/The First Expansion: Exploring the Early Years of the 6 Teams

The First Expansion: Exploring the Early Years of the 6 Teams

In the first entry of GNGHockey’s Expansion Draft series, Dean Snock takes a look at the first 6 expansion teams and their early years. 

Oakland/California Seals

A Rough Start (1967-68)

The Seals had an abysmal first season (15-42-17) where they finished dead last in scoring (153) and 8th out of 12 with 219 goals allowed which led to the firing of head coach Bert Olmstead.

First Playoff Appearance (1968-69)

In their ’68-’69 campaign, under coach Fred Glover, the Seals nearly doubled their win total with 29 wins, good enough for second in the West Division. This improvement was thanks to an improved offense. Center Ted Hampson, who played in just 34 games the year before, had a breakout season in 1968. He finished 6th in the league in assists with 49 and 14th in points with 75. The Seals also got big contributions from Bill Hicke (61 points) and rookie Norm Ferguson, who set the record for goals in a rookie season with 34. In their first playoff appearance, the Seals took the Los Angeles Kings to seven games in round one before being defeated.

After their moderately successful ’68 season, the Seals regressed. Hampson put up just 52 points, Bill Hicke had 44 and rookie sensation Norm Ferguson had just 11 goals and 9 assists; all which contributed to the team scoring just 169 goals, 50 less than the previous season. Even with the lack of offense, the Seals did manage to finish fourth in the West Division and make the playoffs for the second straight season, losing to the Penguins in four games.

Collapse (1970-1978)

After back-to-back playoff appearances in 1968 and 1969, it was downhill for the Seals as they never made it back to the postseason and in 1976 they were relocated to Cleveland, Ohio becoming the Cleveland Barons. The Barons lasted two seasons before they were merged with the Minnesota North Stars, ending the Seals franchise.

Los Angeles Kings

Inaugural Season Success (1967-68)

In their inaugural season, the Kings were successful. They finished second in the West Division (31-33-10), behind the Philadelphia Flyers while scoring the most goals out of all the expansion teams with 200. The ’67 Kings did not have a “big goal scorer” but they had contributions from multiple players, led by Bill Flett, Eddie Joyal and Lowell McDonald who all finished with 20+ goals. In their first playoff appearance in franchise history, the Kings faced the Minnesota North Stars in the Division Quarter-Finals, losing in seven games.

Early 1970s Struggles

Los Angeles did not fare nearly as well in their second season, finishing 24-42-10 and second to last in goals allowed with 260. However, Los Angeles managed to finish fourth in the West, clinching a playoff spot and a first round series with the Oakland Seals, which they went on to win 4-3, capturing their first series win in franchise history. The Kings would go on to face the division champion St. Louis Blues in round two where they were swept by a superior Blues team. After the season, the Kings fired head coach Leonard “Red” Kelly and replaced him with former player Hal Laycoe.

The Kings hit rock bottom in the 1969-70 season. They finished with just 14 wins, while also finishing last in goals scored with 168 and goals allowed with a whopping 290. These struggles continued for the next two seasons as the Kings finished near the bottom of the standings in each. With goaltender Dennis DeJordy struggling, Los Angeles traded him along with Dale Hoganson, Noel Price and Doug Robinson to Montreal for goaltender Rogie Vachon. Vachon played 28 games that season but struggled, posting a 4.05 GAA.

Bob Pulford & Rogie Vachon Era (1972-75)

The team began to turn around in the 1972-73 season under first year coach Bob Pulford. Under Pulford, the Kings tallied 26 more goals and allowed 60 less goals than the previous year after vast improvement from Vachon. While still not good enough for a playoff spot, Los Angeles won 11 more games than the previous season, finishing 31-36-11.

With Vachon holding down the backend, the Kings returned to the playoffs in 1973-74 after a four-year absence. Their 33-33-12 record was good enough for third place in the West Division, earning them a playoff series with the Chicago Blackhawks. Backstopped by Hall-of-Fame goaltender Tony Esposito who registered an eye-opening 2.04 GAA, the 1972 Blackhawks finished first in the league in goals allowed. Esposito’s talent was too much for Los Angeles as he shut them out twice and did not allow more than one goal in his four starts. Los Angeles’ lone win came in game four win against Chicago’s backup goalie Mike Veisor before Esposito returned to earn his second shutout in game five.

Coming off a first round exit at the hands of the Blackhawks, the Kings’ turnaround reached its peak in the 1974-75 season. A deep crop of forwards led by second-year Kings forwards Mike Murphy (30 goals, 38 assists) and veteran Bob Nevin (31 goals, 41 assists) as well as Dan Maloney, Butch Goring, and Juha Widing (all with 60+ points) allowed Los Angeles to finish 9th in the league in scoring. But it was their second-ranked defense led by captain Terry Harper that made Los Angeles so tough to play against; allowing goalies Rogie Vachon and Gary Edwards to combine for nine shutouts.

Los Angeles went into the playoffs as a 4th seed and were a major contender for the Stanley Cup. Their first opponent was the 13th seeded Toronto Maple Leafs in a dangerous best-of-3 series, where they were heavily favored. However, after winning the first game, the Kings lost back-to-back games, prematurely ending their quest for the Stanley Cup.

