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The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk that Changed the NHL Forever Paperback – January 21, 2011
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It was a little surprising that a book hadn't been done on this subject yet, although trying to get a general hockey book published can be quite a chore. Freelance author Alan Bass decided to go the self-publishing route, and the result is "The Great Expansion." The book is a slightly curious mix of plenty of research and some original interviews with an odd structure and strange conclusions.
The NHL started in 1917 in Canada, and had the usual growing pains over the years. Finally in 1942, we got down to the six-team era most people consider the golden age of the sport. The teams played 14 times a year, and there were less than 120 players in the major leagues at a given moment -- which meant there was a great deal of competition for roster spots. If you didn't make it to NHL, you were stuck taking bus rides from Rochester to Springfield. That's hardly fair for someone who might be the 121st best player in North America (which, realistically, applied only to Canadians with a couple of American exceptions).
The NHL teams essentially ran out of ways to make money, and television was the obvious outlet. The only way to do that, though, was to get a deal in the United States, and the only way was to have teams in places other than New York, Boston, Detroit and Chicago.
Bass goes through the run-up to the expansion, the terms of the deal, and the expansion draft. He even uncovers some interesting stories that had gone unsaid for years Then he switches his attention to the six new teams, with each one getting a chapter. The teams are examined from their creation through their early history. That's followed by a few general chapters about expansion's success in the NHL and in other sports.
All right, fine. But there are some good-sized problems here in a number of areas. It didn't take long for them to come out, either. I can put up with miscounting the number of Cups the Maple Leafs won during the Original Six era, or misspelling Gil Perreault's name once. However, blaming World War II on some of the folding franchises in the 1930's seems like bad judgment; the Depression is a much more logical explanation.
Later on, the author misses out on a main reason why the NHL kept expanding in the 1970's -- not only was the cost of doing business going up because of the World Hockey Association so that expansion fees helped there, but it also kept the WHA out of certain markets. And the Anaheim/Miami expansion is ignored, a case when the NHL was anxious to get two then-economic powers (including Disney) into the league.
In addition, sometimes the narrative just doesn't add up. I have some first-person knowledge here about Buffalo's attempt to get into the NHL in 1967, because I interviewed Seymour and Norty Knox for a book I wrote about it. They told me that they had celebrated the night before the announcement because they were told by a league owner that they were all set to get in. Then the next day, they found out they had essentially finished eighth in a seven-team race, as St. Louis was given a franchise even though there was no bidder. Knox was told by Rangers' owner Bill Jennings that Leafs' owner Stafford Smythe had killed Buffalo's hopes. From there, Montreal voted with Toronto, Chicago voted against Buffalo because James Norris lost money on a Buffalo business deal, and Detroit followed Chicago.
Buffalo isn't given much credit early in the book for being a contender in the expansion derby. Then there's a media report that does briefly reveal Toronto's role in Buffalo's demise. And in the Pittsburgh section, Art Rooney is shown making several calls on that city's behalf in order to get Pittsburgh a team over Buffalo. I'm still under the assumption that the Knox brothers' version is the one to believe -- because I heard it with my own ears -- but I'm still confused.
Some of the material is a little dry, such as the round by round descriptions of the expansion draft or of the early seasons of the new teams. That's at least understandable.
It's easy to appreciate the effort Bass put into "The Great Expansion," as well as the courage for publishing it himself. I found myself wishing that it had gotten one more rewrite with a few more original sources of information. But I'm rooting for Bass to come back and try again soon, because he certainly has the dedication needed to tackle future book projects.
HOCKEY FAN WHO FOLLOWED HOCKEY BACK IN THE SIXTIES.
Alan Bass's The Great Expansion is poorly written, deadly dull, and factually inconsistent. Start with the cover, which features a photo from a game that looks to be late 40's, early 50's vintage hockey for a book that centers on events that began in the mid-60's. The author's descriptions of hockey in the 50's and 60's are remarkably inaccurate, as if his only research were viewing youtube snippets. I began reading the book in the chapter about St. Louis, as I was quite a Blues fan back in the day. I got queasy about the book's validity when the author claimed that the St. Louis Arena was built in the late 1920's and not used since. The Arena housed minor league hockey for decades ( notably Chicago's top minor league team among others ), conventions, fairs and the like. It was unquestionably run down and in disrepair, but when you get something that simple wrong, it is a huge red flag. ( And I won't even go into his assertion that "the NHL has always known what its doing" when it comes to the league's history of big decisions. )
His selective descriptions of certain games within each of the expansion teams histories are lifeless and oddly chosen. The 67-68 year had numerous significant games, dramatic games, and in almost every instance, Bass seems to write about games that have little bearing on the historical significance of the franchise he is spotlighting.
Good editing would have served the author well. Sections are needlessly repetitive. His description of the draft selections in June '67 could and should have been done in a round-by-round graph. Instead, the author stretches the selections into pages of the book that seem to be little more than filler.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is in the lost opportunity of capturing the amazing and colorful personalities of that era. There were so many larger than life figures in both management and on the ice, and Bass captures none of them as they should have been. A lesser criticism is that the author opted ( apparently ) to save money and not include any photographs from the time.
The Great Expansion reads more like a well-intentioned, C+ level term paper, and is to be avoided. The definitive book about this marvelous period in hockey history has yet to be written.
This book was a colossal disappointment.
Yet somehow the author missed the boat on this whole topic.
Let's start with the cover. Why a photo of what looks like a game from the pre-expansion era? Why not a pic of the most successful expansion club in those early years, the St. Louis Blues vs., say, the Philadelphia Flyers in color?
What is up with the old-timey skates, too?
Then the book really doesn't tell us much about the early stars and characters of expansion at all. I wanted to know more about Red Berenson, the St. Louis-Montreal connection, the whole California begat Oakland Seals fiasco, the reason the LA Kings thought up such wacky nicknames as Eddie "the Jet" Joyal, Bill "Cowboy" Flett, Juha "Whitey" Whiding, etc.
I could go on but I'll stop there. This is sadly NOT the definitive book on the NHL expansion era.