Getty

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

3 Comments

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.

Day 3 of NHL training camps sees Kaprizov talk, Fleury absent again

Leave a comment

Day 3 of Return to Play training camps is another day closer to the puck being dropped for real. Teams are still trying to get back into game rhythm and rekindle the chemistry that was put on pause in mid-March.

The popular phrase “unfit to play” wasn’t uttered as much as it was on Monday and Tuesday. But given the “new normal” of injury reporting in the NHL now, we’ve certainly not heard the last of teams not expanding on why a player wasn’t on the ice.

Let’s take a quick skate around Wednesday’s happenings.

No panic over another Fleury absence

Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was not on the ice for the third straight day. The team stressed his absence was not COVID-19-related. Head coach Peter DeBoer said it’s just maintenance and he expects him to join the team before the weekend.

“He’s feeling good,” DeBoer said. “We’ve got a long runway here before we start. He really practiced hard. He doesn’t have anything significant. The plan is he will be on the ice before the weekend.”

Kaprizov signed, sealed, but yet to be delivered

Three head coaches and four general managers later, Kirill Kaprizov is finally a Wild player. The 2015 draft pick held a Zoom call with reporters and was virtually presented with his No. 97 jersey by GM Bill Guerin.

Wild TV

While Kaprizov is able to burn the first year of his two-year entry-level contract, he won’t be able to play in the Return to Play program. He will be able to practice with the Wild, pending he’s able to join the team before they head to Edmonton. The team is still working on visas for the 23-year-old forward. There’s also the issue of international quarantine once he arrives from Russia.

“He knows everybody’s waiting for him, and he can’t wait to put on the jersey himself, as well,” Kaprizov said through interpreter Alex Buzi. “He hopes that’s going to happen sometime as soon as next week, and he’s really eager and excited to join the team.”

What might Patrik Laine do during his down time in the bubble?

Maple Leafs getting into game mode early

There are roster spots up for grabs for the Maple Leafs, so what better way to help the selection process than a good old fashioned tournament.

That’s what head coach Sheldon Keefe did on Wednesday, splitting the squad up into two teams — Team Auston and Team Freddie — in a best-of-five series featuring officials.

“I think it was great. You’ve got to get used to where the refs are out there again. Coming into the zone, just setting up in the zone, it’s a little different when they’re not there,” said William Nylander said. “They take up some space so running our power play without would leave some extra space that we wouldn’t be used to once the games start. I think that was a great aspect to have included.”

The NHL has stepped in, however, and said no to officials in the future. The risk of exposure for both sides is too great of a risk.

Keeping up with the Kovalchuks

Ilya Kovalchuk played only seven games with the Capitals following the February trade from Montreal. After a forgettable time with the Kings, he was rejuvenated with the Canadiens, and there’s plenty of excitement to see him in that Washington lineup on an extended basis.

The 37-year-old was busy during the break with training and being occupied with his four kids.

“I gotta keep them busy and I want to lead by example, so we’re doing something every day,” he said. “No days off for our family.”

Even the training sessions became a family affair:

Vatanan healthy for Hurricanes

When the Hurricanes play the Rangers, Sami Vatanen will make his long-awaited debut for his new team. The defenseman has been out since suffering a leg injury Feb. 1. He was dealt from the Devils later that month but did not play for Carolina before the pause. Five months later, he’s good to go.

“Health-wise, I feel 100 percent,” Vatanen said. “I have no worries about that. Of course, it takes a little time to get to game speed, but we have a long time still until we start to play, so I will be ready.”

The Hurricanes’ blue line will be bolstered for their series with New York. Not only will they get Vatanen back, Dougie Hamilton will also make a return from injury. He fractured his left fibula in January.

“Dougie’s back, and now we’ve got to find somewhere else to put [Vatanen],” said Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “He’s a talented player. You’re talking power play. That’s what he does. He’s good at it, but there’s a learning curve, and we can’t wait five games to see if it will work with him.”

MORE: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

————

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.

‘Luck in disguise’: Layoff helps Blue Jackets get healthy

1 Comment

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Considering they are about to resume the season amid a pandemic, the Columbus Blue Jackets are healthier than they’ve been in a long while.

When the NHL halted play in mid-March because of the coronavirus, injuries to top players had piled up, and coach John Tortorella had started to fret that the youngsters he plugged into the lineup wouldn’t have the steam to carry the Blue Jackets to the playoffs.