Marcel Dionne Era Begins (1975-78)

After the disappointing loss to Toronto, Los Angeles looked to improve. They achieved this by shipping off captain Terry Harper and forward Dan Maloney to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for hall-of-fame center Marcel Dionne. Dionne made an immediate impact, registering 94 points as the Kings returned to the playoffs in 1975. Los Angeles quickly disposed of the Atlanta Flames in the preliminary round, sweeping the best-of-three series.

After the sweep of Atlanta, Los Angeles was faced with the tough task of the Prince of Wales Conference champion Boston Bruins in round two. After being shutout in game one, the Kings outlasted the Bruins in a 3-2 overtime win in game two and followed it with a 6-4 win in game three. With a 2-1 lead, Los Angeles failed to take a stranglehold in game four as they were shutout once again. Boston regained their series lead a game later with a dominant 7-1 victory at Boston Garden. Los Angeles retied the series with another overtime victory in game six, but were once again shutout in game seven.

Dionne once again was spectacular in 1976-77 as Los Angeles tried to replace departed veterans Bob Nevin and Mike Corrigan. In net, Rogie Vachon appeared in a whopping 68 games thanks to the struggles of backup goalie Gary Edwards. Even with the roster turnover, Los Angeles returned to the playoffs in 1976 and once again met Atlanta in the preliminary round. While there would be no series sweep, Los Angeles still came out victorious with a 2-1 series win. Following the guideline of the previous year’s playoffs, Los Angeles advanced to face Boston in the second round. Boston came out on fire taking a 3-0 series lead, scoring a combine 21 goals. Los Angeles battled back with wins in games four and five, but lost a hard-fought game six, 4-3.

Even with hall-of-famers Rogie Vachon and Marcel Dionne, Los Angeles just could not win in the playoffs. In 1977-78, they were eliminated by Toronto in the preliminary round in the first of four straight preliminary round exits. 1977-78 also marked the end of Rogie Vachon’s tenure with Los Angeles as he left for the Red Wings.

 

Minnesota North Stars

First Playoff Series Win (1967-68)

Finishing fourth in the West division with a 27-32-15 record, the North Stars snuck into the playoffs in their first campaign with solid performances from expansion draft picks Wayne Connolly (35 goals, 21 assists) and Ray Cullen (28 goals and 25 assists).

Minnesota faced off with fellow expansion team; the Los Angeles Kings. After going down 0-2 in the series, Minnesota stormed back, winning 4 of the last 5 games including a decisive 9-4 win in game seven; earning their first postseason series victory.

After knocking off the Kings in seven, the North Stars advanced to face the St. Louis Blues in a series that would go the distance. With both teams one win away from moving on to the Stanley Cup Finals, St. Louis outlasted Minnesota with a 2-1 double-overtime victory.

Struggles of the Late ’60s (1968-70)

After being one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals in the previous season, the North Stars began the ’68 season with a 12-20-9 record and head coach Wren Blair was promoted to general manager; replacing him was John Muckler. However, Muckler was unable to right the team, going 6-23-6 to finish the season. While the season was lost, a bright spot for Minnesota was winger Danny Grant who brought home the Calder Memorial Trophy as the most outstanding rookie.

With Wren Blair returning to head coach in the ’69-70 season, Minnesota again failed to perform, starting 9-13-10. Like the previous season, Blair returned to the general manager role. Replacing Blair was Charlie Burns who coached the team to a 10-22-12, bringing the team to a 19-35-22 record. Even with the poor record, Minnesota found themselves back in the playoffs with a chance to get revenge against the St. Louis Blues. After going down 0-2 in the series, Minnesota fought back to tie the series at two, but failed to win another game, losing the series in six games.

Jack Gordon Rights The Ship (1970-73)

In 1970, former player Jack Gordon was brought in to coach the fading North Stars. He made an immediate impact. Under his leadership, the goaltending trio of Cesare Maniago, Gilles Gilbert, and Gump Worsley, Calder Trophy runner-up Jude Drouin (68 points) and high-scoring winger Bill Goldsworthy (65 points), the North Stars returned to the playoffs in the 1970-71 season. Finishing with a 28-34-16 record, Minnesota earned another playoff date with the St. Louis Blues. This time, Minnesota triumphed over St. Louis, winning the series 4-2.

After finally exacting revenge on St. Louis, Minnesota advanced to the second round to play high-scoring Jean Beliveau and the Montreal Canadiens. Minnesota managed to win two games, but were no match for the eventual Stanley Cup champions.

The team finished 37-29-12 and qualified for the playoffs once again in the 1971-72 season, meeting the St. Louis Blues in the playoffs for the second year in a row and for the fourth time since entering the league. Minnesota quickly found themselves up two games to none, and looked to be on their way to eliminating St. Louis for the second year in a row. With Minnesota looking to take a 3-0 stranglehold, the series moved to St. Louis where the Blues won games 3 and 4, tying the series at two. Minnesota and St. Louis traded off victories in games five and six, sending the series back to Minnesota for a deciding game seven where St. Louis came out in top, winning 2-1 in overtime.

