Why indeed. Why not the Montreal Canadiens or the Boston Bruins? For lack of a better word, the Seals were just so weird. Not Twin Peaks-weird, but rather white-skates-on-white-ice-weird. Live-seals-as-mascots-weird. Since World War II, the Seals are the only NHL franchise to just vanish from existence, not because they were kicked out of the league, but because of a crude transaction scribbled on a cocktail napkin in Czechoslovakia. And that was only after moving to an arena where sheep were known to roam. Is that weird enough for you? The Seals (and their successors, the Cleveland Barons) own one of the professional hockey’s worst all-time records: 229 wins, 488 losses, 141 ties, and a .349 winning percentage. In fact, of the 51 franchises to have played more than one season in the NHL or WHA, the Seals/Barons’ winning percentage ranks 51st. By comparison, the Seals made the Charlestown Chiefs look like a well-oiled machine, yet the Seals are shrouded in mystery.
I grew up, and still am, a Canadiens fan. My Dad and my grandfather were both Habs fans. Growing up in Eastern Ontario, it was natural to support the Habs. This being the late 1980s, the Ottawa Senators were not even around yet, and the Quebec Nordiques and Toronto Maple Leafs were both atrocious. You would think that my passion for losing hockey teams would make me a die-hard Toronto Maple Leafs fan, but there’s a difference between being a Leafs fan and a being a Seals fan. Leafs fans are mostly masochists who say, “Bring on the torture, we can take it” as their team misses the playoffs over and over again. Seals fans, despite seeing their team lose a boatload of hockey games, couldn’t have cared less whether the team won or lost. The whole point of being a Seals fan was just being at the rink, hanging out with the locals, and making some lifelong friends. While Leafs fans think they are tough for putting up with fifty years of Stanley Cup-less hockey, they never had their heart ripped out of their chest upon hearing their team was moving to Cleveland. This is a team that still has a Booster Club, FORTY years after the team packed up and left. Seals fans are few and far between now, but they all seem to know each other, no matter where they reside. Thanks to the Internet, there are Seals fans across the continent who have stories, photos and memorabilia to share.
When I was a kid, hardly a mention of this long-suffering franchise could be found. I first leared of the existence of the Seals in my 1987 NHL sticker book. There were three players with a “CAL” abbreviation written into their career stats, Dennis Maruk, Gilles Meloche, and Charlie Simmer, and none of them had ever suited up for Calgary. I could see by their numbers that they had all been very good players, and I could have just left well-enough alone, but my natural curiosity pushed me to find out what in the world had happened to “CAL”? I later found the answer (sort of) while perusing another sticker book, this time from the Esso gas station franchise. For a ten-year old kid, this was heavy research. In this sticker book, there was a brief piece about NHL expansion, but it didn’t explain much. It went something like, “the old Seals just disappeared entirely.” I couldn’t accept this; nothing could just up and vanish into thin air, could it? I had to find out what had happened to this team. Then I plunged down the rabbit hole.
I later received a sign in the form of a 1975-76 Seals media guide that told me this team was worth looking into. When I was about eleven, I wrote the National Hockey League and vaguely asked for information about its more recently-defunct franchises, the Scouts, Flames, Rockies, and Seals. This being about 1991, the Internet did not exist, and it was almost impossible for a twelve year-old to find any information on anything related to 1970s hockey. But someone at the NHL’s head office in New York took the time to photocopy an entire Seals yearbook and sent it to me. I scoured that yearbook, memorized stats and names to the point where players like Norm Ferguson and Joey Johnston were household names.
So sit back, click on a few links and delve into the history of this strange franchise. There really is nothing else like it in the world today, and probably never will be again.
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.