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Silent Skates: Stories of the forgotten NHL

In the modern era there have been several unsuccessful NHL franchises and expansion attempts, with some of those teams still having die-hard fanbases that dream of the glory days returning. In this first of two articles we’ll explore what became of the Golden Seals, Barons, North Stars, Flames, Scouts, and Rockies.

California/Oakland Golden Seals > Cleveland Barons > Minnesota North Stars

In 1967 the NHL expanded from its Original Six to add six new franchises, with the Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota North Stars, and California Golden Seals all joining the league. Of those half-dozen teams the first four still exist in their original markets, with all four of them having won the Stanley Cup at least once.

The Seals, originally named the California Seals before becoming the Oakland Seals, the Bay Area Seals, and finally the California Golden Seals, began play out of Oakland in 1967. The team struggled to draw fans, which, coupled with lackluster performances on the ice, led to the team being put on the market on multiple occasions. Eventually an ownership group was found in 1975, with a planned move to San Francisco.

That move fell through, however, and the team’s minority owners – the Gund brothers – persuaded the group and the league to allow the franchise to move to their hometown of Cleveland in 1976.

Unfortunately, that approval wasn’t forthcoming until July, and the details were not worked out until late August, so the new Cleveland Barons were pretty much invisible in their new home. Playing out of the Richfield Coliseum in suburban Richfield, with little to no promotion or marketing, the Barons had even worse attendance than they had in Oakland.

Now the majority owners, the Gund brothers pushed the team hard the following year but ultimately failed to see much of an attendance increase. Eventually the league allowed the Barons to merge with the also-struggling Minnesota North Stars, forming a single team from the two franchises.

Minnesota North Stars > Dallas Stars

Those same Stars are also now defunct, at least in Minnesota. Part of the 1967 expansion, the North Stars played at the Met Center in Bloomington.

The North Stars had some early success, including a playoff appearance in their debut season and notable players like Gump Worsley, Cesare Maniago, and Bill Goldsworthy. However, by 1978, after five consecutive losing seasons, fan and financial support dwindled. Enter the Cleveland Barons and the Gund brothers, who merged the two franchises and took majority ownership.

Bolstered by Barons players like Gilles Meloche and Al MacAdam, and with the draft selection of Bobby Smith, the North Stars seemed poised for a resurgence. The early 1980s saw playoff appearances and even a Stanley Cup final appearance against the New York Islanders in 1981. However, by 1984 their fortunes waned, with only one more winning season in Minnesota.

A complex arrangement with new owners and the NHL led to the Gunds receiving a new San Jose franchise. Controversially, the Gunds were allowed to take some players from Minnesota as well, effectively starting their new team with some established players.

Despite a losing season, Minnesota made a surprising run to the 1991 Stanley Cup final, eventually losing to Mario Lemieux’s Penguins. However, relocation still loomed, with the owners preferring Los Angeles as the team’s new home. Disney, though, was already in discussion with the NHL to create the Mighty Ducks, and owner Green eventually settled on Dallas. The Dallas Stars started play in 1993, and won the Stanley Cup in 1999.

Atlanta Flames > Calgary Flames

In 1972, the NHL granted new franchises to the New York Islanders and the Atlanta Flames. This move countered the upstart World Hockey Association, preventing them from putting a team in the newly-built Nassau Coliseum, and fulfilling the NHL’s desire for a team in the American South.

The Flames, owned by Tom Cousins (also owner of the Atlanta Hawks), played out of the newly-built Omni Coliseum. They drafted some talented players, including Tom Lysiak (runner-up to Denis Potvin for the Calder Trophy in 1973), Eric Vail (the Calder Trophy winner in 1975), and Willi Plett (the Calder Trophy winner in 1977).

Despite their young talent, though, the Flames achieved only moderate success. They made the playoffs several times but failed to advance past the preliminary round. After the WHA folded, they acquired Kent Nilsson, but his strong performance couldn’t turn the tide. Declining attendance, a lack of modern amenities like luxury boxes, and consistent on-ice struggles led Cousins to put the team up for sale, citing significant financial losses.

In May 1980 the team was sold to a consortium in Calgary, where they continue to play as the Calgary Flames. The Calgary Flames won the Stanley Cup in 1989.

Kansas City Scouts > Colorado Rockies > New Jersey Devils

In 1974 the NHL added two more new teams in the Washington Capitals and the Kansas City Scouts, who played out of the newly-constructed Kemper Arena.

Statue of the Scout, overlooking downtown Kansas City
Statue: Cyrus E. Dallin (1861-1944) Photo: Macjohn4 at en.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Kansas City owners originally wanted to call their team the Mohawks, to match other Kansas names such as the collegiate Jayhawks. However, the Black Hawks objected to this, so a contest was held to name the new team. Scouts was eventually chosen, based on a statue in a city park overlooking downtown called The Scout.

The team performed poorly in its inaugural season, garnering only 41 points. Their second season started with some promise, placing them within reach of a playoff spot as late as the end of December, but then the bottom fell out. The team didn’t win again until February, finishing the season with a record of 12–56–12 for a total of 36 points.

With poor performances, inflated player salaries, weak attendance, and an economic downturn in the region, the Scouts, suffering significant financial losses, were sold to a Denver-based group and moved there, after just two seasons in Kansas City, to become the Rockies.

The new city didn’t really change the team’s fortunes, though, as they managed only one playoff appearance in their six seasons of existence in Colorado, and even then finished with a losing record and were the beneficiaries of a weak division.

With the owner’s petroleum business failing, and they being unable to pay the arena lease in 1978, the team was sold that summer and then again in 1981. Originally the owners and the NHL wanted to keep the team in Denver, but after a failed attempt to buy them and move them to Ottawa, the team was once again sold in 1982 to New Jersey shipping magnate John McMullen, who also owned baseball’s Houston Astros.

McMullen announced big plans for the franchise, which included the move to New Jersey, which they did in time for the 1982-83 season. The franchise continues to play there as the Devils and won three Stanley Cup championships with Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur as their backbone.

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Peter, with over 20 years navigating the dynamic world of sports websites, brings not only experience but an insatiable passion for the games. An avid NHL and curling fan, his heart beats for all things sports, from the roar of the crowd to the quiet intensity of strategic plays. At Attiq, Peter strives to curate an attic of hidden stories, insightful analysis, and forgotten legends, inviting you to explore the depths of the sports world beyond the headlines. Click here for Peter's posts.