The Pittsburgh Pirates were an American professional ice hockey team in the National Hockey League (NHL) from 1925–26 to 1929–30. The nickname comes from the baseball team also based in the city.
For the 1930–31 season, the team moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and played one season as the Philadelphia Quakers.
The Pittsburgh Pirates' are traced back to the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets of the US Amateur Hockey Association.
The Yellow Jackets' owner was Roy Schooley, a former referee. Even though the team won the USAHA Championship in 1924 and 1925, Schooley encountered financial problems. His team was then sold to attorney James F. Callahan.
Pittsburgh was granted a franchise by the NHL on November 7, 1925.
The move came after Eddie Livingstone, the former owner of the Toronto Shamrocks and the Toronto Blueshirts of the National Hockey Association saw Pittsburgh as a possible member for a proposed rival league to the NHL; Pittsburgh had (in the 1890s) been the first metropolitan area to professionalize the game of ice hockey.
In order to thwart the new league, the President of the NHL, Frank Calder negotiated to put a franchise in Pittsburgh which become the seventh team to join the NHL as well as the league's third US-based team.
Callahan then renamed his team the Pittsburgh Pirates, after he received permission from Barney Dreyfuss, the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.
The Pirates were assigned to what would later be called the NHL's American Division, with the Boston Bruins and the New York Americans. These two franchises were the only other American teams in the NHL at the time.
The Duquesne Gardens (located in the city's Oakland neighborhood) served as the team's home arena.
The Pirates (dubbed the "Mighty Steel City Sextet" in the Pittsburgh Press) were mostly leftovers from the former Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets. Ten former Yellow Jacket players would play for the Pirates.
The Inaugural Season
The Pirates began play during the 1925–26 NHL season.
On November 26, 1925 (on Thanksgiving night), the Pirates defeated the Boston Bruins, 2-1, on the road in their very first NHL game which was held at Boston Arena.
Defenceman and captain Lionel Conacher scored Pittsburgh's first-ever NHL goal. Conacher beat Boston goaltender Charles Stewart at the 17:50 mark of the second period to tie the game at 1-1.
Pirates' left winger Harold Darragh notched Pittsburgh's first game-winning goal 9:20 into the third period. While Pittsburgh goaltender Roy Worters stopped 26 of 27 shots to record the first NHL win in franchise and city history.
Two nights later, on November 28, 1925, the Pirates stunned the Montreal Canadiens, defeating them 1-0.
The 1-0 loss to the Pirates, marked the final game for legendary Habs goaltender, Georges Vezina.
Vezina had started the game with severe chest pains and left the game during the first intermission with a high fever. He died four months later from tuberculosis. Meanwhile, the first NHL game ever played in Pittsburgh was on December 2, 1925 in which 8,200 fans paid $1.00 to see the 8:30 p.m. faceoff at the Duquesne Gardens.
The Pirates lost to the New York Americans in overtime, 2-1, and Conacher scored the lone goal for Pittsburgh at 9:15 of the second period.
In 36 games, the Pirates posted an impressive 19-16-1 record for third best in the league. With a 0.542 winning percentage, that first season would arguably be the team's best. They made the playoffs their inaugural year.
During the playoffs, the Pirates faced the Montreal Maroons in a best-of-three, semi-final Stanley Cup playoff series.
However, the team lost the series to Montreal in two straight games at the Duquesne Gardens. The Maroons would then go on to win the Stanley Cup.
1926 to 1928
In their second season, the Pirates missed the playoffs after finishing in fourth place.
The Pirates' third season saw the team post a 19-17-8 record and earn a playoff spot. This playoff series would be based on a two-game total goal series format.
In the playoffs, the Pirates were defeated by the New York Rangers 6 to 4.
The Pirates were defeated in Game 1 4-0 and their 4-2 win in Game 2 could not overcome New York's lead in goals.
This marked the second time the team lost in the first round to the eventual Stanley Cup winner. It would also turn out to be the last playoff game that the Pirates would play.
The Decline of the Team
In 1928, financial problems forced James Callahan to sell the team to an ownership group which included Bill Dwyer, an early Prohibition gangster and bootlegger and Benny Leonard, a fight promoter and ex-lightweight boxing champion, as his front man.
Despite the sale of the team, things didn't improve on the ice for the Pirates.
