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The Hartford Whalers were a North American professional ice hockey team based in Hartford, Connecticutmarker, U.S.marker. Known as the New England Whalers when they were members of the World Hockey Association (WHA) from 197279, the club played in the National Hockey League (NHL) from 197997. In 1997, the Whalers franchise was originally moved to Greensboro, North Carolinamarker and subsequently to Raleigh, North Carolinamarker in 1999, where it became the Carolina Hurricanes starting with the 1997–98 NHL season. As of 2009, the Whalers are the most recent NHL team to relocate.

The WHA days

New England Whalers logo 1972-1979
Whalers franchise was born in November 1971 when the World Hockey Association awarded a franchise to New Englandmarker businessmen Howard Baldwin, John Coburn, Godfrey Wood and William E. Barnes, to begin play in Bostonmarker. The team began auspiciously, signing former Detroit Red Wing star Tom Webster, hard rock Boston Bruins' defenseman Ted Green (the team's inaugural captain), Toronto Maple Leafs' defensemen Rick Ley, Jim Dorey and Brad Selwood, and former Pittsburgh Penguins' goaltender Al Smith. New England also signed an unusually large number of American players including Massachusettsmarker natives and former US Olympic hockey team members Larry Pleau (who had been a regular with the Montreal Canadiens the previous season), Kevin Ahearn, John Cunniff and Paul Hurley. Two other ex-US Olympians on the Whalers roster (Minnesotans Timothy Sheehy and Tommy Williams) had spent a significant part of their respective careers in Boston with Boston Collegemarker and the Bruins, respectively. The Whalers would have the WHA's best regular-season record in the 1972–73 WHA season, with Webster leading the team in scoring and rampaging through the playoffs, and behind legendary ex-Boston Universitymarker coach Jack Kelley, would win the inaugural Avco World Trophy, the WHA championship.

For the first 2½ years of their existence, the Whalers played home games at the Boston Arenamarker, Boston Gardenmarker, and The Big E Coliseummarker in West Springfieldmarker. With sagging attendance related to the ebbing of the early 1970s hockey boom in the Boston area, however, the franchise's owners decided to move it to Connecticutmarker, an area that, except for various minor league teams in New Havenmarker, had been largely bereft of pro hockey. The Whalers' ownership group was attracted to the city of Hartford. With many large corporations and an area rich in hockey tradition, Hartford was seen as a natural choice.

On January 11, 1975, the team played its first game in front of a sellout crowd at the Hartford Civic Center Coliseummarker. With the exception of a period in the late 1970s when the Whalers played at the Springfield Civic Centermarker while the Hartford Civic Center was being renovated (due to the collapse of a portion of its roof after a blizzard), the franchise was located in Hartfordmarker until it relocated to North Carolina for the 1997-98 season.

Though they never again won the league championship, the New England Whalers were a successful team, never missing the playoffs in the WHA's history, and finishing first in its division three times. They had a more stable roster than most WHA teams—Ley, Webster, Selwood, Pleau, and Tommy Earl would all play over 350 games with the club—and scored a major coup when they signed legend Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty from the Houston Aeros in 1977.

While the first two full seasons in Hartford were not glittering (the Whalers recorded losing records both years), the final two WHA seasons saw more success. They went to the finals again in 1978, with a veteran team spearheaded by the Howes—50-year-old Gordie led the team in scoring—future NHL stars Gordie Roberts and Mike Rogers, All-Star defenseman Ron Plumb, and forwards John McKenzie, Dave Keon and Mike Antonovich, and possessed of the league's best defense. The next season was not so fine, but while age finally caught up with Gordie Howe, the slack was picked up by Andre Lacroix, the WHA's all time leading scorer, acquired from the folded Aeros.

As it was one of the most stable of the WHA teams, it was one of the four franchises admitted to the National Hockey League when the rival leagues merged in 1979. Following lobbying from the Boston Bruins, one of the conditions of the merger stipulated that the Whalers were to drop "New England" from their name. The Howes, Rogers, Ley, Keon, Smith, Roberts and Lacroix would go on to wear the uniform of the Hartford Whalers. Most of the members of the 1978–79 Whalers were available as only Selwood, George Lyle and Warren Miller were reclaimed by their former NHL teams. Legendary goal scorer Bobby Hull would be acquired late that season in a trade with another former WHA team, the Winnipeg Jets, and play the last games of his career not only as a Whaler, but also as a member of the same team as his childhood idol, Gordie Howe (who also retired following the Whalers' first NHL season).

