Rewinding this franchise all the way back to the mid 1970′s, the North Stars were just plain bad. There’s really no other way to put it, unless awful was your choice of wording. Much like our current version, the franchise missed the playoffs in five of six seasons from 1974 – 1979.
With an influx of talent through the draft though, the North Stars would quickly rebound and establish themselves as one of the more talented and entertaining teams in the league. Unfortunately, those North Star teams of the early to mid 1980′s are overshadowed in history by the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers. If not for ill-timing and running smack-dab in to two of the greatest dynasties of all-time, this franchise could easily boast another Stanley Cup or two.
Remarkably, ten players taken in the drafts between 1977 and 1980 became immediate contributors. That group would form a nucleus that helped carry the franchise to its first ever Stanley Cup appearance in 1981 – just three years after finishing dead last in the league with franchise lows in wins (18) and points (45).
Second in the Smythe Division, and swept by the Buffalo Sabres in the best of three opening round.
Brad Maxwell (7th) – Maxwell quickly became a cornerstone on defense for the North Stars. He played 471 regular season games with the franchise, scoring 82 goals 307 points from the point – including a 1983-84 season when he racked up 73 of those points and was selected to play in the NHL All-Star Game.
A putrid 18 wins and 45 points – good for dead last in the NHL.
Bobby Smith (1st) – Smith was a scoring sensation in juniors and carried that in to the NHL with the North Stars. He won the Calder trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 1979 and still holds the franchise record for points in a season with 114. Dealt to Montreal in 1983 after demanding a trade, he rejoined the North Stars in 1990 and was an integral part of that magical run to the Stanley Cup Final the following spring.
Steve Payne (19th) – Smith’s junior line mate in Ottawa, the two were also paired up right away in Minnesota. Payne was a goal scorer and had a knack for big ones – including the franchise’s only ever game 7 OT winner. He hit a career high 42 goals in his sophomore year and averaged just over 30 for his seven healthy seasons until injuries shortened his career.
Steve Christoff (24th) – A member of the 1980 Miracle On Ice team, the Minnesota native made an instant impact. Joining the club after the Olympics, he banged home 8 goals and added 7 assists in 20 games. Despite playing just 56 and 69 games in the next two seasons respectively, he scored 26 goals in each. His career was short as he managed just 248 games, but his time with the North Stars was memorable.
Curt Giles (54th) – Small in stature at 5’8 175 lbs, the rugged defenseman put every ounce he had in to everything hie did. Not offensive by any means, he defended well and wasn’t afraid of anyone. He was a team leader – wearing both the “A” and the “C” for the franchise at different points in his career. Giles currently sits 7th all-time in franchise games played with 760. A personal favorite of mine, I still have that home jersey with #2 on the back that my grandparents bought me back in the mid 1980′s.
Last in the Adams Division and bottom six in the league with 68 points.
Craig Hartsburg (6th) – Aside from Sergei Zubov, Harstburg is the most talented defenseman this franchise has ever seen. Internationally, he played on some of the best teams ever assembled, including that Gretzky-Lemieux led 1987 Canada Cup squad. Unfortunately for Hartsburg and the North Stars, his career was cut short due to injury and those ten seasons (four of them playing 32 or less games) were all he would manage.
Tom McCarthy (10th) – Lou Nanne stated in his book that McCarthy was the most talented player to ever have played for the North Stars. Whether he is or isn’t can be up for debate (Modano gets my vote), but Nanne is likely the best judge you’ll find regarding anything Minnesota. Another good player who’s career was unfortunately cut short, McCarthy averaged 30 goals every 80 regular season games as well as nearly a point per in his seven seasons with the franchise.
Neal Broten (42nd) – One of the franchise’s greatest and another member of that 1980 Miracle On Ice squad, Broten held the club’s all-time record for points; assists; and games played until Mike Modano hitched this franchise to his wagon. A fantastic playmaker with a bullet shot, Broten played a good all-round game. He’s won at every level: NCAA, the Olympics, and a Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 1995. Little known fact about the Minnesotan is that he was the first ever American born player to score 100 points in a season – hitting 105 with the North Stars back in 1986.
Finishing 3rd in the Adams Division and 6th in the league with 88 points, the North Stars swept the Maple Leafs 3-0 in the opening round of the playoffs. They then shocked the hockey world by upsetting the defending champion Montreal Canadiens in a thrilling seven game series in the quarter finals. The train was stopped 4-1 by the 1st place powerhouse Philadelphia in the semis.
Brad Palmer (16th) – Palmer’s NHL career was extremely short, playing just 95 games with the North Stars and 73 with the Bruins. During his time with the franchise though he scored 26 regular season goals and was big for the team in that 1981 run to the Cup Final – scoring 8 goals and 13 points in 19 games.
Don Beaupre (37th) – Beaupre became one half of one of the better goaltending tandems in the league along with veteran Gilles Meloche. At age 19, he’s still the youngest goalie ever to start an NHL All-Star Game and in that rookie season of 1980-81 he finished 3rd in the Calder voting. He was the franchise’s 1st ever player of the month in February of 1986, and currently sits 6th on the Stars’ wins list with 126.
Dino Ciccarelli (undrafted) – I can’t possibly do this without including one of the greatest and most popular players in franchise history. Ciccarelli broke his leg crashing in to the post in junior and was told he would never play again. Resilient, he kept going and the North Stars signed him as a free agent in 1980. He would score a rookie record 14 playoff goals and 21 points during that 1981 Cup run, and go on to bang home 332 goals in 602 regular season games during his time in Minnesota. Tied with Brian Bellows, he still holds the franchise record for goals in a season with 55. For those of you not fortunate enough to have seen Dino in his day (I myself was extremely young for his Minnesota days), imagine a slightly smaller Steve Ott with a major chip on his shoulder – averaging 45 goals and 90 points per season. Yeah, you woulda loved ol’ Dino.
After that miraculous run in 1981, the young North Stars would continue to win, going on to capture the franchise’s first two division titles and win at least one playoff round in four of the next five seasons – including an appearance in the Campbell Conference final in 1984. Truly one of the most talented squads this franchise has ever assembled and one of the better rides it’s ever been on.
Fast forward to now:
Being on a current run of five years with no playoffs, things seem to be turning around for this version of the Stars too. Over the last few years, the draft has provided the organization with a host of talent: Jamie Benn; Alex Chiasson; Jack Campbell; Jamie Oleksiak; Brett Ritchie; Radek Faksa; and now Valeri Nichushkin.
It seems there’s another great young nucleus being formed here, one that looks like it has every chance to rival the success of that North Stars team that had its backs up against the fires of hockey hell for years, then catapulted themselves forward so mightily they came ever-so-close to hockey heaven.
Thanks for reading. Comments appreciated. For all your Stars wants and needs, past present and future, find me on Twitter at travcurrie