Saturday, November 2, 2013

1991 NHL Expansion Draft

I used scare quotes in the title of my last post about the 1979 NHL Expansion Draft and I'm going to use them again throughout this post. Find 'expansion' in a dictionary and it is defined something to the effect of "becoming larger". Broadly speaking any new team in a professional sports league is an "expansion team" if it increases the league membership, but in the context of professional sports the term "expansion team" implies a team created ex novo ("from new").

Whether or not you or I think the WHA's clubs joining the NHL was more a 'merger' than an 'expansion' the facts are that at the end of the 1978-79 NHL season there were 17 member clubs and by the beginning of the 1979-80 season there were 21. The NHL held a draft to provide players to the four new clubs from the existing 17. The NHL went well out of its way to make it look like these clubs were started from scratch in 1979.

The WHA teams elected to join the NHL for a variety of reasons but chief among them was the instability of the WHA itself. The volume of franchise movement in the WHA was enormous, and the four teams that joined the NHL were far and away the healthiest financially speaking (and even then three of the four teams moved in the 1990s). In the late 1970s the NHL was facing financial difficulties of its own. In 1978 the Cleveland Barons and Minnesota North Stars merged. The Barons' owners, George and Gordon Gund, took over the North Stars and the two teams were combined in a messy compromise that kept one of the teams in existence for the then-foreseeable future. It was the first time the NHL had contracted since 1942.

The Gund brothers lost money in Minnesota too and after years of losses the matter came to a head in 1990. The NHL was faced with another problem that would also stretch the common definition of "expansion team".

By the summer of 1990 it was no secret that the Gunds had no desire to keep operating the North Stars in Minnesota and they were intent on moving the team to the San Francisco Bay Area. Ironically they were minority owners in the California Golden Seals and were the architects of their move from the Bay Area to Cleveland in 1976. They blamed the Seals' problems on having been located in Oakland instead of San Francisco, and the failure of the proposed Yerba Buena Center arena project in 1976 (which would have built a new arena in the heart of San Francisco) was the final nail in the Seals' coffin. (It would have been built on what is now the site of the Moscone Center.) In the time that had passed since the Seals left for Cleveland the city of San Jose, at the south end of the bay, had grown rapidly and in the 1980s became known as the centre of Silicon Valley. In 1988 San Jose voters approved a funding for a new pro hockey arena; they broke ground in the spring of 1990.

As I said the Gunds were intent on moving the North Stars to San Jose but the NHL governors wanted to keep a presence in Minnesota, well-known as the state with the largest grass-roots support for hockey. Rather than becoming embroiled in a lawsuit such as the one between the Oakland Raiders and National Football League in the early 1980s the NHL struck a deal with the Gunds which would grant them the right to an expansion franchise located in San Jose, and in turn the Gunds would sell the North Stars to former Whalers owner Howard Baldwin and Morris Belzberg.

In order to reach this compromise the NHL and the Baldwin ownership group made very large, very unusual concessions: the Gunds' new franchise in San Jose would be allowed to take over the contracts of many of the North Stars' players. They would take some of the staff with them as well, including GM Jack Ferreira, Assistant GM Dean Lombardi, and chief scouts Chuck Grillo and Les Jackson. The North Stars would also participate in the expansion draft alongside the San Jose team. Yes, that's right: an existing team would pick players in an expansion draft. Like I said this would stretch the common definition of "expansion team". Some people have called this agreement in effect the 'demerger' of the North Stars/Barons franchise.

Under the terms of the agreement the new San Jose team would take 30 players from the North Stars in a dispersal draft. The North Stars would be able to protect 14 skaters and two goalies with at least 50 games of NHL experience. San Jose would then pick 14 skaters and two goalies with less than 50 games of NHL experience. The two teams would then alternate picking players off the North Stars' reserve list until the San Jose team had picked a total of 30 players.

Unlike previous expansion teams from the '60s and '70s the San Jose club would not get first overall selection in the entry draft. The existing team with the worst record in '90-'91 would select first overall and San Jose would select second. In subsequent rounds the order would be reversed and San Jose would have the first pick in the round. Keep in mind this was the year that Eric Lindros, then the most highly touted prospect since Mario Lemieux, would be eligible for selection. It was assumed that whoever had first overall pick would use it to select Lindros. The NHL governors would allow the Gunds to have their team in California but they stopped short of gifting Lindros to them.

