What Happened To The Minnesota North Stars?

For twenty six years Minnesota (widely known as one of the best places for hockey) was home to a NHL team, the North Stars. So what exactly led to the team leaving after so many seasons? In today’s video we’ll take a look back at how the team’s struggles to stay relevant, and an owner’s mismanagement and personal scandals ultimately doomed the franchise’s chances of survival in Minnesota.

NHL Expansion

After the Brooklyn Americans folded in 1942,  the NHL had only six teams for nearly 25 years. Those teams would later be known as the original six, the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. By the mid 1960’s, even with the small number of teams the league had been quite successful, and the owners were fairly content on keeping the status quo. However, TV networks who were not satisfied with showing games in just six TV markets, began to put pressure on the league to add new teams in other areas. When it came to television, the league had some of what a complicated relationship with the medium. While the NHL was an early adopter in getting games televised before other sports, after the 1960 season the league actually chose to let their contracts expire and decided not to renew them for three seasons. The owners saw how TV boosted players’ popularity and marketability in other sports, and feared this would give NHL players more negotiation leverage when their contracts were up. Though, things changed when the rival hockey league, the Western Hockey League had expanded into the western markets where the NHL wasn’t at the time. The arrival of the WHL presented TV networks with another avenue to use in getting the NHL to rethink their opposition to expansion. The networks threatened to start negotiations with the WHL and show their games instead. Not wanting to blow the opportunity to control lucrative broadcast rights, and allow their rival to get a leg up, the league set out to double the amount of teams starting with the 1967-68 season.

Looking to establish a team in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, nine business partners formed an ownership group hoping to lobby the NHL. The group was most notably led by Walter Bush Jr (who helped create the successful minor hockey league, the CHL in 1955), and Robert Ridder (who managed the US men’s hockey team during the 1952 and 1956 Olympics). The state of Minnesota was certainly appealing to the league, as it has a long and rich history of producing some of the greatest hockey players, and is also home to some of the best high school and college programs in the world. With an expansion fee of $2 million dollars, a brand new NHL team in Minnesota was officially announced on February 9, 1966. The five other expansion clubs who were also announced were the Los Angeles Kings, California Seals (who would later change their name to the Oakland Seals during their first season), the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the St. Louis Blues. A few months later, and after a fan vote, the team decided on the name the  “North Stars” as their nickname. The name North Stars comes from the state’s motto, which translated into English means the “Star of the North”. On June 6, 1967 the NHL held an expansion draft where the new clubs could pick twenty unprotected players from the existing six teams. The North Stars had the fourth pick in the first round, and they selected goaltender Ceaser Maniago from the New York Rangers, as the team’s first choice. Maniago would go on to play for the North Stars for nine seasons, where he finally got a chance to be a regular starter after spending most of his career in the minor leagues. Maniago, (seen here getting his mask ready and preparing to hunt down some unsuspecting teenagers), was at the time of his retirement in 1978 in the top 25 goaltenders in NHL history in shutouts. The North Stars would later team Maniago up with goaltender Gump Worsley, who Minnesota convinced to come out of retirement at age 40. Worsley would play for the North Stars for five years between 1969 and 1974.  Worsley was notable for being the second to last NHL goalie to not wear a mask while playing, and when asked why he chose not to wear a mask he said, “My face IS my mask.” Part of the expansion agreement between the NHL and the new owners was that the North Stars had to build an arena that could hold at least 12,500 fans. The team broke ground on their brand new home later that fall, which would open a year later at a cost of $7 million dollars. Located in Bloomington, a suburb just outside Minneapolis, The Metropolitan Sports center, or more simply known as the “Met Center” would become the home of the North Stars for their entire existence while in Minnesota. 