With great efforts from Dennis Hextall (82 points), J.P. Parise (75 points), and Jude Drouin (73 points), the success under Jack Gordon continued as Minnesota finished third in west division in 1972-73, making the playoffs for the third time in three seasons under Gordon. Awaiting Gordon and the North Stars; the Philadelphia Flyers. Minnesota came out strong, taking a 2-1 series lead, but the Flyers rattled off three straight victories in games 4, 5, and 6, eliminating Minnesota.

Cellar-dwellers (1973-78)

After three straight postseason appearances, coach Jack Gordon was shown the door after a 3-8-6 start to the 1973 season. Parker MacDonald took over, winning only 20 of the remaining 61 games, ending the North Stars’ playoff streak at four seasons.

Gordon returned to the North Stars bench the next season, but was fired midway through the season after an 11-22-5 start. Replacing Gordon was Charlie Burns, who coached the team a few years earlier. Burns finished the season before he was replaced by Ted Harris the following offseason.

The team continued to struggle under new head coach Ted Harris but managed to sneak into the playoffs in the 1976 season where they were eliminated by the Buffalo Sabres in the preliminary round.

Harris was fired just 19 games into the 1977 season after going 5-12-2.

North Stars-Barons Merger (1978-79)

Missing the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, the North Stars franchise was on the verge of folding. Luckily for them, the Cleveland Barons franchise was also on its last leg. Barons’ owners Gordon and George Gund III offered to merge their franchises with Minnesota being the surviving team; Minnesota accepted. In the merger, the North Stars were infused with talent – notably forward Al McAdam and goaltender Gilles Meloche. While the players acquired from Cleveland played well, it was rookie Bobby Smith, Minnesota’s first overall draft pick in 1978, who stole the show. Smith led the team in points with 74, earning the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year.

While the team did not make the playoffs, they showed promise under first-year head coach Glen Sonmor.

Surprise Run to the Conference Finals (1979-80)

The talent acquired from Cleveland helped Minnesota return to the playoffs in 1979. Goaltender Gilles Meloche won 27 games and posted a 3.06 GAA in 54 appearances while forward Al McAdam led them team with 93 points. Bobby Smith followed up his tremendous rookie season with 83 points in only 61 games; fellow second-year forward Steve Payne put up 85 points after a 40-point rookie season.

The fourth-ranked Minnesota offense carried the team to their first winning record and second playoff appearance since 1972. Minnesota blew passed Toronto 3-0 in the preliminary round outscoring them 17-8. Minnesota’s next task was containing Montreal and their top-ranked offense led by Guy Lafleur. Minnesota started the series hot, knocking off the Canadiens 3-0 in game one and 4-1 in game two. However, their hot streak came to a screeching halt as they were blown out in games three, four, and five by a combined score of 16-3 in favor of Montreal.

On the brink of elimination, Minnesota returned home and fended off elimination with a 5-2 victory. The series then returned to Montreal for a decisive Game 7 where Minnesota edged Montreal 3-2 with Al McAdam tallying the series-winning goal.

The North Stars hoped to carry the momentum into their conference final showdown against the NHL-best Philadelphia Flyers. Minnesota was able to squeak out a 6-5 victory in game one, but were throttled 7-0 by Philadelphia in Game 2. The series moved to Minnesota where the North Stars came up empty, losing both games three and four. On the brink of elimination once again, Minnesota could not repeat their second-round heroics and their Stanley Cup run ended with a 7-3 loss in Philadelphia.

 Run to the Finals (1980-81)

After a tremendous run to the conference finals the year before, Minnesota looked to build upon their success in 1980.

Third-year winger Bobby Smith continued to put up tremendous numbers, registering 93 points. However, Al McAdam and Steve Payne, Minnesota’s top two point producers from the previous year, fell off. McAdam went from 93 points in 1979 to 60 points in 1980 while Payne’s point total fell from 85 to 58. While the offense fell from fourth-ranked to sixteenth, Minnesota’s defense and goaltending remained strong, finishing sixth in the league in goals allowed. In goal, veteran Gilles Meloche was joined by 19-year-old Don Beaupre; the two split starts almost down the middle.

Minnesota finished the third in the Adams Division at 35-28-17, earning their second straight playoff berth. In the preliminary round, Minnesota made quick work of Boston, sweeping the best-of-five series. Minnesota then quickly dispatched of the Buffalo Sabres in five games.

Returning to the Semi-Finals, the Calgary Flames stood in the way of a franchise-first Stanley Cup berth. Minnesota and Calgary split Games 1 and 2 in Calgary before Minnesota took Games 3 and 4 on home ice. After, coming up short in a 3-1 loss in Game 5, Minnesota finished off Calgary with a 5-3 victory in front of their home crowd.

The North Stars got off to a horrid start as they lost the first three games to the reigning Stanley Cup Champion New York Islanders. Down 3-0 in the series, Minnesota managed to squeak out a victory in Game 4 to stave off elimination but were dominated 5-1 in Game 5, ending their Stanley Cup run as the Islanders won their second of four consecutive Stanley Cups.

