Feature: Remembering the birth of the Sharks, Senators, Lightning, Mighty Ducks, and Panthers

For the first time since the 2000-01 season, the National Hockey League will welcome the birth of a new franchise — The Vegas Golden Knights. Earlier this week, each team submitted a list of seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie to be protected from Vegas. On Wednesday, the team that the Golden Knights selected will be revealed.

What can we expect from this new franchise? In the 1990s, the NHL welcomed the birth of nine new teams, the San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Minnesota Wild, to the fold with varying degrees of success.

Though the circumstances are quite different, we can learn a lot from these nine teams on what works and what doesn’t when breaking into the league as a brand new franchise. Let’s start with what can be learned from San Jose, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Florida, and Anaheim, who joined the league between 1991 and 1993.

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San Jose Sharks

(1991 Dispersal Draft and Expansion Draft)

This Expansion Draft is a bit different than the other ones that we’ll see from this decade because it involved a Dispersal Draft of the Minnesota North Stars.

For context, the owners of the North Stars wanted to move the franchise to the San Francisco Bay Area, but the league declined. As a compromise, the league allowed the owners to sell the North Stars and be awarded an expansion franchise in the Bay Area for a $50 million fee. The North Stars were sold to a group that would move them to Dallas a few years later, and the San Jose Sharks were born as an expansion franchise.

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The Sharks populated their team by selecting 24 players from the North Stars organization. Then, after that, the Sharks and North Stars each made 10 selections in the Expansion Draft, one player from the 20 other teams in the NHL.

The details of the Dispersal Draft between San Jose and Minnesota were never released in detail. It’s known that the two teams made a deal that essentially resulted in Minnesota being able to keep a large chunk of its young players. The rules of the Expansion Draft were that Minnesota and San Jose would each take 10 players so all 20 teams lost one player. The 20 teams were able to protect 16 skaters and two goaltenders and all first- and second-year pros were exempt.

  • San Jose and Minnesota’s choices in the Expansion Draft.
  • San Jose’s picks in the Dispersal Draft. 
  • The Sharks agreed not to take Mike Craig from the North Stars in the Dispersal Draft in exchange for a 1991 second round pick (Sandis Ozolinsh) and a 1992 first round pick (Andrei Nazarov).
  • The Sharks chose Tim Kerr from Philadelphia and traded him to the New York Rangers from Brian Mullen.
  • The Sharks chose Greg Paslawski from Buffalo and traded him to Quebec for Tony Hrkac.
  • The Sharks chose Shane Churla from Minnesota and traded him back to Minnesota for Kelly Kisto, who the North Stars chose from the Rangers.
  • The Sharks chose Dan Keczmer from Minnesota and traded him to Hartford for Dean Evason.
  • The North Stars chose Rob Murray from Washington and traded him to Winnipeg for a seventh round pick.
  • The North Stars chose Dave Babych from Hartford and traded him to Vancouver for Tom Kurvers.
  • The North Stars chose Charlie Huddy, Randy Gilhen, and Jim Thompson and all were packaged in a trade to Los Angeles for Todd Elik.
  • The North Stars chose Guy Lafleur from Quebec and traded him back to the Nordiques for Alan Haworth.

The Sharks had a terrible time out of the gate as a new franchise, posting a combined record of 28-129-7 in their first two miserable seasons. This, in large part, was because of their luck at the expansion draft. Only two players acquired in the Expansion Draft, David Bruce and Jayson More, actually played for the Sharks beyond their first two seasons. Jeff Hackett, who was their first selection, played two seasons in San Jose and posted a .875 save percentage.

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It was the same deal with this Dispersal Draft, as Minnesota really didn’t lose anybody of consequence to the Sharks. The only good player that San Jose took from the North Stars was Arturs Irbe, who was San Jose’s star goalie during their first few playoff appearances. But still, by the time the Stars became good in Dallas, they had Andy Moog in net, so it’s doubtful that Irbe would have played a role on that team at all.

