The 10 Greatest Forgotten NHL Franchises
Not everyone can be the "Original Six."
In fact, for every historic franchise whose buildings, sweaters and players are household commodities to hockey’s biggest fans, there are those whose stints in their respective cities were, for one reason or another, a trifle less memorable.
Still, when it comes to teams whose names no longer grace the sports pages, some did have at least a modicum of success before meeting their demise. We compiled a list of the best of the worst—with one notable exception—based on the levels of championship acumen reached before the curtains closed.
Click through for a trip down mediocre memory lane.
10. Cleveland Barons
And, heeeere’s the notable exception.
Having moved to northeast Ohio after nine forgettable years in California’s Bay Area as the California/Oakland (Golden) Seals, it’s probably no surprise that the time spent in the NHL by the Cleveland Barons was equally ignominious.
As it turned out, the Jack Evans-coached Barons spent just two seasons in the league, gave up 147 goals more than they scored and won barely more than 25 percent of the 160 games they played.
They merged with the Minnesota North Stars after season No. 2 and have rarely been thought of again.
9. Hamilton Tigers
For the first four seasons of their NHL existence, the Hamilton Tigers were insignificant also-rans—winning just 28 times in 96 games while finishing out of the playoffs each year.
Ironically, when the fifth season came around, the Tigers shot to the top of the league and seemed poised to compete for a Stanley Cup championship. Problem was, when the league schedule expanded from 24 games to 30, it created a rift with the players about salaries that compromised the title run.
The players sat out a scheduled playoff series with Ottawa, and NHL President Frank Calder ultimately declared the winner of the other semifinal—the Montreal Canadiens—as the league champions.
A year later, its players were awarded to the expansion New York Americans, and the Tigers were no more.
8. Minnesota North Stars
One of six teams to enter the NHL as part of a 1967 expansion, the Minnesota North Stars reached the playoffs their first year and in five of their first six—to the delight of a hockey-mad state.
Success was more fleeting once the mid-1970s arrived, however, and the Stars managed just two Stanley Cup Final appearances—1981 and 1991—before heading off to Dallas following the close of a playoff-free 1992-93 season.
The new version in Dallas dropped the “North” from the nickname and won a championship in season No. 6 in the Lone Star State, beating Buffalo in six games.
7. Toronto Arenas
Another of the league’s two-year wonders, the Toronto Arenas got their name courtesy of their ownership—the Toronto Arena Company—and were an instant success, winning the Stanley Cup in their initial 1917-18 season.
The magic didn’t last, however, and the Arenas went from first to worst and missed the playoffs in 1918-19.
The team withdrew from the NHL, and the Toronto franchise was transferred to the Toronto St. Patricks—a longtime amateur organization.
6. Quebec Nordiques
The Quebec Nordiques were the World Hockey Association’s version of the “Flying Frenchmen,” averaging more than four goals per game for four straight seasons between 1974-75 and 1977-78.
They reached the WHA’s Avco Cup finals twice in that stretch, winning the league championship in the spring of 1977 before heading off the NHL with fellow entrants from Hartford, Winnipeg and Edmonton to begin the 1979-80 season.
Success in the NHL years wasn’t quite as predictable, with zero appearances in the Stanley Cup Final during 16 seasons—seven of which ended without a playoff berth.
They headed to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche for the 1995-96 season, and, presto, the Stanley Cup was an immediate arrival.
5. Hartford Whalers
Another of the WHA’s refugees with both an Avco Cup championship and a loss in that league’s final series as well, the Hartford Whalers also arrived with hype—thanks to the presence of incumbent NHL Hall of Famer Gordie Howe on the ice for their inaugural season.
Remarkably, the 51-year-old man scored 15 goals and assisted on 26 others while playing all 80 games for a team that also got 62 points from 39-year-old Dave Keon and seven points in nine games from another all-time great—ex-Blackhawks sniper Bobby Hull.
The next five seasons resulted in playoff misses, however, starting a trend that too often became the norm in Hartford. The Whalers made the postseason for seven straight years between 1985-86 and 1991-92, but managed only one series victory in that stretch.
Five more playoff misses preceded the team’s departure for Raleigh, N.C., where it was renamed the Carolina Hurricanes and eventually brought home a Stanley Cup in 2006.
4. Toronto St. Patricks
Mentioned before as the sequel to the league’s eventful Toronto Arenas entry, the St. Patricks were instant successes in their first two seasons—ending as runner-up to the Ottawa Senators in the spring of 1921 and coming back to win the Stanley Cup a year later.
Things went south in subsequent seasons, however, and a financially troubled owner was left to choose between offers for a sale in 1927. The decision was made to keep things in Canada, and the St. Patricks became the Maple Leafs—and the league’s gold standard—in Toronto.
The Leafs won their first title in year No. 5, in the spring of 1932.
3. Montreal Maroons
The Montreal Maroons weren’t quite the Montreal Canadiens, but they were close for a while.
The team was marketed as an English-speaking alternative to les Habitants and was spectacularly successful between 1924 and 1938, winning a pair of Stanley Cups and falling in the final round once more while playing in the venerable Montreal Forum.
The Great Depression that began in 1929 took its toll on the ownership group, and the franchise suspended play following the 1938 season before being written off for good in the 1940s.
The Maroons were the most recent team that’s no longer in existence to win the Stanley Cup.
2. Winnipeg Jets
Upon arriving in the NHL with their brethren from the World Hockey Association, the Winnipeg Jets were expected to do the most damage in the new league.
It’s not hard to see why the assumption was made. The Jets were the clear-cut class of the “Rebel League,” winning three Avco Cup championships and reaching the finals twice more in the WHA’s seven seasons of existence.
Unfortunately for the fans of Manitoba, the success was not transferrable. The Jets made the playoffs in 11 of 17 NHL seasons, but won just two series overall while more frequently becoming regular and postseason fodder for great teams in Edmonton and Calgary.
The Jets moved to Phoenix to become the Coyotes after the 1995-96 season, then got new life in the form of the relocated Atlanta Thrashers in the fall of 2011.
1. Ottawa Senators
Exactly half the Ottawa Senators’ 14 seasons in the NHL ended on a championship level, with three Stanley Cup titles and four more years within an eyelash of a hung banner.
In fact, the franchise, which had much success in other leagues before joining the NHL in 1917, was voted by Canadian sports editors as the country’s greatest sports franchise in the first half of the 20th century.
The NHL’s expansion into the United States helped exacerbate financial problems with the team in the late 1920s and into the 1930s, and the Senators ultimately relocated to St. Louis as the Eagles in 1933.
The league awarded Ottawa another franchise several decades later, and the newest incarnation of the Senators returned to NHL ice in 1992.