All-Star defenseman Seth Jones and top goal-scorer Oliver Bjorkstrand were out with broken ankles. A long list of others had missed games with various injuries, including the two top goalies.

“When Oliver goes out — and he was our best player at that point in time — when Jonesy goes down, we were swimming upstream big time,” Tortorella said after opening practice this week ahead of a five-game playoff qualifying series against Toronto set to begin Aug. 2.

“I’m not sure where we go without those two for another 12 games we had to play,” he said. “I’m certainly not going to say we weren’t going to get in, but it was a struggle.”

Jones and Bjorkstrand are healed and back at full speed. So is veteran Cam Atkinson, who had struggled with a high ankle sprain. Goalies Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins, both of whom excelled at different times this season, are healthy and will compete to start in the net against Toronto.

Jones, who had surgery Feb. 11, called the forced layoff “luck in disguise.”

“It’s so nice to see the guys healthy, especially the big-minute players on our team that have been such as asset to us,” captain Nick Foligno said. “I think we felt really strongly about our group even with all the injuries we had, but to add those players it’s an instant boost to your team and your morale. We’re getting back our leaders.”

The season was unusual for the Blue Jackets even before the coronavirus. The team was struggling in early December before a winning streak helped it climb into contention in the Metropolitan Division.

As regulars went down to injuries, Tortorella summoned players who had started the season at the team’s top minor league club in Cleveland. The Blue Jackets stayed in it, and when the season was paused on March 12, they were above the wildcard line in the Eastern Division. When the league decided to go straight to a 24-team postseason upon resumption, Columbus was seeded ninth in the East based on points percentage and drew a matchup with the eighth-seeded Maple Leafs in the play-in round.

Some of those young players, including forwards Emil Bemstrom, Liam Foudy and Eric Robinson are expected to contribute even with the team back to near full strength.

Columbus will face a potent Maple Leaf attack led by stars Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares. Toronto’s 237 goals were second in the league to Tampa Bay’s 243 when the season was suspended.

“Essentially, we’re all starting from zero, right?” Atkinson said. “So it doesn’t matter what happened during the regular season, what teams were hot, the injuries and what not. We’re just all healed up and ready to go.”

Tortorella said safety is the priority as the team travels to Toronto to enter the “playoff bubble.”

“We’re going to go through all the precautions and do it the right way,” said Tortorella, who on Wednesday was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for the league’s top coach. “There is a point — and I talked to the team — I don’t want this to be a bunch of drama, either, talking about the virus every day. We’re going to protect the players, the league is going to protect the players, we need to get ready to play hockey also.”

Matthews, Toronto’s star center, said Monday he tested positive for COVID-19 last month in his home state of Arizona but was largely asymptomatic and has fully recovered. Columbus has reported no cases.

2019-20 Calder Trophy finalists: Hughes, Makar, Kubalik

Leave a comment

The NHL announced Quinn Hughes (Canucks), Cale Makar (Avalanche), and Dominik Kubalik (Blackhawks) as the 2019-20 Calder Trophy finalists. The wording of the Calder, aka rookie of the year, is that it’s given to the player who was  “most proficient in his first year of competition.”

The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association votes on the Calder Trophy each year. Elias Pettersson took home the Calder Trophy in 2018-19.

This year’s Calder Trophy winner will be announced sometime during the Conference Finals.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule, now with start times]

The Calder Trophy cases for finalists Hughes, Kubalik, Makar

The case for Quinn Hughes

Hughes, 20, topped all rookies — not just rookie defensemen, all rookies — with 53 points in 2019-20. In doing so, Hughes became just the third rookie defenseman to top rookie scoring outright (joining Bobby Orr and Brian Leetch).

By averaging 21:53 time on ice, Hughes ranked second (just a slight bit behind Ethan Bear of the Oilers [21:58]). Alexander Edler (22:37) stood as the only Canucks player who averaged more ice time than Hughes this season.

Hughes joined Makar among rookie defensemen who jumped immediately into big roles, and passed most tests with flying colors.

This RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey captures some of what made Hughes special. He created offense while avoiding many of the mistakes you’d expect a rookie (and an offensive-minded defenseman, in general) to make:

Calder Trophy finalists Quinn Hughes RAPM
via Evolving Hockey

The case for Cale Makar

While Hughes tops some of the volume stats, Makar makes a “quality-over-quantity” argument for the Calder.