The agreement with the Gunds was announced on May 5, 1990. Ferreira, Lombardi, Grillo and Jackson were to stay on with the North Stars until the end of June however Baldwin hired Bobby Clarke to be the new GM on June 8. It was also around this time that Norm Green entered the picture.

Green, a shopping mall developer from Calgary, was an 18% stakeholder in the Flames. He sold his share of the Flames and bought 51% of the North Stars from Baldwin and Belzberg. Almost immediately after hiring Bobby Clarke Baldwin sold his remaining 24.5% share of the North Stars to Green.

Meanwhile the Gunds announced that the new team in the Bay Area would be known as the San Jose Sharks, and they would temporarily play home games at the Cow Palace in Daly City until the San Jose Arena was finished (trivia: the Cow Palace was home to the WHL's San Francisco Seals in the 1960s, the team that became the NHL's California [Golden] Seals. One of the conditions of the 1967 expansion was that the Bay Area franchise couldn't play at the Cow Palace. It was deemed "unfit for the NHL" by the Board of Governors. The NHL's Seals played all of their home games across the bay at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena, except for five games played at the Cow Palace in the '68-'69 season).

By October of 1990 Green bought out Belzberg and had sole ownership of the team. Green had completely taken over within five months of the sale to Baldwin and Belzberg, and he wanted to change the deal with the Sharks. He felt it was too onerous on the North Stars (arguably true), and sought to revise the terms such that the North Stars would be allowed to keep more of their young players. The Sharks and North Stars would continue to renegotiate the terms of the dispersal throughout the 1990-91 season, well into May of 1991 in fact. It was only in mid-May that they finally came to an agreement as to how to split the players. Originally the dispersal and expansion draft were to be held on June 17 however it was moved ahead to May 30 in order to give the teams time to offer contracts to impending free agents (whose contracts would expire July 1). The draft began at 3 p.m. central time, by conference call.

The details of the final agreement between the North Stars and Sharks were never made public as far as I know. I've never found a source that describes the process in great detail, but I suspect that instead of a complicated draft procedure between the two clubs they simply negotiated and agreed on which players the Sharks would be allowed to take. In the end they took four members of the North Stars active roster, ten from the Kalamazoo Wings (the North Stars' IHL affiliate), and ten unsigned entry draft choices (mostly from the NCAA). The Sharks were also given the North Stars' second round pick in the 1991 Entry Draft (30th overall, used to select Sandis Ozolinsh) and their first round pick in the 1992 Entry Draft (10th overall, used to select Andrei Nazarov), reportedly in exchange for not taking Mike Craig in the "dispersal draft".

The first 24 San Jose Sharks were:

1991 Dispersal Draft
Player1990-91 team
Shane ChurlaMinnesota North Stars
Brian HaywardMinnesota North Stars
Neil WilkinsonMinnesota North Stars
Rob ZettlerMinnesota North Stars
Ed CourtenayKalamazoo Wings (IHL)
Kevin EvansKalamazoo Wings (IHL)
Link GaetzKalamazoo Wings (IHL)
Dan KeczmerKalamazoo Wings (IHL)
Dean KolstadKalamazoo Wings (IHL)
Peter LappinKalamazoo Wings (IHL)
Pat MacLeodKalamazoo Wings (IHL)
Mike McHughKalamazoo Wings (IHL)
Jarmo MyllysKalamazoo Wings (IHL)
J.F. QuentinKalamazoo Wings (IHL)
Scott CashmanBoston University (Hockey East)
Murray GarbuttSpokane Chiefs (WHL)
Rob GaudreauProvidence College (Hockey East)
Arturs IrbeDinamo Riga (Soviet Championship)
Shaun KaneProvidence College (Hockey East)
Larry OlimbUniversity of Minnesota (WCHA)
Tom PedersonUniversity of Minnesota (WCHA)
Bryan SchoenUniversity of Denver (WCHA)
John WeisbrodHarvard University (ECAC)
Doug ZmolekUniversity of Minnesota (WCHA)

The rules of the expansion draft were such that the North Stars and Sharks would pick 10 players each, a total of 20, one from each of the other clubs. The Sharks had first pick and had to pick a goalie. The North Stars would then have their choice of either a goalie or a defenceman with the second pick. The following six selections had to be used on defencemen and the final 12 picks were reserved for forwards.

