THE GREAT EXPANSION VOL 13

The Oakland Seals represent the low point of the great expansion for good reason. There were so many lost opportunities. Telling the whole story would be impossible, but we’ll discuss a few things.

GERRY ODROWSKI

Owner Barry van Gerbig (not technically correct, the Seals were owned by as many as 50 people at expansion, much like the EIG decades later) and his group purchased the San Fransisco Seals of the WHL. Although not on the scale with AHL team purchases by Philadelphia and Los Angeles, the Seals would employ several players from the WHL Seals: Odrowski, Charlie Burns, Tom Thurlby and George Swarbrick.

EXPANSION SETUP

I’ve mentioned this a few places but wanted to get an actuality from the era in regard to the changes in expansion rules and the impact it had on the new clubs.

  • van Gerbig: “We were told by the NHL there would be a very generous draft formula. Existing teams would protect 8 skaters and a goalie. We would draft a player and the (existing) teams would fill a player. We scouted the CPHL, which had mostly rookies at the time. One month before the draft they came up with protecting 11 players and one goalie (plus the first year pro caveat) and they rammed this down our throats.”

GOALIES

 GARY SMITH

On the first round of the goalie draft Oakland selected an experienced hand (and former teammate of coach Bert Olmstead) in Montreal’s Charlie Hodge. He would play 121 more NHL games. Oakland’s second pick turned into a brilliant one, as big Gary “Suitcase” Smith would play 527 NHL games after the expansion draft–second to Bernie Parent among all expansion selections.

SKATERS

  • Frank Selke Jr, Oakland Seals: “We’re going to take the best talent we can get our hands on for seven players. After that, we concern ourselves with what position they play.”

BOB BAUN

  1. Bob Baun (362)
  2. Kent Douglas (145)
  3. Bill Hicke (274)
  4. Billy Harris (135)
  5. Larry Cahan (283)
  6. Wally Boyer (277)
  7. Joe Szura (90)
  8. Bob Lemieux (19)
  9. JP Parise (869)
  10. Ron Harris (472)
  11. Terry Clancy (93)
  12. Tracy Pratt (580)
  13. Autry Erickson (66)
  14. Ron Boehm (16)
  15. Alain Caron (60)
  16. Mike Laughton (189)
  17. Bryan Hextall (528)
  18. Gary Kilpatrick (0)

4,458 NHL games and several good NHL players. Bob Baun was probably the best available defenseman on draft day, Hicke would have some good seasons, Cahan and Boyer were useful. The Seals also identified JP Parise, Tracy Pratt and Bryan Hextall as players who would eventually play as regulars for years in the NHL.

All in all, a solid draft day for the Oakland Seals.

BILLY HARRIS

 The great trail of bad ownership, poor decisions, petty and ignorant management is so long and ugly I can only give you some glimpses into the disaster that was the Oakland Seals.

  • Barry van Gerbig: “We learned quickly that Oakland was just across the bay from San Fransisco, but people from San Fransisco don’t cross the bay for anything. If Jesus Christ came on a donkey over there, they wouldn’t come.”
  • The Seals went through a number of ownership changes and had troubles from the beginning. When the NHL took back the team from the van Gerbig group, Clarence Campbell said “We gave the team to a schoolboy who played good golf and wore a Princeton tie.”

BILL HICKE

  • The best young player the Seals selected in the expansion draft–JP Parise–never played a regular season game for the Seals. Parise: “I challenged and made a rink wide pass” in a pre-season game in which the Seals held a lead. The turnover led to a goal against. Coach Bert Olmstead lit into him, called him what you would recognize as an ethnic slur and traded him to Toronto for Gerry Ehman (who is in the photo at the top of this blog post, wearing Eddie Shack around his neck) within 24 hours after the play.
  • Bill Torrey’s introduction to being an Oakland exec: “We stayed in a rather rundown hotel in the middle of Oshawa, Ontario (for training camp). During the night, in my rather sumptuous room, I was confronted by one of the largest rats I’ve ever seen.”

  • Torrey, Seals GM at the time of this story on van Gerbig’s successor, Charlie Finley: “He violated the non-interference clause so often it got to the point where I had my lawyer talking to his lawyer. My lawyer told me that I could either keep letting Charlie interfere with me or go to court and get the matter resolved.” Torrey threatened to take Finley to court and the owner said “do you have your lawyer on a monthly retainer? Jesus they’re expensive.” Torrey won his case against Finley and left December 1970.
  • One time when playing for the Seals in New York, Gerry Odrowski suffered a fairly severe injury. He was taken from Madison Square Garden to the nearest hospital for observation. And there he stayed. The Seals forgot to send for him.

