While the New York Rangers season is over, there is still a reason to cheer today because May 15 is the team’s birthday. On May 15, 1926 the NHL granted a franchise to the owners of Madison Square Garden. However, the Rangers were not the first New York hockey team, nor were they the Garden’s first tenants.

Famous (or infamous) New York bootlegger Big Bill Dwyer bought the striking Hamilton franchise and transplanted them in the Garden. Tex Rickard, the 1920s version of Charles and James Dolan, was in charge at MSG. He promised Dwyer that Garden management were content with being the New York American landlords and that MSG would not seek their own franchise. That promise lasted all of one year.

While Dwyer’s team was not a hit on the ice, they were a hit at the box office – a fact that was not lost on Rickard. Not only did Rickard go back on his promise to Dwyer, he also instituted a plan that later Ranger GMs would try – they went about spending money to build the best team possible. John Halligan and John Kreiser relate the following story in their book “Game of My Life: New York Rangers”.

“Rickard and his associate at the Garden, Col. John S. Hammond, were determined to be much more than a mere expansion team (not that anyone would know what the term meant in 1926). And that’s just what they did. Recalled [Conn] Smythe, ‘I knew every hockey player in the world right then. Putting that whole team together, many of whom had never played pro hockey before, cost the Rangers about $32,000.’”

Smythe never lasted long enough to see his Rangers hit the ice because he was fired after a dispute with Hammond and Rickard over Babe Dye. Hammond wanted the Rangers to sign Dye while Smythe was opposed.

“In Deceptions and Doublecross: How the NHL conquered Hockey”, Morey Holzman and Joseph Nieforth listed a couple of reasons for the souring of the Hammond/Smythe hockey relationship.

One story had Smythe being disenchanted with Dye’s reputation as a player organizer (i.e. a union type of player). Another story they tell relates how the Chicago Blackhawks owner, Major Frederic McLaughlin, bragged how he one-upped Col. Hammond when the Major’s Blackhawks acquired Dye. Smythe told Hammond that Dye was past his prime.

Interestingly enough, McLaughlin and Smythe were both right. Dye scored 25 goals in 41 games for Chicago in 1926-27, but only produced one goal in his final 58 games as he never recovered from a broken leg at the start of training camp in 1927-28.

With Smythe out of the picture, Rickard turned to Lester Patrick who, along with his brother Frank, formed the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (later the Western Hockey League) – and the rest is Ranger history.

As for the deposed Smythe, he used his Ranger severance to purchase the NHL’s Toronto St. Patricks which Smythe renamed the Toronto Maple Leafs – and the rest his Leafs history.

By the way, the aforementioned Dye finished his injury-shortened NHL career by playing his last six games with Smythe’s Maple Leafs during the 1930-31 season.

It does give one a moment to pause to consider how Ranger history would have changed had Smythe given in to Hammond.

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