Each of the 20 other clubs would lose only one player; once they had lost a player the North Stars and Sharks were not able to pick another from that team. The other 20 clubs were allowed to protect 16 skaters and a pair of goaltenders. All first- and second-year pros were exempt from selection and did not have to be protected. They were also forced to expose at least one goaltender with at least 60 minutes of NHL experience, one defenceman with at least 40 games played in the NHL in the 1990-91 season or 70 games over the course of the '89-'90 and '90-'91 seasons combined, and one forward with at least 40 NHL games in 1990-91 or 70 games over the preceding two seasons. As a result of these minimum experience rules a few players were pressed into action by their teams just so they could be exposed at the expense of protecting others; for example, Damian Rhodes of the Toronto Maple Leafs. At the time the only other goalies the Leafs had with NHL experience were Peter Ing and Jeff Reese, so Rhodes saw action in a single game (a 3-1 win over the Red Wings) so that the Maple Leafs could leave him exposed in the expansion draft. Rhodes wouldn't play in the NHL again until the '93-'94 season.

Rather than give the Sharks and North Stars the other clubs' protected lists, as was customary in the expansion drafts of the '70s, they were instead presented with a list of players available for selection. This list also included players who were on the teams' (restricted) free agent, voluntarily retired and inactive lists. Why the voluntarily retired and inactive players were included I do not know; it became something of a joke that the Sharks could stock their roster with all-time greats like Jean Beliveau, Bobby Clarke and Denis Potvin. Whatever the true explanation is I have listed the retired and inactive players separately, as none of them were actually chosen. The North Stars and Sharks were permitted to claim only one "free agent" player in the course of the draft.