 

 

Philadelphia Flyers

West Division Champions (1967)

In the newly comprised West Division, the 1967 Flyers came out on top. Captained by expansion pick Lou Angotti and backstopped by fellow expansion picks Bernie Parent and Doug Favell, the Flyers finished 31-32-11 in their debut season. Philadelphia’s offense struggled as no player finished with over 50 points which forced the Flyers live and die by their defense and goaltending. Luckily, goaltenders Parent and Favell as well as defenseman Ed van Impe and Joe Watson all excelled allowing only 174 goals, good for third in the league.

Philadelphia made their playoff debut against fellow expansion team St. Louis Blues in a best-of-seven series. After splitting the first two games, the Flyers dropped both games in St. Louis, putting them in a 3-1 hole. Philadelphia’s offense finally came to life in game five in a dominant 6-1 victory in front of their home crowd. Still on the verge of being eliminated, the Flyers traveled to St. Louis where they outlasted the Blues in a 2-1 double-overtime victory. After fighting back to tie the series and the opportunity to win their first playoff series in franchise history, the Flyers came up short in a 3-1 loss. The Blues later went on to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Sophomore Struggles lead to Bobby Clarke (1968-1971)

In the 1968 offseason, captain Lou Angotti was traded to St. Louis for Darryl Edestrand and Gerry Melnyk. Edestrand played just two games for the Flyers while Melnyk never played as he suffered a heart attack during training camp and retired. Angotti’s captaincy was given to defenseman Ed van Impe.

The Flyers offense continued to struggle as they finished dead last in goals forced in 1968, but unlike the previous season, their defense could not bail them out. With a poor team in front of him, Parent finished 17-23-16 with a 2.69 GAA; Favell did not fare as well, finishing 3-12-5 with a 3.56 GAA.

Even after finishing 20-35-21, Philadelphia placed third in the West and returned to the playoffs. Again they faced off with the St. Louis Blues who were fresh off a Stanley Cup Appearance in 1967. The superior Blues team made quick work of the Flyers, finishing the series in four games which led to the firing of Keith Allen; replacing him was Vic Stasiuk.

With their second-round pick in the 1969 NHL Draft, the Flyers selected Bobby Clarke from the WCHL’s Flin Flon Bombers. Clarke became an immediate fan favorite and made the All-Star Game in his rookie season. Clarke totalled 15 goals and 31 assists and finished fourth in voting for the Calder Trophy.

While Clarke flourished in his rookie campaign, the Flyers did not as they floundered a seven-point lead over the Oakland Seals and lost the tie-breaker, eliminating them from playoff contention for the first time in franchise history.

Barry Ashbee & Rick MacLeish In, Bernie Parent Out (1970-72)

After missing the playoffs for the first time, the Flyers looked to improve. On May 29th, 1970, Philadelphia acquired defenseman Barry Ashbee in exchange for Larry McKillop. Ashbee contributed immediately totaling 27 points in 64 games.

With the Flyers hovering around .500 at midseason, the Flyers looked to improve their anemic offense. On January 31st, 1971, the Flyers were involved in a three-way trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. The trade sent 25-year-old Bernie Parent and a 1971 second-round pick to Toronto for Bruce Gamble, Mike Walton and a 1971 first-round draft pick. Philadelphia then dealt Mike Walton to Boston in exchange for forwards Rick MacLeish and Danny Schock. MacLeish recorded just six points in 26 games while Schock posted three points in 14 games.

With all the roster turnover, Bobby Clarke continued to establish himself with a 63-point sophomore season leading the Flyers back to the playoffs after a one-year absence. While his efforts allowed the Flyers to reach the playoffs, Clarke was held scoreless in his first playoff action and the Flyers were swept by the Chicago Blackhawks.

After the season, head coach Vic Stasiuk was fired after multiple complaints from Flyers players; he was replaced by Fred Shero.

In Shero’s first season behind the Flyers’ bench, it was the same, old story; Bobby Clarke had no help on offense. Clarke posted career-highs in goals (35), assists (46), and points (81) while no other player eclipsed twenty goals or fifty points. Without any help from his teammates on offense, Philadelphia missed the playoffs again in 1971-72.

Broad Street Bullies (1972-73)

With Bobby Clarke becoming one of the league’s best, the Flyers looked to add players around him. In the 1972 Draft, Philadelphia drafted forward Bill Barber who recorded 64 points in his rookie season. After playing just 17 games in 1971, Rick MacLeish also burst onto the scene, becoming the first Flyer to record 5o goals in a season during his 100-point season. Veterans Gary Dornhoefer (30 goals, 49 assists) and Bill Flett (43 goals, 31 assists) both had career seasons. But what made the Flyers into the “Broad Street Bullies” was their toughness and 23-year-old enforcer Dave “The Hammer” Schultz had plenty of it.

In January, captain Ed van Impe relinquished his captaincy to Bobby Clarke who was on his way to becoming the league MVP.

