December 13

No National Hockey League on-ice action on which to report today, but the off-ice news was coming fast and furious yesterday. The Oakland Seals situation became even more muddled and we have all the details. Plus, of course, the usual Quick Hits.

Are They or Aren’t They?

Yesterday we reported on rookie NHL team owner Barry Van Gerbig of the Oakland Seals visiting the city of Vancouver this past weekend. Van Gerbig was allegedly scouting the new Pacific Coliseum as a possible landing place for his financially-strapped franchise.

van gerbig - crosby
Barry Van Gerbig, right, seen here with entertainer Bing Crosby, a Seals investor.

Everyone was saying all the right things: The Seals aren’t moving (at least during this season) and help was on the way, and so on. Then there was news of an interview Van Gerbig had with Jim Kearney, sports columnist of the Vancouver Sun and that threw the situation into complete chaos.

Van Gerbig apparently sat down with Kearney and discussed the Seals’ situation in great detail. The gist of the conversation (of which we provide highlights below) seems to be that if it can be arranged, the Seals are out of Oakland and on their way to Vancouver just as soon as details can be ironed out.

Or maybe not.

Van Gerbig told the Toronto Globe and Mail that the suggestion he is preparing to move is “something less than true,” whatever that means. NHL president Clarence Campbell also weighed in, as well as various hockey people in Vancouver.

Kearney Interview

Van Gerbig told Jim Kearney that he came to Vancouver last weekend on the invitation of Frank McMahon. He said that he is leaving it to McMahon to work out details of having the Seals come into the territory of the Canucks of the Western Hockey League.

Frank McMahon

McMahon was involved with a group that briefly pursued an NHL franchise for Vancouver two years ago but dropped out when former mayor Fred Hume sold his interests in the Western Hockey League Canucks to the present owners.

Van Gerbig was asked if he had spoken with Coley Hall, the man who takes care of most of the Canucks’ business matters:

“No. I have not talked to Coley Hall, nor do I plan to. Mr. McMahon invited me here to look at the city and the new building.

“I am tremendously impressed, but it would be presumptuous of me to speak to Mr. Hall and the other owners of the Canucks. This is a matter for Mr. McMahon.

I’d like to stress that there is no way we would come into Vancouver except as partners in a local operation. And this is the only way Mr. McMahon would have it because the people in the Canucks are his friends.”

Kearney asked Van Gerbig what were the problems with Oakland as a hockey city. He wasn’t shy with his answer, listing five major issues:

“1. The city is not hockey conscious.

“2. There are eight major league franchises in the Bay area. That is a lot of competition.

“3. The Football Raiders have been the whole show in Oakland this fall. They won their division in the AFL and they’re the talk of the town.

“4. Mr. (Charles O.) Finley has come in with his (baseball) team from Kansas City. There has been a great hullabaloo and all the civic officials are behind him and are interested only in baseball.

Charles O. Finley

“5. Last season we averaged 42 per cent capacity of Western League games. On that basis we figured we could do 50 to 60 per cent business in the NHL. The fact is that we’re doing less than we did in the WHL.”

“We haven’t given up on Oakland yet, but for us to stay we would have to show a considerable increase in the crowds after the football season ends. We’d have to sell out for the rest of the season just to have a respectable loss. I can’t see us doing it.

“We’re in the position of giving up half a season and hoping to make it up in the other half. Basketball seems willing to go along with this. But we aren’t. We have a much bigger overhead.

“I feel the situation is an imposition on Bert (general manager-coach Olmstead) and the players. This lack of interest filters down to the locker room and it can’t help but affect their play.

“Take a guy like Bobby Baun. He is giving 150 per cent for us every day, on and off the ice. And for all the support we’re getting, he might as well be playing in any other city you want to name.”

Before going to Vancouver last weeken, Van Gerbig attended a meeting of the NHL Board of Governors in New York, called specifically to discuss the Oakland situation. Despite denials from Campbell and many others, Van Gerbig said the idea of shifting the franchise to another city was addressed:

“Historically, the NHL always helps teams in trouble. We’re not in financial trouble. In fact, we are one of the better financed teams. But we can not go on this way for say, five years. The NHL governors are tough men, but they looked kindly on the idea of a franchise transfer.”

Kearney asked the question that was on everyone’s mind, at least those in Vancouver: if he decided to come to Vancouver, how long would it take to make the move?

“it would involve three steps. First, we would have to work out a happy arrangement for everyone at the local level. After that we would have to work out something at the Western League level. Following that there would be the NHL level, but that would be automatic.

“If everything went as speedily as smoothly as possible, we could have the team here in time to open your new coliseum But I don’t foresee things moving quite that quickly.

“The thing that impresses me most with Vancouver is the attitude of Mr. McMahon and his friends. They are not involving themselves because of money. They do not need hockey to support them and neither do I. The important thing to them is to bring major league hockey to Vancouver.

