There are currently 30 NHL teams, but the Las Vegas Golden Knights will make it 31 this upcoming September.
But in a league that’s been around for a century, the NHL has seen a number of teams fold and relocate to new cities. Even though some of these old franchises no longer exist, they did find a way to change NHL history. For example, the Colorado Avalanche wouldn’t have won the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001 if the Quebec Nordiques didn’t already have Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg when they relocated to the Mile High City.
The city of Calgary wouldn’t have celebrated a Stanley Cup in 1989 if Atlanta didn’t build a team that eventually relocated to Alberta. Same deal for the Dallas Stars and their 1999 Stanley Cup championship — it was the Minnesota North Stars who put Dallas on the path of winning a title.
There were 19 NHL teams in history that are now defunct. We take a stroll down memory lane and look at the greatest NHL player on each of those defunct teams.
19. Philadelphia Quakers: Gerry Lowrey
The Quakers relocated from Pittsburgh and played in Philadelphia for a short span — for the 1930-31 season. However, there was virtually nothing to celebrate on this front. The Quakers went 4-36-4 which stands as the second-worst winning percentage (.136), in league history. If there was something to celebrate though, it was the 1930-31 campaign of Gerry Lowrey.
He led the team with 13 goals and 27 points on the season and enjoyed a solid all-around career. Lowrey also played with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Pirates and Ottawa Senators. He would finish with 48 goals and 96 points in 210 career NHL games — those were high scoring numbers during the ’20s and ’30s.
18. Hamilton Tigers: Mickey Roach
The Quebec Bulldogs moved to Hamilton in 1920 and would play there until 1925, before moving to New York to become the Americans — no clever jokes intended. Mickey Roach made the best of his time as a member of the Tigers, scoring 51 goals and 82 points in 112 total games there. Again, those were respectable totals to put up in the low-scoring ’20s era of hockey.
Roach had a career year in 1922-23, scoring 17 goals and 27 points. But once Hamilton moved to New York, Roach saw his numbers dwindle. He had just 14 points in two seasons there before moving to the Canadian Professional Hockey League (also defunct, for what it’s worth). He would end up playing professional hockey from 1913 to 1931, so it’s safe to call Roach one of hockey’s pioneer stars.
17. California Golden Seals: Joey Johnston
Despite the really awesome team name, there wasn’t a lot to celebrate for this franchise during its days in the Golden State. The Golden Seals/Oakland Seals franchise came into existence as part of the 1967 Expansion and would play there until 1976 when they relocated to Cleveland to become the Barons.
The Golden Seals struggled for much of their existence in the NHL — making the playoffs just twice and compiling a total record of 182-401-115. They were constantly near the bottom of the league standings, so it was no surprise when the franchise had to relocate. But Joey Johnston enjoyed quite a tenure with California, scoring 84 goals and 185 points in 288 games there. Johnston would end up scoring 191 points in 331 career games.
16. Montreal Wanderers: Harry Hyland
The Wanderers were founded in 1903 and won four Stanley Cups — though none of them came in the NHL era. They played just six games in the NHL during the 1917-18 until the Montreal Arena burned down in 1918. The Canadiens found refuge elsewhere, but Wanderers’ owner Sam Lichtentein opted to disband the team and its season. Unfortunately, that marked the end of the Wanderers’ existence.
In four games with the Wanderers in the NHL, Harry Hyland scored six goals and one assist, but he was one of the first greats when the league was formed. The 1962 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee scored 144 goals and 164 points in just 117 games. It’s an absolute shame that Hyland’s career had to end early because of the arena burning down. He could have gone on to accomplish much more than he already did.
15. Pittsburgh Pirates: Lionel Conacher
Just another name clarification that the Pittsburgh Pirates were indeed an NHL team, so we did not get them mixed up with their current baseball franchise. The Pirates played in the NHL from 1925 to 1930 but struggled mightily in their five years — failing to win a single playoff series and going 67-122-23 overall as a franchise in the Steel City.
But Pittsburgh was also home to the legendary Lionel Conacher for five years. He just happened to be named the best Canadian athlete of the 20th century. He won a Grey Cup with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, played professional baseball and accomplished aplenty in wrestling, boxing and lacrosse as well. Conacher is best remembered as an NHL legend, though. With the Pirates, Conacher scored 13 points in 42 games as a defenceman.
14. Colorado Rockies: Wilf Paiement
The Rockies played in the NHL from 1976 to 1982 before relocating to New Jersey. And no, this isn’t the Colorado Rockies in MLB in case you thought we made a typo. The Rockies struggled as a franchise, posting a total record of 113-281-86 in just six NHL seasons. They made the playoffs just once, as well.
Though the original Colorado NHL franchise left plenty to be desired for their fans, Wilf Paiement at least came through as a superstar. In 257 games, Paiement scored 106 goals and 254 points — which easily puts him as the franchise’s top scorer. Paiement would score 356 goals and 814 points in his career. Before the Rockies moved to Kansas City, Paiement moved to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’d play his final NHL game with the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 1987-88 season.
