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Relocated NHL Teams: The Cleveland Barons

The Cleveland Barons were an ice hockey team that played in the NHL between 1976 and 1978. They were the second team in the City to use the name after the successful AHL franchise that had been based in the city from 1937 to 1973. The AHL’s Barons had tried on multiple occasions to move to the NHL but their requests were denied because the NHL had no intention to expand. Meanwhile in San Francisco, the California Golden Seals were struggling financially and efforts to get the California city to build them a new improved stadium were not bearing fruits. The Seals were playing at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, one of the smallest rinks in the NHL. A deal for the construction of a 17,000 seat arena that had been promised by then SF mayor Joseph Alioto fell through when he lost the election. Just weeks before the 1976/77 season, the league voted to allow the team to relocate to Cleveland. The new team would play in the 18,544 capacity Richfield Coliseum which was then the largest stadium in the league and one of the most modernized.

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The Barons were one of the most hapless teams in the league during their two seasons of activity. During the 1976/77 season, the Barons retained pretty much the same roster that they had in San Francisco largely due to the protracted nature of their move which left them with little time to sign players. They opened their competitive life with a 2-2 draw against the Los Angeles Kings on October 6, 1976. Their first win came three days later as they beat the Washington Capitals 6-3. 19 games into the season, they had built up a respectable 6-7-6 record, but this unraveled as they went on a 9-game losing streak. They kept up a trend characterized by long losing streaks interrupted by short bursts of form. Eventually the Barons finished the season with a 25-43-12 that was only good enough for last place. They were marginally worse off during the 1977/78 season. They opened the season with a 2-0 loss to the Kings but then went on a 4 game winning streak. In familiar fashion however, they went on 1-9-2 streak which ended with a 7-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies. After stunning the Stanley Cup defending champions Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in the next game, they were back to their usual selves as they lost three straight games with the last being a humiliating 11-1 thrashing by the Philadelphia Eagles. They ended the season again sitting last with a 22-45-13 record. The team’s combined goal tally was 230 goals which was dwarfed by a whopping 325 goals they conceded.

Why the Cleveland Barons were Relocated

The timing and the nature of the NHL’s entry into the Cleveland market was poor and this prevented the Barons from really making a foothold in the city. The inability of the Barons to sign new players meant that the team was stuck with the mediocre roster of the Seals. Sure enough, the team carried on with their losing ways and they failed to attract a solid fan base. Attendance at the Richfield Arena was constantly low and rarely ever passed the 10,000 mark. Over the two seasons, the average attendance at the Barons’ home games was just over 6,000. With gate collections making a significant proportion of teams’ revenues in those days, the Barons found themselves in severe financial trouble. By February of 1977, the Barons’ ownership had lost more than $2.4 million which meant that players and other staff were not paid their salaries in time. Only a $1.3 million bailout by league owners and the NHLPA saved the Barons from a players’ strike that would probably have meant a speedy demise of the team. Owner Mel Swig sold the team to George Gund at the end of the season for $5 million. Gund invested huge sums of money in the team but they failed to make a turnaround to their fortunes both on and off the ice. At the end of the 1977/78 season, the Gunds took over ownership of the Minnesota North Stars, another struggling franchise and merged it with the Barons. The North Stars were the surviving franchise but they were moved to the Adams Division in order to keep the division at four teams.

Cleveland Barons Notable Players

Dennis Maruk C 1976-1978

Al MacAdam RW 1976-1978

Dave Gardner C 1976-1978

Mike Fidler LW 1976-1978

Wayne Merrick C 1976-1978

Greg Smith D 1976-1978

Mike Christie D 1976-1978

Bob Murdoch RW 1976-1978

Bob Girard LW 1976-1978

Gilles Meloche G 1976-1978

Gary Edwards G 1976-1978

Bob Stewart D 1976-1978

Rick Hampton D 1976-1978

Jim Neilson D 1976-1978

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