ross to yield the managerial reins to his designated successor Lynn Patrick.
Ten years later Art Ross passed away.
(Next week’s column will feature the eighth greatest NHL General Manager.)