Pat Falloon was the Sharks’ first-ever selection in the Entry Draft, coming in at second overall in 1991. This draft, of course, was special because it featured Eric Lindros, the best prospect to come along since Mario Lemieux. As we know, Lindros was chosen by the Nordiques first overall even though he said he wouldn’t play there, and he was eventually moved to Philadelphia for a massive package that set the Avalanche up for a decade of success.

It’s interesting to think about how life would have been different if San Jose was given that first overall choice. Obviously the other teams in the league would have been aggressively opposed to it considering San Jose got a free player from 10 teams and half of the North Stars. Falloon was chosen second overall and his Spokane Chiefs teammate Ray Whitney was taken in the second round. Neither really panned out for the Sharks as expected, as Falloon was traded after four seasons and Whitney signed as a free agent in Edmonton.

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The Sharks surprisingly moved into modest success quite quickly with a core based around Irbe, Ozolinsh, and Igor Larionov, who was claimed off waivers from Vancouver, and Sergei Makarov, who was acquired from Hartford to complete conditions on a previous trade. The Sharks also did a good job at the draft despite not having many high picks after their first two disaster seasons, grabbing players like Shean Donovan, Evgeni Nabokov, Vaclav Varada, Vesa Toskala, Marco Sturm, Scott Hannan, Jonathan Cheechoo, and Mikael Samuelsson with picks beyond the top-20.

Overall, the Sharks have existed for 25 seasons and have reached the playoffs in all but six of them. They quickly turned themselves into a decent team with savvy veteran pickups and good drafting, but really became a serious and consistent contender when they acquired Joe Thornton from Boston in arguably the most lopsided trade in recent memory.

Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning

(1992 Expansion Draft)

The parameters for the 1992 and 1991 Expansion Draft were set at the same time in the spring of 1991. This year, those, teams would only be able to protect 14 skaters and two goalies rather than 16 skaters. Also, if a team had lost a goalie or defenceman in 1991, they wouldn’t be allowed to lose a player of the same position in 1992. And, of course, San Jose, being a brand new franchise, didn’t have to expose anybody to Ottawa or Tampa Bay.

  • Ottawa and Tampa Bay’s choices in the Expansion Draft. 
  • The Lightning selected Frederic Chabot from Montreal and traded him back to the Canadiens for Jean-Claude Bergeron.
  • The Lightning selected Tim Hunter from Calgary and traded him to Quebec for future considerations. They also selected Jeff Bloemberg from the Rangers and traded him to Edmonton for future considerations.
  • The Lightning acquired Danton Cole from Winnipeg for future considerations and Darin Kimble, Rob Robinson, Steve Tuttle, and Pat Jablonski from St. Louis for a 1994 fourth round pick, a 1995 fifth round pick, and a 1996 sixth round pick.
  • The Senators selected Chris Lindberg from Calgary and traded him back to the Flames for Mark Osiecki.
  • The Senators acquired Jody Hull, Steve Weeks, Brad Marsh, and Neil Brady from the Rangers, Capitals, Leafs, and Devils for future considerations.

Due to the minimum restrictions placed on players to be exposed to Tampa Bay and Ottawa, teams rushed around to sign random players to contracts and have them play one game in order to expose them instead of a better player. The best example of this is when Chicago signed Ray LeBlanc, the star of the 1992 United States Olympic Ice Hockey team, to a contract. He played his only game against San Jose, allowing one goal on 21 shots against, meeting the minimum requirement so that Chicago didn’t have to expose Ed Belfour or Dominik Hasek.

Then there was the Expansion Draft itself, which was a complete disaster for Ottawa. Apparently the organization’s staff had all of the research and relevant information for the Expansion Draft on one laptop. When they got to the draft, the laptop’s batteries were dead. And, since it was 1992, there weren’t any backups or placed to charge it around. So the Senators basically had to wing their way through this thing.

