St. Louis Eagles
The Senators barely survived the 1933/34 season, as attempts made to have them merge into the equally troubled New York Americans but the NHL board of governors wouldn't allow it. The Senators would go on to finish dead last again with a terrible record of 13-29-6.
On March 15th, with all indications it would be the final game in Ottawa 6,500 fans came to watch as Frank Finnigan scored, what would be the final goal as the Senators were beaten by the Americans 3-2. The city of Ottawa would not see a major professional hockey team for nearly 40 years as they were briefly home to 2 different WHA franchise known as the Nationals in 1972/73 and Civic in 1976. With NHL expansion exploding in the 1990's the NHL decided to make its return to Ottawa, even reviving the old name Senators.
The Senators are generally acknowledged as the greatest team in the early history of hockey, but Ottawa was far and away the smallest market in the league. In its early days, the city could offer good government jobs to players and keep expenses low. However, for reasons that remain unknown to this day, the NHL expansions in the 1920s hurt the Senators as fans were unwilling to come out to see visiting teams from the United States and revenues suffered.
This, along with the Great Depression eventually took its toll on the team's finances. Even sitting out the 1931-32 season didn't relieve the pressure, and the team barely survived the 1933-34 season. The league's other owners, some also in difficulties due to the Great Depression, turned a deaf ear to the Senators requests for financial assistance. In 1934, after massive financial losses in the previous two seasons in Ottawa, the Ottawa Auditorium, owners of the Senators, decided to relocate the franchise to a larger city to recoup the losses. On May 14, 1934, the NHL approved the transfer of the franchise to St. Louis. Frank Ahearn resigned as president and Redmond Quain became president.
The Ottawa Auditorium transferred the players' contracts and franchise operations to a new company, the "Hockey Association of St. Louis, Inc.", and hired Eddie Gerard to coach the team. The club was named the Eagles, after the logo of Anheuser-Busch. The Senators name and logo would remain in Ottawa and would be used by an Ottawa Senators senior amateur team until 1954. The club would have its training camp in the Auditorium and departed in October to start play in St. Louis.
At the time, St. Louis was the 7th largest city in the United States, and was far larger than Ottawa. A St. Louis group had originally applied for an NHL franchise in 1932, but was turned down due to concerns about travel costs in the midst of the Great Depression. Most teams traveled by train at the time. It soon became apparent why the league had been skeptical about placing a team in St. Louis. While playing to large crowds in the St. Louis Arena, the team soon buckled under the strain of long train rides to Boston, Montreal and Toronto.
The Eagles had to play a large number of games in Montreal and Toronto because they had assumed the Senators' place in the Canadian Division, which resulted in the longest road trips in the NHL, and diluted a natural rivalry with the Chicago Blackhawks. Under the circumstances, the results were predictable - a record of 11-31-6, dead last in the league. Gerard began the season as coach, only to be replaced by George Boucher due to illness.
At the time there were nine teams in the NHL, divided into two divisions, the Canadian and American. Logically, the Eagles should have been placed in the American Division with the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings. However, in defiance of all geographic reality, the Eagles retained the Senators' place in the Canadian Division alongside the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Maroons, and New York Americans.
In their first game the Eagles succumbed to a late rally by the defending Stanley Cup champion Black Hawks, losing 3–1. They registered their first win in the next game winning 4–2 over the Rangers. Following the win the Eagles went on an eight-game losing streak. After the first 13 games the Eagles posted a 2–11–0 record placing them last in their division. Gerard resigned as head coach and was replaced by George "Buck" Boucher, the coach that Gerard himself had replaced after the franchises last season in Ottawa.
Under Boucher's coaching the team showed improvement, posting a 3–3–3 record in the first nine games. However, the early losing streak had already damaged the fan base. Their inaugural game drew 12,622 fans, but attendance quickly diminished. In early January 1935 the team cut ticket prices to the lowest in the league in an attempt to bring out fans. By February the financial state of the team forced the Eagles to essentially sell leading goal scorer Syd Howe to the Detroit Red Wings. Officially, the trade broke down as such - Detroit received Howe and Ralph Bowman in exchange for Teddy Graham and $50,000. At the time it was considered a large sum of money. Likewise Frank Finnigan was sold to the Maple Leafs. The Eagles were unable to maintain the early success under Boucher, and finished last in the Canadian division with a record of 11–31–6. With only 84 goals scored, they were the lowest scoring team in the league. Only the Montreal Canadiens allowed more goals during the season, surrendering 145 to the Eagles' 144.
By season's end the Eagles ownership had lost $70,000, due primarily to the cost of train travel. In those days, NHL teams traveled primarily by rail. Due to being in the Canadian Division, the Eagles had to make a large number of trips to Montreal and Toronto. An attempt to stabilize the franchise by selling off some of its players netted $58,000. The owners had hoped to move once more to save the franchise. There was interest from Cleveland and also in a return to Ottawa, but neither came to fruition.
As a result, the ownership again petitioned the NHL to allow them to suspend operations for a year. This time the NHL refused and the Eagles were put up for sale. After no credible offers surfaced, the NHL bought the franchise and player contracts for $40,000, and opted to play as an eight-team league. If the NHL ever resold the franchise, proceeds were to go to the Ottawa Hockey Association. The NHL distributed the players under contract with St. Louis through a dispersal draft. Teams selected players in an order based on the previous season's standings. Teams with the lowest point totals selected first. The Chicago Black Hawks did not participate in the draft. Eighteen of the twenty-three players under contract were selected with the remaining players being placed in the minor leagues.
Returning the franchise to Ottawa would require suspending operations for the 1935-36 season. This alternative was turned down by the league. However, the owners had concluded that even though St. Louis had proven it could support an NHL team, the rising travel costs were too high for the Eagles to be a viable venture there. The resulting impasse was ended just before the 1935-36 season when the team owners decided the best course of action was to "get out" and President Quain went to the NHL pre-season meetings to broker the best deal possible. On October 15, 1935, the NHL bought back the franchise and players contracts and suspended the Eagles' operations again, opting to play as an eight-team league.
A total of 29 different players suited up for the 1934-35 St. Louis Eagles. The last active Eagles player was Bill Cowley, who retired in 1947. Wearing patriotic red white and blue uniforms the team played in front of solid crowds at the St. Louis Arena. However, it became apparent the team was doomed to failure as they finished dead last with an awful record of 11-31-6. The Eagles were led offensively by Carl Voss and his team leading 31 points, team captain Syd Howe would lead the club with 14 goals, despite being traded to the Detroit Red Wings late in the season, while Glen Brydson would finish 2nd in team scoring with 29 points. Joe Jerwa, acquired by the Boston Bruins, would lead the defense with 11 points in only 16 games in St. Louis. Bill Beveridge would be the Eagles goaltender, winning 11 games with a 2.89 GAA and 3 shutouts.
No credible offers to purchase the dormant franchise ever surfaced. As a result, the once-proud Senators/Eagles franchise never took the ice again, and remain one of two NHL teams to fold after winning a Stanley Cup (the other being the Maroons). In 1938, the Montreal Maroons attempted to move to St. Louis. They were denied by the NHL due to the high travel costs that plagued the Eagles.
The 1934–35 NHL season was the 18th season of the National Hockey League. Nine teams each played 48 games. The Montreal Maroons were the Stanley Cup winners as they swept the Toronto Maple Leafs in three games in the final series. The NHL eventually returned to St. Louis in 1967, when the league doubled in size from the Original Six. The new team was named the Blues and they joined the Minnesota North Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Oakland Seals, Philadelphia Flyers, and Pittsburgh Penguins as part of the new expansion.
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