|History||New England Whalers
1972 - 1979
1979 - 1997
1997 - Present
|Home Arena||Hartford Civic Center|
|Colors||Navy, Green and Silver|
|Avco World Trophy||1972-73|
|Division Championships||1972-73, 1973-74, 1974-75, 1986-87|
|Hartford Civic Center|
The Whalers franchise was born in November 1971 when the World Hockey Association awarded a franchise to New England businessmen Howard Baldwin, John Coburn, Godfrey Wood and William E. Barnes, to begin play in Boston. The team began auspiciously, signing former Detroit Red Wing star Tom Webster, hard rock Boston Bruins' defenseman Ted Green (the team's inaugural captain), Toronto Maple Leafs' defensemen Rick Ley, Jim Dorey and Brad Selwood, and former Pittsburgh Penguins' goaltender Al Smith. New England also signed an unusually large number of American players including Massachusetts natives and former US Olympic hockey team members Larry Pleau (who had been a regular with the Montreal Canadiens the previous season), Kevin Ahearn, John Cunniff and Paul Hurley. Two other ex-US Olympians on the Whalers roster (Minnesotans Timothy Sheehy and Tommy Williams) had spent a significant part of their respective careers in Boston with Boston College and the Bruins, respectively. The Whalers would have the WHA's best regular-season record in the 1972–73 WHA season, with Webster leading the team in scoring and rampaging through the playoffs, and behind legendary ex-Boston University coach Jack Kelley, would win the inaugural Avco World Trophy, the WHA championship.
For the first 2½ years of their existence, the Whalers played home games at the Boston Arena, Boston Garden, and The Big E Coliseum in West Springfield. With sagging attendance related to the ebbing of the early 1970s hockey boom in the Boston area, however, the franchise's owners decided to move it to Connecticut, an area that, except for various minor league teams in New Haven, had been largely bereft of pro hockey. The Whalers' ownership group was attracted to the city of Hartford. With many large corporations and an area rich in hockey tradition, Hartford was seen as a natural choice.
On January 11, 1975, the team played its first game in front of a sellout crowd at the Hartford Civic Center Coliseum. With the exception of a period in the late 1970s when the Whalers played at the Springfield Civic Center while the Hartford Civic Center was being renovated (due to the collapse of a portion of its roof after a blizzard), the franchise was located in Hartford until it relocated to North Carolina in 1997.
Though they never again won the league championship, the New England Whalers were a successful team, never missing the playoffs in the WHA's history, and finishing first in its division three times. They had a more stable roster than most WHA teams—Ley, Webster, Selwood, Pleau, and Tommy Earl would all play over 350 games with the club—and scored a major coup when they signed legend Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty from the Houston Aeros (WHA) in 1977.
While the first two full seasons in Hartford were not glittering (the Whalers recorded losing records both years), the final two WHA seasons saw more success. They went to the finals again in 1978, with a veteran team spearheaded by the Howes—50-year-old Gordie led the team in scoring—future NHL stars Gordie Roberts and Mike Rogers, All-Star defenseman Ron Plumb, and forwards John McKenzie, Dave Keon and Mike Antonovich, and possessed of the league's best defense. The next season was not so fine, but while age finally caught up with Gordie Howe, the slack was picked up by Andre Lacroix, the WHA's all time leading scorer, acquired from the folded Aeros.
As it was one of the most stable of the WHA teams, it was one of the four franchises admitted to the National Hockey League when the rival leagues merged in 1979. Following lobbying from the Boston Bruins, one of the conditions of the merger stipulated that the Whalers were to drop "New England" from their name. The Howes, Rogers, Ley, Keon, Smith, Roberts and Lacroix would go on to wear the uniform of the Hartford Whalers. Most of the members of the 1978–79 Whalers were available as only Selwood, George Lyle and Warren Miller were reclaimed by their former NHL teams. Legendary goal scorer Bobby Hull would be acquired late that season in a trade with another former WHA team, the Winnipeg Jets, and play the last games of his career not only as a Whaler, but also as a member of the same team as his childhood idol, Gordie Howe (who also retired following the Whalers' first NHL season).
Games: Rick Ley, 478
Goals: Tom Webster, 220
Assists: Larry Pleau, 215
Points: Webster, 425
Penalty Minutes: Ley, 716
Goaltending Wins: Al Smith, 141
The Whalers were never as successful in the NHL as they had been in the WHA, yet they attracted a passionate fan base over the years. They only recorded three winning seasons in their eighteen years in the NHL, missed the playoffs ten times, and only once won a playoff series, earning the derisive nickname "Forever .500s" along the way. The team developed heated rivalries with the nearby Boston Bruins and New York Rangers — for home games against the Bruins especially, the Civic Center would have as many as a quarter of the fans in the seats from Boston, a two-hour drive away — achieving all-time records of 37–69–12 and 23–26–6 respectively against those clubs.
