The Quebec Nordiques were one of the few WHA teams to merge with the NHL in 1979, where they would stay for the next 16 seasons. So what exactly led to the team leaving the city they called home for so many years? In today’s video we’ll take a look back at how a small market team defied the odds, developing intense rivalries and cementing their legacy as an iconic franchise along the way.
On November 1 1971, the World Hockey Association formed as a rival league to compete as a with the NHL. With the announcement of the new league starting up, they also announced the first 12 teams who had been granted franchises. However, despite what the 1972 WHA media guide says, the league ran into problems almost immediately as many of the new franchises struggled to get off the ground. Of the original 12 teams, two of them, the Calgary Broncos and the Miami Screaming Eagles folded before ever playing a single game. The WHA quickly replaced them with the Philadelphia Blazers and the Cleveland Crusaders. Another two teams who were originally announced, moved before the season began, the Dayton Arrows moved to Houston and became the Houston Aeros . The other team that moved was the San Francisco Sharks, who like with a couple of other teams struggled maintaining funds to keep the franchise alive. The WHA stepped in and hastily resold the franchise to a new ownership group out of Quebec city, headed by Marius Fortier, who then moved the entire team to Quebec.
Due to the area having a strong connection to the French language and culture, the team dropped the name Sharks and became known as the Nordiques. In English, Nordiques roughly translates to the Northerners or Northmen, as Quebec City was one of the most northern cities in North America with a pro sports team. Consequently, because the name Sharks was now available, the Los Angeles Aces changed their names to the LA Sharks. Jumping back to the Nordiques, the team chose the colors red, white, and blue, and would use those colors for their entire existence. For the logo, the team came up with an instant classic that depicted an igloo and a hockey stick and puck. Although somewhat quirky to use an igloo as a logo, in my opinion it’s simplicity is what makes it most effective. The hockey stick and puck help add a bit of dynamic movement to the logo, with the stick pointing to the right, it gives it a forward movement feeling. The hockey stick also cuts into the right side of the igloo, subtly creating a lower-case “N” shape for the “Nordiques”. The team would use this logo for it’s entire history, only updating it slightly over the years. As for their home arena, The Nordiques played their home games at the Colisée de Québec (or the Quebec Coliseum in English). The arena was built in 1949, and mainly hosted professional and junior teams like the Quebec Aces of the AHL and the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The Colisée underwent renovations in 1980 to expand seating from just over 10,000 to 15,750 (still making it one of the smallest venue capacities in the NHL). The Nordiques would play at the Colisée for each of their 23 years in Quebec, from 1972 to 1995.
Just before the start of their first season, the Nordiques hired Maurice Filion, seen here with the Sears catalog of available Nordiques players, as their director of scouting. But, just two games into the season their head coach, legendary Canadiens player Maurice Richard resigned due to health reasons. Filion was then picked to fill in as head coach, and would later be promoted to General Manager after the season, a position he would hold for the next 14 years, leading them through many successful years. However, it didn’t start that way, as the Nordiques struggled in their first couple of years, finishing fifth in their division each season. But, starting with the 1974-75 season, the Nordiques made the playoffs for the first time and would continue to make playoffs each year after that as a WHA team. During the 1974-75 playoffs, the Nordiques managed to defeat the Phoenix Roadrunners in the quarterfinals, and the Minnesota Fighting Saints in the Semi-finals, clinching their spot in the WHA finals for the first time. Unfortunately they were defeated by Gordie Howe and Houston Aeros in the finals. The following season, the Nordiques season would end in disappointment once more, when they were eliminated by the Calgary Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs. However, the Nordiques would bounce back in the 1976-77 season, as they beat the New England Whalers and the Indianapolis Racers in five games to once again reach the finals. This time the Nordiques matched up against the Winnipeg Jets, and in a tight series, the Nordiques managed to beat the Jets in seven games. With that, the Nordiques won the first and only WHA championship, known as the AVCO world trophy.
Over the next two seasons, the Nordiques would reach the semi finals only to be eliminated by the Whalers in 1978 and the Winnipeg Jets in 1979. By this time the WHA was in serious financial trouble, and the league was in jeopardy of collapsing. Many of the original WHA teams that had started with the league had folded, and only six teams remained. Talks about merging with the NHL had begun a few years prior, with both sides failing to come to an agreement. However the situation would soon change, because in early 1979 the two leagues finally agreed to merge under the conditions that the NHL accept all of the WHA’s Canadian franchises. Those teams were the Edmonton Oilers, the Winnipeg Jets, the Quebec Nordiques, plus one American club the New England Whalers later renamed the Hartford Whalers. The two WHA clubs were left out on the merger the Cinncianti Stingers, and Birmingham Bulls, were each given 1.5 million dollars in compensation. The Nordiques were placed in the Wales Conference, in the Adams division. Also part of the merger agreement was that the WHA teams had to let go of all but three of their current players, in a dispersal draft. Because of this, the former WHA teams were at a competitive disadvantage and the Nordiques were no exception. They finished their first NHL season last place in their division, with only 25 wins and 44 losses.
