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The Missing Teams from the NHL's 50th Anniversary

by Jesse Cohen @KingsMenPodcast /

When the NHL expanded in 1967, they added an additional six franchises to the Original Six - Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers.

This season the LA Kings are joined in celebrating the 50th Anniversary of that expansion by the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

While the celebration is being left to those four teams, an argument could be made that the two franchises not celebrating their 50th Anniversary are still operating, albeit in an altered form.

These two franchises played pivotal roles in the history of the NHL and deserve to be remembered.

The LA Kings technically weren't the first professional hockey team in California, and they certainly weren't the only California team added to the league in 1967.

When Barry Van Gerbig was awarded a franchise in 1966, he purchased the San Francisco Seals of then-rival Western Hockey League, and brought that franchise into the newly expanding NHL.

He moved the club from the Cow Palace (future temporary home of the San Jose Sharks) into the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena (now known as Oracle Arena) and renamed them the California Seals in an attempt to attract fans from both San Francisco and Oakland.

The team would change names from California Seals (1967) to Oakland Seals (1967-70), then settling on California Golden Seals (1970-76).

The franchise ultimately changed far more than just its name.

The Golden Seals moved to Cleveland in 1970 after multiple relocation attempts, contentious lawsuits and financial struggles. 

Cleveland had been a potential destination for an NHL franchise as far back as the 1930s, and had been home to an AHL team from 1937-1972.

The financial struggles of the Golden Seals followed the team to Cleveland where they struggled to fill the Richfield Coliseum.

After missing the playoffs for two years and averaging fewer than 7,000 fans per game, the franchise was on the brink of collapse.

In their first season, the team failed to make payroll on multiple occasions and the players went so far as to threaten not to play a game against the Colorado Rockies.

The NHL and NHLPA loaned the Barons $1.3 million in an effort to avoid the embarrassment of losing a franchise mid-season.

After a last place in the Adams Divison, majority owner Melvin Swig sold his interest in the team to minority owner George Gund III and his brother Gordon.

Despite the Gund's increased financial investments, the team continued to struggle.

After their attempt to purchase the Coliseum failed, they sought creative alternatives.

One of those alternatives presented itself in the form of the also struggling Minnesota North Stars. The two teams merged prior to the 1978-79 NHL season with the Gunds assuming control of North Stars, forfeiting the Barons draft picks and exposing players from both struggling teams to a dispersal draft.

Despite portions of their arena still being under construction on opening night, the Minnesota North Stars had relative success in the early years of their existence.

They qualified for the playoffs in five of their first six seasons, and attendance increased to over 15,000 fans per game by the early 1970s.

In 1972, the rival World Hockey Association began operating and placed a franchise of their own, the Minnesota Fighting Saints, in nearby St. Paul.

Between sudden competition for fans and the North Stars missing the playoffs in five of their next six seasons, the North Stars average per game attendance dropped to below 9,000 during the 1977-78 season.

The Fighting Saints ceased operations in 1977, and the WHA merged with the NHL in 1979, allowing the North Stars to rebound in terms of attendance and on-ice success in the early 1980s. The team peaked with a run to the Clarence Campbell Conference Final in 1984.

The North Stars would have only one winning season in the following nine. They still managed to qualify for the playoffs in six of those years, and even reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1991 where they were defeated by Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins. One solid playoff run in that span wasn't enough, and attendance predictably faltered.

In 1990, the Gunds sold the team and new owner Norman Green changed the North Stars logo prior to the 1991-92 season. The new logo was simply the word "STARS" atop a green star with a gold outline.

Rumors began swirling that he was looking to move the team to a new arena in Anaheim and call the team the California Stars. When The Walt Disney Company was awarded an expansion franchise for the 1993-94 season, Green was granted approval to relocate the North Stars whenever he liked.

Dallas finally provided the Seals/Barons/North Stars franchise true success.

In 1999, the Dallas Stars won not only the Presidents' Trophy, but also the the franchise's Stanley Cup.

After missing the playoffs from 2008-13, the team once again appears headed in a winning direction.

Despite being a relocated amalgamation of both the California Golden Seals and the Minnesota North Stars, the Stars celebrated their 20th Anniversary during the 2013-14 season.

Even if they aren't celebrating the 50th Anniversary of NHL expansion along with the Blues, Flyers, Penguins and Kings, the history of the Seals, Barons, North Stars and Stars is full of colorful characters, historical moments and fascinating ownership changes that represent five decades of hockey history which should be included in the NHL's 50th Anniversary celebration.

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