National Post (National Edition)
Kraken latest to join NHL's long expansion tale
A BOWLING ALLEY, BEER, SHIFTY MOVES, AND, OH YEAH, MONEY, IN PLAY
The Seattle Kraken, the NHL's 32nd team. will be unveiled Wednesday, another chapter in the league's expansion saga:
PAY TO PLAY
On June 2, 1967, league president Clarence Campbell was proudly walking around the ballroom of Montreal's Queen Elizabeth Hotel at the expansion draft with six cheques for $2 million each in his breast pocket.
By 1970, Vancouver paid $6 million for its Canucks, then the fee went up to $7.5 million when the defunct World Hockey Association Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques, Hartford Whalers and the original Winnipeg Jets merged with the NHL. Ottawa and Tampa Bay paid $45 million to come aboard in 1991, with the fee rising $5 million later that decade for the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets and Atlanta Thrashers.
In today's world of arena perks and broadcast rights, compare those '67 bargains to the US$500 million that Bill Foley paid for the Vegas Golden Knights in 2016 and the $650 million the Kraken just ponied up.
A few serious hockey buffs refuse to call the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks `the Original Six', as Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton and Ottawa were established by the early 1920s and prior to `The Six,' the NHL was a two-division 10-team outfit.
The Montreal Maroons, meant to appeal to the city's anglophone fans, came into the four-team league with Boston in 1924, with the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Americans the next year among other entries. After a few relocations, including to St. Louis and Philadelphia, teams began falling by the wayside. With the demise of the Brooklyn Americans in 1942, it left six clubs who played exclusively for the next 25 years.
BLACK AND BLUES
Blackhawks owner James Norris was the holdout for a unanimous vote on 1967 expansion. After finally getting on level ice with great rivals Montreal, Detroit and Toronto, he was against sharing the wealth or any of his deep roster of stars and prospects.
A key enticement turned out to be the chance to unload the empty, neglected St. Louis Arena that Norris had inherited. A bowling alley attached to the 12,000-seat rink generated more revenue, so Norris made a team in St. Louis and selling the Arena the price of his vote.
SEALING THEIR FATE
The only '67 team to fail long term was the Oakland/ California Seals.
Mel Swig of the WHL's San Francisco Seals had the inside track on a team, but the league chose to deal with 29-year-old socialite Barend Van Gerbig. An in-law of actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and godson of hockey fan Bing Crosby, Van Gerbig headed a 50-person syndicate. But his group misread the market and failed to lure Frisco fans across the Bay Bridge, eventually leading to the calamitous Charlie Finley era and a move to Cleveland.
TAKING A FLYER
Washington/Baltimore was on the short list for a franchise in 1967, but was trumped when Philadelphia Eagles stakeholder Ed
Snider got wind of it.
Despite knowing little of the NHL, civic pride prompted Snider to make an offer and get his city's mayor to save a small piece of land for a rink where the Eagles were building their new stadium.
When Washington did get in for 1974-75, a name-theteam contest was held, led by offbeat entries such as Polar Bears. They eventually picked `Capitals' after a previous pro basketball team, but won just eight of 70 games in their first year, still a league worst.
ROASTED ON THE COAST
The L.A. Kings and Seals had vastly different expansion draft day experiences.
L.A. took AHL scoring star Gord Labossiere No. 1 overall among skaters, a move GM Larry Regan instantly regretted when he saw so many prominent names from recent Cup teams. Then Toronto's Punch Imlach made a late call to protect Red Kelly, after discovering Kelly's side deal to retire and coach the Kings. A trade had to be arranged to free him.
Oakland took Leafs defenceman Bob Baun among other stars and was considered to have done the best drafting of the new six clubs, yet by 1970-71 they were near the basement. Montreal GM Sam Pollock, who'd flimflammed the league into letting him draw up the expansion draft rules that were Habs-friendly, badly wanted potential '71 top junior Guy Lafleur. He bamboozled Finley to trade the pick and when it seemed the Kings would be worse than the Seals and `steal' last place, Pollock sent veteran Ralph Backstrom to boost L.A.'s standing — for a package
that included Labossiere.
THE GREAT BEER BATTLE
Toronto owner Harold Ballard led a small group of NHL hawks opposed to a WHA merger, centred around the potential loss of TV revenue to Edmonton, Winnipeg and Quebec.
But that led to fan boycotts of Molson Brewery products (owners of the Canadiens and sponsor of the Leafs) right across the country in non-league cities. A bullet fired through the window of the Molson plant in Winnipeg got everyone's attention in the corporate towers. The deal went through, but the NHL did strip the new teams of most assets.
Through the 1980s, it seemed Hamilton would finally get back in the NHL through expansion, despite looming territorial battles with Toronto and Buffalo.
Copps Coliseum was already up and Steeltown citizens were pumped for a team in 1992-93. But the late Ron Joyce of the Tim Hortons doughnut empire flinched at terms of paying off the full $50-million franchise fee. Ottawa and Tampa Bay had no NHL-class rinks built or much cash on hand, but gladly agreed to all the league's requirements, scrambling to get their finances in order just in time.
Kansas City and Houston own rinks and have been mentioned often, each with natural NHL rivals already in the area, as does Cleveland. In Canada, Quebec City hopes for a return with its new arena and the dream has never died for Saskatoon, Halifax or a second team in the GTA. Commissioner Gary Bettman is not in favour of moving any franchises so expansion to add a 33rd team can't be ruled out.