Early 80’s Success
It didn’t take long for the Nordiques to turn things around. Thanks to the signing of brothers Anton and Peter Stastny (and later they’d be joined by a third brother, Marian), helped lead the team to the playoffs for the first time as an NHL team during the 1980-81 season. However, they were beaten by the Philadelphia Flyers in five games. Although the season ended in a disappointment, this would mark the beginning of a seven year run of playoff appearances. The next season, the Nordiques would advance all the way to the Wales conference finals after defeating their rivals the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins in the first two rounds. Unfortunately, the Nordiques were swept by the defending Stanley Cup champions the New York Islanders in the conference finals. The following 1982-1983 season, the Nordiques clinched a playoff spot even though they finished with a .500 record of 34 wins and 34 losses. They would go on to be eliminated by the Bruins 3 games to 1 in the first round.
Good Friday Massacre
The Nordiques once again made the playoffs in the 1983-84 season, after finishing third in the Adams division. They faced the Buffalo Sabers in the first round, and swept them in 3 games, advancing them to the divisional finals against their province rival the Montreal Canadiens. In the best of seven series, each team won two of the first four games, splitting the series 2-2. The Canadiens ended up winning game 5, pushing the Nordiques on the brink of elimination heading into game 6. On April 20, 1984, which also happened to be Good Friday, the Nordiques and the Canadiens faced off for game 6. Quebec jumped out to an early lead, scoring the first goal and leading 1-0 after the first period. But just before the end of the second period, 14 different fights broke out between the two teams with the biggest being a bench clearing brawl that ended the period. The Canadiens Mario Tremblay punched Peter Stastny of the Nordiques in the nose, forcing Stastny out for the rest of the game. In retaliation, Nordiques player Louis Sleigher sucker punched Jean Hamel of the Canadiens in the eye, knocking him out completely. The head referee sent both teams into their locker rooms before the second period could officially end. But the fights didn’t stop there, because just as the warm ups for the last period began, another brawl broke out just as the public address announcer was reading off ejections for the first brawl. Many of the players on the ice felt since they were going to be ejected they might as well take a few other guys with them. A total of 252 penalty minutes were issued, and eleven players were ejected. The Nordiques gained some momentum from the fights, and scored again early in the third period, taking a 2-0 lead. But the game would soon turn upside down, as the Canadiens scored five unanswered goals within eight minutes, taking a 5-2 lead. The Nordiques managed to score one more goal, but by this point it was too late. The Canadiens eliminated the Nordiques in six games, ending their promising run. The game would would be remembered as the Good Friday Massacre, and an infamous NHL playoff game between two rival teams.
Late 80’s Struggles
Quebec would get some revenge the next year. After beating the Sabers once more in the first round of the playoffs, the Nordiques would meet the Canadiens in the second round. After going back and forth the entire series, the two teams were forced to face a seventh and deciding game. After scoring two goals each over the first two periods, the game headed into overtime after neither side scored in the third period. Peter Stastny ended up scoring the game winning, and series winning goal, defeating their bitter rivals the Canadiens in seven games. The magical run would come to end however in the next round as the Nordiques fell to the Flyers in six games. Over the next two seasons, Quebec would make the playoffs but lose to the Whalers in the first round in 1986 and lose to the Canadiens in the second round in 1987. This effectively ended the Nordiques seven year stretch of playoff appearances, as Quebec would struggle in last place over the next five seasons.
The Eric Lindros Draft & Trade
In 1991, the Nordiques had the first pick of the NHL draft. Power forward and professional teen bully, Eric Lindros was widely expected to be drafted as the first pick, and he let it be known publicly that he had no intention of singing with the Nordiques. Even with his public statements, Quebec went ahead and drafted him anyways, with Lindros refusing to wear the team’s jersey and only agreeing to be photographed holding it up. Lindros main issue with Quebec was having to learn French, having to play in a small market, and the long distance traveling. Although later, Lindros would admit that he really just didn’t want to play for the Nordiques president Marcel Aubut. The Nordiques felt Lindros was talented enough that they could build a team around him, and refused to trade him, stating that as long as he held out he’d never play in the NHL. Well, Lindros did hold out for an entire season, which forced the Nordiques to explore trading him. On June 30, 1992 Quebec made a deal with Philadelphia to send Lindros to the Flyers in exchange for basically half of the team. The Nordiques got in return, forwards Mike Ricci, and Peter Forsberg, goalie Ron Hextall, defencsemen Steve Dutchense and Kerry Huffman, and later they received enforcer Chris Simon. They also got two first round draft picks, plus 15 million dollars. The trade help improve the team greatly, as they had the single greatest turnaround from one season to the next in NHL history. They doubled their points total from 52 points during the 1991-92 season, to 104 points at the end of the 1992-93 season. The Nordiques would end up making the playoffs twice more. However they would be eliminated in the first round both times, by the Canadiens in the 1993 playoffs, and by the New York Rangers in the 1995 playoffs. The last game of the ‘95 series against New York would prove to be the Nordiques final game representing Quebec, as years of financial struggles made it increasingly difficult to continue on.
