The 1970s were a chaotic time for the NHL and professional hockey in general. With the WHA bringing in franchises throughout the United States and Canada, the NHL raced to catch up. Since 1967, the NHL had continued to add franchises and some franchises did better than others. For every New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, there were several franchises that only lasted a few years before fading away.
Today, I am looking at one of those franchises, the Kansas City Scouts.
In 1974, the NHL had just gone through seven years of rapid expansion and three new teams would be added to the league in Washington and Kansas City. While Washington would have a terrible start, the team would eventually grow a base and finally win a Stanley Cup in 2018. The Kansas City Scouts would go on to win three Stanley Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003. Of course, by that point they were no longer the Scouts, nor in Kansas City, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Kansas City was officially awarded a franchise on June 8, 1972 and Kemper Arena, a 17,000 seat arena, was built to be the home of the team, as well as the Kansas City Kings basketball franchise. With the two new franchises in the league, two new divisions were added with the Scouts playing in the Smythe Division of the Campbell Conference.
The team was originally going to be called the Kansas City Mohawks on the request of team owner Edwin G. Thompson. Oddly, the name was not chosen because of the Mohawk people but because Kansas City is partly in Missouri and partly in Kansas. The name took Missouri’s abbreviation of MO and combined that with the Kansas nickname of Jayhawkers. The name was scrapped when the Chicago Black Hawks objected because the name was too similar to their own. A contest was then held and Scouts was chosen in honour of The Scout, a statue that is in Penn Valley Park that overlooks downtown. The statue itself would also be featured in the team’s logo.
For the new general manager, the team hired Sid Abel, a Hall of Fame player who is one of the greatest players in NHL history and had won three Stanley Cups with Detroit in 1943, 1950 and 1952.
With the team name set, an arena ready, work began in adding players to the team. The first task was choosing their first ever draft pick at the 1974 Entry Draft. With the second overall pick, they would be able to choose their new franchise player. With their pick, they chose Wilf Paiement, who was a good player in his own right. Unfortunately, they did not pick up Clark Gillies, Bryan Trottier or Mark Howe, all of whom went on to have Hall of Fame careers. Gillies and Trottier were both chosen by the New York Islanders, and would go on to win four straight Stanley Cups with the team in a few year’s time. That is not to say that Paiement was a bad choice. He would play his first two seasons with the Scouts, and over his 946 games, he would record 814 points and was an NHL All-Star in 1976, 1977 and 1978.
In the second round, the team took Glen Burdon who played 11 games for the team. Two picks later, the Islanders drafted Bryan Trottier. The team recovered by choosing Bob Bourne, a player who would have 582 points in 964 games. Unfortunately, they traded him to the New York Islanders before the season started and he would win four Stanley Cups and the Bill Masterton Trophy.
With their remaining picks in the 1974 Entry Draft, the players they chose would combined play less than 100 games in the NHL.
Next up for the team was the Expansion Draft. Due to rapid expansion between 1967 and 1972, ten new teams had joined the league. Add into that the WHA and its taking of NHL talent, the 1974 expansion draft was incredibly weak. Unlike today, where expansion teams generally have a good chance of drafting good players, the system was rigged against expansion teams in the 1970s.
In the 1974 Expansion Draft, the Scouts picked up their first captain, Simon Nolet, fifth overall. Nolet had just won the Stanley Cup with the Philadelphia Flyers when he was claimed. During his two seasons with the Scouts, he would have 58 points in 72 games and 25 points in 41 games, very respectable totals for anyone on a team that would prove to be as terrible as Kansas City.
The first pick of the 1974 Expansion Draft belonged to the Scouts and they would choose goalie Michel Plasse from the Montreal Canadiens. He had won the Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1973 and in his one season with the Scouts, he would have four wins and 16 losses.
Most of the players chosen by the Scouts were cast offs from other clubs, and while they all had merit and decent careers, none were stars. Needless to say, there were no Hall of Famers in the bunch. Of the 24 players chosen, 19 would play for the Scouts at some point during that first season.
On Oct. 9, 1974, the Scouts took to the ice for the first time, playing the Maple Leafs in Maple Leaf Gardens and losing 6-2. They would play their first eight games on the road while the American Royal Rodeo used the arena, losing seven times. Finally, on Nov. 2, 1974, the team debuted at home, losing 4-3 to the Black Hawks. That game was attended by 14,748 people, numbers the team would never reach again. On Nov. 3, the team recorded its first win, 5-4 over the Capitals.
Joe Lynch was one of the attendees of that first home game, and would go on to write the book Icing on the Plains, The Rough Ride of Kansas City’s NHL Scouts. He would say in an interview, quote:
“We were kids then, and it was our first exposure to hockey. We were hooked.”
On Dec. 15, 1974, the Scouts would actually pull of one of their few good trades when they picked up Guy Charron and Claude Houde from the Red Wings in exchange for Bart Crashley, Larry Giroux and Ted Snell. Charron would go on to become a great playmaker with the team, and during the remainder of his career he would top 70 points four seasons in a row. While Houde would be out of the league by 1976, the three players sent to the Red Wings would have careers mostly in the minors before they were all out of the league by the early 1980s. Snell would never play another NHL game after his time with the Scouts.