Career leaders (WHA, 1972–1979)

The NHL days

The Whalers were never as successful in the NHL as they had been in the WHA, yet they attracted a passionate fan base over the years. They only recorded three winning seasons in their eighteen years in the NHL, missed the playoffs ten times, and only once won a playoff series, earning the derisive nickname "Forever .500s" along the way. The team developed heated rivalries with the nearby Boston Bruins and New York Rangers — for home games against the Bruins especially, the Civic Center would have as many as a quarter of the fans in the seats from Boston, a two-hour drive away — achieving all-time records of 37–69–12 and 23–26–6 respectively against those clubs.

The Whalers' NHL history was plagued by disastrous trades, as the team repeatedly dealt away stars for several mediocre players in an attempt to gain depth. For instance, they traded star defenseman Mark Howe and their first NHL scoring leader, Mike Rogers, in separate deals for players and draft picks which never panned out, and also swapped hardrock defenseman Gordie Roberts for the remaining half-season of Mike Fidler's NHL career. While some trades proved beneficial, such as Chris Pronger for Brendan Shanahan in 1995, all too often the players acquired left Hartford as soon as possible.

The team had a brief moment in the sun in the 1985–86 and 1986–87 seasons. The Whalers finished fourth in the Adams Division in the 1985–86 regular season, and eliminated the first-place Quebec Nordiques in three straight games in the first round, winning their sole playoff series in Hartford. The Whalers then pushed the division finals to seven games, losing the final game 2–1 in overtime to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Montreal Canadiens. The following season, the Whalers won their lone division championship, led by centers Ron Francis and Ray Ferraro, emerging hardcore winger Kevin Dineen, superstar goalie Mike Liut, and troubled scorer Sylvain Turgeon. The 93 points earned that season were the most they would earn as an NHL team in Hartford. However, they were quickly eliminated in the first round by the Nordiques. While the team would make the playoffs for the next five seasons in a row, they never came close to duplicating their previous success.

The most psychologically damaging moment for the club was the 1991 trade of Francis to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Francis was one of the most popular players on the team, and held nearly every significant offensive record in the franchise's history (both WHA and NHL). The fans reacted with savage condemnation, and weren't willing to believe The Hockey News assessment that the Whalers had actually gotten the better end of the bargain. However, that evaluation was quickly debunked when Francis promptly helped the Penguins to two consecutive Stanley Cup titles. This trade is now considered arguably the worst in franchise history, as well as one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. Coincidentally, Eddie Johnston, the Hartford general manager who had orchestrated the Francis trade, would follow him to Pittsburgh as the Penguins' head coach two years later.

The Whalers went to the playoffs for the final time in 1992 behind Jimmy Roberts' coaching, but lost a dramatic double overtime Game 7 in the Adams Division Semifinal to the Montreal Canadiens, as Russ Courtnall scored on a turn-around shot. Roberts was fired thereafter, and while the Whalers had some stars in their remaining five seasons in Hartford — including forwards Geoff Sanderson, Pat Verbeek, and Andrew Cassels and goalie Sean Burke — they never again made the playoffs.

Departure from Hartford

Whaler banners and jerseys still hanging from the rafters of Hartford Civic Center in 2007.
In 1994, Compuware founder Peter Karmanos purchased the Whalers and pledged to keep them in Hartford for four years. However, two years later, frustrated with lackluster attendance and little corporate support, he announced that if the Whalers were unable to sell at least 11,000 season tickets for the 1996–97 season, he would likely move the team. Furthermore, ownership only made season tickets available in full-season (41-game) packages, eliminating the popular five- and ten-game "mini plans," in a strategy largely designed to spur purchases from wealthier corporations and individuals. Sales were underwhelming at the beginning of the campaign, and at the end of the 1995–96 season it was still unknown whether the Whalers would stay in Connecticut or move. However, thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign, and the creative efforts of many fans (who pooled together resources to purchase some of the full-season packages collectively) the Whalers announced that they would stay in Connecticut through at least 1997.

In early 1996, negotiations between the Whalers and Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland to build a new $147.5 million arena seemed to be going well. However, talks fell apart when Rowland and the state refused Karmanos' demand to reimburse the Whalers for up to $45 million in losses during the three years the new arena was to be built. The Whalers ownership ultimately gave up on the new arena, and on March 26, 1997, the team announced that it would be leaving Hartford after the season, one of the few times that a team announced it would leave its current city without having already selected a new city. Many suspect that Rowland never had any intention of building a new arena for the Whalers, as he harbored hopes of instead luring the New England Patriots to Connecticut. Those talks also fell apart after the state and the Patriots ownership failed to reach an agreement on a new stadium.