Available Players

Boston BruinsBuffalo SabresCalgary FlamesChicago BlackhawksDetroit Red Wings
Andy BrickleyBrian CurranRich ChernomazBruce CassidyJohn Chabot
John CarterDale DeGrayKerry ClarkMartin DesjardinsAlain Chevrier
Lou CrawfordFrançois GuayPaul FentonPaul GillisBengt-Åke Gustafsson#
Peter DourisJeff Hamilton#Steve GuenetteMichel GouletMarc Habscheid
Norm FosterSteve LudzikKevan GuyJim JohannsonGlen Hanlon
Nevin MarkwartMikko MakelaTim HunterRick LanzRandy Hansch
John MokosakDon McSweenRick LessardBob McGillBrad Marsh
Allen PedersenGates Orlando#Brian MacLellanGreg MillenChris MacRae
Michael ThelvenGreg PaslawskiScott McCradyBrian NoonanDean Morton
Jim WiemerDirk Rueter#Sergei PryakhinDarren Pang 
 Steve SmithRichard ZemlakJim Playfair 
 Hannu Virta# Warren Rychel 
 Steve Weeks Mike Stapleton 
 Jay Wells Dan Vincelette 
   Bill Watson# 
   Sean Williams 
Edmonton OilersHartford WhalersLos Angeles KingsMontreal CanadiensNew Jersey Devils
Mario BarbeMikael AnderssonScott BjugstadFrederic ChabotCraig Billington
Dan CurrieDave BabychMal Davis#J. J. DaigneaultDoug Brown
John EnglishMarc BergevinMario GosselinDonald DufresnePat Conacher
Greg HawgoodBrian ChapmanBob HalkidisBrent GilchristJamie Huscroft
Charlie HuddyDaryl ReaughRick HaywardSylvain LefebvreMarc Laniel
Tomas JonssonJohn StevensTom LaidlawJayson MoreJeff Madill
Fabian Joseph#Emanuel ViveirosJohn Miner#Mats Naslund#David Marcinyshyn
Marc LaforgeTerry YakePetr PrajslerJim NesichRollie Melanson
Mark Lamb Ilkka SinisaloRyan WalterKent Nilsson#
John Leblanc# Jim ThomsonDan WoodleyLee Norwood
Tommy Lehman# John Tonelli Janne Ojanen
Ken Linseman Tim Watters Walt Poddubny
Norm Maciver   Jeff Sharples
Max Middendorf   Claude Vilgrain
Selmar Odelein#    
Pokey Reddick    
Reijo Ruotsalainen#    
Shaun Van Allen    
Mike Ware    
New York IslandersNew York RangersPhiladelphia FlyersPittsburgh PenguinsQuebec Nordiques
Bill BergPaul BrotenDon Biggs#Jock CallanderMario Brunetta#
Brad DalgarnoBob FroeseMike Bullard#Jay CaulfieldGerald Bzdel
Rob DimaioLee Giffin#Rod DallmanJeff DanielsMario Doyon
Jeff FinleyStephane GuerardBrian DobbinGilbert DelormeScott Gordon
Rick GreenMark HardyDavid FenyvesGord DineenAlan Haworth#
Paul Gagne#Anders Hedberg#Mark FreerRandy GilhenMiloslav Horava
Jeff HackettJody HullMark HoweRandy HillierJeff Jackson
Brad LauerKelly KisioWillie Huber#Jiri HrdinaGuy Lafleur
Derek LaxdalMark LaforestChris JensenKim IsselBrent Severyn
George ManelukGuy LaroseTim KerrMark KachowskiTrevor Stienberg
Hubie McDonoughJoe PatersonDale KushnerPeter Lee# 
Chris PryorLindy RuffNormand LacombeDave Michayluk 
Mick VukotaSam St-LaurentPete PeetersGlenn Mulvenna 
  Shaun SabolBarry Pederson 
  Glen SeabrookeBruce Racine 
   Bryan Trottier 
   Wendell Young 
St. Louis BluesToronto Maple LeafsVancouver CanucksWashington CapitalsWinnipeg Jets
David BruceNormand Aubin#Peter BakovicRobin Bawa#Randy Carlyle
Yves HerouxAaron BrotenBrian BladTim BerglandTom Draper
Dominic LavoieLucien DeBloisJack CapuanoCraig DuncansonDallas Eakins
Darrell MayJerry Dupont#Craig CoxeChris FelixBryan Erickson
Alain RaymondMike FolignoIan KiddMark FernerTodd Flichel
Harold SnepstsTodd HawkinsBob MasonBrent HughesBob Joyce
Tom TilleyKent HulstAndrew McBainJohn KordicMark Kumpel
Steve TuttleGreg JohnstonRobert NordmarkMike LiutTyler Larter
Alain Vigneault#Kevin MaguireRisto Siltanen#Rob MurrayMoe Mantha
Ron WilsonMike MillarStan SmylMike Richard#Chris Norton
 Rob RamageCarl ValimontSteve SeftelRoger Ohman#
 Dave ReidBehn Wilson#Neil SheehyKent Paynter
 Damian Rhodes Dave TippettRudy Poeschek
 Mike Stevens Alfie TurcotteScott Schneider
 Gilles Thibaudeau Simon WheeldonPhil Sykes
    Jim Vesey
# denotes free agent

Voluntarily Retired and Inactive Players Available

Boston BruinsBuffalo SabresCalgary FlamesChicago BlackhawksDetroit Red Wings
Gord KluzakLee FogolinBrian EngblomDave FeamsterMurray Eaves
Willi PlettJan LudvigJim PeplinskiCliff KorollBernie Federko
Frank SimonettiDave Lewis
Louis SleigherMike O'Connell
Edmonton OilersHartford WhalersLos Angeles KingsMontreal CanadiensNew Jersey Devils
Glen CochraneAndre LacroixBruce BakerMichel Bolduc
Dave HunterLarry PleauJean BeliveauMurray Brumwell
Craig RedmondYvan CournoyerMark Gordon
Ken DrydenBob Lorimer
John FergusonBob Sauve
Bob Gainey
Jean Hamel
Pierre Mondou
Mario Tremblay
New York IslandersNew York RangersPhiladelphia FlyersPittsburgh PenguinsQuebec Nordiques
Mark HamwayDave ArchibaldBill BarberBob GladneyAlain Côté
Kevin HeromPierre LaroucheBobby Clarke
Jim KoudysAndre Villeneuve
Garry Lacey
Kurt Lackton
Don Maloney
Stefan Persson
Denis Potvin
St. Louis BluesToronto Maple LeafsVancouver CanucksWashington CapitalsWinnipeg Jets
Eddy BeersBill KitchenMarc CrawfordTerry MurrayBob Brooke
Ed KeaDan MaloneyRandy GreggDaryl Stanley
Paul MacLeanBrad SmithLarry Melnyk
Scott PaluchGreg TerrionPaul Reinhart
Brian SuterDarcy Rota
Ian Tennant
† denotes inactive. All other players were voluntarily retired.

