With the NHL looking to expand to Seattle, a look back at the Canadiens players lost to the league’s growth in the 90s

Six expansions in 10 years give us many of the teams active right now.

With the news that the city council of Seattle has unanimously approved a $600 M renovation project for KeyArena, speculation has begun to ramp up that the National Hockey League will be more than happy to grant a new expansion franchise to the city.

The Montreal Canadiens, as one of the oldest teams in the league, have obviously been exposed to each one of the previous 12 expansion drafts, and have suffered some losses along the way.

The second article in this three-part series will look at the six expansion franchises added in the 1990s, focusing on the losses that the Canadiens have incurred.

A big thank you to Historical Hockey Stats & Trivia for providing tons of information on these events.

In Part I, we looked at the first five expansions, all held in the 70s. The league was largely stable in the 80s with 21 teams, with no additional teams added. Two teams relocated early in the decade with the Atlanta Flames becoming the Calgary Flames in 1980 and the Colorado Rockies becoming the New Jersey Devils in 1982.

Once the 90s came around however, the NHL hit the ground running with their sights set on making inroads into California and Florida. In 1990, the NHL voted to grow the league by three teams by 1992, so two rounds of expansion were planned over the next two seasons.

Expansion Draft #6: 1991 — San Jose Sharks, Minnesota North Stars

The 1991 expansion draft was the result of a messy situation between the owners of the Minnesota North Stars and the National Hockey League. After years of losing money in Minnesota, the owners of the team wanted to move the team to California, but the NHL wanted to maintain a presence in Minnesota.

A compromise was reached that the owners of the North Stars would be granted an expansion team in San Jose on the condition they sell their interests in the North Stars. As part of the concession, the Sharks would also be able to take a large number of contracts away from the North Stars in a dispersal draft. Then both teams would participate in an additional expansion draft and be able to select a player from each of the other clubs. The whole situation was messy, and summarized briefly for this article’s purpose.

For this draft teams were allowed to protect 16 players and two goalies; a rather generous protection list given that all first- and second- year pros were exempt from protection as well. There was however a minimum exposure requirement:

  • One goaltender with at least 60 minutes played in the NHL
  • One defenceman with 40 games played in the NHL in the 1990-91 season or 70 games over the last two seasons.
  • One forward with 40 games played in the NHL in the 1990-91 season or 70 games over the last two seasons./

The Canadiens had some hard choices to make regarding their roster as they had many promising players in the organization. For instance, they chose to protect AHL standout Benoit Brunet over Brent Gilchrist, and had to leave a trio of defencemen unprotected: Sylvain Lefebvre, Donald Dufresne, and Jean-Jacques Daigneault.

Amazingly enough, the Canadiens had defenceman Jayson More selected, the player obtained for Brian Hayward six months prior; a largely inconsequential player for the organization who spent his entire time with the AHL’s Fredericton Canadiens.

But why would the Sharks pick More over much more promising defencemen?

The answer lies in the fact that the Sharks picked with their heart rather than with their head. Sharks general manager Jack Ferreira picked More 10th overall in the entry draft in 1987 while GM of the New York Rangers, and traded for him when he went to Minnesota. So Ferreira had a long-established history with More, and chose him on that basis.

“We were convinced that we would lose one of our three young defencemen,” general manager Serge Savard said after the fact. “We instead lost the fourth available defenceman on our list and needless to say we are happy at this turn of events.”

Expansion Draft #7: 1992 — Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators

The next draft came immediately afterward, in 1992, welcoming two more teams. Existing franchises were allowed to protect 14 skaters and two goalies; two fewer than in the previous year’s draft. If a team lost a goalie in 1991, they would be exempt from exposing a goalie this time, and the same for defencemen. Since the Canadiens lost a defenceman in 1991, all their defencemen ended up being protected, which left very slim pickings for the Tampa and Ottawa teams.

Frederic Chabot was chosen by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of goaltenders, but he was immediately traded back to the Canadiens for Jean-Claude Bergeron. The Canadiens were shrewd in ensuring that Chabot would be eligible to be exposed by giving him a start during the season, meeting the minimum requirement for an exposed goaltender.

The first forward to be selected in the draft was Sylvain Turgeon, which didn’t surprise Serge Savard in the least. “We knew he was the most sought after forward among the list of unprotected players.”

Turgeon had a brief stint with the Canadiens spending only two seasons with the club.

Expansion Draft #8: 1993 — Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Florida Panthers

Still buzzing from expansion fever, the league decided shortly into the 1992-93 season that it would expand one more time. The lure of big money from Disney and Miami was too great for the NHL to resist.

Seeing how the previous expansion teams were struggling, the league decided to tighten the rules a bit for this expansion draft, specifying that teams could only protect nine forwards, five defencemen, and one goalie. First-year pros were exempt, but second-year players were not.

As these expansion rules benefited the Mighty Ducks and Panthers way more than they did for the Sharks, Senators, and Lightning, a supplemental draft was held between these five teams to help to try to level them out, the rules of which were too complicated to get into here.

The Panthers picked Jesse Belanger, which was seen as a bit of a loss for the Canadiens at the time because he was considered the successor to Guy Carbonneau as top defensive forward. He was the third forward picked overall and it was the first time he was ever drafted, having gone unselected in junior and in the NHL.

There was some talk that the Canadiens would try to reacquire him, but Belanger ended up sticking with the Panthers for a few seasons. He would eventually find his way back to the Canadiens for the 1999-00 season.

The other player lost was physical defenceman Sean Hill, to Anaheim.

“We lost depth, but we have players capable of filling the gap,” stated Savard once the drafts were complete. “For example we would have cried more if Pierre Sevigny was the one to be picked. Him we don’t hate, that’s for certain. He could play 10 years for our organization. But the two new teams have never seen him play in the NHL, so they skipped over him.”

Sevigny actually went on to play just 78 games in the NHL, with nine points on his resume. Hill played for 14 more seasons, adding 290 points in that span, 27 in his first year in Anaheim alone.

Listen to Andrew weekly on TSN 690 Radio Sundays at 8:05am on Habs Breakfast, part of Weekend Game Plan.

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