GILLES MELOCHE, LEN FRIG

  • When the WHA arrived, everyone suffered. No one suffered more than Oakland, despite the club having a plethora of young and not heavily paid players. The Seals–in one summer–lost 9 players. They were Bobby Sheehan, Gerry Pinder, Wayne Carleton, Paul Shmyr, Gary Kurt, Gary Jarrett, Tom Williams, Tom Webster, Frank Hughes. That’s an enormous amount of talent to lose. In one summer.
  • Why did they lose those players? Charlie Finley wouldn’t pay them. It got so bad, management did some crazy things. Name one? Chuck Catto, who served as GM in Columbus (IHL) and as a scout for the organization, recalled then GM Garry Young had Dick Redmond sign three or four contracts. When Redmond started getting cheques that didn’t match the contract, his agent (Alan Eagleson) told him not to cash the cheques. Long story short, there were different numbers on several contracts and the Seals were honoring the one with the lower total. Eventually, Redmond was shipped off for Darryl Maggs, a lesser player who made less money.
  • Darryl Maggs signed in the WHA, next summer.
  • Many of the stories above are courtesy the stunning and thorough book SHORTHANDED, The Untold Story of the Seals by Brad Kurtzberg. I thank him for a book I consider a treasure.

RON STACKHOUSE

  • Between 1967-68 and 1974-75, the Oakland Seals won 3 playoff games. Total.

ERNIE HICKE, BOBBY SHEEHAN, REGGIE LEACH

The list of Seals players is impressive, certainly these young men could have had success if the club had been willing and able to keep them as they matured. Sadly, the club never had ownership strong enough to support the challenge of Northern California.

Up next: Sam Pollock’s farm club, and the time they damn near beat him.

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16 Responses to "THE GREAT EXPANSION VOL 13"

  1. Reg Dunlop says:

    Man, I loved those teal jerseys. Playing road-hockey as a kid I always had to be Ted Hampson. No pictures of the white skates? Charlie Finlay was a real piece of work. Thanks for this,LT, I may be the only Seals fan around. And a big Athletics fan going back to Billy North and Ray Fosse.

  2. pelhem grenville says:

    Re; Main Art of this blog post…an almost iconic photo for me LT …I remember seeing that picture in the newspaper (maybe the Saturday Evening Post ) in the early sixties and it was ‘large’…i cut it out and taped on my bedroom wall …years later i was a caddy on the Banff Springs Hotel in ’68 when one day Eddie Shack and three others walked up to the caddy shack at the first tee and wanted four caddies for his group …buddy of mine got Shacks bag … I got Johnny McKenzies’ bag Johnny Bucyks’ went to the smallest caddy in the shack and the other player i can’t remember … we had a great afternoon with that foursome in the mountains (they shared a bottle of Tanqueray gin) and when i told Shack about the picture of him I taped to my bedroom wall I asked why he jumped on that guy (now I know after what…40 years who it was that he kipped up on ) he just said, “Beats me kid I just loved jumpin’ on guys that’s all”…Eddie may not have been the sharpest pencil in case and yes he did sign his name with an X when he came to the Leafs from the Rangers….but he was THE funniest guy out there that day and I will always cherish the memories … this picture you posted here today has absolutely made my day … many thanks

  3. rich says:

    LT – pure gold (jersey’s and the series). You’ve given a lot of nuggets on the California/Oakland Seals and what eventually evolved into the San Jose Sharks, but you also seem to come up with something new.

    Was actually very surprised to see how many actual players they wound up getting in the expansion draft. No one wonder many people thought they might be a very good team out of the chute (not to be).

    Keep ‘em coming. Another way to keep the void filled. Cheers!

  4. Mr DeBakey says:

    Owner Barry van Gerbig (not technically correct, the Seals were owned by as many as 50 people at expansion, much like the EIG decades later)

    Of course, the Seals, unlike the Oilers, were in a major league market!

    I own Shorthanded as well. The whole ownership thing is amazing.

    The Seals could’ve been owned by Mel Swig in San Francisco, instead of the BAIG in Oakland. Probably playing in a brand-new arena by 1970 as Swig was in tight with the Mayor of SF, but the NHL wasn’t ready for a Jewish owner yet.

    Labatts had a deal to buy the team & move it to Vancouver. Molsons didn’t like that. Neither did the rest of the League – forgo expansion fees, ARE YOU CRAZY???

    They turned down the guys who owned Roller Derby [luvved me sum Skinnee Minnee Miller] so they could give the team Charlie O.

    Darryl Maggs was actually a pretty good Hockey Player, just a little under motivated. Redmond was good though.

    Olmstead was a dickhead, several guys in the WHA book `Big Bucks and Blue Pucks` mention his name specifically.

  5. Jesse says:

    LT,

    I’ve always been confused about when/if they officially became known as the California Golden Seals as opposed to the Oakland Seals. Can you enlighten me?

