It’s Shark Week!
…And because it’s Shark Week, we gotta have Sharks!
Long before there was NHL hockey in San Jose, the Los Angeles Sharks took the ice as one of the 12 original WHA franchises.
Actually, at the very beginning of the WHA, before any teams took the ice, there was a San Francisco Sharks franchise… This was meant to be one of the original WHA franchises, but financial difficulties forced the league to sell the franchise to a group from Quebec, and the Quebec Nordiques were instead the flagship franchise in this spot.
The original name of the L.A. team was Los Angeles Aces, and the teams colors were red and black so it would seem like they were going for the playing card definition of “aces”. I thought this was kind of an odd name for a franchise in Los Angeles (as opposed to, say, Las Vegas).
…Then I found a quote from Harry Howell (then of the L.A. Kings) in early 1972. Harry, in talking about the “other” L.A. team, said “…they were going to call them the Aces, because Aces always beats Kings”. Ohhhhhhh!!!! I get it. It’s not exactly the pinnacle of wit, but I get it.
Anyway, when the San Francisco team essentially moved to Quebec before the season started, the Los Angeles franchise took on the Sharks name.
The Sharks finished their first season with a 37-35-6 record, finished 3rd in the West Division and made the playoffs. They would lose to the Houston Aeros in six games during the first round.
The second season wasn’t as successful, even though they lured Marc Tardif away from the Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens.
The Sharks finished in last with the league’s worst record (25-53-0). At the same time, the L.A. Kings were fielding a competitive team, so that also had an effect on the Sharks’ attendance.
According to Wikipedia, the Sharks were the first team in the NHL or WHA to play a full season without a tie.
In February of 1974, the Sharks were sold, and after the season they moved to Detroit to try to wrest the hearts and minds of Michigan hockey fans away from the less-than-dominant (at the time) Red Wings. The team was renamed the Michigan Stags, but poor attendance and the lack of a TV deal caused financial issues that resulted in the Stags folding that January. The league created a Baltimore Blades franchise to fill the Stags’ spot, but attendance was just as poor in Baltimore as in Detroit, and the league terminated the franchise.
As for notable L.A. Sharks players…
The biggest name to have played with the Sharks was the aforementioned Marc Tardif. By the end of the WHA, Tardif was the league’s top career goal scorer, second in career assists and third in career points. He was also a two-time winner of the Gordie Howe Trophy, awarded to the league’s MVP.
When I was reviewing the Sharks’ all-time roster, one of the names which jumped out at me was player/coach Ted McCaskill… and the reason his name jumped out at me is because I collect his son.
Kirk McCaskill pitched for the Angels and White Sox, but he was also the captain of his University of Vermont hockey team, and had been drafted by the original Winnipeg Jets in 1981.
Ted McCaskill played in the UK, played in the Eastern Hockey League and Western Hockey League, had 4 games with the Minnesota North Stars and 91 games over two seasons with the Sharks.
Normally with one of these Forgotten Franchises posts, I’ll talk about how long it took for a city to get another team… but in this case, Los Angeles already had the Kings, and I don’t think there were many people who missed the Sharks after they left. I’m sure there were some… the few, the proud, the L.A. Sharks fans.