The Sens were absolutely miserable in their first few seasons in the league. In their first season, they went 10-70-4 with a goal differential of -193. It took Ottawa four seasons, but in 1996-97, they made the playoffs for the first time, beginning a streak of 11 consecutive seasons with a playoff appearance and one trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

Being so terrible, the Sens stocked up on high draft picks. Their first was Alexei Yashin second overall in 1992. The following year, they selected Alex Daigle first overall. He was supposed to be a franchise player, but never panned out. In 1994, they got Radek Bonk, in 1995 Bryan Berard, in 1996 Chris Phillips, and in 1997 Marian Hossa. They also struck gold in the sixth round of the 1994 draft, selecting future captain Daniel Alfredsson.

The team turned it around in 1996 with the hiring of defence-oriented head coach Jacques Martin. Phillips, Bonk, and Alfredsson became mainstays on the team, while Yashin was dealt in 2001 in a ridiculous trade with the Islanders that netted Ottawa Zdeno Chara and Jason Spezza. Berard was also quickly traded in a deal for Wade Redden.

So the Sens saw success, though it didn’t come very quickly, and virtually none of it was thanks to their work at the expansion draft. Instead, five years of tanking resulted in Ottawa having enough talent to find prolonged success as the franchise matured. Despite their success in the standings, Ottawa struggled financially, filing for bankruptcy in 2002. They were eventually purchased by pharmaceutical tycoon Eugene Melnyk, who brought some stability to the organization.

The Lightning were immediately a stronger team that Ottawa. They finished their inaugural season with a record of 23-54-7, which, relatively speaking to the Sharks and Sens, wasn’t that bad. In their fourth season in the league, Tampa Bay made its first playoff appearance and set a record for attendance at an NHL game when 28,183 people packed the ThunderDome (Tropicana Field) to watch the Lightning play the Flyers. But after that, the Lightning didn’t see much success, seeing the playoffs just once in their first 10 years of existence.

A big reason for their issues was a lack of success at the Entry Draft. The Lightning had the first overall pick in 1992 and selected Roman Hamrlik, who was an all-star calibre defenceman for the team for six seasons before being dealt to Edmonton. Chris Gratton, 1993’s third overall pick, was a serviceable player but he never became the star he was expected to be, same goes for Jason Wiemer and Daymond Langkow, the eighth pick in 1994 and fifth pick in 1995 respectively.

Like Ottawa, the Lightning had a hell of a time financially, with ownership being tied to a money laundering scheme for a Japanese crime family and getting tagged by the IRS for tax evasion. In 1997, Forbes said the Lightning had debt equating to 236 per cent of its value. The franchise was sold to insurance tycoon Art Williams in 1998, who immediately pumped a bunch of money into the team and completely overhauled the front office, giving Jacques Demers total control of the team’s hockey operations. This was also a major turning point for the Lightning because they were able to select highly touted prospect Vincent Lecavalier with the first pick in the 1998 Entry Draft.

Overall, the Lightning have made the playoffs in nine of their 24 seasons as a franchise, and they became the first 1990s expansion team to win a Stanley Cup, defeating the Flames in 2004.

Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Florida Panthers

(1993 Expansion Draft)

The NHL decided to expand again just a few months into the 1992 season. While the plans for the Sharks, Senators, and Lightning joining the league were mapped out well in advance, this one happened on more of a whim with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Florida Panthers being awarded without any kind of formal application process.

A few years previous, Jerry Buss, the former owner of the Los Angeles Kings and owner at the time of the Los Angeles Lakers, applied to expand into Anaheim, and John W. Henry, the owner of the Orlando Magic, applied to expand into Miami. The league was interested in these locations, but not with those two as owners. Later on, the NHL was approached by The Walt Disney Company and Blockbuster Entertainment, who were looking to pick up on those two aforementioned expansion opportunities.

Disney and Blockbuster cut the NHL cheques for $50 million within weeks, pocket money for the entertainment juggernauts. Of course, Disney had just released a successful film about a youth team in Minnesota, The Mighty Ducks, in 1993, and in conjunction with Disneyland being located in Anaheim, launched the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim as an NHL franchise. Blockbuster’s headquarters was based in Fort Lauderdale, just outside of Miami, where the Panthers would play. They were called the Florida Panthers rather than the Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, or South Beach Panthers in order to be more inclusive to the state in general.

