Monday, May 27, 2013
The NHL had planned to expand in 1976-77 and had awarded "conditional" franchises to both Denver and Seattle. However, several franchises were having financial difficulties at the time, the California Golden Seals, Kansas City Scouts and Pittsburgh Penguins in particular. Due to the number of existing clubs having enough troubles of their own, the proposed expansion was called off and the Seals relocated to Cleveland to become the Barons while the Scouts moved to Denver after selling only 2,000 season tickets while finding themselves nearly $1 million in debt after playing just two seasons in Kansas City.
While in Denver, the Colorado Rockies continued the Scouts tradition of struggling to make the playoffs. Their first season record in Denver of 20-46-14 was a 13 point improvement over anything achieved in Kansas City, but they still failed to qualify for the playoffs. The club was led in scoring by Wilf Paiement, who set a franchise record that would never be topped with 41 goals with 41 and totaled 81 points.
Thanks to an increase of ties from 14 to 21, over 25% of the team's games and more ties than wins, they set a Rockies record with 59 points after going 19-40-21 and actually finished second in the horrid Smythe Division, which also had league doormats Vancouver (57 points), St. Louis (53) and Minnesota (45). Luckily for the Rockies, they resided in the Campbell Conference, as the Penguins failed to make the top six in the Wales Conference despite having 68 points in the standings! Paiement again led the team in scoring with 87 points, establishing the club record.
The one and only Rockies playoff experience was desperately brief, as the format of the opening round of the playoffs were then a best-of-three format and Colorado lost 3-2 at Philadelphia in Game 1 and followed that with a 3-1 loss in the only home playoff game in Rockies history as the Flyers swept them out of the playoffs two games to none.
The Rockies actually requested to relocate the team to New Jersey in 1978, but were turned down as their proposed home, the Byrne Arena had yet to be completed and no suitable temporary rink was available at the time. The Rockies point total dropped to 42 after a 15 win season in 1978-79 under two head coaches, Pat Kelly and Bep Guidolin. Paiement once more led the team in scoring, although his totals shrank to just 60 points.
Several new arrivals in 1979-80 attempted to infuse some hope in the fans, as Rene Robert came from the Buffalo Sabres to lead the team in scoring with 63 points and be named team captain. Additionally, the club traded for veteran Lanny McDonald and Don Cherry took over behind the bench as head coach. At one point the outspoken Cherry nicknamed his own goalie Hardy Astrom "The Swedish Sieve"!
Still, the league did the Rockies no favors by expanding in 1979-80 by allowing four WHA teams to join the NHL, with the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets being added to the Smythe Division, putting two more obstacles between the Rockies and the playoffs despite the increase in playoff teams from 12 to 16. Even with having their rosters purged by the terms of the expansion, Edmonton would qualify for the playoffs with 18 more points than Colorado and Winnipeg was able to tie the Rockies in points with 51.
McDonald took over the scoring lead with 81 points in 1980-81 and Rob Ramage on defense made his presence known with 62 points. Goaltender Chico Resch also arrived from the New York Islanders. The team scored a franchise high of 258 goals and improved to 57 points, but well short of the 74 needed to make the playoffs.
Their final season of 1981-82 in Denver was more of the same, with an 18-49-13 record for 49 points and the Rockies gave up 121 more goals than they scored, an average deficit of 1.5 per game. Brent Ashton edged Steve Tambellini 60 to 59 for the club scoring lead and Resch anchored the goaltending seeing action in 61 games and setting the franchise high with 16 wins.
The Rockies were not helped by having major stability issues during their time in Colorado. In six seasons they had three owners, seven head coaches and seven different team captains.
Finally on this date in 1982, the Colorado Rockies franchise was sold to Dr. John McMullen, who relocated the franchise to New Jersey and renaming the club the Devils, ending the Rockies six year run in Denver.
Today's featured jersey is a 1980-81 Colorado Rockies Lanny McDonald jersey. McDonald played seven seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs before being traded to the Rockies along with Joel Quenneville for Pat Hickey and Paiement. He was later traded to the Calgary Flames where he would play for eight seasons and retire after winning the Stanley Cup. His final regular season goal was his 500th.
When the team moved to Colorado from Kansas City, they retained the team's blue, red and gold jerseys, which conveniently matched those of the Colorado state flag, and developed a striking logo which borrowed heavily from the state flag while incorporating the imagery of the Rocky Mountains. The Rockies blue road jerseys were particularly attractive when compared to the home whites.
Aside from the addition of the player's names on the back in 1977, the Rockies jerseys remained unchanged during their time in Denver.
Today's video segment begins the Legends of Hockey profile on Lanny McDonald and discusses his departure from Toronto to Colorado and what he meant to the Maple Leafs before moving to to focus on his time in Calgary.
You knew it had to happen sooner or later, the video for "Rock and Roll, Part 2", first used as an arena anthem by the Colorado Rockies and then adopted by nearly every other professional sports team for over twenty years.
Just in case you were ever curious, here's the nearly forgotten "Rock and Roll, Part 1".