The California Golden Seals were a team in the National Hockey League (NHL) from 1967–76. Initially named "California Seals", the team was renamed "Oakland Seals" partway through the 1967–68 NHL season and then to California Golden Seals in 1970.
The Seals were one of six teams added to the league as part of the 1967 NHL expansion.
Based in Oakland, California, the team played their home games at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena.
However, the Seals were never successful at the gate and they eventually moved to Cleveland, Ohio to become the Cleveland Barons in 1976.
- 1 History
- 2 Team Legacy
- 3 Franchise Records
- 4 Notable Players
The Founding of the Team
In 1966, the NHL announced that six expansion teams would be added as a new division for the 1967–68 NHL season officially because of a general desire to expand the league to new markets, but just as importantly to squelch the Western Hockey League's threat to turn into a major league.
The San Francisco Seals were one such team from the WHL.
The NHL awarded an expansion team to Barry Van Gerbig for the San Francisco Bay area.
Barry decided to purchase the WHL club with the intent of bringing them into the NHL as an expansion team the following season. He had planned to have the team play in a new arena in San Francisco, but the new arena was never built.
He decided to move the team across the Bay from the Cow Palace to Oakland to play in the new Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena (now known as Oracle Arena). Barry renamed the club the California Seals.
This was done in an attempt to appeal to fans from San Francisco and to address complaints from the other NHL teams that Oakland was not considered a major league city (notwithstanding the presence of the American Football League's Oakland Raiders and the pending relocation of Major League Baseball's Kansas City Athletics) and would not be a draw for fans.
A year later, Barry brought the Seals into the NHL as an expansion team and retained a portion of the club's WHL roster such as Charlie Burns, George Swarbrick, Gerry Odrowski, Tom Thurlby and Ron Harris.
While the Bay Area was not considered a particularly lucrative hockey market, the terms of a new television agreement with CBS called for two of the expansion teams to be located in California.
While the WHL Seals had drawn well while playing home games at the Cow Palace in Daly City, the team drew poorly in Oakland once they entered the NHL. The plan to bring fans in from San Francisco, California failed.
On November 6, 1967, Barry announced that the team's name would be changed to the Oakland Seals (although the league did not register the change until December) to focus solely on the Oakland market.
The Struggles of the Team
The Seals were never successful at the gate and because of this poor attendance, Barry threatened on numerous occasions to move the team elsewhere.
First-year coach and general manager Bert Olmstead publicly advocated a move to Vancouver, but an offer from Labatt's brewery to purchase and relocate the team was rejected by the league, as was a proposal to move the team to Buffalo, New York from the Knox brothers, who had been shut out of the 1967 expansion.
As it turned out, the league's 1970 expansion would include Vancouver and Buffalo.
The Knoxes would buy a minority share of the Seals in 1969, only to sell it a year later to found the Sabres. This (as well as the team's dismal on-ice performance) led to major changes to both the Seals' front office and the roster (only seven of the 20 Seals players remained after the first season).
The new-look Seals were somewhat more successful, making the playoffs for two years, although with sub .500 records. Those would be the only two years that the franchise made the playoffs.
The league's rejection of a proposed move to Vancouver prompted a lawsuit that was not settled until 1974 (San Francisco Seals Ltd. v. National Hockey League).
The Seals organization filed suit against the NHL claiming that the prohibition violated the Sherman Act.
The Seals asserted that the league's constitution was in violation by prohibiting clubs from relocating their operations, and that the relocation request was denied in an attempt to keep the San Francisco market in the NHL and thereby discourage the formation of a rival team or league in that location.
The court ruled that the NHL was a single entity and that the teams were not competitors in an economic sense, so the league restrictions on relocation were not a restraint of trade.
For the 1969–70 season the team was sold to Trans National Communications, whose investors included Pat Summerall and Whitey Ford, however, the group filed for bankruptcy and ownership reverted to Barry, who put the team up for sale again.
Charles O. Finley Purchases the Franchise
Prior to the 1970-71 NHL season, Charles O. Finley, the flamboyant owner of baseball's Oakland Athletics, purchased the Seals. He and Roller Derby boss Jerry Seltzer had both put in a bid on the team.