13. Ottawa Senators: Cy Denneny
Yes, there’s a current Ottawa Senators franchise that has been around since 1992. You kids may forget there was also a historic franchise named the Ottawa Senators that played in the NHL from 1917 to 1934. And guess what, Sens fans? Your team won the Stanley Cup a total of 11 times. The Senators also captured the championship as part of the NHL four times.
Among the franchise greats, we introduce to you the great Cy Denneny. The 1959 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee put up over 20 goals and 30-plus points consistently when scoring was tough. Keep in mind this was in a league where forward passing was not permitted, yet Denneny was able to put up points like there was no tomorrow. Denneny went down as the franchise’s all-time scoring leader with 245 goals and 312 points in 302 games.
12. Kansas City Scouts: Guy Charron
The Scouts lasted in the NHL from 1974 to 1976 before becoming the Colorado Rockies for six years. The Rockies then moved to New Jersey to become the Devils in 1982, where the franchise has remained since.
Kansas City didn’t enjoy much success in hockey, posting a woeful 15-54-11 record in their first season. They closed out the following season by going winless in their final 27 games, too. To the surprise of no one, the Scouts had problems selling tickets and it eventually forced their move to the Mile High City. Amidst all the disappointment and lack of success from that franchise, Guy Charron enjoyed quite a pair of seasons in Kansas City. In just 129 games over two years, Charron scored 40 goals and 113 points. He’s at least a hockey icon in Kansas City, in some way…
11. St. Louis Eagles: Syd Howe
The Eagles only played in the NHL for the 1934-35 season, as financial situations forced the team to fold and players were sold off to rival clubs. But Hockey Hall of Famer Syd Howe had an impressive year with the Hawks — scoring 14 goals and 27 points in 36 games with the Hawks. Howe actually ranked third for the Hawks in scoring that year. However, he played 12 less games than Carl Boss and Glen Brydson, who had 31 and 29 points, respectively.
Howe won three Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings — in 1936, 1937 and 1943. He finished with 237 goals and 528 points and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1965. Howe may have one played one season with the Hawks, but he did make the most of it.
10. Atlanta Flames: Tom Lysiak
It didn’t take long for Tom Lysiak to make a name for himself in the NHL. He joined the Atlanta Flames in 1973-74 and led the team in scoring with 19 goals and 64 points. The following year, he scored 25 goals and 77 points. He would hit the 30-goal and 80-point mark the following two seasons.
Lysiak played six seasons with the Flames before joining the Chicago Blackhawks in 1978. Lysiak helped Atlanta reach the playoffs in four different seasons — though the team failed to advance far into either postseason campaign. Lysiak scored 431 points in just six years with the franchise — enough for first in Atlanta Flames’ history. The franchise would relocate to Calgary in 1980, where they play today.
9. Cleveland Barons: Dennis Maruk
The Barons were only around from 1976 to 1978, so we’ll let you know right off the bat that their all-time scoring leader didn’t post a TON of points during those three years of existence. Dennis Maruk, a star with the Washington Capitals and Minnesota North Stars, is perhaps the biggest name in Barons history — though that really isn’t saying a whole lot.
Maruk scored 64 goals and 149 points in 156 games with the Barons, who never qualified for the playoffs. Cleveland had taken over the California Golden Seals who had to find a new home. The Barons would later join forces with Minnesota for form the North Stars, meaning Maruk couldn’t build on his status as a hockey star in Cleveland.
8. Atlanta Thrashers: Ilya Kovalchuk
The Thrashers drafted Ilya Kovalchuk first-overall in the 2001 NHL Draft, and boy did he repay them rapidly. The Russian superstar scored 29 goals and 51 points in his rookie season and later shared the ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy with Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla in 2003-04, with each player scoring 41 goals. 2005-06 became a career year for Kovalchuk, who scored 52 goals and 98 points.
With the exception of his rookie season (29 goals, keep that number in mind), Kovalchuk scored at least 30 goals every season with the Thrashers. He helped them win the Southeast Division in 2007 — the only playoff appearance in the franchise’s history. Kovalchuk was far-and-away the franchise’s all-time leader in goals (328), and points (429). He was traded to the New Jersey Devils in 2010. The Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg a year and a half later and Kovalchuk went to the KHL following the 2012-13 season. But he performed greatly with the Thrashers, even though it’s easy to forget that.
7. Minnesota North Stars: Neal Broten
Neal Broten joined the Minnesota North Stars in the 1980-81 season, but appeared in just two games. The following season, he broke out with 38 goals and 98 points and put the NHL on notice as a superstar. Three seasons later, he had a career best 105 points as the North Stars qualified for the postseason.