The Early Years

The North Stars started their first season on the road in St. Louis against fellow expansion club, the Blues. Bill Masterton scored the franchises first ever goal, in what would end up being a tie game, 2-2 against St. Louis. A week and a half later, on October 21 1967, the North Stars played their first ever home game, defeating the California Seals 3-1. While the season got off to a decent start with Minnesota vying for first place in their division by mid season, the North Stars would suffer a tragic loss not long after this. On January 13, 1968, in another home game against the renamed Oakland Seals, Bill Masterton was knocked to the ice hard when two Seals players, Larry Cahan and Ron Harris collided with him. Masterton, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, hit the ice so hard that he began to bleed from his nose, ears, and mouth. Unable to regain consciousness, he was immediately sent to a nearby hospital where two neurosurgeons and three other doctors felt that his injury was too dire for surgery. Masterton never regained consciousness and passed away just 30 hours after falling to the ice. To this day he is the only NHL player to ever die from an injury suffered during a game. It would be another 11 years before the league made it mandatory for all new players to wear a helmet beginning with the 1979-80 season. Following his passing, the North Stars kept Masterton’s number 19 jersey from being assigned to another player, and formally retired it in 1987. Understandably, immediately following Masterton’ death, the North Stars began to struggle, losing the next six games in a row. But the team was able to clinch a playoff spot by the end of their first season, where they beat the Los Angeles Kings in a seven game quarterfinal. The North Stars moved on to face the St. Louis Blues in the semi final, once again pushing the series to seven games. But, with just one game away from reaching the Stanley Cup finals, Minnesota lost in a heartbreaker, losing to the Blues in double overtime. 

The early years of the North Stars were led by star players like team captain, Ted Harris, right winger Bill Goldsworthy, and defenseman Barry Gibbs (no, not Barry Gibb, Barry Gibbs) That’s the one. While the team was enjoying success on the ice, reaching the playoffs in five of their first six seasons, by the early 1970’s the North Stars began to face other competition outside the NHL. In 1972, the World Hockey Association formed in the hopes of rivialing the NHL’s popularity. One of the WHA’s twelve original teams were the Minnesota Fighting Saints, who played their home games at the newly opened St. Paul Civic Center in 1973. The two team’s arenas were only about twenty minutes apart driving distance, which made the close proximity a challenge when trying to compete for fans’ attention and business. It didn’t help that around this time, the North Stars had begun to struggle in their play, failing to reach the playoffs three seasons in a row between 1973 and 1976. The Fighting Saints meanwhile never missed the playoffs, and even outdrew the North Stars in attendance on several occasions. Still, the Fighting Saints gamble to spend freely on signing high quality players in the hopes of gaining a TV contract failed, and the team folded in 1976 due to financial problems plaguing the team. Things were not going well for the North Stars either, who in the 1977-78 season only managed to win 18 games. Interest and attendance for North Star games dropped off considerably, with the team averaging just over 8,000 fans per game in 1978. This placed them near the bottom of the league in attendance, second only to the Cleveland Barons who were also struggling financially. Because both teams were facing the reality of potentially folding, the owners of the Barons, Gordon and George Gund pitched somewhat of a radical idea to the NHL. The Gunds proposed merging the North Stars and the Barons together, with the North Stars staying in Minnesota while the Barons would cease operations in Cleveland. The Gunds would also assume the majority share of ownership in the North Stars, and Minnesota would absorb Cleveland’s players and personnel. With both sides in agreement, the NHL approved of the merger, and the North Stars moved from the Smyth Division into the Barons old spot in the Adams Divison starting with the 1978-79 season. 

