The North Stars, you all know what happened, Norm Green moves the team to Dallas, because he was a pervert. Well there was a lot more that went into them moving, than simply just “Norm’s wife told him to move the team or else”.
March 11, 1965, NHL President Clarence Campbell announces the NHL will expand to twelve teams, from six. With that the era of the Original Six, the “Original Six” weren’t even that, they were just six teams that managed to survive throughout a chaotic league. A group led by, Walter Bush, Jr., Robert Ridder, and John Driscoll, sought to bring the NHL to the Twin Cities, in Minnesota. The NHL awarded this group one of the six new franchises, with the other five going to Oakland(Seals), Pittsburgh(Penguins), St Louis(Blues), Philadelphia(Flyers) and Los Angeles(Kings). The as of yet unnamed franchise held a naming contest, as you typically do with a new team and the name “North Stars” was selected, which was derived from the states motto "L'Étoile du Nord" or Star of the North. Work quickly began on their new arena in Bloomington, with the arena eventually being named “The Metropolitan Sports Center.”
Honestly? There’s not much chaotic about the early North Stars, unlike the Blues who had to deal with the NHL’s bullshit(Norris Jr and his merry band of fools), or the Seals who were a mess to begin with, the North Stars were...stable. Game 1 of their first season was an entertaining one, playing against fellow expansion team, the St Louis Blues, they tied in their first game, with Bill Masterson scoring the first goal in franchise history. It was an exciting time to be a hockey fan. All was not well though, on January 13, 1968, the North Stars faced the California Seals, in what would be Masterson’s final game.
Masterson was skating the puck across the Blue Line, his skates got tangled in the stick of Larry Cahan or Ron Harris(it’s unknown as to which, but they were both close to him), Masterson lost his balance, pitching forward, he didn’t see the defendor coming up on him, who delivered a clean check to him, knocking him backwards. Masterson was not wearing a helmet(as was normal), as he smacked his head on the ice, going unconscious instantly. Masterson never recovered, he died a few days later. Teammate André Boudrias described the hit "It sounded like a baseball bat hitting a ball.” Boudrias helped the team trainer onto the ice, the team doctor joining them soon after. They carried Masterson off on a stretcher and into an ambulance to Fairview Southdale hospital, seven miles away. "His eyes were gray at the time -- it was like a horror picture," Boudrias says. "I knew he was done." Doctors did what they could, treating him with steroids and diuretics, but the swelling in his brain was too swift and severe. His Wife and Parents, who had flown in from Winnipeg to watch him play, had made the decision to remove Bill from life support. Hours later, at 1:55AM
, Bill Masterton was pronounced dead at the age of 29, he was survived by his wife Carol. Unfortunately this didn’t do much to make the NHL decide to make helmets mandatory, not for another decade when they finally made helmets mandatory. However this did spark a change among players, as more began to adopt helmets. Players before this had worn helmets, but most chose not to for “Vanity Reasons”(To quote Brett Hull). Bruins player Ted Green had become the first Bruin to wear a helmet, since Eddie Shore. Shore had suffered major head injuries as a result of a massive hit he laid onto Ace Bailey, Shore in turn had his head hit the ice in retaliation. Doctors described Masterton’s death as the result of “a massive brain injury”. After news of Masterton’s death spread to the team, the North Stars lost their next six, but also retired his Jersey. Masterson’s death opened many eyes to the realization that helmets were needed in a fast moving game such a hockey. Following his death, hockey writers announced the creation of the “Bill Masterton Trophy”, to be given annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Basically the player who best overcame adversity for that season, such as Bobby Clarke, who overcame Diabetes to play in the NHL.
- I cannot state this enough as to how awful the NHL has been about head injuries, their official position is to deny concussions are an issue, I get why, but it’s annoying as hell. Their official stance with head injuries has always been to shrug and pretend it’s not an issue. I fully believe Masterson would have survived, had he had a helmet.
