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08-08-2011, 12:40 PM
Student Of The Game
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Originally Posted by Iain Fyffe View Post
Hockey from the mid-1880s to 1892 was not substantially different than hockey immediately after the introduction of the Stanley Cup in 1893. The dividing line between 1892 and 1893 is as artificial and political as the line between 1917 and 1918.
I agree that the line is artificial and political. It's more "convenient" than anything.

As such, players from the pre-Stanley Cup era should be considered to be on par with players post-1892, at least until the professional era.
I disagree. Was hockey not growing during this entire period? And pretty quickly, I might add. More growth means more players which should also lead to more good players. My qualm is definitely not with the artificial 1892 cutoff, it's simply that it's an era earlier than an era that we already consider to be fairly suspect from a talent pool standpoint. Evaluations of players should be adjusted accordingly. They are not "on par" with post-1892 guys, they are close. 1892-1900 guys are not "on par" with 1900-1910 guys either; likewise, they are close. And so on. Hockey's been in constant development and that time period is no exception.

Montreal vs Quebec, 1/9/1890: The game was rather rough at times and it is regrettable to say that one of the home players forgot himself so far as to strike one of the visitors. The visitors, to their credit be it said, even when fighting against odds, stuck to their work with a commendable spirit and never seemed to lose courage.

Montreal vs Victorias, 1/17/1890: The Montreal teams gained a victory over their opponents, the Victorias, but the victory was not as clean a one as might be desired. There were three men on the winning side who resorted to very rough play. During certain stages of the game there was a good exposition of the game, but at other times there was a good deal of tripping, swiping, falls and wholesale dumping against the bank.

Campbell took charge of [the puck] and piloted it through several of his opponents, but his shot for goal was wide. Immediately after this Findlay and Kinghorn lost their temper and made an undesirable display of themselves on the ice to the disasprobation of the audience. This seemed to have the effect of making the remaining portion of the game rougher than it should have been.

Montreal vs Dominions, 1/31/1890: During certain stages of the game there was a good deal of ill temper shown by members of both teams...The match was fast, exciting, and at times a trifle rougher than was necessary.

Montrealvs Victorias, 3/4/1890: The match throughout was hard and fast and not of the easiest kind to describe. The puck was here, there and every where. It travelled fast and was not allowed to remain long in one place. There was a good deal of hacking and shinning, but this was not confined to one individual of one side, both taking a hand in it. The only regrettable feature of the match was the ill-feeling shown by Lee and McQuisten, who had a dispute and commenced to settle it with their fists. They both fell to the ice and had to be separated. They received a sharp reprimand from the referee. Later on Lee meet with an accident whereby he sustained a severe cut over the right eye.

In four of the seven match reports from this season, the writer felt the need to point out unnecessary violence in the game. The idea that hockey at this time was a group of gentleman playing a friendly game is simply false. Rough play was common, and as indicated in the above reports, fistfights happened occasionally as well. This only makes sense if the players were taking the competition very seriously, and were doing whatever they thought was needed for victory.
Fair enough; it appears that the game had a competitive edge to them.

As to the alleged affluence of the players involved in the game at this time, this is certainly more difficult to determine that the above, since a hockey player's off-ice life was not often recorded for posterity. However in Win, Tie or Wrangle we get some background on a number of Ottawa players, for instance:

Albert Morel, G, 1891-1894: The son of a cabinetmaker, Morel was a student when he first joined the hockey club, and later worked as a private secretary and a bookkeeper for a lumber company.

Weldy Young, CP, 1891-1899: The son of a fire superintendant, he worked as an engraver in a watchmaking business tun by him and his two brothers.

Chauncey Kirby, C, 1891-1899: The son of a city treasurer, worked as a clerk at the Quebec Bank.

Bert Russell, LW, 1893-1896: Worked as a draughtsman for the Geological Survey.

