1943–44 NHL season
|League||National Hockey League|
|Duration||October 30, 1943 - April 13, 1944|
|Number of games||50|
|Number of teams||6|
|Season champion||Montreal Canadiens|
|Season MVP||Babe Pratt (Toronto Maple Leafs)|
|Top scorer||Herb Cain (Boston Bruins)|
|Stanley Cup champions||Montreal Canadiens|
|Runners-up||Chicago Black Hawks|
The 1943–44 NHL season was the 27th season of the National Hockey League. Six teams played 50 games each. The Montreal Canadiens were the top team of the regular season and followed it up with the team's fifth Stanley Cup championship.
For the start of this season, the NHL added the centre red line, which allowed players to pass the puck out of their defensive zone into their half of the neutral zone. This was done in an effort to increase the speed of the game by reducing off-side calls. "This rule is considered to mark the beginning of the modern era in the NHL,” according to the NHL's Guide and Record Book. 62 years later the two-line pass would be legalized for similar reasons.
The Montreal Canadiens had turned the corner and now Tommy Gorman and Dick Irvin had a team to make the fans happy. Bill Durnan solved the goaltending woes, but not before Gorman had all kinds of problems signing him. Durnan knew his worth, and wanted a handsome sum. Just before the first game, Gorman agreed to his contract demands. He was worth every penny, as he ran away with the Vezina Trophy and the Canadiens lost only five games all year, finishing first by a wide margin. The new and more familiar "Punch line" of Elmer Lach, Toe Blake, and Maurice Richard dominated the offence and Richard had 32 goals. He replaced Joe Benoit, who did his duty to his country by joining the armed forces. Richard, in fact, was dubbed by teammate Ray Getliffe the nickname that would be his legend "The Rocket".
When Paul Bibeault came back from the Army, he found his job lost to the best goaltender in the NHL, Bill Durnan. Montreal agreed to loan him to Toronto, where he played very well, leading the Leafs to third place and leading the NHL with five shutouts. Gus Bodnar, a crack centre, was the top rookie, and for the first time, a team produced Calder Trophy winners in consecutive years. In fact, Bodnar scored the fastest goal by a rookie in his very first game. It took him only 15 seconds to score on Ken McAuley, Ranger goaltender, in a 5–2 win over the war-weakened Rangers.
The Rangers had plunged to last place the previous year and Lester Patrick was so discouraged that he wanted to suspend operations for the year. This year the Rangers lost Clint Smith, Lynn Patrick, Phil Watson, and Alf Pike. The most unbelievably inept team iced for the Rangers this year. Things were so desperate that coach Frank Boucher had to come out of retirement to play some. But the Rangers set a modern day record of 6.20 goals against, giving up 310 goals in 50 games. One night when Lester Patrick went behind the bench to coach the team with Frank Boucher attending a brother's funeral, the Rangers were demolished 15–0 by Detroit as the Red Wings set a modern day record of most goals by a team in a single game. It was a horrifying experience for Patrick. Only a week later Syd Howe set a modern day record of 6 goals in a game in a 12–2 conquest of the hapless Rangers. The Rangers won only 6 games all year and finished a distant last, 23 points behind fifth-place Boston.
Chicago started with sub-par goaltending, but then president and general manager Bill Tobin decided to bring back Mike Karakas, who had been demoted to the minors in 1939–40 for his lackluster play. Karakas was just what the Black Hawks needed, as he played well and recorded three shutouts and got the team into the playoffs.
In Boston, the Bruins lost star forward Bill Cowley to injury after the first 36 games. At that point in the season Cowley was on pace to set a new standard in scoring for the NHL. After the first 36 games he had scored 30 goals - 41 assists - 71 points before going down to injury. However, the scoring title would still eventually end up in Boston as linemate Herb Cain picked up the slack, scoring 82 points over the course of the 50-game schedule and setting a new record for points in the regular season.