Championship Runs

By the early 1980’s, the North Star’s fortunes began to change. On one memorable night in January of 1980, the Philadelphia Flyers visited the North Stars coming in with the longest unbeaten streak in the league at 35 games. In front of a record crowd at the Met Center, the North Stars fell behind the Flyers early in the game but then proceeded to score 7 unanswered goals. Minnesota would go on to end Philadelphia’s unbeaten streak, winning the game 7-1. The North Stars continued their success into the playoffs, sweeping the Maple Leafs in the first round and upsetting the favored Canadians in the quarterfinals in seven games. Minnesota’s luck would run out though, in the semi finals, when they were defeated by the Flyers in five games. Another notable event happened the following season on February 26, 1981 when the North Stars visited the Boston Bruins, and had a winless streak of 34 games while playing at the Boston Garden. Minnesota, who had a reputation of being somewhat of a pushover, decided that they finally had enough, and just seven seconds into the first period the team began to fight back. In what would become known as the infamous “Boston Brawl” the North Stars and Bruins repeatedly got into fights over and over again, taking an hour and thirty minutes just for the first period to finish. By the end of the game the North Stars led the league in the most penalties in one period with 34, the most penalties in an entire game with 42, and the most penalty minutes in one game, with 211 minutes. Although Minnesota would go on to lose the game, 5-1, the toughness the team showed would help them go on to win the next four out of five games. Thanks to star players like Dino Ciccarelli and Neal Broten, the North Stars reached the playoffs once more and got their revenge on the Bruins by sweeping them in the first round. They later defeated the Buffalo Sabers in the quarterfinals in five games, clinching a spot in the semifinals for the second year in a row. In a tough matchup against the Calgary Flames, Minnesota managed to defeat the Flames in six games securing their first ever trip to the Stanley Cup finals. Unfortunately, for the North Stars they faced the favored New York Islanders, who just a season before won their first Stanley Cup. The Islanders proved to be too much for Minnesota, winning the first three games of the series and taking a commanding lead. The North Stars did win the fourth game 4-2, managing to push the series to six games. But, the Islanders routed the North Stars 5-1 in game six, winning their second Stanley Cup in back to back years.

Starting with the 1981-82 season, the NHL realigned the divisions to allow for easier travel between teams, and reducing costs. The North Stars moved from the Adams Division (which mainly had teams in the north east) into the Norris Division (which with realignment became home to more centrally located teams). During the 1982 draft, the team moved up in the order, swapping picks with Detroit so that they could draft Brian Bellows, considered to be one of top prospects of the draft. Bellows would have an immediate impact on the team, scoring 35 goals and helping the North Stars win 40 games, and earn 96 points, the most in the franchise’s history to that point. Yet, Minnesota would lose to one of their closest rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks in back to back years in the playoffs. Losing in the division semi-finals in 1981, and the division finals in 1982. Sensing the team was close to becoming a winner, the North Stars decided to make some big changes hoping it would finally get the team over the hump. Murray Oliver was replaced as head coach by Bill Mahoney, and fan favorite player Bobby Smith was traded to Montreal for forwards Mark Napier, and Keith Acton. Minnesota went on to win 39 games and became Norris Division champions for the second time in three years for the 1983-84 season. During the playoffs, the North Stars finally beat the Blackhawks in the first round in five games. In the next round Minnesota faced the Blues, and defeated them in seven games. But their luck would run out in the Conference Championship, when the North Stars had a tough time against Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers, getting swept in four games. The defeat marked the end of an era for Minnesota, as the North Stars only managed to finish one more season with a winning record after this.

Fall and Rise Again

By the late 1980’s the franchise had hit a low point, when the team only won 19 games during the 1987-88 season. This placed the North Stars with the worst record in the league for the season, while the team also failed to reach the playoffs for the second season in a row. Which to be honest was quite the achievement since the rest of the Norris Division was also a mess. The Detroit Red Wings easily ran away with it, since they were the only team with a winning record. The poor play on the ice resulted in fans staying away from games, and from 1987 to 1991 Minnesota was routinely near the bottom of the league for attendance. The worst season came during the 1990-91 season when the North Stars averaged just below 8,000 fans per game. The only true bright spot during this period was the drafting of future hall of famer Mike Modano, who’d go on to later be named as one of the top 100 greatest NHL players of all time in 2017. The attendance problems were so bad that it drove the ownership into petitioning the league to relocate the franchise to the San Francisco Bay area in 1990. The NHL denied the North Stars’ relocation request, because other owners around the league thought that the area around San Francisco was ripe for an expansion team to be established there. The asking price of the $50 million dollar entry fee (which would be about $108 million dollars today) was too good of an opportunity for the other owners to pass up. 

