Wednesday, April 13, 2011
A charter member of the World Hockey Association in the 1972-73 season, the New England Whalers actually started out life in Boston, Massachusetts in the backyard of the mighty Boston Bruins, who were fresh off a Stanley Cup winning season.
The Whalers gave it their best shot and not only finished with the best record in the new WHA with a 46-30-2 record that year, but also captured the inagural Avco World Trophy by winning three rounds of the playoffs by identical 4 games to 1 totals.
The Whalers lasted 2 1/2 seasons in Boston, but sagging attendance led the owners to relocate the team to Hartford - in mid season! The Whalers were successful in Hartford, still playing as the "New England" Whalers, never missing the playoffs in it's seven years in the WHA.
Easily the most recognizable names to play for the New England Whalers in their WHA days were hockey legend Gordie Howe and his sons Mark Howe and Marty Howe.
With the "merger" of the WHA and NHL, the Whalers were one of the four teams to survive the end of the WHA, but because of lobbying by the Boston Bruins, one of the conditions of the Whalers being allowed into the NHL was the dropping of "New England" from the team's name.
The move to the NHL was a rough one for the Whalers and they only had three winning seasons for their eighteen years in the NHL. While they did manage to qualify for the playoffs eight times, including seven in a row from 1986 to 1992, they only won a single playoff series in their NHL history, knocking out fellow WHA refugee the Quebec Nordiques in an opening round best-of-five three games to none in 1986.
One reason for the Whalers failure to improve was a history of horrible trades, including Mike Rogers (5th in NHL scoring in 1980 and 7th in 1981), Mark Howe, Gordie Roberts, Chris Pronger, Brendan Shanahan, Paul Coffey and worst of all, fan favorite Ron Francis.
Following their run of playoff appearances, they sunk back down in the standings and missed the playoffs for their final five seasons in Hartford.
The demise of the Whalers in Hartford began in 1994 when the club was purchased by Peter Karmanos, who quickly grew frustrated by the corporate support in Hartford and mediocre attendance. Karmanos began to make demands, including the sale of 11,000 season tickets and the desire for a new arena.
The negotiations for a new arena disintegrated when Karmanos demanded that the state of Connecticut reimburse the Whalers for up to $45 million in losses during the three years the new arena would be under construction. When the team gave up on getting a new arena, they announced on March 26, 1997 that they would be moving but had yet to pick a destination!
The Whalers final game was played on this date in 1997, a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, with Kevin Dineen scoring the final goal in Whalers history.
Many factors worked against the team in Hartford, including Hartford being the smallest market in the NHL, it's arena having the smallest capacity in the league and few private suites, and being located in between long time hockey cities of Boston (102 miles) and New York (122 miles).
The Whalers statistical leaders for their time in the NHL include Francis, who holds the record for Most Games (714), Goals (264), Assists (557) and Points (821) and goaltenders Sean Burke, who has the most Games Played (256), and Mike Liut, who holds the marks for Most Wins (115) and Shutouts (13).
Today's featured jersey is a 1979-80 Hartford Whalers Gordie Howe jersey. This is the first style of jersey worn by the Whalers franchise when they entered the NHL. Their original green road and white home 1972-73 WHA jerseys featured a "W" with a harpoon in a circle, which was simplified to just a larger "W" and harpoon, with the addition of gold trim to their green and white colors, for 1973-74. Those jerseys survived relatively unchanged for the remainder of their days in the WHA.
Upon entering the NHL, and undergoing their name change from "New England" to "Hartford" they club modernized their jerseys, debuting a clever new logo of a "W" topped off by a whale tail, with the negative space creating a subtle "H" for those clever fans who studied it long enough. The addition of blue trim made for an attractive set of jerseys, still topped off by the "Pucky the Whale" shoulder patches, worn since day one in the WHA.
That set of jerseys underwent some minor changes in striping, plus an experiment with the controversial Cooperalls in 1982-83, and the elimination of "Pucky the Whale" in 1983-84, but remained essentially the same basic jersey until the 1992-93 season, when a radical redesign saw the road jerseys no longer green for the first time in club history, as blue was the new main color.
Today's video section begins with the final goal in Whalers history, scored in this date in 1997 by Whalers captain Kevin Dineen.
Here is a report showing the end of that final Whalers game, although it is in French, the images capture the moment and there is also some good historical footage and photos of the Whalers.
No post about the Hartford Whalers would be complete without a mention of the Whalers theme song, "Brass Bonanza", also known as the "Whalers Victory March". Adopted by the Whalers as their theme song during their days in the WHA, it remained so through their years in the NHL. Gordie Howe was once quoted as saying that he loved to hear it as a visiting player for the Houston Aeros, but hearing it every night with the Whalers "began to drive me nuts."