In honor of July 4th, I thought today would be the perfect day to take a look back at New York’s first NHL franchise, the New York Americans (often shortened to Amerks). The New York Rangers were not the first NHL team to call the Big Apple home; the Americans had them beat by one season. The Amerks were founded in 1925 by Thomas Duggan and noted prohibition bootlegger Bill Dwyer. To fill out the roster, Duggan and Dwyer purchased the rights to the first place finishing Hamilton Tigers roster for $75,000. The Tigers had been suspended by the NHL, due to the players striking for higher pay. The Amerks won over the players by giving them substantial raises, in some cases twice what they were making in Hamilton.
With a roster full of players from a team that by most accounts would have won the Stanley Cup, had the players not decided to strike, the Americans were quickly one of the favorites entering the 1925 season. Despite the star studded roster, the Americans finished fifth overall, with a 12-22-4 record. They were a hit at the box office, so much so that the NHL broke their promise that the Americans would be the only franchise in New York City, and awarded Tex Rickard a second franchise, that would soon become the New York Rangers.
While the Rangers would flourish, winning a Stanley Cup in 1928, 1933, and 1940, the Americans struggled to find success. They made the playoffs for the first time during the 1928-29 season, but were bounced from the playoffs by the New York Rangers in a two game, total goals series. The entire season was built upon goaltender Roy Worters, who finished with a 1.21 GAA and became the first goaltender to win the Hart Trophy. The Americans would not make the playoffs again until the 1935-36 season, where they would lose to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round.
With the end of Prohibition, owner Bill Dwyer started to struggle financially and decided to sell the team. With the Rangers being a hit at the box office and on the ice, Dwyer had difficulty finding a buyer. Between 1935 and 1936, control of the franchise passed back and forth between the NHL and Dwyer. Red Dutton, Americans player turned coach lent Dwyer $20,000 for the team to continue operations, but the NHL ceased final control during the 1936-37 season. Dutton was designated general manager by the NHL.
Under Dutton, the Americans made the playoffs each year from 1937 to 1940. They defeated the Rangers in three games during the 1938 playoffs, later losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Americans exited in the first round in the next two seasons.
Dutton and the NHL were already cash-strapped due to the debts of the Dwyer ownership era, and Canadian players exiting to go fight in World War II only further complicated matters. All teams were hit financially and in terms of talent, but the Americans were in bigger trouble. In 1941, Dutton changed the team’s name to the Brooklyn Americans (despite them still playing in Madison Square Garden), in hopes of an arena being built in Brooklyn. With the United States also entering the war, the team suspended operations after the 1942 season, with full intentions to start back up after the war. A group stepped forward in 1945 to build an arena in Brooklyn, but the NHL was no longer interested in having a second team based in New York City. The NHL once again broke their promise and officially canceled the franchise in 1946, stating that the team retired from the league in 1942.
Dutton blamed the owners of Madison Square Garden (who also owned the Rangers) for pressuring the NHL to not reinstate the Americans after World War II. Justifiably angry, Dutton supposedly swore that the Rangers would never win another Stanley Cup during his lifetime. Apparently, the hockey gods were listening, and the Rangers would not win another Cup until 1994, seven years after Dutton’s death.
It is interesting to imagine what the NHL would have been like had the Americans been the only team in New York City, or had survived after World War II. It is likely that the New York Islanders would never have existed, as they were founded in order to block the rival WHA from establishing a second team in New York.
With the exit of the New York Americans, we also lost out on the chance of a NBC Rivalry night between the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Americans.