Led by Clarke’s 104 points and a talented forward group of MacLeish, Dornhoefor, Flett, Barber, and Schultz, the Flyers returned to the playoffs. Still in search of their first playoff series victory, the Flyers met the Minnesota North Stars in the first round. After the first three games, Philadelphia found themselves in a 2-1 series deficit after being shutout twice by Minnesota goaltender Cesare Maniago. The Flyers retied the series in game four with Doug Favell pitching a shutout on 31 shots; they took the series lead with a 3-2 overtime win in game five. On the verge of winning their first playoff series in franchise history, Philadelphia traveled to Minnesota for game six. Philadelphia went down 1-0 early but rattled off four straight goals and ousted Minnesota in six games for their first playoff series victory.

Their next challenger was the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens. Philadelphia took a 1-0 series lead with a 5-4 overtime game-winner off the stick of Rick MacLeish, but did not fare well in the rest of the series as the Canadiens won four straight games and knocked off the Flyers.

Bernie Parent Returns (1973)

Just a few weeks after being eliminated, Philadelphia traded their 1973 first-round pick and goaltender Doug Favell to Toronto for “Original Flyer” Bernie Parent. Parent, who had been traded from Philadelphia just two years before, played behind his childhood hero goaltender Jacques Plante in Toronto. Under Plante, Parent became a more technically sound goaltender and played well in his one-and-a-half seasons with Toronto. After his contract ended with Toronto, he signed with the Philadelphia Blazers of the WHA where he played one season before his rights were traded to Philadelphia.

In his return to Philadelphia, Parent posted a career-high 47 wins and a 1.89 GAA in 1973 and shared the Vezina Trophy with Chicago’s Tony Esposito.

Back-to-Back Stanley Cup Champions (1973-75)

In 1973, with Parent’s dominant performance in net, the Flyers finished second in the NHL with 112 points at 50-16-12. Philadelphia also finished fifth in goals forced with 273; Clarke, MacLeish, Bill Barber and Ross Lonsberry all registered 30+ goals. Philadelphia won the West Division as they went 15-2-2 to end the season which included an 8-game win streak.

Rolling into the playoffs sizzling hot, the Flyers swept the Atlanta Flames in the Quarter-Finals, allowing just six goals in the process. They advanced to take on their division rival New York Rangers in the Semi-Finals. They continued their hot streak as they took games one and two, 4-0 and 5-2 respectively. With the series back in New York, the Rangers fought back to tie the series at two games apiece. The teams traded off 4-1 victories in games five and six, sending the series the distance. Game seven saw Flyers’ Gary Dornhoefer score two goals including the game-winner in the final stanza as the Flyers won 4-3, advancing to the Stanley Cup.

The Boston Bruins, who had just knocked off the Blackhawks in six games, awaited them. Boston took the first game 3-2 and the series lead. Philadelphia followed their game one loss with three straight victories, taking a 3-1 series lead. On the verge of becoming the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup, Philadelphia floundered in a 5-1 losing effort in Game 5. With a chance to win the Stanley Cup in front of their home crowd, the Flyers took the lead on Rick MacLeish’s power play goal late in the first. MacLeish’s goal was all the Flyers needed as Bernie Parent turned away all 30 Bruins shots, carrying Philadelphia to their first Stanley Cup championship. Parent’s efforts also earned him the Conn Smythe award as playoff MVP.

After their Stanley Cup victory, Philadelphia bolstered their offense by trading Larry Wright, Al McAdam, and their 1974 first-round pick for winger Reggie Leach of the California Golden Seals. The acquisition of Leach paid off immediately as he led the team in goals with 45 in 1974.

The acquisition of Leach, another dominant season from Bernie Parent, as well as another MVP season from Bobby Clarke allowed Philadelphia to tie Montreal and Buffalo for first in points.

Philadelphia’s quest to repeat began against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They wasted no time, disposing of Toronto in four games. The Flyers continued to roll as they took the first three games of their Semi-Finals matchup with the New York Islanders. One win away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second year in a row, an Islanders 4-3 overtime win prolonged the series. A disappointing 5-1 loss in Game 5 allowed the Islanders to crawl back into the series and a 2-1 Islanders victory in Game 6 tied the series at three. Trying to avoid blowing a 3-0 series lead, the Flyers returned home for game seven where a Rick MacLeish hat-trick propelled the Flyers to a 4-1 victory and another Stanley Cup berth.

Facing the Buffalo Sabres in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Flyers won the first two games at home. The series moved back to Buffalo for Game 3 which will alway be remembered as “The Fog Game” because parts of the game had to be played in heavy fog due to a Buffalo heat wave and a lack of air conditioning. The Flyers lost Game 3 and 4, but returned home to defeat Buffalo 5-1 in Game 5. In Buffalo for Game 6, Bernie Parent tallied his fourth shutout of the playoffs as the Flyers repeated as Stanley Cup Champions. Parent’s efforts earned himself the Conn Smythe Trophy for the second consecutive year.

