Lost in the shuffle among the flames spewing from yesterday’s #HotSharksTake was the passage of a special anniversary in the history of the San Jose Sharks, and one that encapsulates the franchise’s growth from its humble beginnings.
A year ago yesterday, the Sharks made their first ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. Tomas Hertl and Patrick Marleau scored the franchise’s first goals in the Final, but San Jose lost in its first appearance on the sport’s biggest stage.
Even in the loss, the roster was a far cry from the one constructed on the same date 25 years prior. It was on May 30, 1991 that the Sharks first took shape, upon the conclusion of that year’s Dispersal and Expansion Drafts.
Yes, the NHL held not one, but two drafts that year to compose the roster of the league’s newest franchise, as part of the complicated conditions that allowed hockey to return to the Bay Area. In 1990, the Gund Family sold their stake in the Minnesota North Stars in exchange for an expansion team that would play in San Jose.
That’s where things got a bit more complicated, as Sean McIndoe noted in a piece for The Hockey News last June:
As part of the deal, the Gunds were granted the right to stock their new team with players from their old one. That agreement was a controversial one, and new North Stars owner Norm Green eventually insisted on reworking the original deal. The final version called for the North Stars to be allowed to protect 14 skaters and two goalies, at which point the Sharks could start plucking players away. Once that was done, the two teams immediately moved on to a more traditional expansion draft format, one that saw both teams picking players from the rest of the league, even though one of them wasn't actually an expansion team at all.
The Sharks selected 24 players from the North Stars organization in the Expansion Draft, but only 4 NHL players, including future Sharks assistant coach Rob Zettler and future Ducks television analyst Brian Hayward.
The 19th pick of the expansion draft was the Sharks’ best, when they selected the first goaltender to win a series in teal: Arturs Irbe. Irbe, along with Rob Gaudreau and Tom Pederson, were the only players taken in the Expansion Draft who played for the Sharks in their first postseason appearance three years later.
The dispersal draft was less notable than the one that preceded it. Kelly Kisio, an all-star during San Jose’s otherwise abysmal 1992-93 season, was the “biggest” name selected looking back. None of the players the Sharks selected in the Dispersal Draft suited up in San Jose’s first playoff berth.
What a difference a quarter century made. 25 years after the earliest iteration of their roster was formed, the Sharks finally played in the Stanley Cup Final.
Their first Cup appearance, much like their first roster selections, was far from ideal, as San Jose lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Yet, a few individual moments (Donskoi’s Game 3 winner, Jones standing on his head in Game 5) will undoubtedly stand out in the memories of Sharks fans, just as Irbe and a few others emerged from San Jose’s first crop of largely forgettable players.
It’s fitting that the Sharks’ first Cup Final appearance fell on the anniversary of the beginning of their first roster. Here’s hoping the next May 30th milestone doesn’t take another 25 years.