April 19, 2007

The Stanley Cup Cup Strike of 1925

You may associate labor unrest between the NHL and its players as something that originated during the 1990s. However the first players strike in NHL history occurred in 1925. The Hamilton Tigers, led by captain Wilf "Shorty" Green, a 5'10" 150 right winger from Sudbury Ontario, refused to play the post season unless each member of the Tigers received a $200 raise.

The Tigers had been perennial cellar-dwellers until the 1924-25 season when "Shorty" teamed up with his brother "Red" Green and future Hall of Fame center Billy Burch. The Tigers were serious contenders for the Stanley Cup, and the players tried to use that as leverage in a fight to earn a pay increase.

"Professional hockey is a money making affair. The promoters are in the game for what they can make out of it and the players wouldn't be in the game if they didn't look at matters in the same light. Why then should we be asked to play two games merely for the sake of sweetening the league's finances?" Shorty was quoted by a reporter.

Green was upset because the NHL had increased the schedule to include 30 games instead of 24. Plus the teams would have to play 2 more additional playoff games, for which they were not paid. The Tigers, who had earned record profits due to their first winning season, refused to pay, so the players refused to play. Despite attempts by NHL president Frank Calder, the situation was never resolved. The players refused to play for the Hamilton Tigers ever again, and the NHL suspended all the players and fined them $200 a piece. The Tigers, a favorite for the Stanley Cup championship, never participated.

Later on, the NHL announced the sale of the Tigers to prohibition bootlegger Bill Dwyer who moved the team to New York and renamed them the Americans. The strike cost Hamilton it's long-since desired NHL team, and paved the way for US expansion.

By the way, all the players received raises, including Shorty who reportedly saw his salary increase from $3000 to $5000.

Green is also the answer to an interesting trivia question. On December 19, 1925 he became the first player to score a goal at the Madison Square Gardens.

Green, a small but aggressive forward, played 2 seasons with the Americans before his career was cut short by a serious knee injury. He played a total of 103 NHL games, scoring 33 goals and 8 assists for 41 points in 4 years.

Despite his involvement with the first players strike in NHL history, Shorty Green was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962.

Green was never regretful of the strike. Some 30 years after the fact, he told reporter Milt Dunnell, "I never regretted my part in the strike, even though it cost me a chance at the Stanley Cup. We realized hockey was becoming big. All we asked was the players be given some share of revenue. I'd do the same thing tomorrow.

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