A Third Straight Trip To The Stanley Cup Finals

The Flyers lost Bernie Parent for all but 11 games in 1975-76 due to a pre-season neck injury but the Flyers didn’t skip a beat as backup goalie Wayne Stephenson filled in nicely with 40 wins. As usual, Clarke led the team in points, finishing with 119. Behind Clarke in points were linemates Bill Barber, who posted a career-high 112 points, and Reggie Leach, who scored a league-leading 61 goals.

Philadelphia finished second in the league with a 118 points and had a third straight Stanley Cup in sight. They managed to avoid an upset to Toronto in the Quarter-Finals with a game seven victory. Next up, was a rematch with Boston. After a Game 1 loss, Philadelphia stormed back to win four straight games with Rick MacLeish sealing the deal with a five-goal outburst in Game 5.

Clinching their third straight Stanley Cup appearance, the Flyers didn’t put up much of a fight against top-seeded Montreal as they were swept.

The proceeding offseason saw the Flyers trade fan-favorite Dave Schultz to Los Angeles. Without Schultz, Philadelphia still managed to win their division in 1976, but were swept in the Semi-Finals by Boston. The following 1977-78 season saw the Flyers finish with 105 points and clinch their sixth straight playoff berth. After making quick work of Colorado and Buffalo, the Flyers faced off with the Bruins in the Semi-Finals where they were ousted in five games.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Tough Start & First Playoff Series Victory (1967-71)

Led by aging winger Andy Bathgate and 16-year veteran defenseman Leo Boivin, the 1967 Penguins lacked talent. Pittsburgh also sported a 33-year old rookie in goaltender Les Binkley. With the lack of talent, Pittsburgh went 27-34-13 and missed the playoffs in their debut season, but still just finished just six points behind Philadelphia for first place in the West Division.

After the season, captain Ab MacDonald was shipped off to St. Louis for forward Lou Angotti, and leading-scorer Andy Bathgate returned to the WHL to play for the Vancouver Canucks.

In 1968, without their leading scorers from the previous year, the Penguins needed bigger contributions from their expansion draft picks. 36-year old Ken Schinkel rose to the task, posting 18 goals and 34 assists for 52 points and newly acquired Charlie Burns finished second in points with 51, but their efforts were not enough as Pittsburgh missed the playoffs once again.

Under new head coach Red Kelly, the 1969 season saw Pittsburgh clinch their first playoff series in franchise history. Winger Dean Prentice led the team in points (51) during his first year with the Penguins. Promising rookie Michel Briere finished third on the team with 44 points.

In their first playoff appearance, Pittsburgh ousted the Oakland Seals in four games with rookie Michel Briere scoring the overtime game-winner in game four. With their first postseason series victory behind them, Pittsburgh advanced to take on St. Louis Blues for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final. The first four games of the series saw Pittsburgh get off to a rough start as they lost Games 1 and 2 in St. Louis before they returned home to “The Igloo” where they won Games 3 and 4, tying the series at 2 apiece. But their momentum was shattered as they were dominated 5-0 in Game 5 and could not rebound in time for Game 6 where they were eliminated with a 4-3 loss.

After finishing two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final, the Penguins lost promising rookie Michel Briere who suffered head trauma in a car accident which sent him into a coma.

Without Briere, the 1970 Penguins finished second-to-last in the Western Division, winning only two of their last 20 games. Their lone bright spot was mid-season acquisition Syl Apps who gathered 25 points in just 31 games.

Syl Apps (1971-74)

The addition of Apps gave the Pittsburgh offense a player capable of putting up high point totals. While, he only registered 59 points during his first full season with Pittsburgh, he led the team back to the playoffs in 1971-72, but could not will the team to a win as they were swept by the Chicago Black Hawks.

Apps returned in 1972-73 to lead the team with 85 points; newcomers Al McDonough and Lowell MacDonald finished second and third with 75+ points each. With the addition of more capable forwards and a decent season from goaltender Jim Rutherford, Pittsburgh finished with a franchise-best 32 wins but finished just three points out of a playoff spot.

The 1973 season saw head coach Ken Schinkel lose his job after a 14-31-5 start; replacing him was Marc Boileau who finished 14-10-4. The season also saw Syl Apps lead the team with 85 points, Lowell MacDonald tally 43 goals and rookie Pierre Larouche finish second in the Calder Trophy race as the Penguins posted the fourth-best offense. However, once again their efforts were not enough as they finished in fifth in the division, nine points out of a playoff spot.

Return to the Playoffs (1974-76)

Pittsburgh finally returned to the playoffs in 1974-75 under head coach Marc Boileau. Captain Ron Schock lead the team with a career-high 86 points while Syl Apps, Jean Pronovost, and Vic Hadfield all finished with 70+ points. In goal, Gary Inness earned the staring spot over Michael Plasse and posted 24 wins while registering a 3.09 GAA and two shutouts. In return, Pittsburgh finished with their first winning record in franchise history at 37-28-15.

Pittsburgh swept the St. Louis Blues in their best-of-three preliminary series. They advanced to take on the New York Islanders in the Quarter-Finals. Pittsburgh jumped out to a 3-0 series lead and looked to finish off the Islanders on the road in Game 4 but could not beat backup goaltender Glenn Resch who turned away 27 of 28 shots in a 3-1 Islanders victory.