The team's coach, Odie Cleghorn left the team at the end of the 1928–1929 season to become a referee. Frank Fredrickson was then named the team's coach.
Another major change came with the team's uniforms as the Pirates' color scheme changed to black and orange.
The Pirates' 1929-30 season was their fifth season in the NHL, and what would eventually be their last.
The season saw the Pirates achieve their worst win-loss record with 5-36-3 record.
With the stock market crash of 1929, followed by the Great Depression, the owners found themselves in financial difficulties.
Attendance for games was down and the owners tried selling off their star players in order to make ends meet.
The team was $400,000 in debt by the end of their final season and in need of a replacement for the aging Duquesne Gardens.
On October 18, 1930, at the NHL Board of Governors meeting, Leonard moved the team across Pennsylvania, to Philadelphia, and renamed them the Philadelphia Quakers.
However, Leonard's intention was to return the team to Pittsburgh as soon as a new arena was built. Thirteen players from the Pirates were transferred to the Philadelphia Quakers after Pittsburgh franchise relocated.
These players were Cliff Barton, Harold Darragh, Herb Drury, Gord Frasier, Jim Jarvis, Gerry Lowrey, Rennison Manners, Johnny McKinnon, Hib Milks, Joe Miller, Rodger Smith and Tex White.
Frank Fredrickson was also transferred to the Quakers, but he was released by Philadelphia two days later. The Quakers posted a poor 4–36–4 record in 1930–31.
The team then received permission from the NHL on September 26, 1931 to temporally cease operations as they sought a new permanent arena, located in either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, the poor economy was taking a toll on the entire league.
The Great Depression devastated the NHL as four teams were forced to fold, leaving behind just six teams.
When a new Pittsburgh arena failed to materialize, Leonard surrendered his franchise in 1936.
As it turned out, a new arena in Pittsburgh wouldn't be built until the Pittsburgh Civic Arena opened in 1961. The NHL would play with six teams for 25 years before deciding to expand.
The expansion in 1967 brought the Pittsburgh Penguins to the NHL and the city of Pittsburgh and the orange and black uniformed Philadelphia Flyers to Philadelphia. The last active Pirates player was Cliff Barton, who played his last NHL game in 1940.
- Odie Cleghorn, the Pirates' coach (and occasional player) for the first four seasons, was the first NHL coach to change his players on the fly. This article from the December 21, 1925, Pittsburgh Press described how Cleghorn would change the forward line halfway through each period with another set of attackers, who would play for "six or eight minutes". The first line would then come back on to finish the period. The defencemen were not changed.
- Cleghorn was also the first coach to use three set forward lines which was a huge change from the standard which was to simply leave the best players out for as long as possible.
- The Pirates set an NHL record in salaries by signing defenceman Lionel Conacher to a three-year deal worth $7,500 a year. Conacher was later named Canada's athlete of the half-century.
- On December 26, 1926 the Pirates and the New York Americans combined for a still standing NHL record for most shots in one game. The two teams combined for 141 shots in a 3–1 New York win. Roy Worters made 70 saves for the Pirates and Jake Forbes made 67 saves for the Americans. That is a record that still stands today.
- The Pirates were the first team in Pittsburgh to use the black & gold color scheme. An article dated December 21, 1925, from the Pittsburgh Press referred to the Pirates as "the Black and Gold".
Hall of Famers
- Lionel Conacher
- Frank Fredrickson
- Mickey MacKay
- Roy Worters
1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium
- Frank Frederickson won a gold medal with the Canadian national hockey team
- Herb Drury won a silver medal with the American national hockey team
1924 Olympic Games in Chamonix, France
- Bert McCaffrey won a gold medal with the Canadian national hockey team
- Herb Drury won a silver medal with the American national hockey team
Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, Pts = Points, GF = Goals for, GA = Goals against, PIM = Penalties in minutes
|1925–26||36||19||16||1||39||82||70||264||third in NHL||Lost Semifinals (Montreal) 6-4|
|1926–27||44||15||26||3||33||79||108||230||fourth in American||Out of Playoffs|
|1927–28||44||19||17||8||46||67||76||395||third in American||Lost Semifinals (New York) 6-4|
|1928–29||44||9||27||8||26||46||80||324||fourth in American||Out of Playoffs|
|1929–30||44||5||36||3||13||102||185||384||fifth in American||Out of Playoffs|