Expansion Draft

1Jeff HackettNew York IslandersSan Jose Sharks
2Rob RamageToronto Maple LeafsMinnesota North Stars
3Jayson MoreMontreal CanadiensSan Jose Sharks
4Dave BabychToronto Maple LeafsMinnesota North Stars
5Rick LessardCalgary FlamesSan Jose Sharks
6Allen PedersenBoston BruinsMinnesota North Stars
7Bob McGillChicago BlackhawksSan Jose Sharks
8Charlie HuddyEdmonton OilersMinnesota North Stars
9Tim KerrPhiladelphia FlyersSan Jose Sharks
10Kelly KisioNew York RangersMinnesota North Stars
11Jeff MadillNew Jersey DevilsSan Jose Sharks
12Randy GilhenPittsburgh PenguinsMinnesota North Stars
13David BruceSt. Louis BluesSan Jose Sharks
14Rob MurrayWashington CapitalsMinnesota North Stars
15Greg PaslawskiBuffalo SabresSan Jose Sharks
16Tyler LarterWinnipeg JetsMinnesota North Stars
17Bengt-Åke GustafssonDetroit Red WingsSan Jose Sharks
18Jim ThomsonLos Angeles KingsMinnesota North Stars
19Craig CoxeVancouver CanucksSan Jose Sharks
20Guy LafleurQuebec NordiquesMinnesota North Stars

As you can see the North Stars elected to take a defenceman with their first pick, second overall, choosing Maple Leafs' captain Rob Ramage. Ramage, 32, was among five veteran players over the age of 30 selected by the North Stars. The others were: Dave Babych (30), Charlie Huddy (31; he turned 32 three days after the draft), Kelly Kisio (31) and Guy Lafleur (39). It was clear that the Sharks were trying to build a younger team. By contrast they chose only two players older than 30, Tim Kerr (31) and Bengt Gustafsson (33), and the average age of the Sharks' selections was 26.7 years (compared to the North Stars' 28.8).

The youngest players chosen were Jayson More and Jeff Hackett, both 22 years old at the time (although Hackett's birthday is June 1, so he turned 23 only a couple days after the draft).

Conversely the North Stars picked 39-year-old Guy Lafleur with the final pick of the draft. Why would the North Stars waste a pick on a player who had already made his intentions to retire at the end of the 1990-91 season clear? As Bobby Clarke put it, "there was no one left". He didn't want to pick Lafleur at all.

Lafleur was chosen as a last resort due to a quirky culmination of the draft rules. Because each of the other 20 teams could only lose one player and all the other teams except the Nordiques had lost a player the 20th and final pick had to be a player from the Nordiques. The 9th through 20th picks had to be forwards, so the 20th pick had to be a Nordiques forward. Clarke wasn't interested in any of the Nordiques forwards and didn't want to pick up an unnecessary contract so he wanted to make a throwaway pick on a player he wouldn't have to pay. He wanted to take Alan Haworth.

Haworth hadn't played for the Nordiques in a couple years and was plying his trade in Switzerland instead. He was considered a 'defected' player and a restricted free agent and the Nordiques continued to hold his NHL rights. But, as I said before, there was a rule that only one player off the free agent list could be chosen in the draft, and with the 17th overall pick the Sharks chose Bengt Gustafsson. Gustafsson left the Capitals after the 1988-89 season and was playing in Sweden. Like Haworth he was a 'defected' player and a restricted free agent; the Red Wings acquired his rights in the 1990 Waiver Draft.

Clarke tried to claim Haworth but the selection was refused, and he was told he had to make another. Reluctantly he chose Le démon blond instead. Lafleur hadn't yet filed his voluntary retirement papers with the NHL offices so he was still eligible for selection. Clarke reportedly apologized over the conference call to Nordiques general manager Pierre Pagé (who coincidentally had been the North Stars' head coach prior to the deal to sell the team to Baldwin and Belzberg).