At the time when the league announced the expansion into Miami and Anaheim, it was clear that the 1991 and 1992 expansion drafts had been too challenging for the new franchises. The Lighting were 10-19-2, and they were the best of the bunch. The Sharks were 5-23-1 in their third season, and the Sens were a paltry 3-26-2.

So the Panthers and Mighty Ducks got a much better deal. Each existing NHL team had to offer at least one goalie, a defenceman who had played at least 40 games in 1992-93 or at least 70 games between 1991-1993, and at least two forwards with that same level of experience. Then, after that, the Panthers and Mighty Ducks would get to protect one goalie, five defencemen, and 10 forwards, and the Lightning, Senators, and Sharks got to protect two goalies, five defencemen, and 10 forwards, and the five teams did their own mini expansion draft between them that was sort of convoluted.

Unsurprisingly, the Mighty Ducks and Panthers fared much, much better in their inaugural seasons than their Expansion Draft cousins. Florida posted an impressive 33-34-17 record, finishing just one point behind the New York Islanders for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Mighty Ducks also finished ninth in the Western Conference, though their 33-46-5 record wasn’t quite as impressive. Unlike Tampa Bay, Ottawa, and San Jose, the Mighty Ducks and Panthers were actually able to select pretty good players in the Expansion Draft, helping their solid starts.

Florida saw immediate success thanks largely to John Vanbiesbrouck, who they grabbed from Vancouver with the first pick in the Expansion Draft. The Panthers also selected Scott Mellanby from the Oilers, who would go on to play parts of eight seasons in Florida, racking up 354 points in 552 games.

Within just three years of existence, the Panthers not only made the playoffs, but made a Cinderella push to the Stanley Cup Final. Led by Mellanby, an absurdly good performance from Vanbiesbrouck, and their first-ever Entry Draft pick, Rob Niedermayer, Florida had what is, to this day, their best run in franchise history. Vanbiesbrouck posted a .932 save percentage in 22 playoff games, but the Panthers were dropped by an absolutely loaded Colorado Avalanche team in its first season since leaving Quebec.

One problem with the quick start as a franchise, though, was an inability to stockpile high draft picks. Florida chose Niedermayer fifth overall in 1993, Ed Jovanovski first overall in 1994, and Radek Dvorak 10th overall in 1995 before having success and not getting a high pick for the next few years. They made three playoff appearances in their first seven seasons, then began a streak of mediocrity that involved a 10-year playoff drought. The Panthers still haven’t won a playoff series since reaching the Cup Final in 1996.

The Mighty Ducks didn’t have the same immediate success as Florida did, but they certainly weren’t as bad as San Jose, Ottawa, or Tampa Bay in their first few seasons. In their first four years of existence, the Mighty Ducks missed the playoffs, but saw financial success thanks to fan interest that was driven largely by Disney and merchandise sales. In their first four drafts, Anaheim grabbed Paul Kariya, Oleg Tverdovsky, Chad Kilger, and Ruslan Salei.

Kilger and Teverdovsky didn’t make much of an impact on the ice for the Ducks, but they played a very key role for the franchise as they were involved in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets for former 76-goal scorer Teemu Selanne. Salei, who tragically passed away in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash of 2011, anchored Anaheim’s blueline for over a decade, while Kariya, Selanne, and 1994 supplemental draft pick Steve Rucchin formed one of the most potent scoring lines in hockey.

The team made its first playoff appearance in 1996-97 and followed it up with another appearance in 1998-99, but were dropped in the first round both times. In 2003, the Ducks made a Cinderella run to the Cup Final much like their cousins from Florida did a few years earlier. Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere  played out of his mind, and head coach Mike Babcock’s tight, gritty, defensive system allowed the Ducks to upset the heavily favoured Detroit Red Wings in the first round. They were eventually stopped by the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of the Final.

It didn’t take long for Anaheim to work their way back, though. That summer, the Mighty Ducks had a draft that would completely change their franchise. They held the 19th overall pick already, but used two second round picks in order to trade up and also obtain the 28th pick in the draft. The two picks would be used on Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who won the Stanley Cup with the team in 2007 and to this day are key players on the Ducks.

