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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.

Capitals re-sign Vrana for two years, $6.7 million

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan took care of his biggest remaining offseason task on Tuesday afternoon when he re-signed restricted free agent forward Jakub Vrana to a two-year contract.

The deal will pay Vrana $6.7 million and carry an average annual salary cap hit of $3.35 million per season.

“Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future,” said MacLellan in a statement released by the team. “We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Vrana was the Capitals’ first-round pick in 2014 and has already shown top-line potential in the NHL. He took a huge step forward in his development during the 2018-19 season, scoring 24 goals to go with 23 assists while also posting strong underlying numbers. He is one of the Capitals’ best young players and quickly starting to become one of their core players moving forward.

It is obviously a bridge contract that will keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires following the 2020-21 season. If he continues on his current path he would be in line for a significant long-term contract that summer.

With Vrana signed the Capitals have under $1 million in salary cap space remaining. They still have to work out new contracts with restricted free agents Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson. Both players filed for salary arbitration. Djoos’ hearing is scheduled for July 22, while Stephenson has his scheduled for August 1. If the Capitals want to keep both on the NHL roster on opening night they may have to make another minor move at some point before the start of the regular season.

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.

Donato gets two-year, $3.8 million extension from Wild

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Ryan Donato took advantage of a bigger opportunity with the Minnesota Wild and earned himself a raise on Tuesday.

The Wild announced that they have extended the 23-year-old Donato with a two-year, $3.8 million contract. That $1.9 million annual salary will be a bump from the $925,000 he made during the 2018-19 NHL season.

Following a February trade that sent Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins, Donato saw his ice time rise over three minutes under Bruce Boudreau and that resulted in four goals and 16 points in 22 games with Minnesota. Unable to carve out his own role in Boston, Donato struggled offensively with six goals and nine points in 34 games before moving.

“I definitely learned the business side of it, for sure,” Donato said in April. “One thing I learned, in Boston and here, it’s a game of ups and downs. More than college, more than any level, there’s a lot of ups and downs. It’s been an emotional roller coaster the whole year, but definitely over the last couple months it’s settled down quite a bit.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Donato, who was a restricted free agent and will remain one when his contract expires after the 2020-21 season, continued his production in the American Hockey League’s notching 11 points in 14 games between the end of the Iowa Wild’s regular season and the Calder Cup playoffs.

“It’s all about opportunity in this league,” Donato said. “If I can get myself into scoring positions playing with the high-end veteran players we have here, that have been known to find guys in scoring positions, then I’m a guy that can bury it.”

The Wild have high hopes for next season as they expect to be a playoff team coming out of what will be a very, very competitive Central Division. General manager Paul Fenton added Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello to boost the team’s offense which finished fourth-worst in the NHL in goals per game (2.56). Donato will be expected to be a key contributor.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Trade: Blackhawks send Anisimov to Senators for Zack Smith

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Artem Anisimov‘s name has been floating in trade speculation for more than a year now, and on Tuesday afternoon the Chicago Blackhawks finally moved him.

The Blackhawks announced they have traded Anisimov to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for forward Zack Smith. It is a one-for-one deal that will probably make a bigger impact on both team’s financial situations than on the ice.

Both players are 31 years old, have two years remaining on their current contracts, and are coming off of somewhat similar seasons in terms of their performance. Anisimov scored 15 goals and 37 points in 78 games for the Blackhawks this past season, while Smith had nine goals and 28 points in 70 games for the Senators.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

So what is important here for both teams? Money, obviously.

For the Blackhawks, the Anisimov-for-Smith swap saves them a little more than $1 million against the salary cap as they go from Anisimov’s $4.5 salary cap hit to Smith’s $3.25 number. For a team that is consistently pressed against the cap and still has a ton of big-money players, every little bit of extra space helps. Especially as they have to work out new deals for Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome over the next year.

The Senators, meanwhile, had a different set of problems.

They were still sitting under the league’s salary floor before the trade and are now finally above it.

