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THE HOCKEY REBELLION
Dan Parker
October 28, 1957
The players have sued their National Hockey League bosses for $3 million. Here Dan Parker, the hard-hitting sports editor of the 'New York Mirror,' explains the controversy that led to the suit and cites other reasons why the owners are skating on thin ice
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October 28, 1957

The Hockey Rebellion

The players have sued their National Hockey League bosses for $3 million. Here Dan Parker, the hard-hitting sports editor of the 'New York Mirror,' explains the controversy that led to the suit and cites other reasons why the owners are skating on thin ice

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Club

1956-57

1955-56

Best Season

Boston Bruins

390,000

298,000

392,798 (1946-47)

Chicago Black Hawks

140,000

160,000

500,681 (1946-47)

Detroit Red Wings

370,710

354,000

370,710 (1956-57)

Montreal Canadiens

495,000

500,000

504,653 (1953-54)

New York Rangers

345,000

359,000

429,822 (1946-47)

Toronto Maple Leafs

460,000

462,000

477,223 (1949-50)

On October 8 the National Hockey League began its 41st annual pursuit of the puck and the buck, amid rumblings of discontent from the players which warned of thin ice ahead for the autocrats to whom they are indentured. The rumblings were generated by the players' discovery that the club owners had negotiated an expanded program of televised games for the new season. Although hockey players have long been known as the roughest of athletes on the ice and the most docile in the hands of their masters, the TV decision prompted them to organize. A Players Association was formed, primarily to demand that a share of the TV proceeds be diverted to their pension plan.

Last season the four U.S. clubs, the New York Rangers, the Boston Bruins, the Chicago Black Hawks and the Detroit Red Wings—which with Montreal and Toronto now comprise the NHL—participated in a 10-game television package deal with CBS-TV, featuring Saturday afternoon games. The results were so satisfactory that this season the program was stepped up to 21 games, beginning Saturday, November 2 and continuing every Saturday afternoon through the season. The club owners proposed to retain air TV receipts for their home games—with the players getting nothing.

The ensuing player protest produced only evasive action. The ' NHL Board of Governors tabled a request by the Players Association that a date be set to discuss the pension plan and the disposition of monies received from television. The Montreal and Toronto clubs, pointed out that they operate under Canadian Jaw and therefore cannot, concede to the NHL the right to deal on their behalf with the Players Association. This allowed the Board of Governors to declare that it would be impossible to negotiate.

In commenting on this maneuver, Ted Lindsay of the Black Hawks, president of the association, said: "The players were aware that the owners might pursue such delaying tactics," and Vice-President Doug Harvey of Les Canadiens' added: "We were prepared for this—and we have other steps."

The owners apparently were not alarmed by this implied threat, nor did they seem impressed by the fact that their .suddenly rambunctious hirelings had retained J. Norman Lewis, counsel for the major league baseball players in their outstandingly successful fight to have World Series and All-Star game TV revenue earmarked for pension funds.

But on October 10 Lewis put a crack in the fast-thinning ice. On behalf of the Players Association he filed a $3 million civil suit in Federal Court in New York against the owners and the officers of the NHL. The suit, filed under the antitrust laws, charged both owners and officers with dictatorship and monopolistic methods.

There is a good deal of evidence to support both charges. The international character of the NHL, and the fact that practically all hockey players are Canadian citizens, probably saved the league from being dealt with by Congress on monopoly grounds during its investigations of baseball, pro football and other sports this year. Certainly it is wide open to the charge of being a monopoly in its United States phase, since the New York, Chicago and Detroit clubs are owned by the Norris family, long dominant in the sport.

Professional ice hockey's survival under the policies of greedy promoters who care little about the players and even less about the fans demonstrates that great paradox that even when this splendid and exciting game is awfully bad, it's still pretty good. The young men who do battle on the ice love their bruising trade so passionately that many of them played for nothing, or next to nothing, before the major league ballplayers showed them the error of their ways. Noting these emotional reactions, the unemotional promoters of the sport have overlooked few opportunities for taking advantage of both players and spectators.

The National Hockey League invaded the United States during the middle 1920s after struggling along as a small regional circuit in Canada for seven seasons. The U.S. response to the fast-paced, virile sport was so immediate and ardent that professional hockey was proclaimed to have come of age. It might have, too, had not those entrusted with its destiny been so eager to sacrifice almost anything for the box office. Emboldened by the enthusiasm of their patrons, and influenced always by selfish interest, the club owners have managed to shrink the 10-club circuit of 1926 to a six-team league. The game itself has been altered almost beyond recognition.

The National League's system of deciding the championship is typical of how the magnates squeeze the last loose nickel out of their clientele. First there is a 70-game season, an exhausting schedule that cannot fail to hurt the quality of the game. The 1957-58 season extends from October 8 to March 23, and the only object, aside from the financial one, is to eliminate two of the six teams from the playoffs for the Stanley Cup which follows. In these, the first-and third-and the second-and fourth-place clubs play each other in best four-out-of-seven rounds, after which the two winners fight it out for the Stanley Cup in another four-out-of-seven series. This brings the hockey season up to mid-April, but there's no guarantee that, taking full advantage of a bullish market, the league won't continue to extend the season at both ends until eventually they will meet in midsummer.

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