The last time we brought you giant maps of the United States with arrows all over them, we were showing you where your NBA team really came from so that you could think twice before you say something bad about Minnesota or Rochester or Ohio or whatever hole your team originally came from because, chances are, where they started from isn’t where they ended up. Unless you’re a Miami Heat fan, which means you used to be a Magic or Hawks fan or you’re just a frontrunner altogether. There’s a special place in sports hell for all of you.
But basketball isn’t the only sport that had teams leap-frogging across the continent for more money, better stadiums, more money, better fans, and, yes, more money. The NHL has had a fair amount of teams leave cities, states, and even countries for a better life. Today, we map out the history of those erstwhile NHL franchises.
When a franchise makes a move to a new city or, in this case, a new country, it usually takes a few seasons to get settled in and become a legitimate force in the NHL. This is especially true when your team is considered a joke in its division before the move. Winning the Stanley Cup right away is probably the least probable goal. The story of the Colorado Avalanche is proof that, hey, it could happen.
Before the Colorado Avalanche were a legitimate NHL team with championships and Patrick Roy, they were known as the Quebec Nordiques and played in the World Hockey Association, which was hockey’s semi-successful version of American football’s XFL but with less “too old to still play” veterans.
After jumping ship from the tanking WHA in 1979, the Nordiques were an annual fixture in the playoffs for the first seven years that they were in the NHL. After that, not so much. They were so bad until 1992 that draft pick Eric Lindros was rumored to have worn a Flyers jersey to all his press conferences until he was traded.
With Quebec City having the worst NHL draw in the league (yes, including teams in U.S. cities), the Nordiques were sold to COMSAT Entertainment Group, owners of the Denver Nuggets of the NBA. The team’s name was changed to the Colorado Avalanche, and they went to join their new owners in Denver.
What happened next is what every new owner hopes would happen: the players feel refreshed in a new place, fans get excited, and the team goes out and wins the Stanley Cup in 1995. From there, the Avalanche continued to be a powerhouse through the following decade, culminating in the 2001 Stanley Cup goalie duel between the Avalanche’s Patrick Roy and the New Jersey Devil’s Martin Brodeur. Sure, there were other players who were trying to actually score, but they could have cleared the ice and let the goalies go at each other in shootouts and hockey fans would have loved it. These goalies were that good. There was also an odd, evil-twin storyline going on between these teams because the New Jersey Devils started out in the NHL as the Colorado Rockies. I’m sure the players didn’t care so much as the countless hockey fans in Colorado who wanted to stick it to their old team.
New Jersey Devils
New Jersey has, for the most part, always borrowed other states’ sports teams. Their baseball following is geographically split between the Philadelphia Phillies in South Jersey, and the New York Mets and New York Yankees fight over fans in North Jersey. It’s the same with football: South Jersey follows the Philadelphia Eagles and North Jersey complains about how the Jets and Giants play in New Jersey but still hold onto “New York” in their franchise name. So the idea of a band of slacker hockey players moving into the only swamp in the Northeast to play hockey as the New Jersey Devils should be considered a moral victory for such a disrespected state in sports.
The New Jersey Devils weren’t always in New Jersey. Nor were they always Devils. And no, Martin Brodeur was not born a New Jersey Devil (he was born in Canada and, from what I’ve heard from my Canadian friends in regards to hockey, is hated for running away to… New Jersey.) The Devils franchise began in 1974 as the Kansas City Scouts, an NHL expansion team in a city that loved hockey so much that they forgot to schedule a rodeo around their new team’s first home games. The fun didn’t end there, as the Scouts collected only 15 wins that first season, and then only 12 in their second season (probably due to having to play at home instead of getting bumped for another rodeo.)
