Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on May 9, 2015, on the 25th anniversary of the NHL officially granting the Bay Area an NHL franchise. It was lost on our website update.
Patrick Marleau & Joe Thornton were still in elementary school. The only sharks in the Bay Area were in the Pacific Ocean. The National Hockey League left the Bay Area twelve years ago for Cleveland. The year was 1988, a year that changed everything in San Jose, the South Bay, and eventually Bay Area.
While the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco 49ers were about to make championship runs, the city of San Jose was getting the itch to be noticed. It was already becoming the Capital of Silicon Valley with its massive tech boom. A few years prior, a group of San Jose citizens formed Fund Arena Now (FAN) and was contacting city officials and potential owners to land an NHL or an NBA franchise. On June 7, 1988, led by mayor Tom McEnery, San Jose voters passed a ballot measure to allocate local taxes on building an arena in San Jose’s soon to be redeveloped downtown area. It wasn’t easy. With 73,409 votes, 53% voted in favor, opposed to the 64,140 who were against. San Jose was about to have a state-of-the-art arena in a few years, now who would play in it?
The California Golden Seals last played at the then named Oakland Coliseum Arena in April of 1976. The Coliseum was playing host to an exhibition game between the Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings in October of 1988. The game sold out in 90 minutes. While a sign that pro hockey was desired in the Bay Area again, it also helped that The Great One, Wayne Gretzky was also playing with his brand new team. Perhaps that inspired the likes of James Hager and Randy Hahn among others. Yes, the Randy Hahn. Randy was an in-studio host for the Los Angeles Kings on Prime Ticket at the time. Hager and Hahn along with a few others formed a non-profit group called NHL Hockey San Jose. The group formed in December of 1988 and gathered at House of Pizza on South Almaden Boulevard. At a press conference, the group began a campaign to lure potential suitors for an expansion team to come to San Jose for the 1992-93 season.
One slight problem, the NHL wasn’t interested at the time to expand, and definitely not to San Jose. The league sent a “cease and desist” letter to Randy and NHL Hockey San Jose to stop using the NHL name in their name. Which, the group was hoping for because now they had been noticed. However, a league executive told Hahn, “if it’s not in ‘Frisco’, it’s not gonna happen,” he told KPIX’s Evening Magazine in 2005.
1989 came around and the group of hockey enthusiasts continues to meet at House of Pizza. The re-named Pro Hockey San Jose still had the goal of promoting the new arena as an expansion site. They handed out pamphlets at 49ers home games. Everything seemed to be in place, just waiting on when the NHL would expand. Meanwhile the city of San Jose finally starts considering professional hockey. Former Hartford Whalers owner Howard Baldwin and partner Morris Belzberg entered into an agreement with the City of San Jose to have exclusive rights to bring an NHL expansion franchise to the new arena. But, there was a development in Minnesota.
Minnesota North Stars owners George and Gordon Gund were getting nowhere on plans to build a new arena in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington. After failing to buy land around the Met Center, the Gunds threatened to move the North Stars to Oakland. The problem in Oakland was that renovations were needed to get to minimum NHL requirements. Something which the Oakland – Alameda County Coliseum Authority was not interested in, as they were pursuing the then Los Angeles Raiders to return to the East Bay. There were even rumors that the Gunds would help fund an arena in San Francisco where AT&T Park sits today, but those talks didn’t materialized. The NHL wasn’t interested in losing a presence in the America’s hockey capital. So a deal was reached between the Gunds and NHL President John Zeigler: Find an owner for the North Stars, and we’ll give you rights to an expansion team in the Bay Area.
On May 9, 1990, after negotiations between the Gunds and the Baldwin/Belzberg group, the North Stars were sold and staying in Minnesota (for the time being.) The Gunds were immediately given an expansion team to the Bay Area for the 1991-92 season.
NHL hockey was on its way back. It did have its hiccups though. The original plan for San Jose Arena was to be more of a basketball setup, and would be horrific for hockey (visualize the setup for the Islanders at Barclays Center.) The Gunds gave money to configure for NHL standards and add more luxury suites. (So if you ever wondered why some spots of the concourse were tight during intermission, you know why.)
25 years today, the San Jose Sharks were officially born. Through hard work, dedication, coming together as a community, we stand together; United in Teal.