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Dallas Stars Deep History: 1979 and The Fates of a Few Captains - Part 1

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Guest writer and long-time DBD reader waywardstars takes us on a long and detailed journey to find out

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Following Wayward Stars is my attempt at mapping the transformation of the Dallas Stars' roster through the years. Trades wend and wind through history creating awesome trade trees whose roots span decades, hockey's version of string theory. Trying to limit this down to a cogent topic is difficult, as there is always another interesting bit of trivia to reveal.  I love articles where people like Josh translate advanced stats. And I look forward to prospect previews from Huw. But here is an article I think I can provide some insight. I like to look at history and attempt to establish the narrative for the time. This one was delayed by a treacherous laptop and massive wall-of-text-ness, so it will be presented in two parts.  Here is Part 1:

I. Welcome to the Stage of History

When they first entered the league in 1967, the North Stars were among the six expansion franchises that were the first teams to join the NHL since 1941.  The Original Six era was twenty-five years long.  The next twenty-five years would see the league continuously expand and quardruple.

The North Stars joined the other Expansion Six franchises in the newly created West Division, while the Original Six were formed into the East Division.  For the next three seasons, eight out of twelve teams made the playoffs.  In their inaugural season, the North Stars made the playoffs with a losing record.

In 68, they finished last in the league with 18 wins, and out of the playoffs.

In 1969, they made the playoffs, though they only added one win to their total to make it 19 wins on the season.

The NHL expanded again in 1970, adding the Sabres and the Canucks.  The North Stars made the playoffs again.

The North Stars posted their first winning season in 1971,  making the playoffs.

They liked having a positive Win/Loss ratio so much, that they repeated the feat in 1972.  '72 also saw the league expand again, with the Atlanta Flames and Islanders joining the fray.

After making the playoffs for five of their first six seasons, the North Stars would fail to make the playoffs for five of the next six seasons.  1973 saw the North Stars fall to cellar, with only the Islanders and Golden Seals beneath them.

1974 the NHL expanded again, adding the Kansas City Scouts and the Washington Capitals.  The Clarence Campbell and Prince of Wales conferences were established this season, as were the Patrick, Adams, Smythe and Norris divisions.  The North Stars moved from their home in the West Division to the Smythe division.  Again, out of playoffs.

The league and the North Stars stayed the same in 1975, the league at eighteen teams, the North Stars at fourth in the Smythe, out of playoffs.

1976 saw the league landscape change as the California/Oakland Seals moved and became the Cleveland Barons.  The Kansas City Scouts moved and became the Colorado Rockies.  The North Stars made the playoffs!  And got booted out by the Sabres in a sweep.

1977, no league changes, but the North Stars got back to cellar dwelling in the Smythe, missing the playoffs.

As the 1977-78 season closed, the North Stars and the Barons were struggling to fill their arenas and make payroll.  The Barons actually missed paying payroll twice, and only a loan/gift from the NHL and NHLPA allowed them to finish the season.  The North Stars were not quite as bad financially, but attempting to draw crowd to watch losing pro hockey was a difficult draw.  Especially when there was winning HS and college hockey easily available.  With both teams struggling, and it appearing they may fold midseason and the NHL would look similar to the WHA, the league approved a novel plan.

The Barons and North Stars would merge operations.  More knowledgeable folks than your humble historian note that the North Stars benefited greatly on the ice, with Dennis Maruk, Giles Meloche and Al MacAdam moving to the North Stars.  The Stars also drafted Bobby Smith with 1978 1st overall.  The North Stars did lose players from both franchises due to a dispersal draft taking place, but they protected the best talent they could.

Things didn't improve immediately on the ice, as the North Stars finished fourth in the Adams, the divisional spot formerly occupied by the Barons.  The North Stars closed out the the 1978-79 season in the same manner they had played for a majority of the Seventies, with massive change on the horizon.

II. WHA joins the NHL

The World Hockey Association saw there was room for professional hockey in several big markets in North America, and created a league in 1971.  The WHA existed for less than a decade, but it's legacy perseveres through players rights and salary escalation.  Before the WHA, the NHL drafted a kid, and he would play for his NHL club, or he would not play at all.

This reserve clause, where a player was bound to an NHL team, even without a valid contract, was struck down by the WHA.  In it's first year of operation, sixty-seven players jumped to the WHA.  The WA intended to use higher salaries to players to lure stars.  It worked, as Bobby Hull joined the charge to the greener pastures.  The WHA also freely signed European players instead of 'good ol' Canadian boys'TM.

Sadly, the Oil Crisis and recession of the mid to late seventies hit the WHA hard, as it struggled to maintain any semblance of permanence.  I've mentioned Arkansas family trees before... and attempting to map out the WHA league structure is very similar.  This is a league where teams moved and/or folded mid-season.  Of slight interest, the Minnesota Fighting Saints were active from 72-76, and drew money from Minneapolis over to St. Paul.  Since competition for the few people who liked to watch losing hockey was so fierce...

In 1977 the NHL voted down a  plan to merge with 6 WHA teams.  These teams would have been the Oilers, Whalers, Nordiques, Jets, along with the Houston Aeros and Cincinnati Stingers.  The NHL believed that the WHA would wither on the vine, but their continued persistence rewarded the surviving clubs in 1979.  The NHL passed a vote to allow the Oilers, Whalers, Nordiques and Jets to pay 6 million dollars to join the NHL.

The Jets won the final game in WHA history when they defeated the Oilers to win their third AVCO World Trophy  Yes, there was branding rights being sold in the 70s.

As the four former WHA teams joined the NHL, several processes happened to satisfy NHL owners' rights, and attempt to flesh out the former WHA teams' rosters.

