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.
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.
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.”
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.
- 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 (362)
- Kent Douglas (145)
- Bill Hicke (274)
- Billy Harris (135)
- Larry Cahan (283)
- Wally Boyer (277)
- Joe Szura (90)
- Bob Lemieux (19)
- JP Parise (869)
- Ron Harris (472)
- Terry Clancy (93)
- Tracy Pratt (580)
- Autry Erickson (66)
- Ron Boehm (16)
- Alain Caron (60)
- Mike Laughton (189)
- Bryan Hextall (528)
- 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.
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.”
- 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.
- 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.