The San Jose Sharks are in the Stanley Cup final for the first time in franchise history, trailing their series with the Penguins 1-0 heading into Wednesday’s Game 2 in Pittsburgh. It’s been a long road for the Sharks to get here, one that’s seen plenty of regular season success but also a big helping of postseason heartbreak along the way.
It’s also a road that had one of the strangest starts in the history of the NHL. Most fans know that the Sharks entered the league as an expansion team in 1991. But what they may not remember is how it happened. Unlike every franchise that’s joined the league since, the Sharks weren’t born through a standard expansion draft process. Instead, they were part of weird combination expansion and dispersal draft with the North Stars, one that saw them stock their roster with Minnesota players before both teams took turns adding talent from the rest of the league.
It was a strange sight, one that we’ll almost certainly never see again. So today, with the Sharks four wins away from hockey’s ultimate prize, let’s remember where they came from with a look back at five weird facts about the day the San Jose Sharks were born.
1. It all starts with the Gunds
The original plan for bringing an NHL team to the Bay Area in the early 90s didn’t involve expansion at all. Instead, it would have seen the North Stars pick up and move to California. That was the proposal of the Stars’ owners, George and Gordon Gund, who claimed to be losing money in Minnesota. But the NHL refused to approve a move, and eventually the two sides agreed on a compromise. The Gunds would sell the North Stars, which they did in 1990, and the league would turn around and give them an expansion team in San Jose.
As part of the deal, the Gunds were granted the right to stock their new team with players from their old one. That agreement was a controversial one, and new North Stars owner Norm Green eventually insisted on reworking the original deal. The final version called for the North Stars to be allowed to protect 14 skaters and two goalies, at which point the Sharks could start plucking players away. Once that was done, the two teams immediately moved on to a more traditional expansion draft format, one that saw both teams picking players from the rest of the league, even though one of them wasn’t actually an expansion team at all.
To make things ever weirder, the North Stars were the defending conference champions at the time, thanks to a Cinderella run through the playoffs that had ended just days earlier. That run included upsets over the league two best regular season teams, Chicago and St. Louis, and the defending Stanley Cup champions, Edmonton. The run finally ended with a loss in the 1991 final to the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Feel free to confuse people by referring to this year’s final as a rematch.)
The 1991 Stanley Cup final ended on May 25, 1991. Five days later, one of the teams from that series was stocking its roster in an expansion draft. The early-90s NHL was a fascinating place.
2. There’s a California Golden Seals and Cleveland Barons connection here
Mention the Golden Seals to most hockey fans, and they’ll think of two things: White skates, and a comical level of ineptitude. The Seals entered the league (alongside the Penguins) as part of the 1967 expansion, but didn’t last long. They left California in 1976, after their minority owners made the case for moving the team to Cleveland to become the Barons. Those minority owners were George and Gordon Gund, and they quickly became the team’s majority owners. But the move only prolonged the inevitable, and by 1978 the Barons were on life support.
That offseason, the Barons essentially folded, with their roster being absorbed by the North Stars. The Gunds assumed ownership of the new franchise, and kept it until the 1991 move to San Jose.
So yes, Sharks fans – to this day, your team technically has some Cleveland sports DNA. That might help explain all the heartbreak.