The California Golden Seals have a long and storied history as the worst hockey franchise in the NHL’s 100-plus years of existence. So long and so storied, in fact, that it took author Steve Currier over 400 pages to document all of it in his book, “The California Golden Seals: A Tale of White Skates, Red Ink, and One of the NHL’s Most Outlandish Teams.” If you love a good story about a bad team, then this book is worth the read.
Currier goes way back to the beginning of the Seals’ story, when they played in San Francisco as part of the Western Hockey League, which was a competitor of the NHL. The Seals joined the NHL in 1967 as part of the league’s “Second Six” Expansion, partially because television stations wanted the league to have a presence on the west coast, and partially for the NHL to weaken the WHL by taking one of its best teams away.
It was all downhill for the Seals after that. The team was forced to move to Oakland by the NHL, even though it had a passionate fan base in San Francisco. The other five teams from the 1967 expansion — the L.A. Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues and Minnesota North Stars (now the Dallas Stars) — had their ups and downs, but still exist today. The Seals, on the other hand, struggled for nine years in Oakland, followed by another two terrible years as the Cleveland Barons, before folding.
As Currier explains, the Seals never really had a chance. It was plagued by bad ownership, good players who wanted to play elsewhere, terrible locations for home rinks, and a league that was indifferent to the whole mess. He spoke with former players, coaches, management and fans of the team, from its time in the Bay Area and its demise in Cleveland. Anyone who thinks that the Vegas Golden Knights “had it too easy” when building their expansion team should read this book and see how a poorly-built and poorly-run hockey team can crash and burn like the Seals eventually did.
Quote that epitomizes “The California Golden Seals”: It wasn’t easy being a Seals fan. Not only did the team rarely win, but it was barely noticed even when it lost. Look for pictures of Seals in hockey books, and you’ll surely notice the dearth of green and gold uniforms. It was as though the team never existed aside from a few shots of white skates coupled with snide quips about Finley’s eccentric behavior. Finley almost never attended games; he was more interested in his baseball team, so the Seals became almost invisible. In 1973-74 the seals didn’t even have radio or television coverage, because Finley didn’t think it was much of a priority. The NHL did little to promote the fact that there was a team in the Bay Area, even though they steadfastly refused to let it relocate.
What I like about “The California Golden Seals”: The book gives a very thorough history, covering hockey in the Bay Area as far back as the 1920s, all the way up until the San Jose Sharks entered the league.
What I do not like about “The California Golden Seals”: Despite the numerous photos, not one is in color — not even the photo on the front cover. That is a shame, because the book talks so much about the gaudy uniforms — from the gaudy green and gold Seals jerseys from the early 1970s, to the white hockey skates, to the sea foam green sweaters the Seals wore in their later years. But none of the black-and-white pics do any of these the justice they deserve.
“The California Golden Seals” is as comprehensive as a book can get on the history of a hockey team that existed 11 years. It’s a long, enjoyable read about the NHL’s worst franchise. ■
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.