Cleveland should never have gotten an NHL franchise in 1976; the city simply wasn’t an ideal location. The beautiful Richfield Coliseum was situated 26 miles out of town, and one could only get there by a two-lane highway. The WHA’s Cleveland Crusaders learned that lesson the hard way, and folded after four seasons, but the Seals, always suckers for punishment, took the plunge and settled themselves way out in middle-of-nowhere Ohio. The season started off well for the Barons as the 3-M Line picked up where it had left off the year before, and the team went 6-7-6 its first 19 games (anything close to .500 was considered good with this franchise). Dennis Maruk set a team record with 78 points, while Al MacAdam participated in his second consecutive All-Star Game thanks to a second straight 63-point campaign. Unfortunately, many key players ran into injury problems, and the Barons were unable to keep up the momentum they had built in the early portion of the season. Murdoch and Hampton were limited to just 57 games. High-scoring rookie Mike Fidler scored 33 points, but played in just 46 games. Jim Neilson played in just 47 games, while Gary Sabourin suited up for just 33. Jim Pappin was struck down with Bell’s Palsy and was forced to retire after just 24 games. Other players like Jim Moxey, Fred Ahern, and Bob Girard couldn’t duplicate their solid rookie seasons from the year before.
It did not take long for ownership to regret its decision to move to Cleveland as attendance was actually worse in Ohio than in Oakland. By February, attendance was so pathetic the club could no longer pay its players. The team looked to be sinking into oblivion until Alan Eagleson, president of the National Hockey League Players Association, stepped in to save the day with a sneaky deal. Many of the players were actually disappointed the team would remain in Cleveland; some were hoping to be picked up by other teams through a dispersal draft, but no, they would be forced to continue making that 26-mile drive to the cow pasture where the Richfield Coliseum sat. It was no surprise the Barons failed to make the playoffs once again, considering their division rivals, Boston, Buffalo, and Toronto, were all loaded with all-stars. The Barons finished last for the fifth straight year, and Mel Swig decided to sell the club to minority owners, and Ohio natives, George and Gordon Gund.
Cleveland Barons logo, which was used during both seasons in Ohio
In 1977-78, the Barons won four of their first five games and seriously contended for a playoff spot under a restructured seeding format where only the top two teams in each division would be guaranteed a berth. Those eight teams would be joined by another four wild card teams, meaning even if the Barons finished last in the Adams once again, they could still qualify for the playoffs. The club acquired veterans Walt McKechnie, Chuck Arnason, J.P. Parise, and Jean Potvin in mid-season to give the Barons a second-half boost, but a disastrous (and by this point, traditional) late-season slump put the kibosh on Cleveland’s playoff hopes. Despite the fact the team suffered few major injuries during the season, the Barons went on a 1-13-8 skid from February 4 to March 25 to effectively kill any chance at the playoffs.
Al MacAdam (25) eyes a loose puck as fellow Baron Dennis Maruk looks on
“The Robber Baron” Gilles Meloche decked out in his stunning mask
After just one year as the Barons’ principal owners, the Gunds realized Cleveland was never going to be the answer to their financial problems, so they decided to bail out. The brothers approached the Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals, and Minnesota North Stars about an unusual franchise merger, but only the Stars took the bait. Minnesota and Cleveland combined their rosters and retained the Stars’ name going forward. Starting in 1978-79, the Barons would be dead in name, but living in spirit as its players competed under the Stars’ logo. Al MacAdam, Gilles Meloche, Greg Smith, J.P Parise, and Dennis Maruk stayed with Minnesota, while others such as Rick Hampton, Dave Gardner, and Walt McKechnie were sent packing. The 1978-79 North Stars improved by 23 points, and were well on their way to becoming relevant once again.