Makar scored more goals (12) than Hughes (eight) even though he appeared in fewer games (57 games played to Hughes’ 68). Despite missing that time, Makar finished second among all rookies with 50 points. Averaging .88 points per game is difficult for any defenseman; it’s extremely rare for a rookie. Makar expands the list of rookie defensemen with at least .88 points-per-game with 50+ games played, joining Larry Murphy and Al MacInnis.

Like Hughes, Makar didn’t totally sacrifice defense to create offense. Makar grades well on Evolving Hockey RAPM charts, too:

2020 Calder Trophy finalists Makar RAPM
via Evolving Hockey

[More: Hughes vs. Makar from earlier in 2019-20]

The case for Dominik Kubalik

It will be a tough call between Hughes and Makar, but others enjoyed strong rookie seasons. A certain portion of hockey fans may debate Kubalik vs. other 2020 Calder Trophy finalists for some time. Beyond historic seasons for Hughes and Makar, defensemen like Adam Fox and John Marino made this a special year for rookie defensemen.

But Kubalik turned heads, too, even more than other high-scoring rookie forwards such as Victor Olofsson of the Sabres.

Kubalik topped all rookies in goals with 30, scoring 46 points in 68 games. While the Blackhawks forward is unlikely to become the first Czech-born Calder Trophy winner, he’s the first Czech-born player to lead all rookies in goals.

Hughes, Kubalik, and Makar are all involved in the 24-team 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, so you can get another peak at the 2020 Calder Trophy finalists during the return to play. (COVID-19 permitting.)

NHL AWARD FINALISTS, ANNOUNCEMENT DATES

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Cassidy, Tortorella, Vigneault are 2019-20 Jack Adams Award finalists

Leave a comment

Bruce Cassidy of the Bruins, John Tortorella of the Blue Jackets, and Alain Vigneault of the Flyers have been named finalists for the 2019-20 Jack Adams Award, given to the head coach who has “contributed the most to his team’s success.”

All three head coaches aren’t strangers to being a finalist for the Jack Adams. This is Cassidy’s second time in the last three seasons in the top three, while Tortorella and Vigneault have been honored five times. Tortorella has won it twice (2003-04 and 2016-17), while Vigneault took home the award in 2006-07.

Barry Trotz of the Islanders was last season’s winner.

The NHL Broadcasters’ Association vote, with the winner announced during the conference finals.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

The case for Bruce Cassidy: At the time of the March NHL pause Cassidy’s Bruins had the most points (100) and highest points percentage (.714) in the league. That success resulted in a Presidents’ Trophy for the franchise. Boston led the NHL in wins with 44 and hit the 40-win mark for the seventh straight season. Special teams played a big role in another strong year as the Bruins boasted the second-best power play (25.2%) and third-best penalty kill (84.3%). A win would make Cassidy the fourth coach in franchise history to win the award following Don Cherry (1975-76), Pat Burns (1997-98) and Claude Julien (2008-09).

The case for John Tortorella: Despite losing their two biggest stars in free agency, Tortorella’s Blue Jackets didn’t allow that to hold them back. Columbus surprised many and put themselves in position to be part of the NHL’s expanded Return to Play plan. During their final 41 games the Blue Jackets had two separate double-digit point streaks to keep them in the postseason mix. He’s the only coach in franchise history to have won the Jack Adams.

The case for Alain Vigneault: In his first season with the Flyers, Vigneault led them to a .645 points percentage at the time of the March pause and put them among the Eastern Conference’s top four seeds. A nine-game winning streak in mid-February help push them up the standings. He would become the fifth coach in franchise history to win the Jack Adams after Fred Shero (1973-74), Pat Quinn (1979-80), Mike Keenan (1984-85) and Bill Barber (2000-01).

NHL AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCEMENT DATES
Ted Lindsay Award: Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin
Calder Trophy: Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, Dominik Kubalik

• Thursday, July 16: Lady Byng Trophy, Masterton Trophy
• Friday, July 17: Willie O’Ree Award, Vezina Trophy
• Monday, July 20: Norris Trophy, Selke Trophy
• Tuesday, July 21: Hart Trophy

————

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.