- The NHL: 100 Years of On-Ice Action and Boardroom Battles by D’arcy Jenish
D’arcy Jenish’s work, The NHL: 100 Years of On-Ice Action and Boardroom Battles, as he puts it, “challenges conventional wisdom” that the National Hockey League has been [End Page 113] comfortably profitable throughout its history and that players before the 1990s were “badly paid and ruthlessly exploited” (2). A freelance journalist who has also authored a number of Canadian history books on a variety of subjects, Jenish used NHL archival sources that have been mostly inaccessible to outsiders to tell the story of the organization through two themes: survival and growth. The book does much to achieve its goal, but, upon finishing the book, scholars might not be fully satisfied.
Jenish aptly separated his work into four parts—seventeen chapters total—that correspond approximately with the tenures of league executives. Part 1 spans 1917 to 1946: most of Frank Calder’s term as president until his death in 1943, after which Red Dutton took the reigns for three years. Jenish tells the story of how team owners in the National Hockey Association creatively excluded an unwanted team owner—Eddie Livingstone—by creating the NHL as a parallel league without him in 1917. Jenish also details how the league expanded from its four original teams and then contracted due to the Great Depression, resulting in the fabled “Original Six” touted by the NHL today: Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, and the New York Rangers.
Jenish chronicles Clarence Campbell’s command as president from 1946 until 1977 in Part 2. He explains how the league matured during this period with Campbell, league officials, and owners addressing issues such as increases in salaries and bonuses for players. Additionally, with such a large discrepancy in talent between the top two teams—the Red Wings and the Canadiens—and the rest of the league, Jenish describes leadership’s concerns regarding the league’s viability. Finally, he relates the talks and events that led to the first amateur draft in 1963, which was instituted as a way of achieving parity in the league, and, thus, increased profits.
Jenish’s work is front-loaded, as Parts 3 and 4 are roughly half as many pages as Parts 1 and 2. This incongruence results in less detail and gaps in the last parts of the story. For instance, although Part 3 covers John A. Ziegler’s term as NHL president from 1977 to 1992, approximately twenty years of “righting the ship” after being on the brink of insolvency are packed into just one of its chapters. Part 4, which comprises only two chapters, shares this commonality in discussing Gary Bettman’s tenure until circa 2005. A possible explanation for the lighter load may be, as Jenish explains in his introduction, his move from archival sources to interviews and contemporary sports writing in the last chapters.
Although The NHL is a well-written, enjoyable read, it may not appeal to sport history scholars for a few reasons. First, academics are not the intended audience. Thus, the book is not as socioculturally or theoretically informed as significant academic works on hockey such as Richard Gruneau and David Whitson’s Hockey Night in Canada: Sport, Identities and Cultural Politics (1993), or John Wong’s Lords of the Rinks: The Emergence of the National Hockey League, 1875–1936 (2005). Second, although Jenish lists his sources, academics may desire citations more explicitly linked to the narrative in order to “follow his trail.”
Despite not targeting a scholarly audience, The NHL can be a benefit in the classroom. The perspective Jenish provides regarding issues such as expansion, and the debate and compromises of owners and league officials regarding these types of decisions, is enlightening. His chronicling of labor relations between players and owners is also informative. Selections pertinent to these types of issues would likely prove beneficial as a supplement to a sport history or a sport...