Frank Sellick Calder (November 17, 1877 – February 4, 1943) was an ice hockey executive, a journalist and athlete.
He is most notable for serving as the first president of the National Hockey League (NHL) from 1917 until his death in 1943.
He was the last president of the NHL’s predecessor league, the National Hockey Association (NHA) and was instrumental in the transition from the NHA to the NHL, a transition made to expel a franchise owner.
He presided over the expansion of the NHL from Canada into the United States while at the same time fending off of rivals to the NHL’s status as the premier ice hockey league.
Frank Calder was born to Scottish parents in Bristol, England on November 17, 1877. Calder participated in many English sports as a youth, including rugby, cricket, handball, golf, and soccer. As a young man, he immigrated to Canada and became a teacher at a private school.
Before leaving the United Kingdom, he flipped a coin to decide whether he should immigrate to Canada or to the United States.
He married a fellow teacher, Amelia Cole, and they had three sons and one daughter.
Calder worked as a sports editor at the Montreal Witness. From there, he moved to the Montreal Herald and Daily Telegraph. After that, he passed the role of sports editor to Elmer Ferguson so that he could move on to take the financial editor’s chair, in which capacity he covered what was Canada’s largest market at that time: the Montreal Stock Exchange.
He maintained his interest in sports, creating the Montreal School Rugby League. He was the secretary-treasurer of the Montreal Football (Soccer) Association in 1903 and remained in that position until at least 1911, when he represented the organization at the time of the founding of the Province of Quebec Football (Soccer) Association. He was elected a member of the executive committee of the PQFA in 1911 and 1912.
Earlier he was a referee and had refereed the game between the Montreal All-Stars and the touring Corinthians from England in 1906.
On November 15, 1914, Calder was appointed secretary-treasurer of the National Hockey Association (NHA). He served as secretary-treasurer until 1917 when Frank Robinson resigned as president of the NHA.
In 1917, the NHA’s owners decided to drop Eddie Livingstone’s Toronto Blueshirts franchise and took his players. The NHA’s president, Frank Robinson, seeing he was as powerless as his predecessor Emmett Quinn was, resigned as NHA president.
Calder, the league secretary, saw opportunity in the situation. He decided that the NHA owners allied against Eddie Livingstone needed someone to represent them, and, in effect, Calder was—at least for all practical purposes—the new president of the NHA. He arranged meetings between the NHA’s owners to figure out how to get rid of Livingstone.
They decided to form a new league, the National Hockey League, in the NHA’s place. Calder was elected president of the new league which was officially established on November 26, 1917.
Calder wielded his power as president with authority. One example of this authority occurred during the Hamilton Tigers strike in 1925. Rather than negotiate with the players, he suspended and fined them each $200.
Calder was adamant that minorities would not be restricted in the NHL. During the 1927–28 season, upon hearing of the Boston Black Panthers, the first all-Black hockey team in the U.S., he was reported to have remarked that, “Pro hockey has no ruling against the colored man, nor is it likely to ever draw the line,” a reference to the segregation in baseball.
Only one attempt to remove Calder as president of the NHL was made. This was in 1932–33 when the owner of the Chicago Black Hawks, Frederic McLaughlin, circulated a letter to the NHL board of governors to remove him. The board rejected the motion.
Commencing with the 1932–33 season, Calder named the top rookie in the NHL. Starting in 1936–37, he convinced the NHL’s board of governors to let him buy a trophy to give to the league’s top rookie and he did this until 1941–42. After his death, the trophy was made permanent as the Calder Memorial Trophy.
Calder received a silver service in 1937–38 for his 20 years as president of the NHL.
Calder was presiding over a meeting of the NHL’s board of governors on January 25, 1943 when he suffered a heart attack, followed by another in a Toronto hospital.
On February 3 he felt well enough to travel and returned to Montreal the next day. However, he checked into Montreal General Hospital upon arrival and suffered another, fatal heart attack soon after. He is interred in the Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal, Quebec.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1947 as a builder. Two trophies in professional hockey are named for him—the NHL Calder Memorial Trophy for NHL rookies and the Calder Cup for the American Hockey League (AHL) championship.
He originated the rookie of the year award, and the NHL decided to continue awarding it after Calder died, renaming it from the Calder Trophy to the Calder Memorial Trophy.