The most storied franchise in NHL history, without a doubt, are the Montreal Canadiens. With 24 Stanley Cups, not one, not two but four dynasties, the club set the standard for NHL greatness. To think of the Canadiens playing anywhere else would be unthinkable today, but it almost happened, and it was before the team ever became the dominant force it would become.
The 1920s were good years for the Canadiens. From 1919-20 to 1924-25, the team never finished lower than third place, and won the Stanley Cup in 1923-24. After a brief dive to seventh in 1925-26, the team bounce back and from 1927-28 to 1931-32, the team finished in first four times and won two Stanley Cups in a row.
Unfortunately, things would take a turn for the worse for the team.
The Great Depression would sink many franchises, including the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Maroons, and it nearly brought down the Canadiens themselves.
By 1932-33, the Canadiens had won four Stanley Cups, the most recent only two years previous, but crowd sizes were incredibly small. During that season, a losing season for the club, attendance sat at an average of only 2,000 fans per game. That season, the team finished with a record of 18-25, and lost in the first round of the playoffs. The worst was yet to come.
To cut costs in 1934, the team would sell its franchise player, Howie Morenz, to the Chicago Black Hawks. This move was incredibly unpopular and when Morenz scored against the Canadiens on the last day of the 1934-35 season, he was given a standing ovation. The losing record continued for the team, with 19 wins and 23 losses.
At the end of that season, losses were at $60,000 from the previous two seasons and the Canadiens were put up for sale. Now, to say the team was put up for sale may be a bit of a misnomer. It is not exactly known when the team was officially for sale, but an offer could come in. In 1930 for example, the club turned down an offer of $300,000 from an American syndicate to buy the team.
As the Great Depression raged, the offers to buy the Canadiens would essentially dry up, and ownership said they would never sell the club for less than $300,000. Even that line in the sand would shift.
This is where Cleveland, Ohio comes into the picture as preparations were made to sell the club to a buyer in the city. On March 30, 1935, the New York Herald Tribune would write about the possible move saying, quote:
“The Canadiens, who were reported to have lost $45,000 this season, are understood to have received an outright offer of $200,000 by a Cleveland syndicate to buy the team. “
The article also quotes Joseph Cattarinich, co-owner of the Canadiens, who says, quote:
The owners would refuse this offer too, but the price for the Canadiens was not going up.
Thankfully, Maurice Forget and Ernest Savard stepped forward and bought the team for $165,000, roughly one-fifth what the owners could have received in 1930. The three men were a front for the Canadian Arena Company, who also owned the Montreal Forum and the Montreal Maroons. Instead of moving, the Canadiens found themselves owned by their rivals. Ironically, it would be the Maroons, after winning the Stanley Cup in 1935, who would fold in 1938.
Ironically, in 1937-38, the Canadian Arena Company was looking at cutting one of the franchises in Montreal. The Maroons were recent Stanley Cup winners so it looked like the Canadiens would be the ones to fold. In this case, Conn Smythe, the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, led a movement in the NHL to veto the company’s attempt to fold the Canadiens, stating that it was one of the most distinct franchises in the league. As a result, the Maroons would be the team to fold. There were talks of moving the Montreal Maroons to Cleveland, as well as St. Louis and Pittsburgh, but none of these came to fruition. At the time, Cleveland was the first choice for a relocation. If that move had of happened, we may have had the Original Seven, not the Original Six, era.
Cleveland would eventually get a semi-professional team with the Cleveland Falcons who played from 1934-1937, and then became the Cleveland Barons. During their existence, from 1937 – 1973, that team would win a then-record nine Calder Cups. The Cleveland Barons would become an NHL team briefly but proved to be terrible and would disappear soon after appearing in the NHL in the 1970s.
The Canadiens would continue to struggle, finishing at or near the bottom of the league for the next several seasons. In 1935-36, the team missed the playoffs completely, with a record of 11 wins and 26 losses. Things would slowly improve. In 1936-37, the team finished in first place, but a slide would begin in 1937-38, and continue until 1943-43. That season, a man named Maurice Richard would take to the ice for the Canadiens for the first time and everything would change. By the next year, the team had won the Stanley Cup. Then the club went on to win 19 more Stanley Cups from 1946 to 1993.
Thank goodness they never relocated.
Information from Hockey Blog in Canada, Wikipedia, Habs Eye On The Prize,