Bad records usually lead to bad ticket sales. Add to that a Midwestern state that doesn’t understand hockey, and you have enough reasons to move a franchise to Colorado, which looks at least a little like parts of Canada with the Rocky Mountains. The Colorado Rockies did a bit better and lasted a little longer than the team did in Kansas City, but not making the playoffs every year probably took its toll on fans, who couldn’t be bothered shoveling themselves out of their homes for the winter if the team couldn’t be bothered to post a winning record. The team was sold and exiled to the swamps of New Jersey, right in the middle of a crowded Northeast that included the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, and Hartford Whalers. Yes, even Connecticut had a hockey team before the Devils showed up.
It took over a decade but, with the arrival of goalie wunderkind Martin Brodeur, the New Jersey Devils became a staple team in the playoffs, went to five Stanley Cup finals, and won three of them. Not bad for the only legitimate sports franchise in New Jersey.
I know what you’re thinking: “What does Texas have to do with hockey? They don’t have ice, they have deserts.” At least, that’s what I thought when I first heard that the beloved Minnesota North Stars were moving South for the winter, and beyond.
The Minnesota North Stars were hands down the most loved hockey team in hockey history. Fan allegiance didn’t matter. The North Stars just had everything except for a Stanley Cup. They had the green and yellow franchise colors, which has graced such beloved teams as the Seattle Supersonics, the Green Bay Packers, and Jose Canseco (and the Oakland A’s) before everyone knew he was juicing. The North Stars also had the bonus of being a U.S. team with a reference to the North Pole, which is in a region that is basically Canada, Greenland, Norway, the U.S. (Alaska, so it counts), and Russia all rolled together into a cultural smorgasbord.
Unfortunately, no Stanley Cup, no new stadium, and no steady income lead to the Minnesota North Stars being sold in 1993, shortening their name to “Stars,” moving down to Dallas, changing their beautiful yellow to gold, and winning the Stanley Cup. But they were the Dallas Stars at the time, so nobody cares. At least, I don’t care, since I plan to make a bajillion dollars and secure rights for both the Sonics and the North Stars so I can wear green and yellow all winter without looking like I stepped out of an ’80s pop video.
I find it amazing how maligned professional hockey has been in Canada. At least, in the NHL. Maybe it’s because Canadians have a higher ratio of people that would rather go out and play it instead of sitting around watching other people play it. Then again, everyone in the world plays soccer, but those giant stadiums get packed to riot status all over the globe…except in the US. The history of the Phoenix Coyotes is an odd step in the hockey team carousel that keeps tossing teams out of Canada.
Before they followed the Dallas Stars and went even deeper into the barren desert of the Southwest United States, the Phoenix Coyotes were known as the Winnipeg Jets in the Canadian province of Manitoba. In case you were wondering, provinces are kind of like states, except more independent of their country and much, much bigger than states. The populations of provinces, however, usually amount to the population of Montana.
Due to this population issue, ticket sales of Jets games became stale for most of its existence since leaving the WHA in 1979, so in 1996 the Jets followed their Southern, American cousins in Minnesota and moved to Arizona. Obviously, nothing is more admired in America’s broiler than a sport that can only be played on ice. Yet there they are, still in Arizona with one whole division championship to their record. Of course, that division championship came when the Pacific Division was only them, Dallas, and a bunch of teams in California with no Canadian teams in sight.
Recently the Coyotes were sold again, and the new ownership will be changing the name of the team to the Arizona Coyotes for the 2014-2015 season in beyond. This is probably to make sure the rest of the desert state doesn’t feel left out of hockey. Or maybe it’s to remind them that they have a team.
The exile to the deserts of Arizona isn’t the end of our story about the Winnipeg Jets. It seems that, in hockey, cities have some sort of rights to a team name, so when one franchise leaves, another franchise can move in and take the name, even though the franchises have no connection to one another. It’s as ridiculous as if the city of London sold the London Bridge, sent it piece by piece to Arizona, and then built another bridge in the exact same place with the exact same name, the London Bridge. Well guess what, we’re in Bananaland because that happened, too.
