After new arena plans in San Francisco were cancelled, minority owner George Gund persuaded owner Mel Swig to move the California Golden Seals franchise from Oakland to his hometown of Cleveland for the 1976–77 season. The team was named Cleveland Barons after the popular American Hockey League team that played in the city from 1937 to 1973. Although a successful minor league city, Cleveland had been turned down for an NHL expansion team on three previous occasions.
The Barons played in the suburban Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio, an arena originally built for the WHA's Cleveland Crusaders and the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, with the then largest seating capacity in the NHL of 18,544. However, the Barons would never come close to filling the arena in their two years in Cleveland. The team's home opener on October 7, 1976, only drew 8,900 fans. They only drew 10,000 or more fans in seven out of 40 home games. The Barons were also troubled by an unfavorable lease with the Coliseum, and in January 1977 Swig hinted the team might not finish the season because of payroll difficulties. The Barons actually missed payroll twice in a row in February, and only a $1.3 million loan allowed the Barons to finish the season. After finishing last in the Adams Division yet again, Swig sold his interest in the team to Gund and his brother Gordon.
For 1977–78, the Gunds poured money into the team, and it seemed to make a difference at first. The Barons stunned the defending Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens on November 23 before a boisterous crowd of 12,859. After a brief slump, general manager Harry Howell pulled off several trades in an attempt to make the team tougher. It initially paid off, and the Barons knocked off three of the NHL's top teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres in consecutive games in January 1978. A few weeks later, a record crowd of 13,110 saw the Barons tie the Philadelphia Flyers 2–2. The bottom fell out in February, however, as a 15-game losing skid knocked the Barons out of playoff contention.
Merger and Aftermath
After the season, the Gunds tried to buy the Coliseum, but failed. On June 14, 1978, the league granted approval for the Barons to merge with another financially troubled team, the Minnesota North Stars, under the Gunds' ownership. The merged franchise would retain the Minnesota North Stars name, but assume the Barons' place in the Adams Division. The Barons remain the last franchise in the four major North American sports leagues to cease operations, and as a result the NHL fielded only 17 teams during the 1978–79 season. The NHL would not return to Ohio for 22 years, when the Columbus Blue Jackets began operations in the fall of 2000.
Dennis Maruk was the last Baron (and last California Seals member as well) to be active in the NHL, retiring from the North Stars after the 1989 season.
Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, Pts = Points, GF = Goals for, GA = Goals against, PIM = Penalties in minutes
|1976–77||80||25||42||13||63||240||292||1011||fourth in Adams||Out of playoffs|
|1977–78||80||22||45||13||57||230||325||1010||fourth in Adams||Out of playoffs|
First Round Draft Picks
selection made by California Golden Seals as the move to Cleveland had not yet taken place
- Jack Evans, 1976–78