PHT Time Machine: 1991 dispersal draft and birth of the Sharks

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Throughout the summer we will be taking a look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look at the chaotic beginning of the San Jose Sharks.

The early 1990s were a chaotic time for the NHL with expansion and franchise relocation forever changing the landscape of the league.

Between 1991 and 1997 the league would grow from 21 teams to 26 (San Jose, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Florida, and Anaheim all entered) while four others (Winnipeg, Quebec, Hartford, and Minnesota) would end up relocating. All of this transformation started during the 1991-92 season with the entrance of the San Jose Sharks, the league’s first expansion team since 1979 when the NHL added four from the collapsing World Hockey Association.

The Sharks’ entrance to the league would be unlike any other expansion team because it came, largely, at the expense of an already established NHL team that would then participate in an expansion draft along with the Sharks.

This is the story of the 1991 NHL dispersal draft.

The Background

The path to an NHL hockey team in San Jose is a long, convoluted one that begins with the struggling California Golden Seals in the 1970s where George Gund was a minority owner of the club. With the Golden Seals struggling on the ice (largely because they kept trading their draft picks to Montreal) and financially, Gund convinced majority owner Mel Swig to relocate the team to Cleveland where it be renamed the Barons and play two mostly forgettable seasons where it continued to bleed money and Swig eventually sold all of his interests in the team to George and Gordon Gund.

At the end of the 1978 season, and with the team still in financial disarray and the Gund’s unable to purchase the team’s arena (the Richfield Coliseum)  the team merged with another fledgling franchise — the Minnesota North Stars — with the Gunds assuming control of the new team.

For the better part of the next decade the North Stars would have some modest success, including two stunning runs to the Stanley Cup Final in 1981 and 1991. Despite that, the team remained a money pit with small crowds and a decrepit arena, and by the end of the decade was losing as much as $16 million per season.

At that point the Gunds petitioned the NHL to relocate the franchise to San Jose.

Then-NHL president John Ziegler was having none of that and instead came up with a different solution: The Gunds would be awarded a new franchise in San Jose for the start of the 1991-92 season (the Sharks), while they would sell the North Stars to a group that included Norm Green and Howard Baldwin.

The Sharks roster would then be stocked through a dispersal draft that would see them select from a group of unprotected players from the North Stars organization, as well as an expansion draft that the North Stars would also take part in to restock their roster.

From the May 13, 1990 Hartford Courant:

Fascinating stuff, right down to the NHL putting the Sharks in a position to not get prized prospect Eric Lindros in the 1991 draft, as well as the NHL’s acknowledgement that teams were probably tanking to position themselves to get him.

The Sharks ended up selecting Pat Falloon with the No. 2 pick, one spot ahead of Scott Niedermayer and three spots ahead of Peter Forsberg. In hindsight, that was all a big “whoops” and forever changed the course of the NHL. What if San Jose was given the first pick that year and ended up with Lindros? Does he play in San Jose? If not, does San Jose trade him to Philadelphia? Does the Colorado mini-dynasty ever happen without the Lindros trade? What if San Jose picked Niedermayer instead of Falloon?

Falloon ended up playing a few mostly disappointing seasons in San Jose before being traded to Philadelphia as part of a three-team trade with Buffalo that would see the Sabres end up with Vaclav Varada and a first-round pick that would later turn out to be Danny Briere, while the Sharks ended up getting Doug Bodger. Bodger spent a few years in San Jose before being traded to New Jersey for John MacLean and Dody Wood, both of whom would spend half a season in San Jose before leaving in free agency.

John Ziegler changed everything!

After all of this, the North Stars still had to play the 1990-91 season, and even though they won just 27 out of 82 games, they still qualified for the playoffs in the weak Norris Division and then somehow went on a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final where they would lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

During the series everyone knew what was going to be happening in the weeks after the series, while the team was being trolled by the organist in Pittsburgh during their Game 5 defeat…

The North Stars lost the Stanley Cup with an 8-0 Game 6 loss at home.

The Dispersal and Expansion Drafts

The drafts took place on May 30, 1991, beginning with the dispersal draft where the Sharks selected 24 players from the North Stars organization.

That group of selections included four players off the North Stars NHL roster (Shane Churla, Neil Wilkinson, Brian Hayward, and Rob Zettler), 10 players off the the North Stars’ top minor league affiliate (the International Hockey League’s Kalamazoo Blazers), and 10 more prospects from Europe, the NCAA, and the CHL.

Most of these players ended up being inconsequential to the development of the Sharks’ franchise, but there were some notable players for one reason or another.