|2||Detroit Red Wings||50||26||18||6||214||177||+37||58|
|3||Toronto Maple Leafs||50||23||23||4||214||174||+40||50|
|4||Chicago Black Hawks||50||22||23||5||178||187||-9 −9||49|
|5||Boston Bruins||50||19||26||5||223||268||-45 −45||43|
|6||New York Rangers||50||6||39||5||162||310||-148 −148||17|
Montreal wins best-of-seven series 4 games to 1
Chicago wins best-of-seven series 4 games to 1
Stanley Cup Final
Montreal Canadiens vs. Chicago Black Hawks
Montreal wins best-of-seven series 4 games to 0
|Semi-finals||Stanley Cup Final|
|3||Toronto Maple Leafs||1|
|4||Chicago Black Hawks||0|
|2||Detroit Red Wings||1|
|4||Chicago Black Hawks||4|
|Chicago Black Hawks|
|Prince of Wales Trophy:
(Regular season champion)
|Calder Memorial Trophy:
(Best first-year player)
|August 'Gus' Bodnar, Toronto Maple Leafs|
(Most valuable player)
|Babe Pratt, Toronto Maple Leafs|
|Lady Byng Trophy:
(Excellence and sportsmanship)
|Clint Smith, Chicago Black Hawks|
(Fewest goals allowed)
|Bill Durnan, Montreal Canadiens|
Note: GP = Games played, G = Goals, A = Assists, PTS = Points, PIM = Penalties in minutes
|Herb Cain||Boston Bruins||48||36||46||82||4|
|Doug Bentley||Chicago Black Hawks||50||38||39||77||22|
|Lorne Carr||Toronto Maple Leafs||50||36||38||74||9|
|Carl Liscombe||Detroit Red Wings||50||36||37||73||17|
|Elmer Lach||Montreal Canadiens||48||24||48||72||23|
|Clint Smith||Chicago Black Hawks||50||23||49||72||4|
|Bill Cowley||Boston Bruins||36||30||41||71||12|
|Bill Mosienko||Chicago Black Hawks||50||32||38||70||10|
|Art Jackson||Boston Bruins||49||28||41||69||8|
|Gus Bodnar||Toronto Maple Leafs||50||22||40||62||18|
Note: GP = Games played; Mins - Minutes Played; GA = Goals Against; GAA = Goals Against Average; W = Wins; L = Losses; T = Ties; SO = Shutouts
|Bill Durnan||Montreal Canadiens||50||3000||109||2.18||32||5||7||2|
|Paul Bibeault||Toronto Maple Leafs||29||1740||87||3.00||13||14||2||5|
|Mike Karakas||Chicago Black Hawks||26||1560||79||3.04||12||9||5||3|
|Connie Dion||Detroit Red Wings||26||1560||80||3.08||17||7||2||1|
|Jimmy Franks||Detroit Red Wings||17||1020||69||4.06||6||8||3||1|
|Benny Grant||Toronto Maple Leafs||20||1200||83||4.15||9||9||2||0|
|Hec Highton||Chicago Black Hawks||24||1440||108||4.50||10||14||0||0|
|Bert Gardiner||Boston Bruins||46||2460||212||5.17||17||19||5||1|
|Ken McAuley||New York Rangers||50||2980||310||6.24||6||39||5||0|
The following is a list of players of note who played their first NHL game in 1943–44 (listed with their first team, asterisk(*) marks debut in playoffs):
- Harry Lumley, Detroit Red Wings
- Bill Durnan, Montreal Canadiens
- Don Raleigh, New York Rangers
- Gus Bodnar, Toronto Maple Leafs
The following is a list of players of note who played their last game in the NHL in 1943–44 (listed with their last team):
- Diamond, Dan, ed. (1994). Years of glory, 1942-1967: the National Hockey League's official book of the six-team era. Toronto, ON: McClelland and Stewart. ISBN 0-7710-2817-2.
- Diamond, Dan, ed. (2000). Total Hockey. Total Sports. ISBN 1-892129-85-X.
- Dinger, Ralph, ed. (2011). The National Hockey League Official Guide & Record Book 2012. Toronto, ON: Dan Diamond & Associates. ISBN 978-1-894801-22-5.
- Dryden, Steve, ed. (2000). Century of hockey. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart Ltd. ISBN 0-7710-4179-9.
- Fischler, Stan; Fischler, Shirley; Hughes, Morgan; Romain, Joseph; Duplacey, James (2003). The Hockey Chronicle: Year-by-Year History of the National Hockey League. Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International Inc. ISBN 0-7853-9624-1.
- McFarlane, Brian (1973). The Story of the National Hockey League. New York, NY: Pagurian Press. ISBN 0-684-13424-1.
- "1943–1944 Division Standings Standings - NHL.com - Standings". National Hockey League.
- Dinger 2011, p. 148.