Although Jerry's offer was slightly better and included a more detailed plan for revival, a majority of NHL owners from the "old establishment" voted in favor of Charles.
General manager Bill Torrey left by mid-season due to clashes with Charles.
On October 15, 1970 (with the new season already two games old), Charles announced that the team's name was being changed to California Golden Seals ("Bay Area Seals" had been reported the previous week and appears on some of that year's promotional material), following a number of other marketing gimmicks intended to sell the team to the fans among them changing the Seals' colors to green & gold to match those of the popular A's.
The team's uniform crest was now the word "Seals" in a unique typeface, but an alternate logo using a sketch based on a photo of star player Carol Vadnais was used on marketing materials such as pennants, stickers and team programs.
The original 1967 California Seals logo recolored in green and gold was often seen on trading cards and other unofficial material, but it was never adopted by the team.
The Seals are remembered for wearing white skates, but initially Torrey convinced Finley to use green and gold painted skates instead, as team colored skates were a trend of the period, however, this was all for naught as the Seals finished with the worst record in the NHL that year.
At the end of the 1970 season, the Seals traded their pick in the first round of the 1971 draft to the Montreal Canadiens along with Francois Lacombe in return for Montreal's first round pick in 1970 (selected Chris Oddleifson), Ernie Hicke and cash.
As a result of the Seals' dreadful season, the Canadiens had the top pick in the draft and used it to select future Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur. This transaction now ranks as one of the most one-sided deals in NHL history.
Team Under the Ownership of the NHL & Mel Swig
The team rebounded in 1971–72, but the arrival of the World Hockey Association (WHA) had wiped out most of those gains.
Charles refused to match the WHA's contract offers which caused five of the team's top ten scorers from the previous season to bolt to the new league.
Devoid of any defensive talent save for goaltender Gilles Meloche, the Seals sank into last place again in 1973 where they would remain for the rest of their history.
Although divisional restructuring in 1974 included a revamped format in which three teams in each division made the playoffs, the team's efforts were frustrated by their placement in the Adams Division with the strong Buffalo, Boston, and Toronto teams of the day.
Tired of the struggling hockey team, especially in comparison to his World Series champion Athletics, Finley tried to sell the Seals, but there were no takers. The NHL eventually took control of the team in February of 1974, purchasing it from Finley for $6.585 million.
A 1973 attempt by Finley to sell the team to Indianapolis interests who planned to relocate the team to that city was rejected by the NHL's Board of Governors.
In early 1975, newspapers reported that the Seals and the Pittsburgh Penguins were to be relocated to Denver and Seattle respectively, in an arrangement that would have seen the two teams sold to groups in those cities that had already been awarded "conditional" franchises for the 1976-77 season.
At the same time, the league announced that if the Seals' sale to the Denver group was not completed or if new ownership was found locally, the franchise would be liquidated at the end of the season.
The Denver arrangement fell through and the league ran the Seals for more than a year until San Francisco hotel magnate Melvin Swig bought the team in 1975 with the intent of moving the team to a proposed new arena in San Francisco.
The team fell just short of the playoffs and after a mayoral election, the plans for the new arena were cancelled.
With a new arena out of the picture, the league dropped their objection to the relocation of the franchise.
The End of the California Golden Seals
Although attendance was finally showing some improvement and the team was playing better, minority owners George and Gordon Gund persuaded Swig to seek approval to move the team to their hometown of Cleveland.
League approval for the move was granted on July 14, 1976 and the team was renamed the Cleveland Barons after the city's old AHL squad.
After two more years of losses and with attendance worse than it had been in Oakland, the Gunds (by this time majority owners) were permitted to merge the Barons with another failing team, the Minnesota North Stars on June 15, 1978.
The merged team continued as the Minnesota North Stars under the Gunds' ownership, but assumed the Barons' place in the Adams Division.
The Cleveland Barons remain the most recent team in an established North American major professional league to fold, as well as the only team in the NHL to do so since 1942.
As a result, the NHL consisted of 17 teams for the 1978–79 NHL season.
The current NHL team in the Bay Area, [[[the San Jose Sharks]] has a historical connection to the Seals.