The North Stars finished fourth in the West Division(the one with all the expansion teams), in their first playoff run, they beat the Kings, advancing to the West Finals, where they lost to the Blues in a Game 7, in double overtime. The Blues proceeded to get swept by the Canadiens, in what becomes a recurring theme for the next 2 finals, Original Six sweeping the expansion Blues. This is by no means because the Blues were awful, it was because the odds were stacked against them and the rest of the “New Six”. They weren’t given great players and the GMs had no idea what they were doing, not to mention they were given their own division so the Original Six had a punching bag. Even in a “new era” the NHL was awful. The next few years were mostly uneventful for the North Stars, missing the playoffs once, but only posting one winning season in their first four seasons, it wasn’t looking great. They were better than their WHA Rivals, who folded four seasons in, but not by much. By ‘78 attendance had fallen so sharply that there were fears that they would fold due to how bad things were, they’d posted 2 whole winning seasons and out of the last six seasons, making the playoffs only once, it didn’t look good. But there was a worse team, the Cleveland Barons, formerly the Oakland / California Seals, who relocated to Cleveland due to a new arena being out of the question and the minority owners(George and Gordon Gund) convincing the majority owner Melvin Swig(wanted to move them to San Francisco, more on this at the end) to move the team to Cleveland. The Barons weren’t much better and then this happened.
Essentially the wealthy owners of the Barons, George(III) and Gordon Gund, would become the new owners of the North Stars, merging them with the Barons. The Barons would in turn merge with the North Stars, giving them the good parts of the team. The North Stars would not relocate, they would keep their name, logo, color, everything, but would be moved to the Adams Division, since now that division would be down to three teams. Most notable of the players the North Stars would get were Goaltender Gilles Meloche and forwards Al MacAdam and Mike Fidler. During the draft that year they had drafted future Calder winner, Bobby Smith, who helped to bolster an actually decent looking team now. They weren’t cup favorites, but they were an improved team, this merger is what saved the North Stars from folding and making the NHL’s expansion look like even worse of a joke. The season that followed was nothing short of incredible, suddenly the North Stars looked like a real
team, everyone looked to be firing on all cylinders, leading to a historic game:
- January 7th, 1980, the North Stars Hosted the Philadelphia Flyers who were on a historic streak, 35 games UNDEFEATED in that span they won 25 out of 35 games, tying 10 of them. The fans at the Met Center had come in droves, over 15,962 fans showed up to see this monumental game, a new record for Minnesota Hockey. The North Stars shelled the Flyers non-stop, one goal after another came, eventually two hat tricks came, finally the buzzer had sounded, the North Stars had won it. The Flyers lost 7-1, ending the longest win streak in sports, effectively showing that these new North Stars were something serious and much less disorganized. That same year during the playoffs, they went in against the reigning champions, The Canadiens and beat them in 7, before falling to the Flyers in 4 games to 1, effectively a gentleman’s sweep. Nonetheless, this season had been one of their best, even if it ended far too early.
The following season proved to be an improvement over the last, with them finishing only a point lower than the previous year, but their playoff run was magical. The North Stars got through the Bruins, Sabres and finally the Flames, to reach the Cup Final. ...Where they promptly got beat 4-1, but it didn’t matter, because by all accounts the North Stars were doing much better now, people paid attention to them, the building was usually full. The next few seasons were the same, despite one early round exit, they made it to the Conference Finals, once more with two Round 1 exits and Round 2 exit. That was it for the Cinderella story of the North Stars though, 85-86 was the final time the North Stars would have a winning season. The 80’s were almost over and attendance was..dropping, despite everything, the North Stars were in trouble. They finished 87-88, just barely out of the playoffs, but allowed them to draft one of the greatest American-Born Players, of all time. Mike Modano.
Drafting Modano was great, but ownership kept threatening to move the team to San Francisco, the Gunds' didn’t exactly like Minnesota and with the fans not showing up, relocation become a threat, here you have a team that was close to folding just a decade ago, back to having trouble and it doesn’t look good on the NHL, despite them vetoing any attempts by the Gund’s to move the team. The NHL eventually gave into the Gund’s threats to move the team to San Francisco. This is where it becomes complicated.
- The Gunds' wanted a team in San Francisco, but former Whalers owner Howard Baldwin, former Penguins owner Morris Belzberg and former Flames(minority) owner Norm Green led a group to get an expansion team in San Jose. So the NHL proposed a compromise: The Gund’s would sell their stake in the North Stars to Baldwin’s group and in exchange they would be awarded an expansion team in San Jose. A successor to the Golden Seals in many ways, since they played their first two seasons at the Cow Palace, in Daly, which was just outside of San Francisco. In addition, the new Sharks would be formed with a dispersal draft, first taking players from the North Stars and then the rest of the League.