To allow Lafleur to retire in a more dignified manner, as a Quebec Nordique as he intended rather than as a North Star by circumstance, Clarke and Pagé made a deal the very next day (May 31): Lafleur was traded by the North Stars back to the Nordiques for Alan Haworth.

It's remarkable how quickly most of the players chosen in this draft were traded away, and how little use the draft was for either team in retrospect. Lafleur was one of several players who were traded away almost immediately. In fact immediately following the conclusion of the draft the Sharks announced their first ever trade: Tim Kerr, the first forward chosen, was traded to the Rangers for Brian Mullen and future considerations. Jack Ferreira candidly admitted that the deal was prearranged and the Sharks never had any intention of keeping Kerr (he would only play parts of the following two seasons before retiring).

On May 31, the same day they traded Lafleur back to the Nordiques, the North Stars traded Rob Murray to the Jets along with future considerations for the Jets' 7th round pick in the 1991 Entry Draft (Geoff Finch) and future considerations in return. Days later (June 3) they made their first trade with the Sharks, sending Kelly Kisio to San Jose in return for Shane Churla, one of their players taken in the player dispersal.

On June 22 the North Stars made two trades at the Entry Draft. In a three-way deal Dave Babych was traded to the Canucks, the North Stars received Craig Ludwig from the Islanders and the Islanders received Tom Kurvers from the Canucks. Randy Gilhen, Charlie Huddy and Jim Thomson were traded to the Kings along with the Rangers' 4th round pick (previously acquired) for Todd Elik. The Kings used the pick to select Alexei Zhitnik.

Less than a month after the expansion draft the North Stars had already traded seven of their ten selections away. The remaining three were gone within a year: Tyler Larter was traded to the Jets for Tony Joseph on October 15, 1991, Allen Pedersen was traded to the Whalers for a 6th round pick in the 1993 Entry Draft (Rick Mrozik) on June 15, 1992 and Rob Ramage was lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1992 Expansion Draft on June 18.

The Sharks didn't fare much better as far as their selections went. Neither the aforementioned Gustafsson nor former New Jersey Devil Jeff Madill ever played in the NHL again. Greg Paslawski was traded to the Nordiques on May 31, 1991 (the day after the expansion draft, remember) for Tony Hrkac. Craig Coxe played two games for the Sharks in 1991-92 and never played another game in the NHL afterward. Bob McGill played 62 games for the Sharks in their inaugural season and was traded to the Red Wings with the Canucks' 8th round pick in the 1992 Entry Draft (C.J. Denomme) for Johan Garpenlov on trade deadline day, March 10, 1992. Rick Lessard played eight games for the Sharks, and was traded to the Canucks for Robin Bawa on December 15, 1992.

Jeff Hackett was traded to the Blackhawks on July 13, 1993 for a third round pick in the 1994 Entry Draft (Alexei Yegorov) and future considerations. In two seasons with the Sharks he played in 78 games, had a miserable 13-57-2 record, with a 4.51 GAA and .875 save percentage. As bad as his stats were they weren't bad compared to his teammates. Jarmo Myllys played in 27 games in the Sharks' first season, had a 3-18-1 record, 5.02 GAA and .867 save percentage, while Brian Hayward played in 25 games, had the same 3-18-1 record as Myllys, a 5.39 GAA and .849 save percentage. Arturs Irbe had a 9-32-3 record in 49 games over the two seasons, a 4.19 GAA and .882 save percentage (and a shutout). Wade Flaherty saw limited action over the first two seasons: four games played, all of them losses, a 4.54 GAA and .892 save percentage.

After the Sharks' first two seasons the only players chosen in the expansion draft left were David Bruce and Jayson More. Bruce played in 79 games over the Sharks' first three seasons, scoring 24 goals and 19 assists (22 goals in the inaugural season, second most on the team behind Pat Falloon's 25). After the 1993-94 season he spent the rest of his career playing for the IHL's Kansas City Blades, the Sharks' top farm team.

Jayson More was the last of the players taken in the draft to stay with the team that chose him. He played for the Sharks for their first five seasons, 287 games in all. He was traded to the Rangers with Brian Swanson and a conditional draft pick for Marty McSorley on August 20, 1996.

