The what ifs. The coulda shouldas. The almosts. They’re the lost or forgotten teams of the NHL. Those that have relocated or merged or went belly-up. While some teams have been reincarnated, i.e. the Winnipeg Jets became the Arizona Coyotes, this article focuses on selecting the best player from each team that no longer exists in the NHL, including franchises that have moved to different cities.
For the sake of this article, the only player stats that matter are the games played with the team they are being considered for–if they were traded and won a dozen Stanley Cups, it’s irrelevant. This list includes only teams that were in existence after the Brooklyn Americans folded in 1942. Enjoy your trip down memory lane.
Ilya Kovalchuk, Left Wing
The Atlanta Thrashers were in the NHL from 1999 to 2011 before moving to Winnipeg, where they became the Winnipeg Jets.
The Thrashers were Atlanta’s second kick at the can at NHL hockey and possibly their last. In 11 seasons, they made one playoff appearance, which they lost to the New York Rangers, and had three winning seasons.
The most notable names to suit up for the Thrashers include forwards Marian Hossa, Marc Savard, Dany Heatley and Slava Kozlov as well as defensemen Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen holds the franchise record for most career wins (94), shutouts (14) and best goals-against average (2.87) among netminders who played at least 20 games.
Kozlov had five 50-point seasons with the Thrashers, including a career-high 86 points during the 2006-07 season. He’s second all-time for the franchise in game played (537), goals (145), assists (271) and points (416).
The longest-tenured Thrasher is also their best player: Ilya Kovalchuk. After being chosen first overall in the 2001 Entry Draft, he played eight seasons for the team and became one of the team’s few superstars. He won the Rocket Richard Trophy with 41 goals in 2003-04 (sharing the honor with Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames and Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets), played in three All-Star Games and led the league in power play goals (27) in 2005-06.
He ended his time in Atlanta with 615 points in 594 games, never finishing with fewer than 51 points in a season. He leads the franchise in games played (594), most goals (328), most assists (287) and most points (615).
Tom Lysiak, Center
Atlanta Flames were in the NHL from 1972 to 1980 before relocating to Calgary, where they became the Calgary Flames.
Though the Flames never won a playoff series, they did qualify for the postseason in six of their eight seasons. Goaltender Dan Bouchard (team-best 164 wins and 20 shutouts) backstopped the team while forwards Tom Lysiak, Eric Vail and Guy Chouinard led the team on offense.
Another notable Flame was right winger Bob MacMillan who won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player in 1978–79. He finished fifth overall in league scoring with 104 points while accruing only 14 penalty minutes throughout the season. He put up 221 points in 208 games. Eric Vail holds the team record for most games played (469), is first in goals scored (174) and took home the Calder Trophy in his rookie season in 1974-75.
However, the all-time best Flames player is Tom Lysiak. When he joined the Flames in the second year of the franchise’s existence, he led the way with a team-high 64 points and helped the team to its first taste of postseason action. He finished second in voting for the Calder Trophy that season.
Lysiak led the Flames in scoring in each of his five full seasons with the team and represented the Flames in three straight All-Star Games. He was also the team’s captain for two years. Despite ranking third all-time for the Flames in games played (445), he is second in goals (155) and first in assists (276) and points (431).
California Golden Seals
Walt McKechnie, Center
The California Golden Seals played in the NHL from 1967 to 1976 before relocating to Cleveland, where they became the Cleveland Barons.
The California Golden Seals were originally named the California Seals, were renamed the Oakland Seals part-way through the 1967-68 season and then became the California Golden Seals in 1970. Regardless of what they were called, they lost. A lot.
To put things in perspective, in the five seasons (250 games) goaltender Gilles Meloche played for the Golden Seals (1971-76), he won 58 games. Success was hard to come by. That said, there’s a winner for every horse race–some players stood out from the others. Leading the offense was Joey Johnston, Ivan Boldirev and Walt McKechnie. On the blue line, there was Carol Vadnais and Rick Hampton.
Of these, the best was Golden Seal was McKechnie. Among players who played in at least 100 games, his .695 points-per-game (P/G) average ranks first. Also, despite ranking 10th in games played for the franchise, he’s fourth in goals and second in assists and points.
Dennis Maruk, Center
The Cleveland Barons were in the NHL from 1976 to 1978 before merging with Minnesota, where they became the Minnesota North Stars.
The Barons played two seasons (1976-78) and sported a record of 47 wins, 87 losses and 26 ties. They were outscored 617-470. Without a doubt, their best players were Al MacAdam and Dennis Maruk–the team’s only two players to have more than 85 total points across two seasons.
MacAdam had 38 goals and 73 assists for 111 points in 160 games. But the 5-foot-8 scrappy playmaker Dennis Maruk led the way and is the best Cleveland Baron with 64 goals and 85 assists for 149 points in 156 games. The Toronto, Ontario native enjoyed a 14-year career and was a near point-per-game player with the Washington Capitals and Minnesota North Stars. At the time, his thick Fu Manchu mustache was also top-five in the NHL.
Wilf Paiement, Right Wing
The Colorado Rockies were in the NHL from 1976 to 1982 before relocating to New Jersey, where they became the New Jersey Devils.
The Rockies made the playoffs once in their six-year existence, only to lose in the first round. They were a team that struggled, having reached the 20-win mark twice in 80-game seasons. Despite their lack of success, they had several pretty good players, including forwards Lanny McDonald, Wilf Paiement and Paul Gardner. On the blue line were defensemen Rob Ramage, John Van Boxmeer, Mike McEwen, Mike Kitchen and Barry Beck.
