The off-ice struggles
As the team continued to get beaten around by the Canadian teams, fans were starting to jump ship. In the 1928 season, the New York Rangers had won the Stanley Cup in just their second year as a franchise. It meant that there was a winner in the city, its owners were secure and rich, and they would be certain of their position in the city for many years as opposed to the group acquired from Hamilton.
For the Americans, it all started to hit home. Dwyer was a bootlegger during the prohibition times, so the way in which he made his fortune would have to change when the law did. It meant that American ownership was suddenly very unstable, and in 1936, they were on the market again looking for a new owner. Except, with the debts building up, and even when they made the playoffs for the first time, there were no takers.
When the team was abandoned by Dwyer, the league took control. Trying to preserve a team that it saw so much potential in made sense, but it annoyed Dwyer who saw no reason the league should have intervened. When Dwyer filed a lawsuit, an agreement came to be that the NHL would relinquish control back to the Amerks owner if he could pay off the club’s debts in a certain time frame. He didn’t, leaving the franchise in purgatory.
With seemingly no direction, the NHL asked then-head coach Red Dutton to take control of the franchise with the financial backing of the league, and in the 1937-38 season, the Americans were very much in trouble. They had no stable foothold in the league, and the team was struggling. Despite beating the Rangers in the playoffs that year, there was only further trouble ahead for the Amerks.
In 1939, the second world war started, and it saw a large contingent of Canadian players head home for deployment. A depleted roster and crippling debts saw the writing on the wall for the franchise. With the best players being forced out the door for money just to try and keep the sinking ship above the waves for a few more days, Dutton was trying everything to just survive.