[Sharks day at PHT: ’17-18 review | Under Pressure| Breakthrough | 3 Questions]

The best player the Sharks selected was almost certainly goaltender Arturs Irbe who had been playing for Dynamo Riga at the time of the draft. Irbe would go on to play five years with the Sharks, with his best season coming in 1993-94 when he would finish fifth in the Vezina Trophy voting and help lead the third-year Sharks franchise to a stunning first-round playoff upset over the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings.

Other notable selections and transactions as a result of the dispersal draft…

  • Churla, the first player selected off the North Stars roster, was traded back to Minnesota less than a week after the dispersal draft in exchange for forward Kelly Kisio … Kisio was selected by the North Stars off of the New York Rangers in the expansion draft that followed. Kisio would record 37 points in 48 games during the Sharks’ expansion season, and then finished as the team’s leading scorer in year two with 78 points in 78 games.
  • Hayward, the second player selected by San Jose, would only end up playing 25 games for the Sharks over their first two years of existence due to injuries that would ultimately end his career.
  • The last prospect selected by San Jose was Doug Zmolek, a defenseman at the University of Minnesota. Zmolek would be important because he would go on to play for the Sharks for two years before being traded in 1994 for Ulf Dahlen. Three years later, Dahlen would be a part of the package that San Jose sent to Chicago for Ed Belfour, even though the Sharks were a last-place team. Belfour only played 13 games with the Sharks before signing with the Dallas Stars in free agency.

Following San Jose’s picks in the dispersal draft, the Sharks and North Stars then took turns selecting in the expansion draft. The results of that draft, via the May 31, 1991 Daily Journal.

Probably the most significant players here are the trades, including the Sharks trading Tim Kerr (their selection from Philadelphia) to the New York Rangers for Brian Mullen, who would only play one year with the expansion team.

And then there’s Guy LaFleur getting involved in all of this. The funny thing about all of this is it brought LaFleur’s career full circle as the Golden Seals (before they moved to Cleveland, and then Minnesota) had traded the first-round draft pick many years before that would eventually be used to select LaFleur.

LaFleur was the last player selected in the expansion draft, going to Minnesota from Quebec.

At age 39, LaFleur had decided to retire from the league and was going to take a job with the Nordiques. Because he had not officially filed his retirement papers yet he could not actually accept the job with the Nordiques because his rights were at that time owned by the North Stars.

The North Stars traded LaFleur back to Quebec for the rights to Alan Haworth who had already been out of the NHL for two years.

The Aftermath

For two years the Sharks would be one of the worst teams in NHL history, winning just 28 games over their first two years. Amazingly, year two was even worse than year one as they won just 11 out of 84 games during the 1992-93 season. That is what made their playoff appearance — and first-round win over the Detroit Red Wings — so stunning in year three.

The Sharks would eventually go on to be one of the most successful of the league’s expansion franchises and have been a consistent contender in the league, making the playoffs in 20 of their first 26 seasons. That includes four trips to the Western Conference Final and one trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

Things would end up going much worse for Minnesota.

The Norm Green era of the team ended up being a disaster, including accusations of sexual harassment accusations against him. According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1992, Green had developed a “penchant for kissing female employees on the cheek and commenting on their clothes and makeup despite efforts by his staff to educate him on the issue.”

Meanwhile, the team on the ice had rebranded its logo to emphasize the “Stars” portion of it and was never able to recapture the magic of the 1991 playoff run, losing in the first-round the following year and missing the playoffs entirely in 1992-93, the team’s final year in Minnesota.

While the team’s arena, the Met Center, was falling apart, there was always the possibility the team could have moved into the newly constructed Target Center that would become the new home of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. The issue there for Green was that he wanted the North Stars to be the lead tenant and be in charge of all advertising and the luxury suites.

This would be no small disagreement.

One of the supposed issues: The North Stars’ sponsorship agreement with Pepsi, compared to the Timberwolves’ deal with Coca-Cola.

Seriously.

In 1992 Green had been attempting to move the North Stars to Anaheim, but as the league was prepared to put an expansion team there (the Mighty Ducks) the NHL gave him the go-ahead to seek relocation to another city, resulting in him ultimately choosing Dallas.

The North Stars relocated to Dallas for the start of the 1993-94 season and within eight years had played in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals, winning one.

By 1996 Green was no longer owner of the team, having sold it to Tom Hicks due to mounting financial struggles.

The Twin Cities area remained without an NHL team until the 2000-01 season when the Minnesota Wild entered the league as an expansion team along with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

More PHT Time Machine:
• Remembering the Jaromir Jagr Trade Nobody Won
• When the Blues skipped the NHL draft

Expansion teams build Montreal dynasty

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.