The Winnipeg Jets of today came from another mecca of all sports, except hockey: Atlanta. How about that, a hockey team couldn’t survive in a city nicknamed Hotlanta? Well, it’s true. Atlanta followed up their loss of the Flames to Calgary by starting a new NHL franchise, the Thrashers, in 1997. Unsurprisingly, the franchise had issues, issues that a company called True North Sports & Entertainment wanted to take on. This company owned the hockey arena in Winnipeg, and wanted an NHL team to fill it up. They tried to buy the Phoenix Coyotes so they could re-re-name them the Winnipeg Jets, but apparently hockey had some sort of following in the Southwest. The company went on to buy up the Thrashers from Atlanta in 2011, who were all too eager to kick hockey out of the state forever. Or, at least for another few years.
This is how a second franchise, totally separate from the first franchise, claimed the name of the Winnipeg Jets. Seattle Supersonics fans, there is still hope for you yet.
Not all hockey teams have jumped ship from Canada into the United States with hopes of financial stability. The city of Atlanta has been abandoned twice by NHL franchises for a better life and colder temperatures in Canada. The first team was the Atlanta Flames.
The Flames were brought into the NHL due to a territory war between the NHL and the WHA in 1972. The NHL wanted to plug a hockey team into Long Island, the New York Islanders. To do that, they needed to add a second expansion team to equal out the divisions. To do that, they gave Atlanta Hawks owners clearance to start up the Atlanta Flames hockey franchise. Unfortunately, the region wasn’t quite as excited to have a hockey team as ownership was. The Flames failed to even land a network television deal, and financial difficulties led to the sale of the team in 1980 to interested parties in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Since BC already had a team in Vancouver, the Canucks, the Flames found themselves just outside of BC, in Calgary, Alberta.
Since then, the Calgary Flames have been to three Stanley Cup Finals, winning one, and continue to confuse Americans about where they are actually located. That’s what happens with hockey teams in the middle provinces. They might as well be in the Yukon, Nunavut, or the Northwest Territories. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if those provinces have sports teams that I can root for.
Considering how many teams have left Atlanta, you would think that the Southeast was a barren wasteland for hockey. Well, that wasteland of hockey took home the Stanley Cup once in the form of the Carolina Hurricanes, telling all of us Northerners to suck it.
However, things weren’t always so sweet for the franchise. Before they were the Carolina Hurricanes, this team hailed from Massachusetts as the WHA’s New England Whalers. Of course, this meant that the team was trying to pry fans away from the Boston Bruins. Personally, I think it would be easier to trick a Red Sox fan into wearing a Yankees cap by calling it a homage to the American Revolution. Apparently, I’m not far off, as the Whalers decided to at least have their own state to draw fans from by moving to Hartford, Connecticut when the franchise jumped to the NHL in 1979.
Unfortunately, the move to Connecticut put the Whalers right in the middle of a maelstrom of hockey in the Northeast. To the north of them were the Bruins. To the south of them were the Islanders and Rangers, and later, the Devils. Now, there’s a huge population in that string of states, but it’s tough to take fans away from other teams, even if your logo colors are navy green, and silver. It’s no green and yellow, but it’s a close second. A small market and smaller ticket sales led to the Whalers finding a new home with the potential for a larger fan base in 1997. Their destination? North Carolina. It makes sense. North Carolina had the NBA, NFL, and some awesome college teams, so why not fill things out with an NHL team? All they would need is a baseball team and North Carolina would be the mecca of sports.
And so the Carolina Hurricanes came to be, and have already gone to two Stanley Cup Finals and winning one of them, making abandoned Whalers fans absolutely miserable.
Patrick Emmel is a die-hard sports fan, but you won’t find him rifling through athletes’ garbage cans. Unless he’s “lost his wallet.” You can see more of his work at Sports Jeer, The Inept Owl, or heckle him on Twitter @Patrick_AE.