Eventually, of course, the holdouts will sign. They always do, because if they don't, they can't play hockey, and most of them would rather play hockey than eat.
So wrote Globe sports reporter Victor O. Jones in 1933, just before the start of Bruins training camp. Camp in the 1930's didn't look quite the way it does today -- it took place in Quebec, for one thing -- but the general idea was the same. At some point before the start of the official beginning of the NHL season, the boys in black and gold would gather and, with Art Ross as their guide, make preparations for the coming campaign. After being put through their paces by Ross, the squad would usually play a few preseason contests against local semi-pro Quebec teams or the Habs, and then the whole group would return to Boston to once again engage in the pursuit of the Stanley Cup.
Today, at the start of 2013's training camp, excitement is stirring among the Bruins faithful, and the fans of 80 years ago were no different. The start of camp signaled the return of hockey, in a real sense -- offseason transactions can only pique one's interest so much, and as we have seen, olde tymey Bruins fans often didn't even have that much information during the offseason. All the sins of the previous season are left behind, and the slate is wiped clean. Tomorrow, we are all undefeated again, et cetera. It is and was a time of hope and growing excitement. . .
. . .and then, just when that hope and excitement was beginning to firmly take root, Jones reported on October 19th that several players -- including Dit Clapper and Marty Barry -- were going to be holdouts from camp. The reason behind the players' refusal to show? A salary cut of 10% across the board. And it wasn't just the Bruins who implemented this cut, either: Jones reported that "there must have been some secret agreement among the moguls to cut salaries, for there's been holdout trouble elsewhere, most notably in Toronto, where the Leafs have been been making Uncle Conny Smythe wish that he had never left the sand and gravel business."
For the Bruins, the absence of players like Clapper was a big deal; they were coming off a year in which they had finished first in the American Division, eventually losing to Toronto in the playoffs. There was a good core group upon which the B's were planning to build, including Clapper, Lionel Hitchman, Tiny Thompson, and Eddie Shore.To lose some of those players over a salary cut would seem like a gamble the Bruins would be unlikely to make, and yet: as of October, they held firm to their previously unannounced 10% cut in players' salaries.
Perhaps most disgruntled by this situation was none other than Eddie Shore, who went so far as to threaten retirement, rather than playing at a reduced salary. On November 4th of 1933, Shore was quoted in the Edmonton Journal as saying the salary cut came as a complete surprise:
‘Sure, I'm a holdout,' Eddie told the Journal. ‘I am not going to take a $2500 cut this year, and it is up to Manager Art Ross and Owner Charles Adams to make the next move.'
Make the next move, Ross did, suspending Shore and reporting him to the League (the Globe reported that in fact Shore was asking for a salary greater than the amount allowed by the NHL -- an amount equal to his previous year's salary). NHL President Frank Calder had authorized the suspension of holdout players on other teams, including 4 players on the old-school Ottawa Senators. Apparently, it seemed, the promise of maintaining the previous year's momentum did nothing to shake the resolve of owners and management -- they intended to stick to their guns in the face of all these holdouts.
Jones would be proven correct in his above assessment: the players would rather play. Clapper and Barry agreed to Boston's terms on October 23, joining their teammates in Quebec having missed only two days of camp. Shore, on the other hand, was a stubborn bastard, not signing a contract until November 10 and missing the Bruins' first game of the season. When he eventually did sign a contract, it was on his terms: the Globe reported that, while the team did not disclose the details, "it was assumed that the salary was the same as last year's or very close to it."
This year's training camp will not have the drama associated with holdouts and unsigned contracts and players not reporting (at least, the Bruins' training camp won't), and it won't be the lockout-abbreviated version we saw last year. This year, fans and players alike get to experience a completely normal training camp, with its inherent excitement and possibility -- we will all be wrapped up in the belief that this season could be something special. We will try to wash the gross taste of a short season and a heartbreaking Cup Final loss out of our hearts and brains, and believe once again that anything is possible.
For players in 1933, it was partially that belief that led to the eventual signing of new contracts for much less money (unless your name was Eddie Shore). It was about being employed at all, for sure, but it was also about the chance to do what they loved, and the chance that maybe this year could be the year. That's why Jones was right when he said these players would, in fact, rather play hockey than eat.
Happy 2013-2014 season, y'all. Let the fun begin.