Many different factors played in the Nordiques struggles, one of them being that Quebec City was easily the smallest market in the NHL, and they were the second smallest marke of a major pro sports team next to the Green Bay Packers of the NFL. However, Green Bay has the advantage of being in close proximity to Milwaukee. This, plus the fact that the team and Quebec’s media were primarily French speaking, made it difficult to attract free agents who were willing to play in a small market and learn how to speak French. In fact, the Nordiques were the only NHL club to operate almost entirely using French. While other teams like the Canadiens and Senators used both English and French for public address announcements during games, the Nordiques only used French. Amid these issues, plus the weakening Canadien dollar, Marcel Aubut seen here in an intimate moment with Vladimir Putin, felt he had no choice but to sell the team. Around this time, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that businessman and Dr.Phil lookalike Peter Karmonos was interested in buying the Nordiques and moving them to Phoenix. That deal never panned out, but Karmonos would get to live out his fantasy of crushing a local fan base’s hopes by buying and moving their team elsewhere, when he purchased the Hartford Whalers. Marcel Aubut tried to persuade the local government to step in and help the team financially, while also helping fund plans for a new arena. Quebec’s provincial government rejected the idea, which amounted to essentially a financial bailout of the team. With no other place to turn, the Nordiques announced in May of 1995 that the team was being sold to COMSAT entertainment group. COMSAT, who were owners of the NBA’s Denver Nuggets at the time, announced almost immediately that they’d be moving the Nordiques to Denver the following season.
Move To Denver
With the move to Denver official, the new ownership group COMSAT considered a number of different names to replace Nordiques. They briefly considered the Colorado “Black Bears” and the “Colorado Blizzards”, but they eventually settled on…and this is true “Rocky Mountain Extreme”. Which sounds more like an energy drink than a sports team. The Denver Post caught wind of the new name and leaked it before it was officially announced. The public’s reaction was so negative that COMSAT backtracked and officially announced on August 10 1995, that the new name would be the Colorado Avalanche. Sadly, the fans of the Nordiques never got to officially say goodbye to the team. The final goal ever scored by the Nordiques was Peter Foresberg’s game 6 power play goal against the Rangers. In another gut punch to Quebec, the Colorado Avalanche would go on to have an incredible run in their first 10 years, finishing first in their division 8 times, and in second 2 times. But maybe most painful of all, the Avalanche would reach the Stanley Cup finals in their first year in Denver and go on to sweep the Florida Panthers in four games. Joe Sakic won the Conn Smythe trophy for most valuable player of the playoffs, leaving Nordiques fans to wonder what might have been had they stayed one more year? The Avs would go on to win another Stanley Cup five years later in 2001, when they defeated the New Jersey Devils in seven games.
Legacy & Future
A year after the Nordiques left Quebec, basically the same financial situation struck the Winnipeg Jets and the team moved to Phoenix, becoming the Phoenix Coyotes. Because of this, the NHL sought to protect Canadien teams from suffering the same fates as Quebec and Winnipeg by creating the Canadiean Assistance Plan. This was a revenue sharing agreement which helped support teams like the Flames, Senators, and Oilers while also protecting Canadien sports TV contracts. Eventually Winnipeg did get their team back when the Atlanta Thrashers relocated, and became the present day Winnipeg Jets. In the case of expansion, Quebec had hoped to land a new team but the NHL has thus far overlooked Quebec City, once in July of 2016 when the league owners voted to approve the Vegas Golden Knights and again in December of 2018 with the Seattle Kraken. Unfortunately, with the expansion bringing the league up to 32 teams it’s unlikely the NHL will be expanding again any time soon. This leaves a team relocating to Quebec it’s best hope of regaining another team. Maybe the Quebec Coyotes anyone?
But the city has been preparing for a new team for sometime. The old home Nordiques, the Colisée had continued to host minor and junior hockey teams up until 2015 when it closed permanently. This was to make way for a brand new 18,000 seat arena that would hopefully attract both the attention of the NHL and the Olympic committee (as Quebec City also sought to host a winter olympics). This new arena, known as the Videotron Centre opened on September 12, 2015, two days before the Colisée Pepsi (as it was then known) closed for good. Since then the Colisée has sat vacant, and had been slated for demolition by the end of 2020, but as of the recording of this video that has yet to happen.
In one last look back at the Nordiques time in Quebec, just before the team was sold, the owner Marcel Aubut wanted to shake up the look of the Nordiques from their usual branding. The plan was to drop the igloo and hockey stick logo in favor of a growling siberian husky (that clearly rips off the 90’s Mighty Ducks logo). And the logo spelled out Nordiques with an icicle in place of the “I”. The jersey’s would have had teal, black, and navy rather than the traditional red, white, and blue. Maybe a small consolation of having the Nordiques move away was that the fans never had to see this abomination take the ice. Speaking of uniforms, the NHL just recently announced special “Reverse Retro” Jerseys that honor each team’s history. With that, the Colorado Avalanche unveiled their jersey’s that feature the classic Nordiques logo. So it will be nice to see the iconic Nordiques logo take the ice once more, even if it is in Avalanche colors.
So what did you guys think about the Nordiques moving to Colorado? Do you think it’s a good idea for the Avs to be wearing the old Nordiques logo? Let me know in the comments below!