The Golden Seal Who Never Was
By Joe Simanis aka GHCHambone
The National Hockey League has had its fair share of lopsided trades over the years. Eric Lindros was drafted by the Nordiques and then traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne, Ron Hextall, Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, Peter Forsberg, future draft picks and an undisclosed (but rumored to be around ten to fifteen million dollars) in cash. The Vancouver Canucks sent Cam Neely along with a first-round draft pick to the Boston Bruins for Barry Pederson. That first-round pick was used to select Glen Wesley, who went on to play over 1,400 games in the NHL. Kris Draper was traded by the Winnipeg Jets to the Detroit Red Wings in 1993. The Winnipeg Jets received…one dollar. However, the most lopsided trade in NHL history involved hockey in Oakland, the last North American professional sports franchise to fold, and a young hockey player by the name of Guy Lafleur.
Kris Draper was traded from the Winnipeg Jets to the Detroit Red Wings for the grand sum of one dollar.
The California Golden Seals…not exactly a household name. Most people probably would have no clue even what sport they played, and even for die-hard hockey fans the memories of the Seals are probably fading. The Golden Seals began their short NHL history in 1967, entering the league as part of the very first generation of expansion teams. Initially, they were named the California Seals and were eventually renamed the Oakland Seals, and then the California Golden Seals in 1970. The Seals never drew much of a crowd and the hockey wasn’t much better, with the Seals never experiencing a winning record in their nine season history. Contrast this with the Montreal Canadiens, the most decorated team in hockey history with 24 Stanley Cup wins and a powerhouse for many years in the National Hockey League. Guy Lafleur, one of the most iconic players in Canadiens history, was very nearly a Golden Seal.
The Seals are more remembered for their white skates then their hockey talent.
By 1970, the Seals were struggling both at the gate and on the ice. They were purchased by Oakland Athletics owner Charlie O. Finley, but marketing gimmicks such as changing the team name, using new colors, and providing players with white hockey skates failed to bring more fans to the arena. The Canadiens, however, were fresh off Stanley Cup wins in 1965, 1966, 1968, and 1969. At the end of the 1970 NHL season, the California Golden Seals traded their first round pick in the 1971 NHL draft and Francois Lacombe to the Montreal Canadiens for Ernie Hicke and the Canadiens first round pick in 1970. Neither Hicke nor Lacombe went on to have illustrious careers, and the Golden Seals utilized their new first-round pick to draft Chris Oddleifson. Oddleifson would go on to score 286 points in 524 NHL games; however, none of them would be for the California Golden Seals. The Golden Seals would go on to finish in last place in the 1971 season, meaning that the Canadiens would have the first pick in the National Hockey League Draft.
Guy Lafleur, playing the eventual remnants of the Golden Seals, the Cleveland Barons. The Barons would cease operations in 1978 and merge with the Minnesota North Stars.
The Montreal Canadiens wisely used their number one pick to draft Guy Lafleur (although Marcel Dionne, who went second to the Detroit Red Wings, wouldn’t have been a bad choice either). Lafleur would go on to play 17 seasons in the NHL, become the Montreal Canadiens all-time leading scorer with 1,246 points, be a part of five Stanley Cup winning teams, and secure his name in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The California Golden Seals had a much different story. The Seals would move to Cleveland in 1976 after nine years of losing seasons and low attendance figures in California. The Barons fared even worse and lasted for only two NHL seasons. With both the Cleveland Barons and the Minnesota North Stars in danger of folding, the National Hockey League allowed the two teams to merge. The Minnesota North Stars were the surviving team and many of the Barons joined the North Stars roster. The Cleveland Barons remain the last North American professional sports club to fold. Although the Seals endured bad fortunes, hockey returned to the Bay Area with the San Jose Sharks in 1991. If the Seals hadn’t traded their 1971 first round pick, would they still remain? Would Guy Lafleur be known as the man who saved the franchise? Would white hockey skates become the standard of the National Hockey League? Hockey fans can speculate, but the world will never know.
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