Although there may be a tendency toward white collar work, none of these descriptions seem to indicate a particularly affluent lifestyle. Indeed, the player best described as affluent from the early days of Ottawa hockey would be Frank McGee, who didn't play senior hockey until 1903. McGee came from one of Ottawa's most prominent families, growing up in the “magnificent home” of his father, who was the clerk of the Privy Council, the highest-ranking civil service office in Canada. He worked as a timekeeper for the railroad, but it is certainly fair to say he came from an affluent family. However, he played at a time when the game was supposed to be becoming more serious, due to the Stanley Cup.

Similarly, census records can give us some insight into what players did for a living at a time when they didn't receive a penny for playing hockey. The following players all played at the highest level, prior to the introduction of the Stanley Cup. This is what the 1891 census lists their professions as:

Barlow, Billy - clerk
Bignell, Herbert - insurance clerk
Clapperton, Alexander - dry goods clerk
Cafferty, Thomas - lithographer
Davidson, Robert - grocery clerk
Fairbairn, William - insurance clerk
Hodgson, Archie - whale stationer
James, George - hardware clerk
Kinghorn, James - mill clerk
Larmouth, F.M. - brokerage clerk
Lee, Sam - trunkmaker
Lesser, Joshua - agent
Low, George - bank clerk
McDonnell, John - photographer
Routh, Havilland - clerk
Shearer, Andy - lumber merchant
Warden, William - bank clerk

Again, there does seem to be a tendency toward white-collar jobs, but unless “grocery clerk” or “hardware clerk” implies “affluent” to you, then there's no reason to think these men were particularly well-off in society, members of restrictive upper-crust social clubs.
Point made, but not a very strong one. These were not generally poor men. Hockey wasn't a game "for anyone and everyone". And the only reason that is relevant to my point is the whole talent pool issue. Fewer eligible players, fewer great players.

Something to Play For

Related to the above, it was argued that before the Stanley Cup, teams did not have anything to play for. As such they treated the game more as a pastime than a competition.

This argument is false. The first AHAC season was in 1887, and the association named a champion at the end of each season. Before the AHAC was formed, the Montreal Winter Carnival (which started in 1883) served to determine the champion team for the season. When the Carnival was cancelled in 1886, the teams decided to hold a tournament amongst themselves to determine a champion.

Just because the Stanley Cup was not there did not mean there was no championship to be won. The Stanley Cup is viewed as the be-all and end-all in hockey by modern eyes, but that was simply not the case in its early years. It was highly prized, but other championships were important as well. In 1901, the Ottawa team, new champions of the CAHL, declined to challenge Winnipeg for the Stanley Cup even though they would have had at least an even shot of taking it. They had just won a hard battle for the league championship, and decided that was enough for them; the Stanley Cup was not worth it that year.

If anything should be viewed as giving teams something to play for, it should be the Winter Carnival Tournament. It was that event that really sparked the growth of competition in Montreal, and led directly to the establishment of the Ottawa Hockey Club.

The first excerpted game report above provides a quote about how the Quebec team never lost courage even in the face of unfavourable odds against them. This is not the description of a team out for a skate. Courage is not needed when undertaking a pastime. This is a team doing their utmost to win out against their opponents, trying even when it seemed the game had already been lost.
Fair enough; there was still something to play for. However, money took that to a whole new level just a decade later.

Player Turnover

It was argued that since few pre-Stanley Cup players continued to play in the post-Stanley Cup years, this demonstrates a significant increase in the quality of competition. Players who played before were allegedly now unable to compete.

This argument misses a very basic fact about hockey at the time: almost all players had very short careers, by modern standards. As players got into their late 20s, family and other responsibilities often came into play, meaning they had less time to devote to getting their shins whacked by sturdy pieces of wood. This trend continued into the early professional era. Here are some notable players from this era, and the age at which they played their last senior-level game:

Havilland Routh - 25
Billy Barlow - 26
Mike Grant - 28
Graham Drinkwater - 24
Bob McDougall - 22
Clare McKerrow - 22
Fred Scanlan - 25
Harry Trihey - 23
Art Farrell - 24
Frank McGee - 23
Blair Russel - 27
Herb Jordan - 26
Marty Walsh - 27
Russell Bowie - 27

With players retiring so early, it is unsurprising that few of them would be in the same league in X number of years, since they have so few years in their career to begin with. As such, even if few players who were playing in 1890 are still playing in 1895, this does not mean the quality of competition necessarily increased, because the same can be said for 1895 compared to 1900.