Van Gerbig felt that he would be able to work something out with the city of Oakland to extricate himself from the lease on the Oakland Coliseum. He also told Kearney that he has not visited any other cities who are interested in bringing in an NHL franchise. He specifically mentioned Buffalo and San Diego, saying he had no interest in either centre.

Van Gerbig also said that Bert Olmstead is very high on Vancouver as a National Hockey League city:

“Bert is very high on Vancouver in the matter of hockey interest, he says Vancouver is a small Toronto and that it will be every bit as good as Toronto inside three years.”

Back East, They Aren’t Buying It

Back east, hockey people were dismissive of both Kearney’s story and Van Gerbig’s comments.

David Molson, president of the Montreal Canadiens:

David Molson

“Van Gerbig was given a mandate at our governors’ meeting in New York to carry on in Oakland. He was promised any financial assistance needed.

“As far as the league is concerned, we plan to carry on in the Oakland area.”

Molson also said that any owners of a Vancouver NHL team would have to be Canadian.

Clarence Campbell said that he was not in a position to know why Van Gerbig had made the trip to Vancouver:

“While I don’t know what Mr. Van Gerbig allegedly said in his Vancouver visit, I want to make two things perfectly clear.

“First, the subject of transfers of any franchise, Oakland or otherwise, was not discussed last Friday at league meetings in New York. And no permission of any kind has ever been given to any club to negotiate for a change in the site of its franchise or operation.

“Secondly, no change in the site of a franchise or club operation can be made except by application duly made for this purpose. To be effective, formal approval must be given by three-quarters of the member clubs of the league.

“I can definitely say there is absolutely nothing planned for such a transfer.”

Broadcaster Foster Hewitt, a member of the group whose bid for an NHL franchise in Vancouver was rejected:

Foster Hewitt

“We have the WHL franchise. The only thing I would say is that he is talking to the wrong people.

“Such a move would be impossible. They could perhaps talk about a move for next year.

“Speaking for the owners of the Canucks, we have yet to be approached to my knowledge and I’m sure of it.

“I would like to hear what Mr. McMahon has to say, but I’m not sure what difference it would make.

“I think he (Van Gerbig) is shopping, but he’d better go to the right people.”

The Toronto Globe and Mail has a different take on all this, from Van Gerbig himself. The Globe offered quotes from the Oakland owner that are diametrically opposed to what he is supposed to have said in Vancouver. He said that suggestions he is prepared to move the club is “Something that is less than true.”

“Moving a franchise is a league matter first. It has never been brought up – not even informally. ‘I have no immediate plans to move the club. I’m prepared to stay. Contrary to published reports, I’m not moving the club.”

So the saga of the sad-sack Seals continues.

Quick Hits

  • Pittsburgh Penguins are finally getting their first choice in the Expansion Draft back in the lineup tonight. Centre Earl Ingarfield will suit up after missing six weeks with a serious knee injury. Penguins coach Red Sullivan said he will spot Ingarfield on all three lines in tonight’s game.

    Gerry McNamara
  • Toronto goalkeeper Bruce Gamble has a bad case of the flu. If he’s too sick to back up regular netminder Johnny Bower tonight, the Leafs will bring in Gerry McNamara from the Toronto Marlboros Ontario Hockey Association Senior A club.
  • With the Detroit Free Press on strike, hockey reporter Jack Berry is moonlighting for the upstart Daily Dispatch. Today he penned a nice piece on the contribution that Jean-Guy Talbot is making to the Detroit Red Wings. Talbot was picked up earlier this season in a trade with the Minnesota North Stars. Talbot has recently supplanted young Jim Watson and Howie Young for a regular spot on the Wings’ blue line.
  • The Red Wings have sent centre Rick McCann back to Fort Worth of the Central Professional Hockey League. Winger Gary Marsh has been promoted to replace McCann.
  • Bruins leading scorer Johnny Bucyk missed his team’s practice yesterday. Bucyk said that he simply slept in and missed the session: “That’s the first time I’ve missed practice in 12 years.” Bucyk arrived late at the rink and worked out on his own after the practice. No word on a fine by coach Harry Sinden.
  • Before the season got underway, North Stars general manager-coach Wren Blair predicted an average attendance of 11,500 for his expansion team. Right now the Stars are at 11,000 per game. Blair feels that numbers will increase after the football season and Christmas holidays are over.
  • Don Marcotte’s goal with just over four minutes to play gave the Hershey Bears a 4-4 tie with the Quebec Aces in an AHL game in Quebec City.
  • The WHL Vancouver Canucks defeated the visiting AHL Rochester Americans last night an interlocking game. Vancouver scorers were Danny Belisle, Bob Lemieux, Phil Maloney, Gord Vejprava and Bruce Carmichael. Milan Marcetta had a pair of goals for the Amerks, with Bronco Horvath adding the other.

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