NHL History: Defunct Franchises Revisited
Imagine Sidney Crosby playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Before you call the media, Sid The Kid isn't thinking about making a Michael Jordan type decision to drop hockey for baseball. However, if Crosby were playing for Pittsburgh in 1925, he would have been wearing a Pirates jersey.
Since the inception of the NHL, many Franchises have come and gone. Some have only stuck around for one or two seasons like the Montreal Wanderers (1917-1918), Quebec Bulldogs (1919-1920), Philadelphia Quakers (1930-31), St. Louis Eagles (1934-1935), Kansas City Scouts (1974-1976), and the Cleveland Barons (1976-1978).
Other franchises lasted longer, and I've compiled a list of 11 NHL franchises that survived five seasons or more.
Hamilton Tigers (1920-1925)
In 1920, the NHL made a decision to sell the Quebec Bulldogs to a group in Hamilton that began a five year franchise known as the Hamilton Tigers. Since that time, the Tigers have been the only team in Hamilton, despite years and years of trying to secure another NHL team. R.I.M. tycoon Jim Basillie has tried bringing another franchise to town by offering to buy the Penguins, Predators, and Coyotes. All three bids were rejected by the NHL.
During their five year run, they had a dismal record of 47 wins, 78 losses, and one tie. In each of their five seasons, they failed to make the playoffs. The only season that they were destined to reach postseason was 1924-1925, but those efforts were ended by a players revolt.
After the final season game, players approached GM Percy Thompson and demanded an extra $200 for the season or they refused to play in the playoffs. The NHL had added six extra games to the schedule and players felt that they deserved extra salary for the extra games. Management claimed that players were under contract from December 1 to March 30, regardless of how many games they played. The issue was finally passed on to the NHL, creating the first known player's strike. The NHL ended up suspending the Tigers and issuing $200 fines to each player.
Montreal Maroons (1924-1938)
As good as the Montreal Canadiens are, people may forget about the "other" franchise in Montreal. The Montreal Maroons were the last NHL team to fold it's operation after winning a Stanley Cup Championship. They accomplished that feat during the 1925-26 season after defeating the Victoria Cougars three games to one to capture Lord Stanley.
In 1936, during the "Great Depression," the Maroons won their second Stanley Cup after beating the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite all the financial woes, they once again raised the cup.
The NHL allowed the Maroons to suspend all operations of the franchise for the 1938-39 season after struggling to keep things in the black for so many years. They may not have been successful in the front office, but always managed to stay competitive on the ice.
Pittsburgh Pirates (1925-1930)
The Pittsburgh Pirates franchise began play in the NHL on November 7, 1925, after James F. Callahan purchased the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets of the US Amateur Hockey Association from Roy Schooley after he ran into financial difficulties maintaining the club.
Captain and Defenseman Lionel Conacher scored the first ever goal on Thanksgiving Day against the Boston Bruins, who eventually lost the game 2-1. Two nights after their big win over the Bruins, the Pirates defeated Hall Of Fame Goalie George Vezina 1-0 in what would be his final game in the NHL. Four months later, Vezina passed away from a battle with tuberculosis. The Montreal Canadiens later donated the Vezina Trophy to the NHL in his honor.
The Pirates qualified for the playoffs twice in franchise history. In their inaugural season, they lost the semifinals to Montreal after finishing third out of seven teams in the NHL. During the 27/28 campaign, they lost in the semifinals to the New York Americans.
New York Americans (1925-1942)
Also known as the Amerks, the New York Americans were the third expansion team in the history of the NHL prior to the creation of the Original Six. The Amerks were the first NHL team to play in New York, but were quickly overshadowed by the New York Rangers in 1926. In the final season as a franchise, the Americans played as the Brooklyn Americans, but were finally forced to fold due to the financial strain of WWII.
During their 17 year history, they never won a Stanley Cup, but they did reach the semifinals twice. The collapse of the Amerks led to the inception of the Original 6 from 1942-1967.
California Golden Seals (1967-1976)
In 1967, the NHL decided to double the size of the league by adding six new teams to the mix. The California Seals were one of those six expansion teams. One season later, they changed their name to the Oakland Seals and then reverted back to the California Golden Seals. The teams that joined them in the NHL that year were the Minnesota North Stars, L.A. Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and St. Louis Blues.
Nine years and several owners later, the Golden Seals finally decided that a move to Cleveland might be in the best interest of the club. The Cleveland Barons didn't fair any better and eventually were permitted by the NHL to merge with another failing franchise, the Minnesota North Stars.
Minnesota North Stars (1967-1993)
The Minnesota North Stars were a part of the original expansion draft in 1967. By 1978, the franchise found themselves in a state of financial difficulty until the owners of the Cleveland Barons, Gordon and George Gund, bought the team and were allowed to merge them with their troubled franchise in Cleveland.
In the early 80's, they reached the Stanley Cup Finals in back to back seasons with the help of young gun snipers Dino Ciccarelli and Neal Broten. They also drafted many future stars, including Brian Bellows and Mike Modano. Ciccarelli was just inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame this year.