To demonstrate this, I examined several pairs of seasons. For each season, I noted which regular players (ie, those playing at least half of their team's games) were still regular players five seasons later. I did this in two-year intervals. The results are below.

1888 to 1893 - 7 players (Hodgson, McQuisten, McDonnell, Cameron, Stewart, Paton, Patton)
1890 to 1895 - 5 players (Cameron, Brown, Watson, Davidson, Jones)
1892 to 1897 - 4 players (Brown, Scott, Young, Watson)
1894 to 1899 - 8 players (Kirby, Watson, Young, Brown, Elliott, Grant, Collins, Stocking)
1896 to 1901 - 4 players (Stocking, Westwick, Cahill, Pulford)
1898 to 1903 - 2 players (Westwick, Pulford)
1900 to 1905 - 5 players (Bowie, Russel, Hogan, Boon, Pulford)

The average number of players is five, and there is no pattern here. Therefore the observed player turnover after the Stanley Cup came into play was merely the normal amount of player turnover for this era. This rate continued on after the Cup was introduced.
Point made, but again not a strong one. It appears that player turnover was the norm in those days, but your reasoning as to why is only speculation. Looking at other key points in history where turnover occurred more rapidly than the periods before and after, it does appear that a lower talent level in the generation contributed to it. At this point, when discussing why it happened in the 1800s, your guess is only as good as mine.

Hall of Fame, or the Lack Thereof

It was argued that if the players from the pre-Stanley Cup era were so good, then at least a few of them would have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The selection committee usually had first-hand knowledge of the players they inducted, and didn't deem any player from this time worthy of the honour.

This appeal to authority is flawed, since the Hall of Fame selection committee has made numerous selections, even its early years, which can be described as questionable at best. The first Hall of Fame induction was in 1945, 62 years after the first Winter Carnival tournament. The idea that the committee had first-hand knowledge of early players is unsupportable. The first selection committee was made up of the following men:

Red Dutton (born 1898)
Art Ross (born 1886)
Lester Patrick (born 1883)
Abbie Coo (born 1885)
Wes McKnight (born 1909)
Basil O'Meara (botn 1892)
W. A Hewitt (Born 1875)

In addition, there were Frank Sargent and J.P. Fitzgerald, whose birth years are unsure. Clearly there is little evidence that the committee would have had first-hand knowledge of players active in 1890, some weren't even born yet and several others were but a few years old at the time. There is no reason to think these men had any particular insight into the earliest players.

The only one we know to be old enough, W.A. Hewitt, was a native of Toronto and began his newspaper career in 1895 at the Toronto News. Toronto was of course not involved in the highest level of hockey at this time. Notably, he transferred to Montreal to work at the Montreal Herald as sports editor in 1899, when Mike Grant was still active and Graham Drinkwater had only just retired. He would have had no direct experience with Tom Paton, then, but plenty with Mike Grant.
You are right in regards to their birth years. Also you're right that they made some awful selections. Keep in mind that when I said they had first-hand knowledge of the players, I meant the players they inducted. It appears no one had first-hand knowledge of the players from the earlier generation that they didn't induct. With that said, there would still have been hearsay to go by in their younger years about who the best players were in the not-very-distant past. They did have the ability to take their inductions further back. Maybe they had a good reason; maybe it's just the stupid HHOF being the stupid HHOF.

With all the above being said, please understand I have no problem with Paton as a pick and I never really was critical of him. (I made a statement that he never played a playoff game to win his cup and that was misconstrued as a criticism of the length of schedule of the era, something I would never do) You said it best when you said two factors come into play; the quality of competition and the degree of dominance. Paton was almost certainly the best goalie of his time, and the degree of dominance was strong enough to transcend what I see that era's level of competition/talent to be.

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