As a compromise, the league gave the planned expansion club for the bay area to the Gund brothers, who in turn sold the North Stars for $38.1 million dollars to another business group. That other group, which had been trying to get a team in the bay area, was led by Morris Belzber, and Howard Baldwin (who is well known as a film producer, but might be better known for being one of the original founders of the Hartford Whalers hockey team). The other part of the deal was that the expansion club (which would eventually become the San Jose Sharks) would receive players from Minnesota, while the North Stars would get to participate in the expansion draft with the Sharks. Another member of the new ownership group, who joined late in the deal, was Norman Green, the former co-owner of the Calgary Flames. Green would ultimately buy out both Baldwin and Belzberg’s shares of the team, taking over controlling interest in the North Stars by the end of 1990. That season, the team would embark on the most unlikely runs to the Stanley Cup finals in NHL history. After Minnesota finished the regular season with a losing record of 27-39-14, the team still managed to make the playoffs, thanks to the league allowing 16 of the 21 teams into the postseason at the time. The North Stars would have to face the two top teams in the league that season in the first two rounds. They defeated their rival the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, winning the series in six games. And in similar fashion, Minnesota beat the Blues in six games in the next round as well. In the Conference Championship, the North Stars finally got over the hump defeating Edmonton in five games, clinching the team’s second ever trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. In a tough match up against Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the North Stars actually grabbed the series lead after the first three games, going up 2-1. Yet, the Penguins would go on to win the next three games and ended up blowing out Minnesota in game six, 8-0. This clinched the series and Penguins celebrated their first Stanley Cup. The following season, the team celebrated its 25th anniversary by updating the logo and uniforms, while also adding a commemorative patch. The logo featured the italicized wording of “STARS” and the use of black uniforms for the first time. The new uniforms would become a foundational piece in their overall branding for years to come. 


Norman Green, (seen here with his dogs who appear to be less than enthusiastic about being seen with him), was not satisfied with the North Stars home attendance which had only improved slightly despite the team enjoying success on the ice. Multiple issues surrounding the club and Green came to a head during this time. Number one, Green wanted to either find a new home arena, or get a new one built. He had spent some money on renovating  the Met Center, but even with the team playing well, the lack of attendance and stronger season ticket sales was disappointing to Green. Number two, the city had rejected Green’s attempt at trying to connect the Met Center to the adjacent Mall of America through further renovation plans, which was a blow to Green wanting to create better foot traffic to games. Number three, the only other viable arena option was the Target Center where the Timerberwolves played. However, the North Stars refused to play there due to the fact that the Target Center had a contract with Coca-Cola, while the North Stars were under contract with Pepsi, and were unwilling to break their agreement. Number four, Green had been under fire due to his personal conduct around the team, including multiple sexual harassment claims against Green from team employees. Green’s wife actually threatened to leave him if he didn’t commit to moving the franchise. At this point, the reality was beginning to set in that the North Stars would be relocating for real this time. Norm Green would later officially petition the NHL to move the team to the greater Los Angeles market, due to his interest in a brand new arena that was under construction in Anaheim (which would later be known as the Honda Center). Green had hopes to move the franchise there and become the “Los Angeles Stars”. 

But, the NHL had other plans for Anaheim, because the Walt Disney company was in discussions with the league to start a brand new franchise there. Once again the prospect of working with Disney, and their ability to market a team and by extension the league, was too good of an opportunity to pass up. In another compromise, the league told Green in exchange for letting Disney create the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, he could pick any other city of his choosing to move the Stars to. By January of 1993, Green had made his decision on where he was moving the franchise, and two months later, on March 10, 1993 the North Stars officially announced that they were relocating to Dallas, Texas. The legendary Cowboys quarterback, Roger Staubach had a hand in convincing Green to move the team to Dallas, saying that the city was ready and could easily support an NHL team. The final home game for the North Stars happened on April 13, 1993, in a 2-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. After the move, the team kept most of its branding from Minnesota, while keeping with Green’s original plan to change the team’s name to simply the “Stars”. The name worked well as a nod to the team’s history but also as a nod to their new home state’s nickname, “The Lone Star State”. Interestingly enough, the Stars’ return to Minnesota happened sooner than some may have thought. The NHL was still very interested in keeping hockey in Minnesota, and allowed for six neutral site games to take place there during the 1993-94 season. Ironically, the Stars ended up playing the Ottawa Senators in the Target Center just six months after the team had left for Dallas. In a surprise to no one, Norm Green made sure he had other business to attend to that night, and was not in attendance at the game. The crowd made sure to show their disgust for the move, where variations of the popular phrase “Norm Sucks” or “Norm Green Sucks” could be seen on many signs around the arena. The displeasure from the fans didn’t seem to impact the newly minted “Dallas” Stars, as they easily defeated the Senators, 6-1.