On Jan. 10, 1975, the team was able to acquire goaltender Denis Herron, who would prove to be their most reliable netminder for the remainder of the franchise history.
Over the course of their entire first season, the team had 15 wins, 54 losses and 11 ties, for a total of only 41 points. Of their 54 losses, 13 of them were shutouts, including a 10-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers, Flames and Kings shutout the Scouts twice. Three of the wins the team had that season were against the Capitals, the only team worse than them. Not once in the season, or any other, did the team score more than six goals in a game. The only time they did was against the Montreal Canadiens when they lost 7-6.
Typically, most expansion teams have a terrible first year and climb up the standings. The Islanders were one of the worst teams in the league in 1972, and by 1980 they were Stanley Cup Champions. That was not going to be the case for Kansas City and their second year would be worse than their first, at least the last half of it.
In the 1975 Entry Draft, Barry Dean was selected second overall by the Scouts but would not play a single game for the team. Instead, he would head over to the WHA to play for the Phoenix Roadrunners. In that first season with the WHA club, he produced 34 points. Over his career, he would have 81 points in 165 games. While some NHL All-Stars would be chosen in the draft, it was not a deep draft and no Hall of Fame players were drafted. The lack of a deep draft was one reason why the team would struggle so badly in the coming season. Of the players that the team drafted, nine in all, four would attend the 1975-76 training camp and three of them would suit up to play that season, amounting to 16 games combined.
The start of the new season began well enough with the Scouts earning three wins and a tie over their first six games. Despite the good start, the team was only bringing in about 6,000 fans, far below the other teams in the league.
The team began the first half of the 1975-76 season fighting for a playoff position and on Dec. 28, they won 3-1 over the California Golden Seals and were one point behind the St. Louis Blues for a playoff position. That would be the last bright moment for the franchise. From Dec. 30 to Feb. 4, the team would lose 14 games, tie two games and win no games. It was not until Feb. 7 that the team won again, and then fell into a complete free fall losing 21 games and getting six ties. Thanks to going 0-35-8 in the last 44 games, the team finished with a record of 12 wins, 56 losses and 12 ties. It would prove to be the worst record in franchise history, all the way up to the New Jersey Devils of today. The team finished second-last in the league, ahead of the Capitals, but this time the Capitals were only four points behind.
During that season, the team would go through three coaches with Bep Guidolin being fired 45 games into the season and was replaced by Hall of Fame player Sid Abel for three games, before Eddie Bush came in to coach the team to a 1-23-8 record. Halfway through the season, the first captain of the team, Nolet, was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins and was replaced by Guy Charron for the remainder of the season. That Feb. 7, 1976 win was the last time the Kansas City Scouts would ever win a game.
Those two seasons would prove to be the only two Kansas City would ever have, winning only 27 games out of 160 and having a 7-66-7 record away from home. Eventually, with the team performing so poorly, attendance began to tank. The team averaged only 8,218 people per game despite having a 17,000 seat arena, which was much larger than the league average.
The Capitals were much worse than the Scouts, but their owner was patient and had better financial backing that would allow the team to grow and eventually become a champion.
As the new season was about to start, the team had only sold 2,000 season tickets, and its owners group of 37 people was buried in debt. The decision was made to sell the Chiefs. A Denver-based group led by oil tycoon Jack Vickers bought the club on July 26, 1976 and moved to Colorado where they played as the Colorado Rockies for six seasons before they relocated to become the New Jersey Devils in 1982. The Scouts relocation was the first time since 1935 that the NHL had had a team relocate. The California Golden Seals, another hapless team, would also move that year to Cleveland.
Today, even though the New Jersey Devils are the NHL descendants of the Scouts, there is no mention of the team by the Devils. The media guide of the team does not acknowledge the captains, coaches or general managers of the Scouts. The only sign of that past is on a mural on the second floor of the Devil’s home rink that shows the former arena of both the Scouts and the Rockies.
Over the course of the team’s two seasons, they never recorded a shutout. Among the 49 players to play a game for the Scouts, all but four were from Canada. The other four were born in the United States. A total of 10 players played more than 100 games for the team, with Simon Nolet appearing in 113 and Gary Croteau appearing in 156.
The all-time leading scorer for the scouts was Guy Charron, who had 113 points in 129 games, followed by Simon Nolet with 83 points in 113 games and Wilf Paiement having 82 points in 135 games. Paiement was also the all-time penalty minutes leader with 222, followed by Steve Durbano at 209 minutes. Paiement is also the all-time goal scoring leader for the team with 47 goals.
Dennis Herron is the all-time win leader among Scouts goalies with 15. He also leads the team all-time in losses with 52. No goalie in Scouts history registered a shoutout and only Bill Oleschuk, who played one game, has a save percentage over 0.9.
Wilf Paiement was the last active player to play for the Scouts upon his retirement in 1988.
Today, the Scouts are mostly forgotten, even by New Jersey Devil fans but there are still rumours of a team eventually coming back to the community. When the Pittsburgh Penguins were in a management crisis, there were rumours the team would move to Kansas City.
Information comes from The Hockey Writers, Wikipedia, QuantHockey.com, Vintage Hockey Cards Report, Bleacher Report, Litter Box Cats