The Whalers' NHL history was plagued by disastrous trades, as the team repeatedly dealt away stars for several mediocre players in an attempt to gain "depth." For instance, they traded star defenseman Mark Howe and their first NHL scoring leader, Mike Rogers, in separate deals for players and draft picks which never panned out, and also swapped hardrock defenseman Gordie Roberts for the remaining half-season of Mike Fidler's NHL career. While some trades proved beneficial, such as Chris Pronger for Brendan Shanahan in 1995, all too often the players acquired left Hartford as soon as possible.
The team had a brief moment in the sun in the 1985–86 and 1986–87 seasons. The Whalers finished fourth in the Adams Division in the 1985–86 regular season, and eliminated the first-place Quebec Nordiques in three straight games in the first round, winning their sole playoff series. The Whalers then pushed the division finals to seven games, losing the final game 2–1 in overtime to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Montreal Canadiens. The following season, the Whalers won their lone division championship, led by centers Ron Francis and Ray Ferraro, emerging hardcore winger Kevin Dineen, superstar goalie Mike Liut, and troubled scorer Sylvain Turgeon. However, they were quickly eliminated in the first round by the Nordiques. While the team would make the playoffs for the next five seasons in a row, they never came close to duplicating their previous success.
The most psychologically damaging moment for the club was the 1991 trade of Francis to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The reaction of the fan base was savage in condemnation, especially after Francis promptly helped the Penguins to two consecutive Stanley Cup titles. Francis was one of the most popular players on the team, and held nearly every significant offensive record in the franchise's NHL history. Coincidentally, Eddie Johnston, the Hartford general manager who had orchestrated the Francis trade, would follow him to Pittsburgh as the Penguins' head coach two years later.
The Whalers went to the playoffs for the final time in 1992 behind Jimmy Roberts' coaching, but lost a dramatic double overtime Game 7 in the Adams Division Semifinal to the Montreal Canadiens, as Russ Courtnall scored on a turn-around shot. Roberts was fired thereafter, and while the Whalers had some stars in their remaining five seasons in Hartford — including forwards Geoff Sanderson, Pat Verbeek, and Andrew Cassels and goalie Sean Burke — they never again made the playoffs.
The primary factors in the Whalers' departure from Hartford were market size and the lack of a modern playing facility. Hartford was the second-smallest U.S.-based market in the NHL, ahead of only Buffalo. However, while the Sabres could market themselves throughout central and western New York and southern Ontario, the Whalers' marketability was severely limited by geography. Hartford is located on the dividing line between the traditional home territories for New York City and Boston teams. For most of their NHL history, the Whalers attracted their biggest crowds when either the Rangers or Bruins came to town and brought thousands of their fans with them. In addition, the Hartford Civic Center had a capacity of 15,635--the smallest in the league. It also had no luxury suites, and was attached to a mall. As salaries throughout the league escalated and teams began moving into larger, corporate-sponsored stadiums with luxury suites and other amenities, it became apparent that a small-market team playing in an aging municipal arena with limited revenue streams could not compete in the NHL.
In 1994, Compuware founder Peter Karmanos purchased the Whalers and pledged to keep them in Hartford for four years. However, two years later, frustrated with lackluster attendance and little corporate support, he announced that if the Whalers were unable to sell at least 11,000 season tickets for the 1996–97 season, he would likely move the team. Furthermore, ownership only made season tickets available in full-season (41-game) packages, eliminating the popular five- and ten-game "mini plans," in a strategy largely designed to spur purchases from wealthier corporations and individuals. Sales were underwhelming at the beginning of the campaign, and at the end of the 1995–96 season it was still unknown whether the Whalers would stay in Connecticut or move. However, thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign, and the creative efforts of many fans (who pooled together resources to purchase some of the full-season packages collectively) the Whalers announced that they would stay in Connecticut through at least 1997.
In early 1996, negotiations between the Whalers and Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland to build a new $147.5 million arena seemed to be going well. However, talks fell apart when Rowland and the state refused Karmanos' demand to reimburse the Whalers for up to $45 million in losses during the three years the new arena was to be built. As a result, on March 26, 1997, the team announced that it would be leaving Hartford, one of the few times that a team announced it would leave its current city without having already selected a new city. Many suspect that Rowland never had any intention of building a new arena for the Whalers, as he harbored hopes of instead luring the New England Patriots to Connecticut. Those talks also fell apart after the state and the Patriots ownership failed to reach an agreement on a new stadium. 
On April 13, 1997, the Whalers played their last game in Hartford, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2–1. Team captain Kevin Dineen scored the final goal in Whaler history.
As of January 26, 2009, several ex-Whalers are still active in the NHL, including Chris Pronger, Marek Malik, Bobby Holik, Michael Nylander, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Brendan Shanahan. Glen Wesley was the last Whaler still active with the Carolina/Hartford franchise until he retired on June 5, 2008; although his stint was not continuous, playing seven games for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2003 after a deadline deal before re-signing in Carolina in the 2003 offseason.