Enter Norm Greed: Norm Green, former minority owner of the Flames, had joined Baldwin’s ownership group and purchased a 51% stake in the team. Green then purchased Baldwin’s stake in the team, gaining more than 75% control of the North Stars. He then went and bought Belzberg's share in October of 1990, giving him all the power he wanted, making him the
owner of the team.
The 91 season was...odd for the North Stars. They finished with a losing record(as was the norm at this point), but had barely
made the playoffs. This is where it gets weirder, they went on a cup run, beating two of the NHL’s best teams in the Blackhawks and Blues, steamrolling through the defending champions in the Oilers, finally facing off against Lemieux’s Penguins, who had just acquired Ron Francis, not too long ago. This Final didn’t go their way, just like the last one, but they fought hard in it, losing 4 games to 2. That was all she wrote for the North Stars though.
It was a strange offseason, in what could be called foreshadowing the North Stars got new uniforms
. Gone were the Green uniforms and Stars on the pants, replaced with a simple Black and Green jersey, the new logo ditching the “North Stars” for just “Stars” The uniforms would literally just be the one’s later used in Dallas for most of the 90’s with minor changes. New uniforms weren’t it though, behind the scenes it was chaos. Green was trying to move the team to LA, to play in the still being built Honda Center(Yes, that one), where they would become the “L.A. Stars”. As Disney was in the middle of negotiations(the 90’s were fucking weird) to place a team there(they also owned the Angels), the North Stars would instead move to Dallas, Texas.
- The relocation and everything that went into it:
Dallas, Texas. In 1992 Greed announced the North Stars would move to Reunion Arena, in the heart of Dallas, Texas, becoming the Dallas Stars. Why did this happen? Variety of reasons really. Green was a massive pervert and couldn’t keep his hands to himself, or his junk in pants, so he faced a sexual harassment lawsuit, with his wife threatening to leave him, if he didn’t move the team. Why couldn’t they just play at Target Center, with the Timberwolves? Target was Coca-Cola, while the Stars advertised with Pepsi, which created issue. Issue I’m sure could have been solved, but hey, what do I know? Another reason was the dwindling attendance, it has been an issue for the past few years(minus the cup run), combine that with a team who can’t put together a winning season and people just weren’t having it. The on-ice product wasn’t good and they had no interest.
Another factor involved the Gunds’. Yes, they were out of the picture, but their stink still lingered. The Gunds’ had tried to build a shopping near the Met Center, after demolishing Met Stadium(Twins and Vikings played there), well it was looking like they would get their wish...until they didn’t. Instead the Ghermezian brothers, got the land and built The Mall of America.
The Gunds’ had felt the Metro Sports Commission had cheated them over this and in turn demanded the MSC renovate the Met Center to the tune of $15 Million, adding close to 40 suites and expanding the concourse. None of that happened, the MSC laughed in their faces and told them to go away. However, North Stars GM Lou Nanne had been the one to actually do something.
He persuaded the MSC to instead spend $3.5 Million and add only 20 suites.
The Gunds’ were incredibly frustrated with their situation in Minnesota. And fans were too. Years of failed drafts, trades, no talent and bad seasons, left many fans thinking ownership only cared about money. ...Which they did. Some even called them “No Stars”, because of how true it was, the North Stars had no stars
, for most of the Gund era. With the Target Center being built, the Gunds’ took this as a sign, it was time to demand the MSC renovate the Met again, asking for money to do so, with the MSC again, laughing in their faces. It just so happened, Art Savage(friend of the Gunds’) was trying to get a team in San Francisco, so they decided to join forces and move the North Stars to San Francisco.
It wasn’t that easy though. GM Lou Nanne(voice of reason somehow) warned them the NHL wouldn’t allow it, but they went to the Board of Governors to get permission to move. Bill Wirtz was head of the BoG and pretty much denied them on the spot, but granted them a team in San Jose on the condition they sell the North Stars, to an owner who would keep them in Minnesota(Ahahaha). This left the Gunds’ split as George was fine with selling, but Gordon felt that they worked too hard to just sell now(what work did they do? The world may never know!). Eventually they did sell to the aforementioned group involving Norm Green however and they got their team in San Jose.
