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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.

Predators decide Tolvanen still isn’t ready for NHL

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The Nashville Predators made some roster cuts on Sunday, with one being a little bit surprising: Eeli Tolvanen.

This doesn’t send a signal to panic, but it is a little frustrating to see the stilted development of the 20-year-old forward, who was the 30th overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

For much of 2017-18, Tolvanen made highlight-reel plays in Finland that led people to believe that the Predators pulled off a big steal. That momentum was seemingly halted late in that season, however, as he received limited use in three regular-season games with the Predators. Still, hopes were high for the then-rookie winger.

To Tolvanen’s credit, he didn’t explore a potential out-clause as he stagnated in the AHL last season. Apparently that didn’t earn him enough cool points with the Predators to get him a longer look during this training camp, though.

To be fair to the Predators, they might just want to see more out of Tolvanen before pulling the trigger on a longer NHL look. He was fine in the AHL last season (15 goals and 35 points in 58 games with the Milwaukee Admirals), but not quite mind-blowing enough to kick the door down.

That said, it was a little frustrating to see a lack of experimentation from Predators head coach Peter Laviolette last season. Personally, I felt like Tolvanen was worth a try on a power play unit that was absolutely awful; the 2018-19 rendition of the Predators didn’t have a ton of players with a shot on par with what Tolvanen can unleash.

With Matt Duchene‘s shot added as an option on the power play, it might have been tougher to squeeze Tolvanen into the mix, although his abilities make you believe that it was worth more of a try.

It remains a little baffling that the Predators are sending Tolvanen down so early, although his waive exempt status plays a role in the decision.

A player like Tolvanen can sometimes provide that extra spark — and some extra easy goals — that can help you win a few extra games, or maybe even break open a tight playoff game. Of course, Laviolette might contest that he’s still at a point in his career where he’d make a mistake that would instead open up such opportunities for the Predators’ opponents.

Tolvanen could easily resurface for the Predators during the 2019-20 season, and maybe do so more than once. It’s nonetheless difficult to fight a bit of impatience when he’s down in the AHL, especially if it means he’s losing opportunities to one or more of Frederick Gaudreau or Miikka Salomaki.

MORE:

• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Previewing the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Better after an impressive offseason.

Getting to match what’s basically a team-friendly offer sheet for Sebastian Aho was a nice start, but the dirt-cheap Jake Gardiner signing capped quite a run of savvy moves. While Gardiner makes them even richer on defense, they have a more varied offense after adding Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel to the mix.

Strengths: If the Hurricanes don’t have the best defense in the NHL, they’re absolutely in the top five, and their group might be the deepest. It’s possible that Gardiner may help them boost a middling power play, and all of that defensive depth could allow management to make a trade down the line.

Their offense is looking considerably more impressive on paper, especially if they acknowledge the obvious and truly unleash Andrei Svechnikov next season.

Carolina figures to be a five-on-five beast once again.

Weaknesses: Petr Mrazek put together a strong finish to last season, but goaltending remains an issue. It’s unclear what James Reimer has left to offer, although he was once an analytics darling.

It’s plausible that the power play may remain hit-or-miss, as the Hurricanes might lack at least a tiny bit in that true superstar finishing ability.

[More: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): It seemed like Rod Brind’Amour was a pretty nifty fit in Carolina in his first season as a head coach, keeping an even keel through some early season bumps, and allowing his team to loosen up with the “Storm Surge.” This franchise doesn’t want to go right back to missing the playoffs after breaking their last drought, but even in that situation, “Rod the Bod” seems fairly safe. Let’s put him at a two.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Mrazek, Martin Necas, Justin Faulk

Mrazek breathed life into his NHL career by playing well enough down the stretch to convince Carolina to stick with him via a new contract. He still has quite a bit to prove. If you cannot succeed behind this defense, then you don’t have a lot of excuses.

Necas seems like he’s on the verge of a full-time leap to the NHL, yet the Hurricanes don’t necessarily have a ton of room to carry a player if it’s evident that he can’t hang at this level in 2019-20. Getting another burst of high-end skill could really move the needle for Carolina, though.

Will Faulk stick with the Hurricanes through this season (and maybe even beyond), being that he’s entering a contract year? Could he even be traded before the upcoming campaign begins? It sounds like it was close to happening before, and should be a situation to watch until we get some resolution.

Playoffs or Lottery: The Metropolitan Division is a bit of a mystery, what with the Blue Jackets suffering huge losses while the Devils and Rangers made big strides forward. It sure seems like there’s a lane for the Hurricanes to make the playoffs pretty comfortably, and their superior depth might just put them in a cozy position to win the division.

MORE:

• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Previewing the 2019-20 Vegas Golden Knights

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Far worse.

The Golden Knights cringed under a cap crunch during this offseason, losing intriguing KHL import Nikita Gusev, valuable scorer Erik Haula, and underrated defenseman Colin Miller while getting table scraps in return.

Luckily, the Golden Knights have been feasting lately, as Mark Stone is really only getting started after being a late addition around the 2018-19 trade deadline.

Strengths: The Golden Knights’ forward group is remarkable. Stone basically elevates Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty to the equivalent of a top line, and Vegas already had one (or, at worst, a strong “1B”) in Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith. They also have a top-six-quality winger in Alex Tuch if someone goes cold or gets hurt. Few teams can match that group, and it remains resounding that Vegas built this group up so quickly.