The North Stars owned the rights of several players who were members of WHA teams, and exercised their option to reclaim four of them.  Cal Sandbeck, Dave Semenko, Payl Shmyr(who became a team captain) and Greg Tebutt were all reclaimed by the North Stars.

In the expansion draft that followed, the North Stars lost Eddie Mio, Pete LoPresti, John Baby, Ken Kuzyk, and Jim Roberts.

For the North Stars this ended a rather tumultuous two year period.  The NHL now consisted of twenty-one teams.

III. Shakedown, The First Round

The North Stars entered the summer of 1979 after missing the playoffs for five of the past six seasons and enduring merger and expansion.  Having 1978 draft picks Bobby Smith and Steve Payne, the transplants from the Barons and a decent pick in the 79 draft, the franchise was hoping for change.

In the first round for 1979, they drafted Craig Hartsburg 1st #6 and Tom McCarthy 1st #10.

Craig Hartsburg

Craig was a teammate of Gretzky's in junior.  He signed as an underage free agent with the Birmingham Bulls of the WHA in June of 1978.  With the collapse of the WHA, he re-entered the Entry Draft.  He played a strong defensive game and was nominated for the Norris Trophy in  1981-82.    His served seven seasons as the North Stars Captain from 1982 to 1989, replacing Tim Young.  He was the longest tenured Captain in Stars franchise history until a hulking defenseman unseated him with a reign from 1995-2003.  He retired young, only 30 years old after losing two seasons to hip injuries.  He missed over 50 games each of his final two seasons.

Craig Hartsburg 1979, #6 Overall by the North Stars

Season

Team

League

GP

G

A

Pts

PIM

1978-79

Birmingham Bulls

WHA

77

9

40

49

73

1979-80

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

79

14

30

44

81

1980-81

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

74

13

30

43

124

1981-82

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

76

17

60

77

117

1982-83

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

78

12

50

62

109

1983-84

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

26

7

7

14

37

1984-85

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

32

7

11

18

54

1985-86

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

75

10

47

57

127

1986-87

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

73

11

50

61

93

1987-88

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

27

3

16

19

29

1988-89

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

30

4

14

18

47

WHA totals

77

9

40

49

73

NHL totals

570

98

315

413

818

He became an assistant coach for the North Stars immediately after retiring.  He became a head coach at the NHL level, but never achieved great success, his stint in Ottawa was rather miserable and is probably where many of us modern fans know his name.  He continues to coach, currently an assistant coach with the 'Lumbus Blue Jackets.

Tom McCarthy

In 1977, Tom was the 1st overall pick in the OMJHL Midget Draft, selected along with Steve Peters before some runt of a kid named Wayne Gretzky.  For the North Stars he became an inconsistent scoring forward, he scored as many as 39 goals one year, but struggled with injuries.  He completed a full season once, and skated in greater than 75% of the season two other times.  On May 16th, 1986, he was traded to the Bruins for 1986 3rd #55 (Rob Zettler) and 1987 2nd #35 (Scott McGrady).

Tom McCarthy 1979 #10 Overall by the North Stars

Season

Team

League

GP

G

A

Pts

PIM

1979-80

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

68

16

20

36

39

1980-81

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

62

23

25

48

62

1981-82

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

40

12

30

42

36

1982-83

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

80

28

48

76

59

1983-84

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

66

39

31

70

49

1984-85

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

44

16

21

37

36

1985-86

Minnesota North Stars

NHL

25

12

12

24

12

NHL totals

460

178

221

399

330

In TMZ style news, he was sentenced to five years and ten months for conspiracy to traffic drugs in 1994.  As a Canadian citizen and considered an illegal alien, he spent time at Leavenworth Penitentiary Federal Prison before being transferred back to Canada.  He returned to coaching and is now the head coach of the Espanola Riverman of the NOJHL.  I wonder if he can travel to the US...

IV. The Second Round of 1979 That Never Was

The North Stars did not own their 2nd round pick in the '79 draft, as they had traded it for a steady, exceptionally mature for his age defenseman with outstanding leadership.  Sadly, Bill Nyrop never truly played for the North Stars.  Nyrop had stepped away from the game before the 1978-79 season to study law after winning the Cup twice with the Canadiens.

The North Stars knew this, but on August 8th, 1979, the day before the draft, they traded 1979 2nd #27 (Gaston Gingras), and a 1980 2nd that was changed to 1982 2nd #32 (Kent Carlson).  This trade is not truly part of this narrative, that has already wended and wound far too much, so I won't throw up player stats for these fellows, but I wish to highlight two key pieces about this trade.

The North Stars could have selected any number of people in this draft with this pick.  Still on the board was some cat named Lindy Ruff who went 2nd #32.  There was some kid named Neal Broten that the North Stars had plans for.  Drafted in the later rounds, there were dudes with the names Carbonneau, Hunter (Dale and Tim) and Glenn Anderson.

But this raises my other point, the North Stars traded for a winner.  Bill Nyrop was an exceptional person, a true winner, who did attain his Juris Doctor after he retired from hockey.  He retired after returning to play for one and a half seasons with the North Stars.  He hung his shingle, but returned to hockey after six years, eventually becoming a minor league owner and coach, and leading his club to three straight league championships.  He only sold his interest in the club after he was diagnosed with colon cancer and died frighteningly young at 43.  Trying to read between the lines with a dearth of newspaper articles compiled online for the time makes it difficult to trace the timings and thoughts of these trades.

As the second round wound down, the North Stars realized that a rather special kid from Minnesota was still available.  So the North Stars pulled a trade with the Oilers to jump back into the very last spot of the second round.

***

Tune in next time to discover who and what was traded between the Oilers and the Stars on August 9th, 1979!