On April 13, 1997, the Whalers played their last game in Hartford, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2–1. Team captain Kevin Dineen, who had returned to Hartford midway through the 1994-95 season after a brief stint in Philadelphia, scored the final goal in Whaler history. In July, Karmanos announced the team would move to Raleigh, North Carolinamarker as the Carolina Hurricanes. After some difficult early years, the Hurricanes made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002, and won it in 2006.

The primary factors in the Whalers' departure from Hartford were market size and the lack of a modern playing facility. At the time, Hartford was the smallest market in the league. Additionally, the Whalers' marketability was severely limited by geography, as Hartford is located on the dividing line between the traditional home territories for New York City and Boston teams. For most of their NHL history, the Whalers attracted their biggest crowds when either the Rangers or Bruins came to town and brought thousands of their fans with them. In addition, the Hartford Civic Centermarker had a capacity of 15,635—the smallest in the league. It also had no luxury suites, and was attached to a shopping mall. As salaries throughout the league escalated and teams began moving into larger, corporate-sponsored stadiums with luxury suites and other amenities, it became apparent that a small-market team playing in an aging municipal arena with limited revenue streams could not compete in the NHL.

As of November 2009, only two former Whalers are still active in the NHL: Chris Pronger of the Philadelphia Flyers and Jean-Sébastien Giguère of the Anaheim Ducks. Michael Nylander has yet to make an appearance in the 2009-10 NHL Season and was placed on waivers by the Washington Capitals. Glen Wesley was the last Whaler still active with the Hartford/Carolina franchise until he retired on June 5, 2008, though his stint was not continuous, playing seven games for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2003 after a deadline deal before re-signing in Carolina in the 2003 offseason. Ron Francis returned to the renamed Hurricanes in 1999 and stayed through 2004, captaining the team's run to the 2002 Finals. Francis now serves as the associate head coach and director of player personnel for the Hurricanes.

Since the Whalers' departure, the city and local businessmen have made several efforts to return a team to Hartford. In 2006, developer Lawrence Gottesdiener began lobbying to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins and move them to a new Hartford arena, but the NHL discouraged both his bid and that of Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie in favor of keeping the team in Pittsburgh; in March 2007, the team announced plans to construct a new arenamarker and a 30-year lease contract with the city of Pittsburgh. After the Pittsburgh bid fell through, Gottesdiener made another bid for the Nashville Predators franchise with the hope of bringing them to Hartford. That bid was lost in August 2007, as the Predators ownership ultimately decided to sell to a local holding company that would keep the team in Nashville. Most recently, Hartford mayor Eddie Perez met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in January 2009 to discuss plans for a new arena in Hartford and the city's interest in bringing back an NHL franchise. Bettman commented that it would take significant interest and sponsorship to get a franchise back. With the current economic recession and new arena talks fading, an NHL franchise in Hartford looks unlikely for the forseeable future..

Theme song

The Hartford Whalers' official theme song was "Brass Bonanza," a tune composed by an aspiring musician Jack Say. The song is still very popular with Hartford crowds, and continues to occasionally be played at Civic Center events (including University of Connecticutmarker basketball games) and, in recent years, at Fenway Parkmarker during Boston Red Sox games and at the TD Banknorth Gardenmarker during Boston Bruins games. Continuing the hockey tradition, the song is also played at Sacred Heart Universitymarker, UConnmarker, Quinnipiac Universitymarker as well as Northeastern Universitymarker's and Boston Universitymarker's men's hockey home games.