Anisimov’s contract not only gets them over the floor, but because the Blackhawks have already paid Anisimov’s signing bonus for this season the Senators actually owe him less in terms of actual salary, which is also probably an important factor for a team that is seemingly always in a cost-cutting and money-saving mode.

The Blackhawks have been extremely busy this offseason making multiple changes to their roster after a second straight non-playoff season. Along with acquiring Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan in trades to try and upgrade their defense, they also signed goalie Robin Lehner in free agency and brought back veteran forward Andrew Shaw.

This past week they traded former first-round pick defender Henri Jokiharju to the Buffalo Sabres for Alex Nylander.

Related: Blackhawks shaping up as NHL’s biggest wild card

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.

Werenski, McAvoy should be in line for huge contracts

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When it comes to the NHL’s restricted free agent market this summer most of the attention has been directed at forwards Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, and Sebastian Aho. They are the stars, the big point-producers, and in the case of Aho, the rare player that actually received — and signed — an offer sheet from another team, only to have the Carolina Hurricanes quickly move to match it. For now, though, let’s shift the focus to the blue line where there are a few more big contracts still to be settled this summer with Jacob Trouba, Charlie McAvoy, Zach Werenski, and Ivan Provorov all waiting on new deals from their respective teams.

The two most intriguing players out of this group are Columbus’ Werenski and Boston’s McAvoy because they are already playing at an elite level among NHL defenders.

Just how good have they been?

Both are coming off of their age 21 seasons and have already demonstrated an ability to play at a top-pairing level on playoff caliber teams.

Since the start of the 2007-08 season there have only been four defenders that have hit all of the following marks through their age 21 season:

  • At least 100 games played
  • Averaged at least .50 points per game
  • And had a Corsi Percentage (shot-attempt differential) of greater than 52 percent at that point in their careers.

Those players have been Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Werenski, and McAvoy.

That is it.

Pretty elite company.

Based on that, it seems at least somewhat reasonable to look at the contracts Karlsson and Doughty received at the same point in their careers when they were coming off of their entry-level deals.

They were massive.

Karlsson signed a seven-year, $45.5 million deal with the Ottawa Senators, while Doughty signed an eight-year, $56 million contract. At the time, those contracts were worth around 10 percent of the league’s salary cap. A similarly constructed contract under today’s cap would come out to an annual cap hit of around $8 million dollars, which would be among the five highest paid defenders in the league.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Are Werenski and McAvoy worth similar contracts right now? They just might be.

The argument against it would be that while the overall performances are in the same ballpark, there are still some significant differences at play. Karlsson, for example, was coming off of a Norris Trophy winning season when he signed his long-term deal in Ottawa and was already on track to being one of the best offensive defensemen ever (he was already up to .68 points per game!). Doughty, meanwhile, was a significantly better defensive player than the other three and had already been a finalist for the Norris Trophy.

Neither Werenski or McAvoy has reached that level yet, while Werenski also sees a pretty significant drop in his performance when he is not paired next to Seth Jones, which could be a concern depending on how much value you put into such a comparison. It’s also worth pointing out that Jones sees a similar drop when he is not paired next to Werenski, and that the two are absolutely dominant when they are together.

But do those points outweigh the production and impact that Werenski and McAvoy have made, and the potential that they still possess in future years?

What they have already accomplished from a performance standpoint is almost unheard of for defenders of their age in this era of the league. It is also rare for any player of any level of experience.

Over the past three years only 15 other defenders have topped the 0.50 points per game and a 52 percent Corsi mark. On average, those players make $7 million per season under the cap, while only three of them — Roman Josi, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Erik Gustafsson — make less than $5 million per year. Josi is also due for a huge raise over the next year that will almost certainly move him into the $7-plus million range as well.

Bottom line is that the Blue Jackets and Bruins have top-pairing defenders on their hands that still have their best days in the NHL ahead of them. There is every reason to believe they are on track to be consistent All-Star level players and signing them to big deals right now, this summer, will probably turn out to be worth every penny.

Related: Bruins face salary cap juggling act with McAvoy, Carlo

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.