The creator of the Quebec Nordiques
Preservation Society offers his take on what might have happened had
the Nords not moved from Quebec.
Click on the Nordique logo to return to the main page
What really happened: Longtime Quebec Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut, finding himself unable to keep the team in Canada due to severe financial difficulties, sells the team to a Denver-based group after bowing out of the 1995 playoffs. The Nordiques are moved to Denver for the next season and renamed the Colorado Avalanche.
BUT WHAT IF: Aubut was bailed out and allowed to keep the Nordiques in Quebec for the 1995-96 season and beyond?
The following is a fictional account of what might have happened...
Quebec Nordiques fans were depressed in late spring of 1995, and with good reason. Not only had their top-seeded team been knocked out of the playoffs by the New York Rangers, but they faced the very real possibility of losing the Nords entirely. The bills were getting to be too much for Nords management, who despite having their best season ever in the NHL were actually losing money on the team. Unless owner Marcel Aubut was bailed out--and soon--the Nords would be lost, most likely to Denver, Colorado.
Recognizing a desire to keep as much professional hockey as possible in Canada, and perhaps in an attempt to show up English-speaking Canada and their similar problems with the Winnipeg Jets, the Quebec provincial government voted in May 1995 to subsidize the Nordiques. News of the highly controversial vote swept like a firestorm through both sports and political circles in Canada, but more importantly to Aubut and his team they were saved for the moment. The team began to make plans for the 1995-96 season.
In July, Aubut and Nordique management unveiled a new logo to replace the familiar yet often criticized igloo-shaped design used by the club since its WHA days. The new logo, shown above, would be the centerpiece of the team's new purple, blue and white uniforms. The Quebecois fleur-de-lis would continue to be featured on the shoulder emblem. An alternate away uniform, introduced in mid-season, would bring back the old logo.
In contrast to the radical change to the club's look, Aubut and general manager Pierre Lacroix made few changes to the Nordique roster, as Wendel Clark's trade to the New Jersey Devils for Claude Lemieux would be the team's only significant off-season player movement. Going into the season, Les Nords were considered legitimate Cup contenders and picked to finish anywhere from first to third in the Eastern Conference by most major sports news organizations.
Quebec did not disappoint as it became clear early on that they were indeed the class of the conference. Joe Sakic and Stephane Fiset were enjoying career years. Peter Forsberg was proving himself to be one of the top young stars in the NHL and the team's defense--long a weak point in their game--was much improved, especially after the early season trade that brought power play specialist Sandis Ozolinsh in from the San Jose Sharks. The Nordiques were the talk of the entire province, with the shocking trade of legendary Montreal goaltender Patrick Roy to Winnipeg for Nikolai Khabibulin and Mike Eastwood only briefly taking center stage. This was the year, many thought, that the Nords would finally drink from the Cup.
Quebec once again finished the season on top of the Eastern Conference, eight points ahead of second-place Philadelphia. In a tougher-than-expected first-round series against the hated Canadiens and the red-hot Khabibulin the Nordiques prevailed after six grueling games, including two overtime wins on Joe Sakic goals. Coming against Montreal, the series win was a truly sweet one, but more importantly it marked the first time in nearly 10 years that Quebec had moved past the first round, erasing a huge mental block for players and fans alike.
Some thought the Nords would be vulnerable in the second round, in which they drew the surprising Florida Panthers, who had upset Pittsburgh in the first round. Despite another solid series by Panthers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck and Florida's gritty play, the Nords proved to be too much, overtaking the Rats 4-1 in a series which included a memorable four-goal Game Two by Forsberg. The stage was now set for a grudge match conference final against the Philadelphia Flyers, whose captain, Eric Lindros, had enraged the Nordique faithful four years earlier by refusing to play for the team and demanding the trade that ultimately built the Quebec franchise.
The seven-game conference final was a knock-down, drag-out affair that would go down as one of the greatest NHL matchups of the decade. After falling behind in the series 2-0 with back-to-back losses at the Colisee (the first time all year that happened to the Nords), Quebec came back by taking the next two games in Philadelphia and by finally beating the Flyers in Canada in Game Five. Lindros and the Legion of Doom came back in Game Six, but it was the Nordiques who would prevail in Game Seven, on a triple-overtime game-winning goal from the point by Uwe Krupp. The Nords were set for their first-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance.
Perhaps even more surprising than the Nordiques rise to NHL prominence was their opponent in the Finals, the St. Louis Blues. Virtually every hockey analyst in North America picked the Detroit Red Wings--winners of an incredible 65 regular season games--to blow past the rest of the conference with little problem. Indeed, the Wings made mincemeat of their first-round opponent, the Calgary Flames, in a four-game sweep. However, they needed seven games to get past Patrick Roy and the surprising Winnipeg Jets, who were making their final playoff appearance before moving to Phoenix. The series took its toll on Detroit as they bowed in six to the Blues of Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull, much to the chagrin of Wings faithful everywhere.
Despite its dramatic overtones, the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals proved to be a bit anticlimactic, as the Nordiques established their dominance in the series early and never looked back. The Blues, hampered by injuries (notably to starting goalie Grant Fuhr) and the internal confusion of the organization that within six months would see Gretzky playing for the New York Rangers and coach Mike Keenan out of a job, never really jelled despite the outstanding play of Gretzky and Hull. The Nordiques captured the Stanley Cup in five games and returned to a rousing welcome and parade in Quebec City.
The Nords' Stanley Cup win and renewed interest in the team in Quebec allowed Aubut to keep the team in Canada for another two seasons. Quebec made the playoffs in 1996-97 and 1997-98, but lost in the conference finals both years. Finally, in June 1998, the reality of operating a major league professional sports team in a small-market, French-speaking city caught up with the club and Aubut was forced to sell. The buyer? None other than Ted Turner, who moved the team to Atlanta and renamed it. The Atlanta Colonials made their NHL debut on October 5, 1998 against the Colorado Avalanche, a second-year expansion team which finished dead last in the NHL the year before.
Text © 1997 by W. Lane Startin
W. Lane Startin, Boise, ID