- Could they have stayed in Minnesota despite everything? Probably, but the Timberwolves ownership didn’t help things either. At the time, the Timberwolves were sponsored by Coke and Burger-King, while the North Stars were sponsored by Pepsi and Mcdonald’s. This led to the question “who will advertise on our boards?”, well Harvey Ratner(part-owner) okayed the proposition of the North Stars playing at Target and felt the advertising issue could be worked out. Marv Wolfenson however, disagreed and that killed the idea of the North Stars moving there. It’s hard to place the full blame on them in the long run though, because let’s face it, the Gunds’ wanted any excuse to leave Minnesota.
Norm and the sexual harassment allegations against him. Norm was being sued by some of his former secretaries for sexual harassment, he’d look down their blouses, and demand they kiss him, he was a creep in every way possible. His wife demanded he * move the team, to get rid of mounting media pressure on them, due to the aforementioned lawsuit. Norm made attempts to keep the North Stars in Minnesota, but as the MSC had just finished building the Target Center, they weren’t about to build another
arena. The Target Center deal fell through, as did a deal that would link the Met Center to the Mall of America, via Skyway and would include a casino that Green would own. That proposal was shot down because it was almost the same cost as a new arena, that the MSC refused to pay for. He renovated the Met with his own money during his short tenure as North Stars Owner, but that was about it. Apparently it was thanks to former Cowboys Quarterback Roger Staubach that the Stars moved to Dallas, as he had convinced Green, Dallas was the perfect market for hockey.
The fans were as you can imagine angry. Bringing “Norm Sucks” signs and chanting that during games, even calling him “Norm Greed”(Accurate really). It was a horrible time to be a North Stars fan, hell a sports fan in Minnesota in general. Their final season was again, normalcy, sure they made the playoffs, but it was another losing season and this was it for them. They lost to Detroit in 7 games, playing their final game in Detroit, losing 1-0 in Overtime. It was also the first time the NHL tested video replay. The legendary Al Schaer final call goes as follows:
- “It’s Ludwig, giving it to Dahlen … 4, 3, 2, 1 … and it’s all over. The Stars lose it here, 5-3, and now it’s pack-’em up time and on to Dallas. We wish them good luck. And to all the North Stars over the past 26 years, we say thank you, all of you, for so much fine entertainment. It’s been a pleasure knowing you, Minnesota’s loss is definitely a gain for Dallas – and a big one. We thank you, though, from the bottoms of our hearts, for all the wonderful nights at Met Center, when you’ve given us so much entertainment and you’ve been such a credit to the community in which you played. We will still remember you as the Minnesota North Stars. Good night, everybody. And goodbye.” (This was for their final regular season game, where they lost to the Blackhawks 5-3. Unfortunately I can only find a transcript of the call, not the call itself. So have Pat Foley and Dale Tallon discussing the pending move instead.)
In many ways the Stars were what the NHL wanted, an experiment in the Southern US, to see if Hockey could work. Dallas, Miami, Tampa were experimental, the NHL wanted to expand into an untapped market, but in doing so alienated fans in Minnesota. They quelled this by announcing “The Twin Cities would get a new
expansion team in the near future” the Minnesota Wild.
- Norm Greed owned the team for about 2 more seasons before having to sell, to Tom Hicks, at the time the owner of the Texas Rangers(MLB), Mesquite Rodeo and later 50% owner of Liverpool FC. He sold all of these in 2010, to satisfy creditors, sending the Stars into Bankruptcy, forcing him to sell to current owner Tom Gaglardi, thanks to Bankruptcy Court.
- The Wild joined the league in 2000 and have sadly been mediocre for most of their existence. I’m not sure why they didn’t play at the Target Center, since it can support Ice Hockey(It currently has Disney on Ice)
- Greed wrote an article about his time an owner for DMagazine.
- The North Stars ‘91 Cup final, had arguably some of Lemieux's best goals of his career, while cementing his place as one of the greatest of all time.
- Al Shaver went on to call Minnesota Golden Gopher(NCAA), eventually returning to hockey, for the Wild’s first season. He retired for good after that, with the XL Center Press Box being named after him.
In the end, the North Stars were unstable for most of their existence, due to horrible ownership. The fans deserved better, but instead got people who didn’t want to spend much, instead. Even in the early years, things weren't good, the merger is what saved them, but in a way also killed them. The fans have every right to still despise Green, but I believe they should despise the Gunds' as well.
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