San Jose Sharks: A Brief History

The beginnings of the San Jose Sharks history can be traced back almost fifty years ago to the 1967 NHL expansion. At the time, the NHL wanted to expand the league to new markets and also squash competition from other leagues such as the WHL. The San Francisco Seals, a minor league team from the WHL, was purchased by Barry Van Gerbig in 1967. After purchasing the team, Van Gerbig decided to move the Seals from the Cow Palace in San Francisco to the Oracle Arena in Oakland. He then renamed the team the California Seals.

The Hockey Writers Substack banner San Jose Sharks

Unfortunately, the move to Oakland led to less attendance but they remained in Oakland and soon changed their name again to the Oakland Seals. The Seals never found success after moving and lasted only nine seasons in the NHL. During that time they had eight different coaches and four different owners, including being owned by the NHL in 1974. Their performance on the ice was even worse as they finished dead last in their division six times in nine seasons. They even changed their name again to the California Golden Seals.

Eventually, the team was moved from the Bay Area and became the Cleveland Barons. The Barons would perform no better and only lasted two seasons in the NHL before merging with the Minnesota North Stars. They finished dead last in their division during both seasons and are still the most recent team to fold in the NHL.

San Jose Sharks History: George Gund III

In 1974, George Gund III became a minority owner of the California Golden Seals and was part of the move to Cleveland and the merger with Minnesota. Over the years Gund wanted to bring back hockey to the Bay Area but the NHL would not allow him to move the North Stars.

Eventually, a deal was made allowing Gund to sell his shares of the North Stars for an expansion team in the Bay Area. Gund also was allowed to bring players and prospects from the North Stars to San Jose.

San Jose Sharks History: Return to Cow Palace

Gund finally had his team and hockey was back in the Bay Area for the first time since 1976. The Sharks entered the NHL in the 1991-92 season and the team even managed to acquire former Norris trophy winner Doug Wilson. Despite the positives, the Arena in San Jose would take another two years to complete so the team played at the Cow Palace in San Francisco for the first two seasons.

Cow Palace
Cow Palace (Wikipedia)

While playing in the same Arena that the San Francisco Seals played in they managed to live up to the Seals reputation as the Sharks did not perform well on the ice, setting an NHL record for losses in 1993 with 71. This led to the firing of the team’s first coach, George Kingston.

San Jose Sharks History: Move to San Jose, Playoff Success

In 1994, the Sharks finally made the move to San Jose but began the season 0-8-1 looking every bit as bad as they did the previous two seasons. Despite their terrible start, the team would improve by an NHL-record 58 points from the season prior and somehow make the playoffs. Their reward was a match-up against the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings in the first round who were favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Amazingly, in what will be remembered as one of the biggest upsets in Stanley Cup playoff history, the Sharks defeated the Red Wings in seven games. The team eventually lost in the second round to the Maple Leafs in seven games, including Game 6 in overtime. Still, in only three seasons in the NHL, the Sharks had already accomplished more than the California Seals.

The lockout-delayed season in 1995 canceled the All-Star Game in San Jose but did not stop the team from another magical season as they knocked off the number two-seeded Flames in seven games. The Sharks would eventually lose to the same Red Wings that they had beaten a year earlier in the second round. Kevin Constantine who was the coach behind both upsets was fired during the 1996 season and the Sharks did not make the playoffs for another two years. In 1996 the team brought on Dean Lombardi as their new GM who began to bring in new faces. Players including Tony Granato, Vincent Damphousse, Mike Ricci and Owen Nolan guided the Sharks’ future of success and gave the fans plenty of memorable moments starting with the 1997 All-Star game.

Hockey in the Bay Area

The San Jose Sharks have only missed the playoffs once between 1998 and 2014, and have created one of the most successful modern-day expansion franchises in the NHL. That’s pretty impressive given that the Bay Area was once the most unsuccessful and poorly run NHL market in history. None of this could have been possible without George Gund III who lives on in spirit with the Sharks. (from ‘George Gund III, original San Jose Sharks owner, dies,’ Mercury News, 01/15/2013) San Jose may still be looking for that elusive Stanley Cup but it has already built a large fan base, a community of young hockey players and a collection of memories from San Jose Sharks history that we will never forget.

This article was originally published in June 2014.

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