THE GREAT EXPANSION VOL 18: THE SPONSORSHIP ERA

Consider this post the “Cod Liver Oil” of the expansion series: explaining the sponsorship system. Much of the next 100,000 words are lifted from Donald R. Ellis’ account “Waivers, Drafts and the Sponsorship List” in the book Years of Glory. Here we go.

The best way to look at the sponsorship era is to compare the differences between then and now. Nowadays, a player can be drafted from junior hockey, college hockey, European hockey (pro and U-20) and any number of sources across the globe. Players are not eligible until after their 17-year old seasons and then remain eligible for drafting at 18, 19 and 20.

In the original 6 era–which ended with the great expansion–each of the 6 NHL teams had “sponsorship” clubs under their procurement umbrella, there was no amateur draft (although in 1963 a limited one was made available for longshots) and there was no Europe. There was barely a USA, in NHL terms.

So, lets take the Montreal Canadiens as an example. Here is their sponsorship team umbrella, with 18 protected players for each team.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

  • Montreal Jr Canadiens
  • Peterboroough Petes
CLEVELAND BARONS (AHL)

  • Kirkland Lake Jr A
  • Verdun Jr A
  • Verdun Police Jr B
PROVIDENCE REDS (AHL

  • Nationale Jr A
  • St Laurent Jr B
  • Maisonneuve Jr A
QUEBEC (AHL)

  • Regina Pats
  • Regina Pats Jr B
  • Regina Pats Midgets
SEATTLE TOTEMS (WHL)

  • Columbus Canadiens
  • Eperviers de Hull Jr
  • Loisirs Juveniles
  • Loisirs Midgets
HOUSTON APOLLOS (CPHL)

  • Lachine Maroons Jr B
  • Lasallle Tides Juveniles
  • Chatham Jr B
  • Chatham Juveniles
  • Chatham Midgets

Montreal had control of (or could control) 360 (20 times 18) amateurs aged 14-19 at any given time.

Total players including pro: 468 hockey players with contracts and no hope of free agency. If you were the 19th ranked centerman in the system and turning pro, then one of the three jobs on the Houston roster was your goal. Good luck with your NHL career, young man!

This was the case for all six teams, although Montreal usually had a team or two more than Toronto and Detroit, and Chicago, the Rangers and Boston were well behind at least up until the period where the Bruins got serious in the early 1960s. The league kept track of all this in Montreal at the league offices. The Central Registry Bureau of Information. Central Registry kept records of signings, releases, transfers, loans, drafts, retirements, waiver claims.

BOBBY CLARKE


So, when someone tells you (like anyone would, all the people who knew this system are long dead, likely happily free from the tangled mystery of the sponsorship era) that Bobby Clarke would have been a Detroit Red Wing under the sponsorship system–they’re right. That makes the story of the 1969 draft (a Red Wing scout was so angry at the stupidity at his own table he wandered over to the Flyers–whose own Gerry Melnyk was practically in tears begging Philadelphia to take Clarke–and told them to take him and enjoy the best player in the draft because his outfit was too stupid to know a hockey player when they saw one).

 

There was no “territory” or area that one team or another could dominate, but a team sponsorship by an NHL team meant a young Regina Pat Midget (like Terry Harper) was Montreal property. From his mid-teens, Terry Harper had two choices for his hockey career: make it with the Montreal Canadiens, or not make it with the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal could sell him, loan him, trade him, bury him, condemn him to Springfield and Eddie Shore–whatever the hell they wanted to do, and at any time.

 

Up next: the 1970 expansion.

 

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6 Responses to "THE GREAT EXPANSION VOL 18: THE SPONSORSHIP ERA"

  1. HiddenDarts says:

    Educational, and probably the fist time I’ve read about this.

    I know. I just had to go there at least once.

  2. HiddenDarts says:

    Gotta say, this whole expansion series, combined with that book on the Seals has gotten me seriously interested in the era. I even ordered an old school Seals t-shirt.

  3. blackdog says:

    LT, even though there were no territorial rights, per se, it seems that there were, at least informally, or am I misunderstanding this?

    It might not matter so much in a big city but if Verdun was part of the system then basically any Verdun kids were Habs’ property. I doubt this was like nowadays where folks might send their kids away to a prep school program or to move to Oakville to play there. You would play where your parents lived, yes?

    Interesting though because of course the accepted line is that the Habs always had Quebec as their territory.

  4. Lowetide says:

    BD: True, a player coming out of the system in any of the cities listed above would have been on the Habs sponsor list, but the Bobby Orr case was quite famous (there was a big race to catch him) and sometimes people will ask how Ratelle and Rod Gilbert ended up in NYC or how Keon became a Leaf.

    Ontario was not the sole domain of the Leafs, Quebec was not the sole domain of the Habs. Although, as you mention, they both used the region heavily and many times got the cream of the crop.

  5. blackdog says:

    Good stuff. Well it was Howe, iirc, who might have been a Ranger if they had listened to a scout who tracked him down first.

    And Dad and one of his brothers were scouted by the Wings. Even with the system in place there would have been so many remote towns/villages/hamlets that that’s where the scouting would have come in.

  6. ccatto says:

    LT: as much as I am enjoying your expansion series, I can only imagine how much my father, Charles Catto, ex GM St Louis Blues , would have loved sharing some of his stories about drafting for the Bruins in Quebec, expansion, the Seals, the Crusaders…… can still remember having the jerseys and those great purple gauntlets from Cleveland hanging around the house as a kid but not being able to use them..good stuff

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