With Charlie Finley out of the picture, the team set about rebuilding its image. Gone were the bright yellow and green uniforms only to be replaced by pyjama-style Pacific blue and California gold duds. Under the guidance of Garry Young, who was rehired by the NHL, the Seals traded away their best veterans, Ivan Boldirev, Walt McKechnie, and Reggie Leach, for prospects and help on defense. Jim Neilson, Len Frig, and the gritty Mike Christie were brought in to stabilize the blue line, and their positive impact was reflected in the fact the Seals reduced their goals against from 342 to 316 to 278 the following year. The situation was similar to the one in which Young had found himself in 1971; the roster was razor thin and there were few talented prospects in the system, but that would all change. Most of the overhauled roster would comprise of rookies such as forwards Al MacAdam, Charlie Simmer, Dave Hreckhosy, and Larry Patey, and first-round pick Rick Hampton, who would eventually become the Seals’ all-time leading scorer among defensemen. For a short while, the Wrecking Crew Line of Hreckhosy, Ron Huston and Warren “Butch” Williams were a sensation in the Bay Area as the Seals put together a 8-7-3 stretch just before the All-Star break.
In 1974-75, rookie-of-the-year candidate Dave Hreckhosy led the Seals with 29 goals
Then there was goaltender Gary “Cobra” Simmons, the tattooed, cowboy boot-wearing teetotaler who once walked into the dressing room with two Doberman Pinschers. Before signing with the Seals, Simmons insisted there be a clause in his contract stating he would never have to wear neckties on road trips even though it was club policy to do so. He also took great pleasure disgusting referees by chewing tobacco on the bench and spitting the juice near the blue line where they had to stand. He would take some of the workload off Meloche’s shoulders, and he helped give the Seals one of the best 1-2 goaltending punches in all of professional hockey.
Gary Simmons wearing his famous “Cobra” mask, which now resides in the Hockey Hall of Fame
Garry Young would not be around long enough to see the improvement in his team as he resigned before the start of the season, and he later became the head coach of the St. Louis Blues, but Young’s fingerprints were all over this youthful roster. The Seals showed tremendous promise, but much like in 1971-72, the Seals fell apart in the second half, this time costing coach Marshall Johnston his job. New general manager Bill McCreary took over himself behind the bench, but players were upset the prickly McCreary had fired the popular Johnston. McCreary and Ron Huston never quite got along, and at the end of the season, McCreary traded Huston to Phoenix of the WHA. Dave Hrechkosy, who had just lost his set-up man, also lost his scoring touch, and would also get traded before the next season was over. The 1974-75 Seals finished last in the new Adams Division with just 51 points, but it was still a 15-point improvement from 1973-74. At the end of the season, McCreary promoted Salt Lake Golden Eagles coach Jack Evans, and he would remain behind the team’s bench the next three seasons.
After more than a year of waiting, the NHL finally found an owner for the orphaned Seals. Respected San Francisco hotelier Mel Swig bought the club intending to move operations to a brand new state-of-the-art arena in San Francisco. The future looked promising in the Bay Area as the club averaged over 6,000 fans per game for the first time in three years.
The club did away with the traditional leaping seal image in favour of this logo, which was used from 1974-76
The 1975-76 Seals finally regained the momentum they had lost after the WHA raids of 1972, and they challenged for a playoff spot most of the season. The 3-M Line, consisting of Al MacAdam, Dennis Maruk, and Bob Murdoch, set numerous club records while supporting players such as Rick Hampton, Gary Sabourin, and Wayne Merrick hit career highs in points. Dubbed the “record-breaking season,” the Seals set or equaled over thirty club marks and recorded their highest point total in seven years. On January 25, the Seals were on a 7-1-1 streak, by far the best stretch in club history, and the club was looking at setting records for most wins and points in a season. However, as was customary in Seals history, the second half of the season was a letdown, and the club finished the year 27-42-11.
Despite another season out of the playoffs, attendance climbed to 6,944 per game, a franchise record, but Mel Swig could not convince San Francisco city council to build the team a new rink. The 12,089-seat Coliseum was too small, and if the Seals had any chance of surviving, they would need a bigger rink. Swig had been given assurances from good friend, San Francisco mayor Joe Alioto, that building the new rink was a done deal, but in 1976, when new mayor George Moscone and his council studied the proposal, the arena deal fell through. The club had no choice but to move elsewhere. Why ownership thought Cleveland was the Promised Land is anyone’s guess. “They went as far as they could,” explains Seals play-by-play man Joe Starkey. “They tried very hard. I think at the last minute they really were desperate to try to keep it. Nobody wanted to go. Swig certainly is a three-generation San Franciscan. His family name in the city is magic. He owned the Fairmont Hotel. There’s no question they wanted to stay, but they were also hedging their bets because they thought they weren’t going to be able to, so I think that even at the last moment, if something had been done for the new arena I think they would have cancelled Cleveland in a heartbeat… It was a stunner. I didn’t see it coming. I mean, maybe I was just naïve then as a young broadcaster, but I kept thinking all along that they can’t be this dumb, that they would not be bright enough to realize what a value it would be to have a major sports arena in downtown San Francisco.” On July 14, 1976, the California Golden Seals died, only to be reborn soon after as the Cleveland Barons.
Thanks to Chris Creamer of Sportslogos.net for graciously allowing me to use the Seals and Barons logos featured on this site. Please visit his excellent and fascinating site at http://www.sportslogos.net. Other photos found on Google Images.