  6. Mr DeBakey says:

    Another source of info for West Coast hockey is Jon C. Stott’s ” Ice Warriors; The Pacific Coast/Western Hockey League, 1948-1974″

    http://tinyurl.com/95swmz3

    The NHL expansion to LA, the East Bay and Vancouver severely impacted the WHL – biggest markets gone, fewer available players.

  7. Reg Dunlop says:

    pelhem grenville,

    Ah… You may be mistaken about that photo of Shack jumping Ehman’s bones. Shack is in a Sabres jersey, circa 1971. But I guess the old saying is true. If you remember the ’60s you weren’t there.

  8. Lowetide says:

    Jesse: To my knowledge, two of the ownership groups changed the name. van Gerbig’s group changed it from California Seals to Oakland Seals and back again. Finley–famously–changed the name to California Golden Seals. In doing prep for this series, there are references to them as the San Fransisco Seals quite late in the process, so I think a lot of the initial name stuff had to do with where they were going to play.

    Finley was just trying to find ways to market the team that didn’t involve the name Oakland.

  9. Mr DeBakey says:

    It wasn’t only Hockey that had problems naming a team in Oakland,
    the NBA team is the very non-specific Golden State Warriors

  10. Lowetide says:

    I asked a guy years ago about SF-Oakland and the makeup (race, money, religion). He said it was just a “thing” but I’ve always felt it has to be more. Oakland’s weather is terrific, it’s a major port city, but the A’s, Raiders and Seals have always had issues.

  11. russ99 says:

    The part I’ll never get is why the NHL wouldn’t let the Seals play at the Cow Palace (despite it’s 10,000+ capacity) where at the time the NBA’s S.F. (soon to be Golden State) Warriors played. Would have been a whole different dynamic from the start.

    Also the tail end of the Seals history is were where the Gund brothers got their start in sports ownership, ending up with 3 franchise relocations, the only folded club in modern NHL history and an expansion team in only 15 seasons.

    First, they persuaded the majority owner of the Seals to move the team to their hometown, Cleveland and become the Cleveland Barons.

    Then 2 years later after the Barons fell apart thanks to poor attendance/a bad lease/little investment in the team, NHL commissioner John Ziegler “gave” the Gunds the failing Norh Stars and merged the rosters of the two teams.

    Finally after running the North Stars into the ground and threatening to move to San Francisco, they got a sweetheart deal again from Ziegler selling the North Stars for $38M and new Sharks franchise and managed a dispersal draft of claiming North Stars players, and an expansion draft for both the Sharks and North Stars.

    2 years later, a minority owner in the North Stars sale, Norm Green moved the North Stars to Dallas.

    Glad the Sharks are financially viable (not so much the Stars) but I have to wonder what led Zeigler to favor the Gund Brothers over the league’s stability.

  12. jp says:

    Lowetide:
    I asked a guy years ago about SF-Oakland and the makeup (race, money, religion). He said it was just a “thing” but I’ve always felt it has to be more. Oakland’s weather is terrific, it’s a major port city, but the A’s, Raiders and Seals have always had issues.

    I’ve worked with a number of people from the SF area. I’ve never visited personally, but have spoken with them about the general dynamics of the area. My impression is that Oakland isn’t thought particularly highly of and is regarded as a “rough” place (likely for some or all of the possible reasons above). Not sure you could describe Oakland as “poor”, but for sure SF (and SJ for that matter) are VERY affluent spots, so Oakland is clearly lagging relative to its neighbors. Sometimes weird dynamics develop among cities near each other that are hard to appreciate from outside. The description of the SF-Oak dynamic as “just a thing” might actually be as close to truth as we can get (in that there may be no really good reason for there to be a strange dynamic, but yet there is one). I wonder if the trouble the Oakland teams have had is as simple as many folks from surrounding areas don’t particularly want to “go to Oakland” to watch games for whatever reason. Keep in mind too though that the Raiders and A’s both had to compete with already existing SF teams when they arrived in Oakland – that can’t help either.

  13. DSF says:

    Been to Oakland a couple of times and I can confirm it is indeed a “rough” place.

    The socio economic makeup is not all like SF or SJ and the crime rate is seriously high.

    The murder rate is almost 5 times the U.S. average and the overall violent crime rate is 4 times the California average.

    If you didn’t have to pass through Oakland to get to Berkley, I doubt anyone from the other side of the bay would ever go there.

  14. OilTastic says:

    the Seals were one of my favorite teams in the 70′s, not so much for what they did on the ice, but the groovy jerseys they always had. and a few good players like Gilles Meloche and Joey Johnston.

  15. pelhem grenville says:

    reg…may have been mistaken … 71 eh… i had done a lotta ‘stuff’ by then …coulda sworn…wow thanks for pointing at me

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