The Cleveland Barons were a professional ice hockey team in the National Hockey League (NHL) from 1976–78. They were a relocation of the California Golden Seals franchise, which had played in Oakland since 1967. After only two seasons, the team merged with the Minnesota North Stars.
After new arena plans in San Francisco were cancelled, the NHL dropped its objection to a relocation of the troubled California Golden Seals franchise from Oakland. Minority owner George Gund persuaded owner Melvin Swig to move the team to his hometown of Cleveland for the 1976–77 season. The team was named Cleveland Barons after the popular American Hockey League team that played in the city from 1937 to 1973. Although a successful minor league city, Cleveland had been turned down for an NHL expansion team on three previous occasions.
The Barons played in the suburban Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio, an arena originally built for the WHA's Cleveland Crusaders and the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, with the then largest seating capacity in the NHL of 18,544.
The NHL approved the move to Cleveland on July 14, 1976, but details were not finalized until late August, and there was little time or money for promotion of the new team. The Barons would never come close to filling the arena in their two years in Cleveland. The team's home opener on October 7, 1976, only drew 8,900 fans. They only drew 10,000 or more fans in seven out of 40 home games, and attendance was actually worse than it had been in Oakland.
The Barons were also troubled by an unfavorable lease with the Coliseum, and in January 1977 Swig hinted the team might not finish the season because of payroll difficulties. The Barons actually missed payroll twice in a row in February, and with the franchise on the verge of collapse, some of the Barons' players were actively being courted by other teams. Wanting to avoid the embarrassment of a team folding at mid-season (as had happened in the rival WHA), a last-minute $1.3 million loan from the league and the NHLPA was arranged to allow the Barons to finish the season. After finishing last in the Adams Division yet again, Swig sold his interest in the team to Gund and his brother Gordon.
For 1977–78, the Gunds poured money into the team, and it seemed to make a difference at first. The Barons stunned the defending Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens on November 23 before a boisterous crowd of 12,859. After a brief slump, general manager Harry Howell pulled off several trades in an attempt to make the team tougher. It initially paid off, and the Barons knocked off three of the NHL's top teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres in consecutive games in January 1978. A few weeks later, a record crowd of 13,110 saw the Barons tie the Philadelphia Flyers 2–2. The bottom fell out in February, however, as a 15-game losing skid knocked the Barons out of playoff contention.
Merger and aftermath
After the season, the Gunds tried to buy the Coliseum, but failed. Fearing that two franchises were on the verge of folding, on June 14, 1978 the league granted approval for the Barons to merge with another financially troubled team, the Minnesota North Stars, under the Gunds' ownership. The merged franchise would retain the Minnesota North Stars name, but assume the Barons' place in the Adams Division. The Barons remain the last franchise in the four major North American sports leagues to cease operations, and as a result the NHL fielded only 17 teams during the 1978–79 season. The NHL would not return to Ohio for 22 years, when the Columbus Blue Jackets began operations in the fall of 2000.
Dennis Maruk was the last Baron (and last Golden Seal as well) to be active in the NHL, retiring from the North Stars after the 1989 season with 356 goals in 888 games..
Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, Pts = Points, GF = Goals for, GA = Goals against, PIM = Penalties in minutes
|1976–77||80||25||42||13||63||240||292||1011||fourth in Adams||Out of playoffs|
|1977–78||80||22||45||13||57||230||325||1010||fourth in Adams||Out of playoffs|
- Jim Neilson and Bob Stewart, 1976–78 (co-captains)
First round draft picks
- 1976: Bjorn Johansson (fifth overall)
selection made by California Golden Seals as the move to Cleveland had not yet taken place
- 1977: Mike Crombeen (fifth overall)
- Jack Evans, 1976–78
- Bill McCreary, 1976–77
- Harry Howell, 1977–78