Paiement gets the tap on the shoulder for being the Rockies all-time best player. He holds the Rockies’ record for most goals in a season (41 in 1976-77), most assists in a season (56 in 1977-78) and most points in a season (87 in 1977-78). All-time, he ranks first in goals (257), assists (106) and points (254). His .988 P/G average is second to McDonald by a hundredth of a point (.993).
Ron Francis, Center
Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007.
The Hartford Whalers were in the NHL from 1979 to 1997 before moving to Raleigh, where they became the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Whalers or “Whale” played 18 seasons skating on the Hartford Civic Center’s ice, and in that short time, fans had the chance to witness their share of great players and rising Hall of Famers. These included fan-favorite Kevin Dineen, tough guy defenseman Ulf Samuelsson and goaltenders Mike Liut and Sean Burke.
Liut holds the franchise record for wins (115) and shutouts (13). Burke holds the franchise record for games played by a netminder (256) and was voted the team’s MVP from 1993 to 1997.
But the honor of best Hartford Whaler belongs to Ron Francis. He holds nearly every one of the team’s offensive records, including games (714), goals (264), assists (557) and points (821).
Though it did not count toward his selection as the all-time greatest Whaler, Francis went on to win two Stanley Cups (1991 and 1992) with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He also collected three Lady Byng Trophies, a Selke Trophy and a Clancy Trophy.
Kansas City Scouts
Guy Charron, Center
The Kansas City Scouts were in the NHL from 1974 1976 before relocating to Denver, where they became the Colorado Rockies.
There are few bright spots to be found with the Scouts. Spanning two seasons, the lowly franchise managed to win only 27 of the 160 games they played and were outscored 679-374. Adding insult to injury, they finished their second season on a winless stretch, going 0-21-6.
In 135 games, Wilf Paiement scored 47 goals and added 35 assists for 82 points. He led the team with 222 penalty minutes and had a minus-79 plus/minus rating. But the honor of best Kansas City Scout goes to co-captain Guy Charron. In 129 games, the 5-foot-10 Quebec native scored 40 goals and 73 assists for 113 points. His horrendous minus-92 rating was typical of the team. After his stint in Kansas City, he later played for the Washington Capitals.
Related: Top 10 Best Undrafted NHL Goalies
Minnesota North Stars
Dino Ciccarelli, Right Wing
Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.
The Minnesota North Stars were in the NHL from 1967 to 1993 before moving to Dallas, where they became the Dallas Stars.
In 26 seasons, the North Stars played 2,062 regular season games and appeared in the playoffs 15 times, including two Stanley Cup Final appearances. They had several great players including Neal Broten, an American-born center who holds the franchise record for most games played (876), most assists (547) and most points (796). Brian Bellows played left wing and holds the franchise record for most goals (342) and is second in games played (753), assists (380) and points (722).
Other standouts include Mike Modano, Bobby Smith and Dave Gagner. But the nod for all-time best player goes to Dino Ciccarelli.
The 5-foot-10 spark plug gave his all on each and every shift. Despite playing in only 602 career games for the North Stars (fifth all-time), he’s second in goals (332), fourth in assists (319), third in points (651) and owns the team’s best point-per-game average of 1.08.
Peter Stastny, Center
Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998.
The Quebec Nordiques were in the NHL from 1979 to 1995 before relocating to Denver, where they became the Colorado Avalanche.
The Nordiques made the Stanley Cup playoffs in all but seven of their seasons. They made the playoffs seven consecutive seasons, from 1981 through 1987 and reached the Wales Conference Final twice.
Through the years there have been some great Nordiques. Four-time 50-goal sniper Michel Goulet amassed four 100-point seasons and was a force in the postseason, putting up 64 points in 66 games. He finished his 11-year Nordique career ranking first in goals with 456, and with 946 points in 813 games, he ranks second on the franchise’s all-time point list.
Joe Sakic spent seven seasons playing for the Nordiques and put up 626 points in 508 games, including three 100-point seasons, good enough for fourth on the franchise’s all-time scoring list. A few others who made an impact were Marc Tardif, Real “Buddy” Cloutier, Mats Sundin, Walt Poddubny, power forward Owen Nolan and the miserable-to-play-against Dale Hunter. Dan Bouchard was the only goalie to win 100 games as a Nordique, with three seasons of 20 or more wins.
All things considered, the all-time best Nordique was Peter Stastny. The Czech-born center turned to hockey as an opportunity for a better life. He was the second-highest scoring player in the 1980s, a seven-time 100-point scorer and a Calder Trophy winner. He holds the Nordiques’ franchise records with the most assists (668), points (1,048) and an incredible 1.42 P/G average.
Dale Hawerchuk, Center
Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.
The Winnipeg Jets were in the NHL from 1979 to 1996 before relocating to Arizona, where they became the Arizona Coyotes.
(This team is NOT affiliated with the present-day Winnipeg Jets.)
The Jets first incarnation included many great players, among them were forwards Teemu Selanne, Thomas Steen and Alexei Zhamnov and defensemen Phil Housley, Randy Carlyle and Dave Babych. But the best Jet was Dale Hawerchuk.
Taken by the Jets with the first overall pick in the 1981 Entry Draft, Hawerchuk immediately became the face of the franchise and remained so for almost a decade. His Calder Trophy-winning rookie season included 45 goals and 103 points, the youngest player in NHL history to reach 100 points. That season, he helped the team improve a whopping 48 points from the previous season.
In nine seasons with the Jets, the Toronto native reached the 100-point plateau six times. His career-best was in 1984-85 when he scored 53 goals and 130 points. He was part of a blockbuster trade with the Buffalo Sabres that sent Scott Arniel, Phil Housley and Jeff Parker to the Jets and swapped first-round picks at the 1990 Entry Draft.
Overall for his career, Hawerchuk ranks 118th in games played (1,188), 38th in goals (518), 21st in assists (891) and 20th in points (1,409).
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”