Bonus points if Cody Glass ends up making the team and getting meaningful minutes.

When he’s hot, Marc-Andre Fleury can still steal games for his team.

Weaknesses: It sure feels like the Golden Knights are rolling the dice a bit in net, though. Fleury turns 35 on Nov. 28, and their backup options leave a lot to be desired. That netminder situation sometimes resembles a wobbly Jenga tower.

While I like Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore, and believe the latter may have “another gear,” it’s fair to wonder if the Golden Knights’ defense is a stride or two behind the NHL’s best. They’ve done well to craft a pretty good defense in a short time, but that group isn’t as impressive as their forwards.

Gerard Gallant has made some magic, but like with any NHL head coach, he has his quirks. If he indulges in leaning too much on Fleury, Ryan Reaves, and Deryk Engelland, it could be to the Golden Knights’ detriment.

[More: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Gallant won the Jack Adams in 2017-18, and has managed to bring Vegas to two playoff berths in as many seasons. About the only glaring criticism you can muster (beyond those smaller aforementioned quirks) is that maybe — just maybe — Gallant could have done more to settle his team down after Cody Eakin drew that notorious major penalty in Game 7 against the Sharks.

Overall, Gallant is pretty safe, although the Golden Knights aren’t shy about spending, so they expect to be a contender. Let’s put Gallant at a two.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Theodore, Glass, and Stone.

Theodore had a cancer scare a few months ago, and thankfully, it sounds like he took care of that matter. Here’s hoping that he’s 100 percent to start the season, because he’s a blast to watch.

Glass is intriguing as a prospect who could, ideally, give Vegas another weapon — if he makes the team.

After a tumultuous final season with the Senators and trade to Vegas, Stone gets to settle in. This could be a good time for those in the hockey world who didn’t already know it to clue into something: he’s probably even better than he’s hyped up to be.

Playoffs or Lottery: With a weak Pacific Division in mind, the Golden Knights should be focused on winning a Stanley Cup, not merely making the playoffs.

It’s strange to say this so early in the team’s existence, but a trip to the lottery would be as disastrous as owing an old mob casino a bunch of money.

MORE:

• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Previewing the 2019-20 Vancouver Canucks

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: They are definitely better, it is just a question of how much better and if it is enough to matter. Hopefully a full season from Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson having a year of experience under his belt, the arrival of Quinn Hughes, and the offseason additions of J.T. Miller and Tyler Myers all add something to the team. Trading a future first-round pick for Miller is a risk, and Myers’ deal is yet another bizarre long-term contract for a veteran that isn’t a core player, but they are short-term upgrades. Whether that gets them closer to being a playoff team remains to be seen, and it all kind of makes you question what the long-term plan actually is.

Strengths: For all of their flaws, the Canucks do have a lot of young talent they should be able to build around assuming they don’t screw it up. They have had Calder Trophy contenders in each of the past two seasons (Boeser and Pettersson, the latter of which won it) and could have another one this season (Hughes).

Weaknesses: They lack quality depth at forward, they have holes on defense, the goaltending is probably average, and for a team that has been one of the worst in the league for the past four years and does not have a single player making more than $6 million per season they are somehow completely capped out and have no wiggle room to work with financially. They invested too much money and too many years in veteran, declining depth players and just don’t have enough around their top young players to seriously compete for a playoff spot. That all points to their biggest overall weakness: The front office.

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | X-Factor | Under Pressure | Three Questions]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Travis Green has been the Canucks’ coach for two non-playoff seasons, but what does that mean? Do we know what kind of coach he is? What exactly has he had to work with here? Still, any time a coach is looking at the potential for a third consecutive non-playoff season you have to think their seat is at least a little warm. We will put him at a 7 out of 10.

Three most fascinating players: Pettersson, Hughes, and Thatcher Demko.

Pettersson is fascinating simply because he is the team’s best, and most exciting player and it is going to be interesting to see what he does in year two. His rookie season was great, but he cooled off considerably after the first month of the season when it came to scoring goals, and a lot of his goal-scoring success was the result of an incredibly high shooting percentage. Can he sustain that?

Hughes is an important player for the Canucks because they really need him to be an impact player simply due to the position he plays. They need someone on defense that can be a young, top-pairing defender and he definitely has that sort of potential. There are certainly going to be growing pains for him as a rookie, but the potential for stardom is absolutely there.

Jacob Markstrom has been pretty solid the past two years as the team’s starting goalie under less than ideal circumstances, but is he a long-term solution in net? He is an unrestricted free agent after this season and an already cap-strapped team has a big decision to make. That is where Demko comes in because he could be a long-term solution. Markstrom has earned the right to open the season as the starter, but Demko’s play when he gets his opportunities could create an opportunity for the Canucks to move Markstrom and turn the net over to their potential long-term goalie.

Playoffs or lottery: Even with their impressive young talent this is still not a playoff team. They are also not a team that is going to be bad enough to be one of the worst teams in the league. That leaves them in that messy middle ground that is really difficult to get out of.

MORE:
Boeser gets three-year bridge deal with Canucks
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.