Eventually, poor attendance numbers and a failed attempt to strike a stadium deal in Minneapolis or Saint Paul led to a move to Dallas for the start of the 93-94 season.
Atlanta Flames (1972-1980)
In November 1971, the NHL announced that they had awarded an expansion franchise to the city of Atlanta for the 72-73 season. The Atlanta Flames, whose name originated from the burning of Atlanta during the American Civil War, hired a young GM named Cliff Fletcher.
Cliff Fletcher was an Assistant GM in St. Louis prior to making the jump to Atlanta. His first objective was to find a Head Coach. It didn't take him long, as Montreal Canadiens star Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion was hired as the first Head Coach in Flames history. Geoffrion was also the only member of the Flames to reside in the Hall Of Fame.
The Flames managed to make the playoffs in six of the eight seasons, but failed to make it out of the preliminary round on five of those occasions.
In 1980, the Flames moved to Calgary after ticket sales in Atlanta plunged and costs were on the rise. The Atlanta Flames were the first NHL franchise to reside in Atlanta. 19 years after moving to Calgary, Atlanta would once again have an NHL team with the debut of the Thrashers.
Colorado Rockies (1976-1982)
The Colorado Rockies' franchise began operation in 1976, after a Denver based group lead by Jack Vickers purchased the Kansas City Scouts. Faced with one million dollars in lost revenue, the Scouts tried a last minute season ticket drive to keep the team in Kansas City. After only 2,000 tickets were sold, the decision was made to make the move to Colorado.
In six seasons in Denver, the Rockies only managed to make the playoffs once in 1977-1978. That season, they finished 21 games under .500 but because the Smythe Division was so weak and runners up made the playoffs, they secured a spot in the postseason. Their playoff run was cut short by the Philadelphia Flyers, who swept them in the first round.
In 1979-1980, the Rockies hired former Boston Bruin Head Coach Don Cherry to turn things around. Cherry's motto quickly became "Come to the fights and watch a Rockies game break out." The outspoken Jack Adams Award winner was not well liked by the Colorado front office and GM Ray Miron in particular. Cherry & Miron feuded over the fact that Miron refused to replace goalie Hardy Astrom. Cherry refered to Astrom as the "Swedish Sieve".
Quebec Nordiques (1979-1995)
The Quebec Nordiques franchise got off and running as one of the original World Hockey Association teams when the league began play in 1972. Maurice "The Rocket" Richard was the first Head Coach but stepped down two games later when he realized that coaching wasn't his specialty. By 1978, the WHA was becoming very unstable and decided to merge with the NHL. The only stipulation of the merger was that the NHL had to keep it's surviving Canadian teams in the NHL. The other teams involved in the merger were the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, and the Hartford Whalers.
The most famous family to play for the Nordiques were definitely the Stastny brothers, Peter, Anton, and Marian. Peter Stastny won the Calder Trophy after tallying 109 points in his rookie campaign. The combination of Michel Goulet and Peter Stastny would lead Quebec to the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons.
They also had some success on Draft day, drafting Mats Sundin in 1989, Owen Nolan in 1990, and Eric Lindros in 1991. Eric Lindros later refused to report to the Nordiques and ended up getting traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for what would turn out to be the biggest one sided deal in the history of the NHL. The Flyers gave up Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, plus future considerations, which were Chris Simon, two first round picks, and $15 million. This was an unbelievable amount to give up for somebody as overrated as Eric Lindros.
Once again, financial difficulties fell upon the franchise due to rising player salaries and the Quebec Northmen (English translation for Nordiques) were forced to move to Denver.
Winnipeg Jets (1979-1996)
The Winnipeg Jets were also a WHA franchise that joined the NHL in 1979. In their first two seasons they were terrible, winning only 29 out of 160 games. Their worst season was 1980-81, when they only won nine games all year.The only thing good to come out of their worst season was drafting Dale Hawerchuck. Hawerchuck spent nine injury free seasons with the Jets, while accumulating 929 points in 713 games.
The team never once made it past the Smythe Finals, despite having some above .500 seasons. The reason for that was simple; the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames were the top dogs of the eighties and it became a chore to get past them.
Even though the Jets were located in the fourth smallest market, they always had loyal fans who fought to keep the Jets in Winnipeg. Season ticket sales and government funding was not enough to prevent them from moving to Phoenix for the 96-97 season.
Hartford Whalers (1979-1997)
Originally known as the New England Whalers, the Hartford Whalers failed to live up to the success they experienced in the World Hockey Association. In nine seasons in the WHA, the New England Whalers were 45 games above .500. In the NHL, they were 175 games under .500.
Although they had the talent in players like Ron Francis, Kevin Dineen, and Brendan Shanahan, they just couldn't translate the talent into a winning season. The only year they finished first in their division was 1986-87, when they finished first in the Adams Division. That year, however, they lost in the Adams semifinal to Quebec and sent fans home disappointed, as usual.
The Whalers played their final game on April 13, 1997 against the Tampa Bay Lightning defeating the bolts 2-1. That July, it was announced that the Whalers would be playing in Raliegh, North Carolina, as the Carolina Hurricanes.