The North Stars actually made the playoffs in 10 of Broten’s 13 seasons there, including a trip to the 1991 Stanley Cup Final where they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was a two-time NHL All-Star and sits first all-time in North Stars’ scoring with 796 goals. Broten would also play two seasons in Dallas when the franchise relocated there for the 1993-94 season.
6. New York Americans: Roy Worters
Most NHL goalies these days stand at well over six-feet tall. A large portion of them are at least 6-foot-1. And any NHL player under 5-feet-11 is considered a nice underdog story these days. Now, imagine being Roy Worters who happens to be a Hockey Hall of Famer who changed the goalie position.
Worters was listed at just 5-foot-3 and 135 pounds. He won the 1929 Hart Trophy and took home the Vezina Trophy in 1931. He also holds a record as the first NHL player to record shutouts in back-to-back games. Worters’ 118 wins are the most in New York Americans history, and he posted a respectable 2.37 goals against average along with 45 shutouts.
The Americans did not have a long tenure in the NHL, lasting from 1925 to 1942 before financial problems ended their run. But Worters set his legacy with the Americans — and that hasn’t been forgotten.
5. Montreal Maroons: Clint Benedict
The Maroons were a short-lived franchise who only lasted in the NHL from 1924 to 1938. They won the Stanley Cup in 1926 and 1935 but also cemented the status of legendary hockey player, Clint Benedict.
He was one of the first true superstar goalies in hockey history and also the first to wear a goalie mask — something that is usually credited to Jacques Plante. Benedict also had a knack for going down on his knees to stop the puck; but that was illegal during the height of his playing days. The league then eventually changed the rule so goalies could go down. So for you goalies who play the butterfly style, you can thank Benedict.
Benedict’s 93 wins, 1.78 goals against average and 38 shutouts are easily the most in franchise history. The Maroons may no longer be a franchise, but Benedict’s legacy will always be remembered as a special one.
4. Quebec Bulldogs: Joe Malone
Joe Malone holds an impressive record that even the greats Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe never accomplished — the most goals in a game with seven. Malone set the record on Jan. 31, 1920 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Malone was the NHL’s true superstar before Howie Morenz emerged in the ’20s, leading the NHL in scoring during the 1918 and 1920 seasons.
Malone guided the Bulldogs to Stanley Cup championships in 1912 and 1913 as well. He scored a goal in each of his first 14 NHL games — another impressive record that stands today that won’t be broken. Malone’s 39 goals and 49 points are the most in Quebec Bulldogs history. The Bulldogs would move to Hamilton in 1920 and became the Tigers. But Malone’s career remains memorable nearly a century later.
3. Quebec Nordiques: Peter Stastny
The Nordiques came into the NHL in 1979 and would stay there until 1995 before relocating to the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado. But Peter Stastny’s contributions to the Nordiques will not be forgotten any time soon. The undrafted Slovak was one of the very first superstar Europeans to make the NHL. Stastny and his brother Anton paved a path for non Canadians and Americans to reach the NHL.
Regarding Stastny’s accomplishments, he was far-and-away one of the most dominant players during the ’80s. He was a six-time NHL All-Star as a member of the Nordiques and is first in franchise scoring with 380 goals and 1,048 points. Quebec also made the playoffs in seven of Stastny’s 10 seasons with the team. Stastny is 34th all-time in league scoring and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998.
2. Winnipeg Jets: Dale Hawerchuk
No, we aren’t talking about the current Winnipeg Jets who relocated from Atlanta in 2011. We’re talking about the Jets who were in the NHL from 1979 to 1996 before relocating to Arizona to become the Coyotes.
So any who, the Jets got themselves a superstar in Dale Hawerchuk when they drafted him first-overall in the 1981 NHL Draft. Hawerchuk turned Winnipeg into a consistent playoff team and got them to the Division Finals in 1987 before the Edmonton Oilers dynasty swept them. Hawerchuk scored 379 goals and 929 points which easily placed him first in all-time scoring for the old Winnipeg Jets.
Though Hawerchuk wasn’t able to win a Stanley Cup with the Jets, he did turn a new NHL franchise into a respected organization. His contributions made Winnipeg a huge hockey market and it’s possible they wouldn’t have a team all these years later without his accomplishments.
1. Hartford Whalers: Ron Francis
The Whalers played in the NHL from 1979 to 1997, and a lot of their success can be attributed to what Ron Francis did. He played with them from 1981 to 1991 and is the highest-scoring player in franchise history — and it’s not even close. Francis scored 264 goals and 821 points in 714 games, putting the region of New England on the hockey map despite having competition from Boston and New York on the east coast.
Francis was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and won a pair of Stanley Cups with them, which led to the downfall of the Whalers. Francis is fifth all-time in points with 1,798 — with a large portion of those coming in a Whalers uniform. For what it’s worth, the second highest-scoring Whaler ever was Kevin Dineen who had 235 goals and 503 points.
The Whalers relocated to Carolina for the 1997-98 season, and Francis would join the Hurricanes a season later.
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