In retrospect the North Stars apparently had nothing to fear from the player dispersal to the Sharks. Their roster and prospect pool weren't decimated as Norm Green, Bobby Clarke and reporters thought they might be. The most notable player taken from the North Stars was goalie Arturs Irbe, who had a long career in the NHL and led the Sharks to their first playoff victories in 1994 and 1995, but Irbe might never have played for the North Stars anyway. One can only wonder what could have happened if the terms of the deal with the Gunds weren't renegotiated. The North Stars weren't any worse than they were before, but they weren't any better. They finished the 1991-92 regular season with two more points than they had had in 1990-91. They made the playoffs once again but didn't go on another Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Sharks were pitiful on the ice, finishing their first season with a meagre 17-58-5 record and their second with an even more pitiful 11-71-2, one of the NHL's all-time greatest marks of regular season futility. Despite the lack of on-ice success the Gunds couldn't have been happier with the team's off-ice fortunes. Sharks merchandise was the most popular in the league and the Sharks were one of the top pro sports brands in North America at the time.

Financially speaking the North Stars carried on under Norm Green as they had under Gordon and George Gund. Attendance improved to over 13,000 per game but that was still one of the lowest figures in the league. On March 10, 1993 Green announced that the North Stars were moving to Dallas, effective the end of the 1992-93 season. The NHL wouldn't return to the Twin Cities and the state of Minnesota until 2000 when the expansion Minnesota Wild began play.


  1. Thanks for recording this crazy bit of NHL history. One question: if SJ was allowed to take 30 North Stars in the dispersal draft, why did they only end up with 24? Thanks again.

    1. 30 was the number agreed upon when the North Stars were sold to Baldwin and Belzberg. It ended up being 24 after Norm Green bought the team from Baldwin and Belzberg and he renegotiated the terms with the Sharks and the NHL.

  2. Just what determined whether or not a player had free agent status? I noticed that Chicago had Bill Watson eligible for selection. Watson was listed as a free agent, but he retired from pro hockey in 1989. Edmonton had Tomas Jonsson and Reijo Ruotsalainen on the eligible for selection list. Both of these players were playing in Europe at the time. Why was Ruotsalainen listed as a free agent but Jonsson was not?

    1. Hi Andrew,

      I double-checked my sources just to make sure I didn't make a typo and sure enough Tomas Jonsson is consistently shown as not a free agent in all of them.

      I did miss a few players who were considered free agents though: Tommy Lehmann of the Oilers (who was also playing for AIK in Sweden), Behn Wilson of the Canucks (who had not played since 1988 due to injury) and Anders Nilsson of the Rangers, who had not played hockey professionally since 1986 and was working as AIK's general manager. I have updated the table accordingly.

      I have also added a table of voluntarily retired and inactive players who were—supposedly—available for selection. I never have tracked down the exact reason why these players were included in the master list of exposed players, and I originally excluded them because none of them were seriously considered for selection.

      Why is Tomas Jonsson not a free agent while Reijo Ruotsalainen and Tommy Lehmann are? I honestly don't know. The only thing I can think of is Jonsson did not complete his NHL contract before he fled back to Sweden, whilst Ruotsalainen and Lehmann did complete theirs. If Jonsson hadn't completed his contract he would have been a 'defected' player, and his NHL rights would be held exclusively by the Oilers indefinitely. This is purely speculation on my part though, I have no sources giving a definitive explanation. Sorry I can't be of anymore assistance.

      If you ever figure it out please let me know, I'm curious as well.

      Thanks for the question.

  3. Hi Mark,

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog. Thank you for going through the time and trouble to put this together. May I ask, what is your source for the voluntarily retired and inactive players list? If you prefer, you can email me at sjb AT puckjunk DOT com.


    1. Hi Sal,

      My primary source was Canadian Press. I cross-referenced a few papers, just to make sure one hadn't misprinted the lists from the wire service, but I only kept copies of a couple: the lists were published on May 30, 1991 on page D4 of Toronto Star and page C9 of The Globe & Mail. The Star also published a list (from CP) of free agents on page D15.



    2. Mark, thanks for your response. Would it be at all possible to get scans of these articles?

    3. Hi Sal,

      The copies I have are electronic, and unfortunately I don't believe I'm allowed to pass them on pursuant to the archiving services' licensing agreements. Sorry. The Globe & Mail and Toronto Star's online archives are now licensed by ProQuest; your local public library may have an agreement with them.



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