Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Genesis of the NHL Intra-League Draft

Oy vey, it has been a long time since I've posted anything here. There's never enough time in the day. Damn that infernal day job.

I've posted the results of several NHL intra-league drafts over the last year or so (seems like it has been longer!) but looking back I never really did explain how the draft came about.

In the first ten seasons of the "Original Six" era, 1942-43 to 1951-52, three teams were consistently better than their peers and two teams were decidedly worse than the rest. Noticeably worse. To the point where it seemed the bottom feeders of the league needed an extra advantage to make them more competitive, to make the entire league as a whole more competitive, and hopefully to make the league more interesting to potential fans as a result.

From 1943 to 1952 the Stanley Cup was won by three clubs: Toronto (1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951), Detroit (1943, 1950, 1952) and Montreal (1944, 1946). In that same time period the Red Wings never missed the playoffs, the Maple Leafs and Canadiens each missed once (1946 and 1948 respectively), the Bruins missed a couple times (1944, 1950) and the Black Hawks and Rangers each missed the playoffs EIGHT TIMES in those ten years. There wasn't a single season between 1943 and 1952 that one of the Rangers or Black Hawks didn't make the playoffs.

How do you go about restoring a semblance of parity between these six teams? The NHL governors decided to institute a new draft of players, an intra-league draft, which would give the moribund Rangers and Black Hawks (the Hawks in particular; they hadn't made the playoffs since 1946) a leg up on the competition by allowing them to have their pick of the league's best teams' fringe players and spare parts.

NHL President Clarence Campbell was tasked with the job of developing the rules for the draft. He presented them to the board of governors for approval at their 'semi-annual' meeting in Chicago on September 11, 1952. The draft rules were as follows:

- each NHL club would be able to exempt 15 skaters and one goalie
- the draft price, to be paid by the club making a claim to the club losing the player, would be $10,000
- the draft would take place on or about the 30th of April, after the Stanley Cup playoffs had been concluded
- sponsored amateurs and other amateurs on 'A', 'B' and 'C' forms would not be eligible
- the draft order would be the reverse of the final standings of the previous season

After deliberating the rules at the meeting it was agreed to amend them such that:

- each NHL club would be able to protect 20 skaters and 2 goalies
- the draft would take place just before the beginning of the season; protected lists would have to be filed within seven days of the opening of the regular season and the draft meeting would occur some time within those seven days
- players selected by draft would have to be kept by the club that chose him (he could not be traded or loaned to another club) for at least one year, except that the player could be placed on unconditional waivers (no right of recall) to be claimed by any club for a price of $7,500
- the draft order would be the reverse of the final standings, however in the first round the bottom two teams (6th and 5th place) would alternate the first four choices, such that the first round's order of selection would be 6th, 5th, 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st. All subsequent rounds would be 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st.

The first intra-league draft meeting was scheduled for the afternoon of Sunday, October 5, 1952; just before the All-Star Game. Protected lists were to be filed by the morning of October 3 (the '52-'53 regular season started October 9). Before the protected lists were to be filed the governors made another amendment to the rules: not only would amateurs whose rights belonged to NHL clubs be exempt, but in fact all players under the age of 22 who had not played in at least four NHL games would be ineligible for selection.

The meeting on Oct. 5 was uneventful. No players were drafted, no money changed hands.

At the league's 'summer' meetings in June of 1953 the draft rules were once again amended to encourage the general managers the select players. The number of skaters that could be protected was lowered to 18 from 20, and the number of goalies increased from two to three. The draft price was also increased from $10,000 to $15,000, and the timing of the draft meeting was changed from just before the season started to about three weeks earlier, during the semi-annual meeting in September.

The '53 draft meeting was scheduled for Thursday, September 10, and like the inaugural '52 meeting nothing happened.

It took until 1954 for someone to take a chance on a player...


  1. Mark,

    Great hockey history, as informative as all your other blogs. Thanks.

    Do you have the 1959-1963 Intra-League Draft info also?



    1. I do! I was thinking about it this past weekend and figured I might as well bang out the rest of the intra-league draft results, seeing as I'd posted the rest. I'll post them some time this week.

      I'm also working on a post about the waiver draft, successor to the intra-league draft, and another about the NHL-WHA merger in 1979. There seems to be a lot of confusion out there about how it went down.

    2. I look forward to both the info on the waiver draft and the 1979 merger of the four WHA teams.

      Info about player rights for WHA team vs NHL team was indeed sketchy.



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