Career leaders (NHL, 1979–1997)

Season-by-season record

Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, Pts = Points, GF = Goals scored for, GA = Goals scored against, PIM = Penalty minutes

WHA era

Season GP W L T Pts GF GA PIM Finish Playoffs
1972–73 78 46 30 2 94 318 263 858 first, Eastern Won Quarterfinals (Ottawa)
Won Semifinals (Cleveland)
Won Finals (Winnipeg)

1973–74 78 43 31 4 90 291 260 875 first, Eastern Lost Quarterfinals (Chicago)
1974–75 78 43 30 5 91 274 279 867 first, Eastern Lost Quarterfinals (Minnesota)
1975–76 80 33 40 7 73 255 290 1012 third, Eastern Won Preliminary (Cleveland)
Won Quarterfinals (Indianapolis)
Lost Semifinals (Houston)

1976–77 81 35 40 6 76 275 290 1254 fourth, Eastern Lost Quarterfinals (Quebec)
1977–78 80 44 31 5 93 335 269 1255 second, WHA Won Quarterfinals (Edmonton)
Won Semifinals (Quebec)
Lost Finals (Winnipeg)

1978–79 80 37 34 9 83 298 287 1090 fourth, WHA Won Quarterfinals (Cincinnati)
Lost Semifinals (Edmonton)
WHA Totals 555 281 236 38 600 2,046 1,938 7,211

NHL era

Season GP W L T Pts GF GA PIM Finish Playoffs
1979–80 80 27 34 19 73 303 312 875 fourth, Norris Lost Preliminary (Montreal)
1980–81 80 21 41 18 60 292 372 1584 fifth, Norris Did not qualify
1981–82 80 21 41 18 60 264 351 1493 fifth, Adams Did not qualify
1982–83 80 19 54 7 45 261 403 1392 fifth, Adams Did not qualify
1983–84 80 28 42 10 66 288 320 1184 fifth, Adams Did not qualify
1984–85 80 30 41 9 69 268 318 1606 fifth, Adams Did not qualify
1985–86 80 40 36 4 84 332 302 1759 fourth, Adams Won Adams Semifinal (Quebec)
Lost Adams Final (Montreal)
1986–87 80 43 30 7 93 287 270 1496 first, Adams Lost Adams Semifinal (Quebec)
1987–88 80 35 38 7 77 249 267 2046 fourth, Adams Lost Adams Semifinal (Montreal)
1988–89 80 37 38 5 79 299 290 1672 fourth, Adams Lost Adams Semifinal (Montreal)
1989–90 80 38 33 9 85 275 268 2102 fourth, Adams Lost Adams Semifinal (Boston)
1990–91 80 31 38 11 73 238 276 2209 fourth, Adams Lost Adams Semifinal (Boston)
1991–92 80 26 41 13 65 247 283 1793 fourth, Adams Lost Adams Semifinal (Montreal)
1992–93 84 26 52 6 58 284 369 2354 fifth, Adams Did not qualify
1993–94 84 27 48 9 63 227 288 1809 sixth, Northeast Did not qualify
1994–951 48 19 24 5 43 127 141 915 fifth, Northeast Did not qualify
1995–96 82 34 39 9 77 237 259 1834 fourth, Northeast Did not qualify
1996–97 82 32 39 11 75 226 256 1513 fifth, Northeast Did not qualify
NHL Totals 1,420 534 709 177 1,245 4,704 5,345 29,636
Grand Total 1,975 815 945 215 1,845 6,750 7,283 36,847
1Season was shortened due to the 1994–95 NHL lockout.

Notable players

Hall of Famers

Team captains

Note: includes both WHA Whalers and NHL Whalers

Retired numbers

After the move to Raleigh, the Hurricanes ceased to honor Ley's #2 and McKenzie's #19, and returned the numbers to circulation. Howe's #9 is not officially honored by Carolina, but has never been in circulation. Ron Francis's #10 became the Hurricanes first retired number, followed by Glen Wesley's #2.

First round draft picks

Note: This list does not include selections from the WHA.

Hartford Whalers individual records (NHL)

Franchise scoring leaders in Hartford

These are the top-ten point-scorers in franchise (excluding Carolina) history. The below statistics do not include WHA results.

Note: Pos = Position; GP = Games Played; G = Goals; A = Assists; Pts = Points; P/G = Points per game
Points Goals Assists
Player Pos GP G A Pts P/G
Ron Francis C 714 264 557 821 1.14
Kevin Dineen RW 587 235 268 503 0.85
Pat Verbeek RW 433 192 211 403 0.93
Blaine Stoughton RW 357 219 158 377 1.06
Geoff Sanderson LW 439 189 163 352 0.8
Player Pos G
Ron Francis C 264
Kevin Dineen RW 235
Blaine Stoughton RW 219
Geoff Sanderson LW 189
Pat Verbeek RW 192
Player Pos A
Ron Francis C 557
Kevin Dineen RW 268
Andrew Cassels C 253
Pat Verbeek RW 211
Ray Ferraro C 194

See also


External links

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