After the Whalers left Hartford, various local businessmen began trying to bring an NHL franchise back to the city. In 2006, developer Lawrence Gottesdiener began lobbying to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins and move them to a new Hartford arena, but the Lemieux Group was persuaded to sell by Gary Bettman who feared new owners would move the Penguins. Bettman botched Canadian billionaire Jim Ballsille's bid to buy the Penguins. The Penguins bid fell through in March 2007, when the team announced that they were beginning construction on a new arena and that they signed a 30-year deal with the city of Pittsburgh. After the Pittsburgh bid fell through, Gottesdiener made another bid for the Nashville Predators franchise with the hope of bringing them to Hartford. That bid was lost in August 2007, as the Predators ownership ultimately decided to sell to a local holding company that would keep the team in Nashville. Talks of a new arena in Hartford have been dying since late 2007, and an NHL franchise looks unlikely for the foreseeable future.
On January 14, 2009. NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman and Hartford mayor Eddie Perez met to discuss plans for a new arena in Hartford and the possibility of bringing back an NHL franchise. Perez was quoted as saying that Hartford still wants an NHL team but that Bettman told him that it would take a considerable amount of work considering the difficult financial times.
The Hartford Whalers' official theme song was "Brass Bonanza," a tune composed by an aspiring musician Jack Say. The song is still very popular with Hartford crowds, and continues to occasionally be played at Civic Center events (including University of Connecticut basketball games) and, in recent years, at Fenway Park during Boston Red Sox games and at the TD Banknorth Garden during Boston Bruins games. Continuing the hockey tradition, the song is also played at Sacred Heart University, UConn, Quinnipiac University as well as Northeastern University's and Boston University's men's hockey home games.
|1992/93 - 1996/97|
|1979/80 - 1991/92|
|1979/80 - 1984/85|
|1979/80 - 1996/97|
1992 - 1997
1989 - 1992
1985 - 1989
1979 - 1985
1992 - 1997
1989 - 1992
1985 - 1989
1979 - 1985
Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, Pts = Points, GF = Goals scored for, GA = Goals scored against, PIM = Penalty minutes
|1972-73||78||46||30||2||94||318||263||858||1st, Eastern||Won Quarterfinals (Ottawa)
Won Semifinals (Cleveland)
Won Finals (Winnipeg)
|1973-74||78||43||31||4||90||291||260||875||1st, Eastern||Lost Quarterfinals (Chicago)|
|1974-75||78||43||30||5||91||274||279||867||1st, Eastern||Lost Quarterfinals (Minnesota)|
|1975-76||80||33||40||7||73||255||290||1012||3rd, Eastern||Won Preliminaries (Cleveland)
Won Quarterfinals (Indianapolis)
Lost Semifinals (Houston)
|1976-77||81||35||40||6||76||275||290||1254||4th, Eastern||Lost Quarterfinals (Quebec)|
|1977-78||80||44||31||5||93||335||269||1255||2nd, WHA||Won Quarterfinals (Edmonton)
Won Semifinals (Quebec)
Lost Finals (Winnipeg)
|1978-79||80||37||34||9||83||298||287||1090||4th, WHA||Won Quarterfinals (Cincinnati)
Lost Semifinals (Edmonton)
|1979-80||80||27||34||19||73||303||312||875||4th, Norris||Lost Norris Semifinal (Montreal)|
|1980-81||80||21||41||18||60||292||372||1584||5th, Norris||Did not qualify|
|1981-82||80||21||41||18||60||264||351||1493||5th, Adams||Did not qualify|
|1982-83||80||19||54||7||45||261||403||1392||5th, Adams||Did not qualify|
|1983-84||80||28||42||10||66||288||320||1184||5th, Adams||Did not qualify|
|1984-85||80||30||41||9||69||268||318||1606||5th, Adams||Did not qualify|
|1985-86||80||40||36||4||84||332||302||1759||4th, Adams||Won Adams Semifinal (Quebec)
Lost Adams Final (Montreal)
|1986-87||80||43||30||7||93||287||270||1496||1st, Adams||Lost Adams Semifinal (Quebec)|
|1987-88||80||35||38||7||77||249||267||2046||4th, Adams||Lost Adams Semifinal (Montreal)|
|1988-89||80||37||38||5||79||299||290||1672||4th, Adams||Lost Adams Semifinal (Montreal)|
|1989-90||80||38||33||9||85||275||268||2102||4th, Adams||Lost Adams Semifinal (Boston)|
|1990-91||80||31||38||11||73||238||276||2209||4th, Adams||Lost Adams Semifinal (Boston)|
|1991-92||80||26||41||13||65||247||283||1793||4th, Adams||Lost Adams Semifinal (Montreal)|
|1992-93||84||26||52||6||58||284||369||2354||5th, Adams||Did not qualify|
|1993-94||84||27||48||9||63||227||288||1809||6th, Northeast||Did not qualify|
|1994-95||48||19||24||5||43||127||141||915||5th, Northeast||Did not qualify|
|1995-96||82||34||39||9||77||237||259||1834||4th, Northeast||Did not qualify|
|1996-97||82||32||39||11||75||226||256||1513||5th, Northeast||Did not qualify|
The Hartford Whalers Individual records