Years after the Barons-North Stars merger, the Gunds wanted to bring hockey back to the Bay Area.
They had asked the NHL for permission to move the North Stars there in the late 1980s, but the league was unwilling to abandon a traditional hockey market like the Twin Cities.
Meanwhile, a group led by former Hartford Whalers owner Howard Baldwin was pushing the NHL to bring a team to San Jose, where an arena was being built.
Eventually, a compromise was struck whereby the Gunds would sell their share of the North Stars to Baldwin's group with the Gunds receiving an expansion team in the Bay Area to begin play in the 1991–92 season.
In return, the Sharks would have the rights to players from the North Stars and then participate with the North Stars as an equal partner in an expansion draft with the new franchise.
On May 5, 1990, the Gunds officially sold their share of the North Stars to Baldwin and were awarded a new team in the Bay Area that eventually became the Sharks.
Ironically, in their first two seasons in the league, the Sharks played their home games at the Cow Palace in Daly City (the same facility the NHL rejected as a home for the Seals in 1967) while their new permanent home arena in San Jose was being completed.
Dennis Maruk was the last Seals player active in the NHL, retiring as a member of the North Stars in 1989.
The last former Seals player in any league was Charlie Simmer, who was active with the IHL's San Diego Gulls until 1992.
- [Note: Records include the Cleveland Barons (1976-78)]
- Most games played: Bob Stewart (414)
- Most goals: Dennis Maruk (94)
- Most assists: Al MacAdam (129)
- Most points: Al MacAdam (217)
- Most penalty minutes: Bob Stewart (691)
- Most wins by a goaltender: Gilles Meloche (93)
- Most losses by a goaltender: Gilles Meloche (191)
- Lowest goals-against average by a goaltender: Charlie Hodge (3.09)
- Most shutouts by a goaltender: Gilles Meloche (11)
- Most minutes: Gilles Meloche (20,666)
- Most wins by a coach: Fred Glover (96)
- Most losses by a coach: Fred Glover (206)
- Most goals: Dennis Maruk (36 in 1977-1978)
- Most assists: Dennis Maruk (50 in 1976-1977)
- Most points: Dennis Maruk (78 in 1976-1977)
- Most wins by a goaltender: Gary Smith (21 in 1968-1969)
- Most losses by a goaltender: Gary Smith (48 in 1970-1971)
- Best goals-against average by a goaltender: Charlie Hodge (2.86 in 1967-1968)
- Most shutouts by a goaltender: Gary Smith (4 in 1968-69) and Gilles Meloche (4 in 1971-1972)
Hall of Fame Players
- Harry Howell
- Bert Olmstead
- Craig Patrick (inducted as builder)
- Rudy Pilous (inducted as builder)
- Bill Torrey (inducted as builder)
- Bobby Baun (1967–1968)
- Ted Hampson (1968–1971)
- Carol Vadnais (1971–1972)
- Bert Marshall (1972–1973)
- Joey Johnston (1974–1975)
- Jim Neilson and Bob Stewart (1975–1976) (co-captains)
First Round Draft Picks
- 1967: Ken Hicks (third overall)
- 1968: none
- 1969: Tony Featherstone (seventh overall)
- 1970: Chris Oddleifson (10th overall)
- 1971: none
- 1972: none
- 1973: none
- 1974: Rick Hampton (third overall)
- 1975: Ralph Klassen (third overall)
- Rudy Pilous, 1967 (fired before start of season)
- Bert Olmstead (1967–68) (resigned in March of 1968)
- Frank Selke Jr. (1968–1970) (resigned in November of 1970)
- Bill Torrey, (1970) (resigned in December of 1970)
- Fred Glover (1970–71) (fired in October of 1971)
- Garry Young (1971–72) (fired in November of 1972)
- Fred Glover (1972–74) (resigned in February of 1974)
- Garry Young (1974) (given title of Director of Hockey Operations due to NHL ownership of club; resigned before start of 1974–75 season)
- Bill McCreary (1974–1976) (given title of Director of Hockey Operations from 1974-75 while club under ownership of NHL. He became general manager in the summer of 1975 after Melvin Swig bought the club from the league)