Here’s why Seattle fans might not want to root for Colorado in the Stanley Cup Final

NHL insider

It struck me the other day that there could be a bunch of Sonics fans tuning into their first Stanley Cup Final, unaware of facts at odds with their moral code and rooting interest.

After all, the Colorado Avalanche, leading the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in the best-of-seven championship entering Game 4 Wednesday night, are the NHL’s equivalent of the Oklahoma City Thunder. And any Sonics fans rooting for the Avs to unseat the two-time-defending Cup champion Lightning should know there remains a fan base in Quebec City that feels exactly the way they do.

Just like the Sonics did in leaving when they couldn’t get a new taxpayer-funded arena, the Quebec Nordiques did the same in 1995 when owner Marcel Aubut grew tired of playing in the old Colisee and sold his squad to Denver-based owners.

In fact, if the Avalanche win this series it would mark the first time that franchise has captured a Cup minus players from the Nordiques.

And it raises the question of relocating teams and by what point enough is truly enough with holding grudges. After all, do Colorado fans still begrudge the New Jersey Devils for pulling the Rockies franchise out of Denver in 1982? Yes, that’s right. Long before the Rockies became Colorado’s baseball team, there was a short-lived NHL squad by that name that had relocated to Denver in 1976 after two awful seasons as the Kansas City Scouts.

The Rockies once employed hockey notables such as Barry Beck, Wilf Payment and Don Cherry. They even spawned Merlin “The Magician” Malinowski, hockey’s answer to the Mendoza line in baseball.

Then they left for New Jersey. So are the Devils now begrudged in Denver?

Well, I guess not. They have the Avalanche now.

OK, let’s try the Dallas Stars. Do fans of the old Minnesota North Stars feel animosity toward a market that stole their team in 1993? Well, the Minnesota Wild expansion likely alleviated that pain some 20 years ago.

And besides, just like Denver and the Nordiques, the North Stars had actually “stolen” the old California Golden Seals, albeit indirectly. The Seals had been relocated to Ohio by their owners, the Gund brothers, as the Cleveland Barons in 1976, only to fold two years later in a “merger” with the North Stars before them moving to Dallas.

You don’t see former Seals fans now screaming obscenities at the Lone Star State, do you?

Probably because the Bay Area got a team back three decades ago with the San Jose Sharks. And yes, Sonics fans, that team was “stolen” as well. From Minnesota, no less. Confused? You should have seen NHL fans back when it happened.

The Gund brothers, it seems, had never gotten over pulling the Seals out of the Bay Area and wanted to put another team there. So they struck a deal that saw them sell the North Stars and acquire rights to an expansion team in San Jose. As part of the deal, they’d be allowed to take a fair portion of the North Stars roster with them to the Sharks and did.

Meanwhile, the new owners of the now-depleted North Stars, who had been looking to relocate from the get-go, took what remained of the team and headed off to Dallas.

So, yes, a lot of thievery going on by NHL cities, followed by a whole bunch of placating.

Not sure it fits with what happened to the Sonics, or the Avalanc…er, the Nordiques. No, those two fan bases are in leagues of their own.

Sonics fans like to think they had it rough watching Kevin Durant and company as title contenders fairly early in the Thunder’s tenure. But that was nothing compared with the instant misery endured by Nordiques fans when the Avalanche won the Cup in their inaugural relocation season.

That initial championship roster included Nordiques imports Joe Sakic, Owen Nolan, Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote, Valeri Kamensky, Adam Deadmarsh, Mike Ricci and Scott Young, among others.

As if that weren’t bad enough for Quebec fans, the Avs that season acquired two former Cup-winning players from down the provincial highway in Montreal. They landed Claude Lemieux and Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy, who would backstop Colorado to the title that season and another in 2001.

That second Avalanche title winner still contained Nordic holdovers Sakic, Forsberg, Deadmarsh and Foote.

Even today, with no Nordiques remaining on the roster, Sakic remains the team’s general manager. And former Nordiques defenseman Curtis Leschyshyn, part of that inaugural Colorado title in 1996, is now an Avalanche professional scout.

Still, it’s a completely Nordiques-free roster now, starting with standout Cale Makar, who Tuesday night deservedly won the James Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman. It looked as if it would be a short series before the Lightning rebounded for a 6-2 win in Game 3. Hopefully, they’ll make a series of it yet.

But should any Sonics fans here in Seattle be rooting for the Avs?

With grudges, getting back to our initial question, they seem easier to forget once something new is at hand. But unlike multiple NHL markets that lost and then regained teams, nobody has replaced the Sonics with another NBA franchise 14 years after they left.

Alas, it’s been 27 years since the Nordiques left for Denver, and nobody has replaced them. Heck, even the Winnipeg Jets were allowed to steal Atlanta’s team some 15 years after the original “Jets” were hauled off to Phoenix, where they are now the Arizona Coyotes.

And Atlanta had gotten the Thrashers some 19 years after the Flames had relocated from that city to Calgary, Alberta.

Quebec City even built a new NHL arena seven years ago in anticipation of securing an expansion team to replace the Nordiques.

But the NHL rejected Quebec’s expansion bid in July 2015. Instead, it gave a team to Las Vegas, then waited three more years for Seattle to complete its arena deal before awarding a franchise we now know as the Kraken.

That’s right, even our Sonics-depleted city got a team before Quebec City. If anyone owes that city some solidarity, you’d think it would be this one.

But pro sports, as we’ve seen, are a messy business. And cruel.

I’m not about to tell Sonics fans who to cheer for. Part of me is just glad they have a new winter pro team to follow while awaiting an NBA squad’s inevitable return.

And once that team arrives, it’s possible the dark history of the past decade-and-a-half will eventually fade just as it has in countless other sports markets that have lost and since regained.

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