Tomorrow in Part II, I’ll look at the 1998, 1999, and 2000 expansion teams, the Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers, Minnesota Wild, and Columbus Blue Jackets, and what we can expect from the Vegas Golden Knights moving forward based on what worked and what didn’t for these nine franchises. 

**Stats and information courtesy of hockey-reference, hockeydb.com, Nathan Garbay’s expansion research. 

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  • tkfisher

    Not sure I would consider Ray Whitney not panning out. The man played 1330 games and collected 1064 points. He may not have been a life long Shark, but he certainly wouldn’t be considered a second rounder that didn’t pan out.

    • Spaceman Spiff

      Agreed, but I think the writer means he didn’t pan out in San Jose. And, actually, he didn’t really pan out in Edmonton, either, mainly because he was stuck at centre behind Doug Weight and Jason Arnott. It wasn’t until he got to Florida that he truly blossomed. But yeah … if the Sharks had kept him, things might have turned out differently for them, longer-term.

  • Hrkac Circus

    Great article. That pic of Beezer on the beach is unreal. I hadn’t heard that story about the Sens laptop before. If you had someone show up to a fantasy draft and that happened to them they’d be ridiculed, hard to believe a professional team could screw up such an important moment so badly.

  • Dan B

    I’ve seen a couple of comments from people asking if LV could decline to take a player from the Canucks. This is essentially what Minnesota wanted to do in 91 when they didn’t want anyone from the Nordiques. They selected Guy Lafleur, knowing that he had decided to retire. They traded his rights back to Quebec the next day since he wanted to take a job there.

    John Vanbiesbrouck is another interesting story. The Rangers knew they would lose him or Mike Richter, and the Canucks wanted to keep both McLean and Gamble. So the Canucks sent Doug Lidster to NY in exchange for Vanbiesbrouck. Lidster and his Rangers would defeat the Canucks in the finals the following year. Between the trade and the expansion draft, Vanbiesbrouck put a greeting on his machine something to the effect of “I’m not home right now, I’m somewhere between Vancouver, Anahiem, and Florida.”

  • Spaceman Spiff

    The birth of the San Jose Sharks was a fiasco. Imagine cheering for the Minnesota North Stars, a team that just made a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup final in the spring of 1991, all while knowing that your team’s two owners (the Gunds) are about to bail on you and move part of your team to San Jose, of all places. Meanwhile, what’s left of your team will stay in Minnesota, but you’ll get to watch its name changed to “Stars” by the new owners, as a preliminary move to transferring it to Dallas, of all places.

    In many ways, the Sharks’ birth into the NHL was the last gasp of the DNA it picked up from the World Hockey Association. Only the WHA would have taken a franchise in a hockey hotbed … split it in two… move one piece to California and … eventually … the other to Texas… only to bring back a Minnesota franchise a few years after that. Gong-show.

    Also, a minor correction: Falloon and Whitney played for the Spokane Chiefs, not the Regina Pats.

  • Tombstone

    I was a kid when the Mighty Ducks became an NHL team. I thought the team was going to be the kids from the movie ” The Mighty Ducks” quack quack quack. Flying “V”

  • Tombstone

    I still think the Golden Knights is a stupid name for a hockey team. Sounds more like a basket ball team. Why not the Las Vegas Cactus Jacks. I can see why they didn’t call them the Las Vegas Slots but the Golden Knights seem more like a knock-off of the Kings.

    • Puckhead

      The Las Vegas Slots is pure genius! I envision disco balls and light effects, pole dancing at intermission, coin tosses, a well endowed Zamboni driving goddess, lap dances, scantily clad beer maidens…what a goldmine!

  • Jabs

    As I recall, the Canucks did some wheeling and dealing to get Beezer and be able to protect their goalies, primarily McLean and backup Kay Whitmore. The trade was for future considerations which ended up being Doug Lidster.

    The Canucks gave up a lot to protect captain Kirk back in the day but he has gone on to become a Canuck legend.