The Game 4 loss gave the Penguins the chance to finish out the series on home ice in Game 5, but Resch came up huge once again as the Islanders took Game 5, 4-2. The Penguins traveled back to Long Island, trying to finally end the series that once looked like cakewalk. But once again the Islanders rose to the task with a 4-1 win, sending the series back to Pittsburgh for a winner-take-all Game 7.

With Pittsburgh on the verge of blowing a 3-0 series lead, Game 7 remained scoreless until the final few minutes of the third period when Ed Westfall gave the Islanders all they needed as they finished off an improbable comeback with a 1-0 Game 7 victory.

Trying to forget their series with the Islanders, the Penguins returned to the playoffs in 1975-76 after a mid-season coaching in which Ken Schinkel returned to replace Marc Boileau behind the Pittsburgh bench. Sophomore Pierre Larouche burst on to the scene with 111 points in 1975. Jean Pronovost also broke 100 points with 104 and Syl Apps came close with 99.

In net, Michael Plasse took over the starting spot, winning 24 games with a 3.45 GAA.

Pittsburgh rolled into the playoffs sporting the second-ranked offense but again fell short of making a playoff run as they scored just three goals and were taken down by the Maple Leafs in the Preliminary Round.

Offense Falls Off & The Trade of Pierre Larouche (1976-77)

Despite Pierre Larouche, Jean Pronovost and Syl Apps being unable to reproduce their franchise record-setting offensive output of the previous season the team finished with a 34-33-13 record on the strength of improved defense and the goaltending of Dunc Wilson and Denis Herron who they acquired in the offseason.

The Penguins’ opponent in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs was once again the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the Penguins scored ten goals in the series the Maple Leafs once again eliminated the Penguins in three games.

After struggling to begin 1977-78 the season, Pittsburgh pulled the trigger on a trade that sent young Pierre Larouche to Montreal for Peter Lee and Peter Mahovlich.

Without Larouche, Pittsburgh finished 25-37-18 and missed the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

 

St. Louis Blues

Three Straight Trips to the Finals (1967-1970)

While most of the talent in the league stayed in the “Original Six”, the St. Louis Blues were arguably the strongest of all six of the 1967 expansion teams. Red Berenson came to St. Louis from Montreal and led the team with 51 points while Gerry Melnyk was a pleasant surprise, posting 50 points. The Blues made it just 16 games before they fired their first head coach Lynn Patrick and replaced him with Scotty Bowman. But what made St. Louis so successful was their first selection in the expansion draft: Glenn Hall. At 36 years old, Hall was still a very capable goaltender and posted a 2.48 GAA in 1967. With Hall providing St. Louis with steady goaltending, St. Louis reached the Stanley Cup in 1967 after knocking off the Flyers in seven games in the Quarter-Finals and then the North Stars in a series that also went the distance.

Facing the East Division Champion Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Finals, goaltender Glenn Hall was sensational, most notably in Game 3 where he made 42 saves in a 4-3 overtime loss. Even with Hall at the top of his game, St. Louis was no match for the highly Canadiens as they were swept.

The next season, St. Louis became the first expansion team to finish with a winning record at 37-25-14 in part to the outstanding goaltending of Hall-of-Famers Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante who shared the Vezina Trophy in 1968.

St. Louis rode their goaltenders through two consecutive sweeps of the Flyers and Kings in rounds one and two in which the opposition never scored more than two goals in a game.

Back in the Stanley Cup Finals, St. Louis came face-to-face with the Montreal Canadiens for the second year in a row. Looking for revenge, St. Louis would once again come up short, falling in four games.

After a valiant effort in another Stanley Cup defeat, goaltender Glenn Hall retired for the second time in his career, but was talked into returning. While Hall stayed with St. Louis, 41-year-old Jacques Plante took over the starting role in the 1969-70 season.On June 27, 1969, St. Louis traded Norm Beaudin and Bobby Schmautz to the Candiens for goaltender Ernie Wakely. With the trio of Plante, Wakely, and Hall, St. Louis finished second in goals allowed. On offense, St. Louis added center Phil Goyette who had spent the past 13 seasons with the Canadiens and the Rangers before the ’69 season. Goyette led the team in points with a career-high 78 as the Blues returned to the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

St. Louis and the Minnesota North Stars met for a rematch in the Quarter-Finals which saw the teams split the first four games before St. Louis cruised to victory in Games 5 and 6; advancing to the Semi-Finals for a third consecutive season.  With another chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, St. Louis took on the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blues jumped out to a 2-0 series lead after taking Games 1 and 2 at home but lost two close games in Pittsburgh, tying the series at 2. Returning home for Game 5, St. Louis took a 3-2 series lead with a convincing 5-0 victory and followed up with a series-ending 4-3 win in Game 6 in Pittsburgh

Once again, it was St. Louis representing the West Division in the Stanley Cup Finals. This year, it was a new opponent in the Boston Bruins. With another chance to become the first expansion team to take home Lord Stanley’s Trophy, St. Louis wilted as they were swept for a third consecutive year.

