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National Hockey Association

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The logo for the NHA, used from 1909 to 1917

The National Hockey Association (December 2, 1909 - December 11, 1918) was a professional ice hockey organization with teams in Ontario and Quebec, Canada. It is the direct predecessor organization to today's National Hockey League.


This article is part of the Evolution of the NHL series.
At the time of the league's founding in 1910, the Eastern Canada Hockey Association which dated from 1906 and was itself the successor of the first recognized major hockey league, the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada, was in the midst of a political battle. In an effort to freeze out the Montreal Wanderers franchise, the ECHA disbanded and a new league formed to be called the Canadian Hockey Association, deliberately designed to exclude the Wanderers. After numerous rejections and snubs from the ECHA, Ambrose O'Brien and his father, Michael J. O'Brien, created their own league, calling it the National Hockey Association (NHA). The O'Briens financed four teams in the league: the Renfrew Creamery Kings which became known as the Renfrew Millionaires, Cobalt, Haileybury and Les Canadiens of Montreal. Within a month, the Montreal Wanderers also joined to became the fifth team.

A bidding war for players immediately started, and Frank Patrick and Lester Patrick were each signed by the Renfrew Millionaires for $3,000 apiece, the highest salaries recorded to that time. It became readily apparent that two leagues could not be sustained -- there were five teams in Montreal alone -- and after eight games the CHA folded, the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Shamrocks being admitted to the NHA.

Labour unrest was a hallmark of the league, the 1910-1911 season almost foundering because of widespread dissatisfaction amongst the players at the salaries on offer, and players' unions were rumored to be on the verge of creation at several points. However, the league put forth several innovations, among them the abolition of the rover position in 1912, the inclusion of numbers on jerseys, the institution of match penalties and allowing line changes on the fly.

The championship trophy of the NHA was the O'Brien Trophy, donated by the O'Brien family and which survived to become the championship trophy of the NHL. However, as the Ottawa Senators joined the league as the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the first five seasons of the league had the Cup awarded to the league champions, which then defended it against outside challenges.

Starting in the 1914-1915 season, the Stanley Cup was awarded exclusively to the winner of a playoff between the NHA and the PCHA regular season winners. The league championship was decided by a two-game total goal playoff between the Wanderers and the Senators. Ottawa won the championship, and the right to defend the Cup against Vancouver in a three game series in which Vancouver won in dominating fashion. The notion of a league champion being awarded the Cup to defend ceased with that season, as the Portland Rosebuds were the PCHA champions in 1915-1916 but were not automatically accorded the Cup. Instead, they played the Montreal Canadiens for the trophy (and became the first American team to do so), which the Canadiens won in a five game series.

The Fateful last seasonEdit

A historical oddity was the admission for the 1916-1917 season of the 228th Battalion, which had a number of hockey players enlisting with World War I. Also known as the Northern Fusiliers, the team played wearing khaki military uniforms and was the league's most popular and highest scoring club until the regiment was ordered overseas in February 1917 and the team was forced to withdraw. A scandal ensued when several stars were subsequently discharged and alleged they had been promised commissions solely to play hockey.

At the time the Battalion dropped out the league held a meeting on February 11, 1917 where the league suspended the Toronto franchise also, and dispersed its players to the other clubs. The league also made a demand on Toronto's owner Eddie Livingstone to sell the franchise between April and June 1917.[1] There were three factors at work; the owners disliked a five-team league because one club would be idle, the shortage of players due to the war, and disputes with Livingstone over several players.[2] Instead of selling, Livingstone launched lawsuits against the NHA related to the suspension.

The season would prove the NHA's last. The other owners met in November of 1917 to form the National Hockey League, using the exact constitution and playing rules of the NHA. The Wanderers' owner was quoted as saying, "We didn't throw Livingstone out; he's still got his franchise in the old National Hockey Association. He has his team, and we wish him well. The only problem is he's playing in a one-team league."

The NHA did not suspend immediately. They had launched a lawsuit against the Battalion to have it pay $3000 for leaving the league and this had yet to be heard in court. The NHL could operate in the meantime, without Livingstone.

The NHA's officials met nearly a year later, on September 20, 1918, when a vote was taken to permanently suspend operations over Livingstone's objections. The final meeting of the NHA took place on December 11 where Livingstone tried unsuccessfully to get the league's shareholders to resume operations. The NHA organization was not formally dissolved for several years afterwards and Frank Calder held the presidency in both organizations.


Season by Season recordEdit

Season Teams Champion
1910 Cobalt Silver Kings, Haileybury Hockey Club, Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Shamrocks, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Renfrew Creamery Kings Montreal Wanderers†
1910-11 Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs, Renfrew Creamery Kings Ottawa Senators†
1911-12 Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs Quebec Bulldogs†
1912-13 Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs, Toronto, Toronto Tecumsehs Quebec Bulldogs†
1913-14 Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs, Toronto, Toronto Ontarios Toronto† (won playoff over Canadiens)
1914-15 Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs, Toronto, Toronto Shamrocks Ottawa Senators (won playoff over Wanderers)
1915-16 Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs, Toronto, Toronto Shamrocks Montreal Canadiens†
1916-17 Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs, Toronto*, Toronto 228th Battalion* Montreal Canadiens† (won playoff over Ottawa)

† Stanley Cup Champions

*228th Battalion dropped out after first half of season. Toronto was suspended by league after first half.

Team HistoryEdit

Team Years Origin
Cobalt Silver Kings1909-10new, players taken over by Quebec Bulldogs in 1911
Haileybury Hockey Club1909-10new, players taken over by Montreal Canadiens for 1911
Montreal Canadiens1909-17new, known as Les Canadiens in 1910 season
Montreal Shamrocks1910from ECHA, joined January 1910
Montreal Wanderers1909-17from ECHA, joined December 1909
Ottawa Senators1910-17from ECHA, joined January 1910
Quebec Bulldogs1910-17from ECHA, joined December 1910
Renfrew Creamery Kings1909-11from Federal League, joined December 1909
Toronto Blueshirts1912-17new, former O'Brien franchise
Toronto Tecumsehs
renamed Toronto Ontarios, 1913-1914
renamed Toronto Shamrocks, 1915
1912-16new, former O'Brien franchise
Toronto 228th Battalion1916-17new, took place of Tecumsehs/Ontarios/Shamrocks for 1916-17 season, composed of professional hockey players in military

The two franchises of Renfrew and Les Canadiens were owned by Mr. O'Brien. After the 1910 season, his two franchises were transferred to Toronto interests. The Haileybury HC was transferred to Montreal and took on the Canadiens name.


  1. Holzman, Morey (2002). Deceptions and Doublecross. Dundurn Press. 
  2. Chi-Kit Wong, John. Lords of the Rinks, pp. 73-74. 
  • Coleman, Charles (1966). Trail of the Stanley Cup, vol.1, 1893-1926 inc. NHL. 
  • Issacs, Neil (1977). Checking Back. W.W. Norton & Co. 

See alsoEdit

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