Shortly after their miraculous run to the Stanley Cup Finals in the spring of 1991, the sobering reality hit the Minnesota North Stars that the clock had struck midnight on their Cinderella story and the organization was about to be broken into 2 teams; effectively un-doing the merger that had occurred with the Cleveland Barons 13 years earlier.
The Gund brothers had been awarded a franchise to begin play in the Bay Area the following season, and because of the aforementioned merger of 1978, the NHL had granted unprecedented circumstances for how the Gunds were to begin the new San Jose franchise.
1991 Minnesota North Stars’ Dispersal Rules:
- The North Stars were allowed to protect 14 players and 2 goalies. (This was 4-5 players short of their full NHL team)
- The Sharks then selected 14 players and 2 goalies from within the organization.
- Next, both franchises took turns picking from the unclaimed players in the organization until the Sharks roster reached 30 players.
- After this, both the Sharks and North Stars would participate equally in the NHL’s 1991 Expansion Draft.*
- Both teams chose 10 players in the expansion draft.
*Unbelievably, the North Stars concluded their season on May 25th losing in the Stanley Cup Finals; then less than a month later, participated as an equal member of the League’s expansion draft!
The San Jose Sharks are Born
Of the 30 players chosen from the North Stars organization in the Dispersal draft, only a few were notable players that NHL fans would remember.
The 4 players selected from the roster of the North Stars’ Stanley Cup Finalist team were:
- Shane Churla (RW)
- Brian Hayward (G)
- Neil Wilkinson (D)
- Rob Zettler (D)
Other Notable players taken by the Sharks during the North Stars Dispersal Draft/ Un-Merger were:
- Arturs Irbe (G)
- Ed Courtenay (RW)
- Dan Keczmer (D)
- Rob Gaudreau (RW)
- Tom Pederson (D)
- Doug Zmolek (D)
- John Weisbrod (C)
Sharks make history early on
The Sharks franchise would endear themselves to the hockey world early in their history. In only their 3rd season- (and 1st in San Jose after playing their first two seasons in the greater San Francisco area), the Sharks made a truly unbelievable playoff run.
A season earlier, the Sharks had posted a record of 11-71-2, for only 24 points. This was one of the very worst seasons in NHL history. It was a miraculous turnaround the following year when the Sharks shocked the League by posting a record of 33-35-16 for 82 points and squeaked into the playoffs as the #8 seed in the West.
Lead by one of my favorite players as a youngster, Latvian goalie Arturs Irbe, who was selected in the dispersal draft from the North Stars, backstopped the #8 seeded Sharks to a gargantuan 7-game upset of the Detroit Red Wings in their 1st ever playoff series. The Cinderalla-Sharks almost defeated the Maple Leafs in the 2nd round, but lost in Game 7, narrowly missing the Conference Finals only one year removed from one of the worst seasons of all-time.
The following year the Sharks would again surprise the NHL by qualifying for the playoffs and winning another 1st round Game 7; this time as the #7 seed against the Calgary Flames.