Into The Wild

After the team moved to Texas, the North Stars’ old home the Met Center was demolished on December 13, 1994. Amazingly, during the demolition, the first detonation attempt failed to bring down the building and required two more attempts before the arena finally imploded. Due to the Met Center’s close proximity to the Mall of America, the area eventually became an overflow parking lot for the mall, and later an IKEA store was built on the site. Meanwhile in Dallas, Norm Green had run into financial issues with his businesses outside of the Stars and in 1995 sold the team to an investor named Tom Hicks for $84 million dollars. As part of the deal, $70 million would go to paying off debts that the Stars had built up, while an additional $5 million would be paid to Green who would be kept on as a “consultant” over the next ten years. To fans of the North Stars, losing both the team and Met center was obviously a huge wound that would only grow deeper when just six years after the team left the Stars once again reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1999. After six games the Stars defeated the Buffalo Sabres, to capture the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup title. It was probably bittersweet to see players from the old North Stars team raising the cup, like Mike Modano, and finally becoming champions. Modano would later become the last remaining former member of the Minnesota North Stars to retire from the NHL, which he did on September 23, 2011.

In the following years after the North Stars left, politicians and business groups within Minnesota refocused their efforts on regaining an NHL team. It just so happened that around this time, the original Winnipeg Jets were struggling financially and were limited by having one of the smallest capacity arenas in the NHL at the time. By late 1995, the team was sold to a group of investors led by Steven Gluckstern, and Jerry Colangelo who were interested in moving the Jets to Minnesota for the 1996-97 season. However, negotiations to have the new Minnesota team play at the Target Center fell through and Gluckstern and Colangelo opted to move the Jets to the Phoenix, Arizona area instead, becoming the Phoenix Coyotes. Which business wise made more sense for Colangelo, as he also happened to be the owner of the Phoenix Suns NBA team as well. As disappointing as that was for people in Minnesota, there would soon be reason to hope once more. In 1997 the NHL officially announced their intention to expand the league by four teams, going from 26 teams to 30. Businessman Bob Neagele, Jr, petitioned the league for an expansion club to be located in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and become the main investor of the ownership group. The four new clubs were announced on June 25, 1997, with Minnesota set to begin play in the 2000-01 season. Along with Minnesota, the other franchises began in staggered phases with Nashville beginning play in 1998, Atlanta in 1999, and Columbus starting in the year 2000. The team came up with six different potential names, featuring nicknames like the Minnesota Northern Lights, the White Bears, the Blue Ox’s, the Voyageurs, the Freeze, and the eventual winning name the Minnesota Wild. Part of the deal to bring the NHL back, was that the team needed to build a new home facility. So on the site of the old St. Paul Civic Center (which was demolished in 1998), a brand new $170 million dollar arena was constructed. The Xcel Energy Center opened on September 29, 2000 ushering in a new era for hockey in the twin cities seven years since the North Stars last played in Minnesota,. Although the North Stars legacy and history remains in Dallas, the Wild have on occasion paid homage to their predecessors. During the 2020 season, the team introduced an alternate jersey as part of the league-wide “Reverse Retro” series, which was inspired by the North Star’s 1978 jerseys. One obvious difference being the Wild logo changed to fit the North Stars iconic green and gold look.

So what did you guys think of the North Stars moving to Dallas? What do you most remember about the North Star’s time in Minnesota? Let me know in the comments below!


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