Early Playoff Exits (1970-73)

After being swept by the Bruins, St. Louis moved on from head coach Scotty Bowman and replaced him with Al Arbour. They also looked  to improve by buying Christian Bordeleau from the Montreal Canadiens and selling an aging Jacques Plante to the Toronto Maple Leafs, allowing Ernie Wakely to take over.

With new head coach, Al Arbour behind the bench, the Blues played well, but apparently not well enough as Arbour was fired after a 21-15-14 start and Bowman became head coach once again. With Bowman back behind the bench, he won 13 of the last 28 games and clinched another playoff berth.

Looking to make another run, St. Louis’s season ended prematurely after being eliminated in six games by the Minnesota North Stars.

St. Louis’s 1971 season saw new head coach Sid Abel be fired after a 3-6-1 start to the season. Replacing Abel was rookie head coach Bill McCreary who was shown the door after going 6-14-4. Finally, St. Louis turned to former coach Al Arbour to right the ship; Arbour coached the team to a 19-19-6 finish which was good enough for a fourth place finish in the West Division, three points ahead of the fifth-place Penguins.

In the 1971 playoffs, St. Louis came back from a 2-0 deficit to exact revenge against the North Stars in a 4-3 series victory. The Blues went on to face the Boston Bruins in a 1970 Stanley Cup Finals rematch, but the end result was the same as Boston swept St. Louis.

The next season, St. Louis continued their downward trend as they finished under .500 for the second consecutive year as they lacked forward depth around center Garry Unger who led the team with 80 points.

Even without a high-scoring offense or a lockdown goaltender, St. Louis clinched a playoff spot for the sixth straight season, but they were outclassed in round one by Tony Esposito and the Chicago Black Hawks, losing in five games.

Missing the Playoffs (1973-74)

St. Louis again failed to build around Garry Unger as they finished 14th (out of 16) in scoring in 1973.

A seven-game winless streak in January led to the firing of head coach Jean-Guy Talbot with former player Lou Angotti replacing him. However, the mid-season coaching change could not get the team kickstarted as they finished 4-15-4, missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

First Round Exits (1974-77)

Lou Angotti returned behind the St. Louis bench for the beginning of the 1974 season but was quickly ousted after a 2-5-2 start. He was, for two games, replaced by Lynn Patrick as St. Louis looked for a long-term option which they found in Garry Young. Under Young, the team finished the season on a high note, winning five of their last six as they returned to the playoffs after a one-year absence.

However, St. Louis failed to make any kind of run as they were eliminated in the Preliminary Round by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

St. Louis looked to make a deeper run in 1975 as newly acquired Chuck Lefley finally gave St. Louis a good second option to Garry Unger. The two forwards combined for 168 points that season, but the rest of the offense was quiet, causing the Blues to finish 14th (out of 18) in scoring. Unger’s and Lefley’s efforts proved to be enough as St. Louis returned to the playoffs but again lost in the Preliminary Round in a 2-1 series loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

St. Louis added forward Bernie Federko from the Saskatoon Blades in the 1976 NHL Draft in hopes to improve their meddling offense. After being drafted 9th overall, Federko appeared in just 14 games the next season which saw him post an impressive 23 points.

St. Louis continued to finish in the middle on both offense and defense in 1976 where they finished 32-39-9, good enough to win finish first in the Smythe Division, earning them a date with one of the best teams in NHL history in the 1976 Canadiens which featured seven future Hall-of-Famers. St. Louis never stood a chance as the eventual Stanley Cup Champions outscored them 19-4 in a four-game sweep.

A Woeful 1977 Season

The 1977 season saw St. Louis switch coaches after an 11-36-7 start, bringing in Barclay Plager. The lone positive of the season was second-year forward Bernie Federko appearing in 72 games where he posted 41 points in a lost season.

Bernie Federko’s Emergence (1978-80)

The 1978-79 season saw Federko develop into a bona fide star, as he scored 95 points in another lost season for the Blues. Along with Federko, fellow 1976 draft pick, second-rounder Brian Sutter emerged as a capable scorer, tallying 41 goals; 1978 third overall pick Wayne Babych also contributed 63 points in his rookie season.

Head coach Barclay Plager was fired after a rough start to the 1979 season and was replaced with former Blues player Red Berenson who turned the team around. Leading the charge was Federko. After posting a career-high 95 points, Federko followed with a 94-point season in 1979 leading the Blues in points. While Brian Sutter’s point total fell off from the previous season, Federko’s efforts as well as Mike Luit’s solid goaltending allowed the team to return to the playoffs.

In Federko’s first playoff action, he scored only one goal as the Blues were again knocked out in the Preliminary Round by the Chicago Black Hawks.


Next up in the Expansion Draft series is the 1970s era.

Dean Snock is a writer and the Hershey Bears reporter for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @Dsnock97.

Dean is a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan (note the Carson Wentz photoshop) and an aspiring sportswriter. He is a student at Millersville University where he is studying sports journalism. The primary way of contacting Dean is at this email: deansnock@gnghockey.com.