Historically, when it comes to ground-breaking contracts, Bobby Orr is considered to be the NHL’s first million-dollar man. The Boston Bruins defenseman enjoyed a record-setting 1970-71 season. Orr accumulated 132 assists and 139 points. Both remain single-season records for an NHL rearguard.
This followed on the heels of a 1969-70 campaign in which Orr became the first NHL defenseman to lead the league in scoring. That year also saw the Bruins defender be named regular season and playoff MVP and score the Stanley Cup-winning goal as Boston won its first Stanley Cup since 1941. Orr’s contract was up in 1971, so everyone assumed he was going to get paid and he did. On August 26, 1971, the Bruins signed Orr to a five-year deal at $200,000 per season. It was the first million-dollar contract in league history.
Today, the average NHL salary exceeds $1 million. If you want to place a wager on these millionaires in action, check out sites like BetUS at SportsbookBonus.com for all the NHL action.
One wager you shouldn’t make a play on is that Orr is the answer to the trivia question asking who was the first millionaire to skate in the NHL. The 1930-31 Philadelphia Quakers were a sports bettor’s dream. No team in NHL history failed at the rate that the Quakers did.
What wouldn’t have been likely would be that this rag tag bunch would produce the NHL’s first millionaire. Quakers defenseman D’Arcy Coulson was that guy. Heir to the family fortune back home in the Canadian capital city of Ottawa, Coulson played amateur hockey there and briefly in Chicago.
One Year Blunders
Philadelphia gained its first NHL team on October 13, 1930. The Pittsburgh Pirates franchise, which joined the NHL in 1925, was transferred to Philly and renamed the Quakers. Former world lightweight boxing champion Benny Leonard was owner of the team.
The Pirates were a bad to mediocre team. In their new lifeline as the Quakers, they would be record-setting horrible.
Philadelphia opened by doing something no other new NHL team had previously done. The Quakers were shut out in each of their first two games. A 2-2 tie with the Ottawa Senators in Game 4 gave the Quakers their first point. Two games later, a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs finally put Philly in the win column.
However, that brief taste of success was followed by a 15-game losing streak. A 4-3 overtime win on Jan. 10, 1931 over the Montreal Maroons ended that skid. However, that victory was immediately followed by a 11-game winless stretch (0-9-2).
At the end of the season, Philadelphia was last in the 10-team NHL in goals against (184) and ninth in goals for (76). Philly was shut out nine times.
The Quakers finished the 44-game season with a 4-36-4 slate. Their .136 winning percentage remains the worst ever posted by an NHL team.
Highlight of the season for them was their final game of the schedule. Philadelphia held the reigning Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens to a 4-4 tie. The Canadiens would go on to successfully defend the Cup in the spring of 1931.
An Interesting Bunch
The Quakers weren’t very good, but their roster was composed of an interesting bunch of talent. Philly utilized three goalies that season. Joe Miller was a Stanley Cup winner with the 1927-28 New York Rangers. Wilf Cude would backstop the Detroit Red Wings to the 1933-34 Cup final series. Jake Forbes made history in 1921-22. Unhappy with his contract offer from the Toronto St. Patricks, Forbes became the first player in NHL history to sit out an entire season in a salary dispute.
Left-winger Syd Howe would win three Stanley Cups with Detroit and leave the game in 1945-46 as the NHL’s all-time scoring leader. He’d score six goals in a game with the Red Wings. At the time, John McKinnon shared the NHL record for goals in a game by a defenseman (four).
Forward Wally Kilrea, part of a legendary hockey family, would be Howe’s teammate on two of those Detroit Cup winners. Forward Herb Drury won two Olympic silver medals with the USA hockey team. Center Hib Milks reigned as the NHL’s iron man.
To this group, Coulson would be added on December 15.
Coulson was signed to a pro contract as a free agent. He made his NHL debut December 16 against the New York Rangers. Coulson would play 28 games and never collect a point. However, he’d end up third in the NHL with 103 penalty minutes.
He collected a season-high 13 penalty minutes on Christmas Day for his part in an on-ice brawl during an 8-0 loss to the Boston Bruins. Coulson was serving a penalty at the time and raced from sitting out his infraction to take part in the fisticuffs.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound right shot served a sentence in the sin bin in 23 of his 28 NHL games.
Certainly, Coulson wasn’t promoted to the NHL for his scoring or puckhandling skills. He was an awkward skater but a devastating bodychecker.
Coulson’s business acumen served him well as an NHLer. “I signed with Philadelphia for $4,000 to finish the season, with a contract for $6,000 for the next season,” Coulson told the Ottawa Journal in a 1968 interview. He was picked up by the Montreal Maroons when the Philadelphia franchise folded at the end of the 1930-31 season.
“James Strachan, their president, tried to cut my salary,” Coulson explained. “I insisted on the $6,000. The dispute went to NHL president Frank Calder, who sided with Strachan.
“I just left the club. When I came back to Ottawa, I hired a lawyer, Lee Kelly, and we sued them. “I didn’t play any hockey, but I got the full $6,000 from the Maroons.”
Coulson returned to Ottawa to help run the family business. Coulson Enterprises, founded by D’Arcy’s father John Patrick Coulson, entered the hotel business in 1903. They opened the luxurious Hotel Coulson in Sudbury in 1937, and it’s still in operation today. The company owned hotels across Canada and D’Arcy was heir to millions.
He was named vice-president of the company in 1934, taking charge of the administration of all of the family’s varied business interests. Five years later, became President upon his father’s death. D’Arcy Coulson died in 1996 at the age of 89.