Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Former North Stars co-owner George Gund III dies

Posted by: Michael Russo under Vikings draft, Wild news Updated: January 15, 2013 - 6:01 PM

Former North Stars co-owner George Gund III died Tuesday in Palm Springs, Calif., at age 75.

Gund and his brother, Gordon, owned the Cleveland Barons in 1978 when they merged with the North Stars.

The North Stars were successful through part of the 1980s, but they started to have financial difficulties later in the decade and the Gunds considered moving the team to the Bay Area.

The NHL cut a deal with the Gunds, awarding them the expansion San Jose Sharks, and the North Stars were sold in 1990 to a group that eventually was headed by Norm Green.

The Gunds also owned the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers from 1983-2005.

The North Stars/Sharks situation was best described in this 2006 column by Patrick Reusse -- through the quotes of Lou Nanne --  for the Star Tribune:

George Gund owned the San Jose Sharks for the first 10 seasons of their existence. He sold the team to a group of local investors in the spring of 2001. Gund still holds 5 percent and sits on the Board of Directors.

The San Jose franchise came into existence through perhaps the oddest distribution of talent in the history of big-time sports. Not surprisingly, it was the result of a plot conceived by Lou Nanne to save the NHL for Minnesota. Nanne and the Gunds - George and brother Gordon - had been involved in a similarly creative maneuver in 1978.

That time, they received permission to fold the Gunds’ Cleveland Barons into the North Stars, with the Gunds taking over ownership from the original Walter Bush group.

“There wasn’t much opposition within the league when we did the merger,” Nanne said. “[Montreal’s] Sam Pollock said at the league meeting, `If you put one pile of garbage together with another pile of garbage, all you have is a larger pile of garbage.”’

Of course, Nanne had been busy for weeks before the merger was approved to improve the smell of that roster. He took over as the coach late in the 1977-78 season, determined to have the North Stars finish last in order to land Bobby Smith in the draft.

The North Stars wound up with Smith, and three years later they reached the Stanley Cup finals.

Nanne served in the roles of team president and/or general manager over the next 12 years. The Stars had gone downhill, the crowds had dwindled at Met Center, and George Gund decided in 1990 that he was going to move his team to San Jose.

Official records refer to the Sharks as a 1991-92 expansion team.

Nanne said this was the actuality: “We were the expansion team. The North Stars were going to play the ‘90-’91 season in Minnesota, then George was going to move the whole operation to the Bay Area. We had to make that deal on player distribution or we would’ve been left with nothing.”

Nanne ran his plan to save the North Stars past Chicago’s Bill Wirz, an influential NHL owner, and received a blessing to try to convince Gund.

“I flew to Palm Springs to see George,” Nanne said. “I said, `The league doesn’t want you to move. The other owners might try to stop it. Why don’t you make a deal. Take 20, 25 players out of the North Stars’ organization. You will have what you want, a team in the Bay Arena, and we’ll still have a team in Minnesota.’ “

Gund went for the deal. “It was a pretty good one for George,” Nanne said. “He paid the league $50 million for a Bay Area franchise, and sold the Stars for $38 million. So, he would up getting a big, new market, with a new arena, for $12 million.”

Gund first sold to Howard Baldwin and Morris Belzberg. When the deal fell through, Norm Green came in as the owner. The player dispersal was not going to occur until after the 1991 season. Miraculously, Green’s upset Stars reached the Stanley Cup finals, losing in six games to Pittsburgh.

A couple of days later, San Jose plucked 24 players and two future draft choices from the North Stars’ organization. And a couple of years later, with Nanne out of hockey and in the investment business, Green moved the Stars to Dallas.
“The deals we made with the Gunds and got through the league had to be two of the craziest of all-time,” Nanne said.

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