Gone But Not Forgotten: Kansas City Scouts

With the story of the Cleveland Barons, Gone But Not Forgotten has completed its roll call of completely deceased NHL teams. Now the focus shifts to a group of lost teams that still exist, just not where they originally started out. Today we examine the birth certificate of the New Jersey Devils and find the team’s roots stretch all the way back to the American Midwest. Let’s gym, tan and laundry and meet the Kansas City Scouts after the jump...

Part of the NHL’s game plan for the 1970’s was to expand by two teams every two years, filling in the map and hopefully leading to more national appeal in the US. The league got through three phases of this plan until its war with the WHA derailed it by the middle of the decade. With two leagues and too many teams there was no need to keep expanding, especially once the NHL realized that the price of peace with the WHA would likely include absorbing some of its stronger franchises. Along with the Washington Capitals, the Kansas City Scouts were born in 1974, in what ended up being the final phase of this process, as conditional expansion franchises to begin play during the 1976-77 season in Denver and Seattle were scuttled. Originally, the team was slated to be called the Mohawks or MO-Hawks (MO being the state abbreviation for Missouri and hawks for Jayhawkers) to reflect the Kansas City’s metro area being partly in the states of Missouri and Kansas. Chicago objected and the idea was quickly nixed by the NHL as the moniker was too close to Blackhawks. A name the team contest was held, with Scouts being the winning entry. The Scout is a famous statue that overlooks the downtown area and it would appear as part of the team’s logo. The Scouts would play at the brand new Kemper Arena and out of the new Smythe Division as the NHL shifted to a two conference - four division format to accommodate the addition of Kansas City and Washington. The league also increased the regular season from 78 to 80 games and 12 teams would now make the playoffs (the top three from each division) instead of eight.

The Scouts began stocking their inaugural roster by selecting 24 players in the expansion draft. GM Sid Abel selected 2 goaltenders, 7 defenseman and 15 forwards including RW Simon Nolet who was plucked from the Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers. Nolet would become the team’s first captain. 19 of the 24 players would suit up for the Scouts at some point during their first season. In the 1974 amateur draft, NHL teams were now permitted to select one underage player among their choices and the Scouts took 18 year old RW Wilf Paiement from the St. Catharines Black Hawks in the first round, second overall. Before the start of the regular season, 3rd round draft choice Bob Bourne was traded to the New York Islanders for D Bart Crashley and the rights to D Larry Hornung who was playing in the WHA with the Winnipeg Jets. The team also acquired D Mike Baumgartner from the Montreal Canadiens for cash and signed free agent D Jim McElmury from the WHL’s Portland Buckaroos. Bep Guidolin would be the club’s first head coach.

With Kemper Arena booked for the American Royal Rodeo and Livestock Show, the Scouts opened the 1974-75 season with a daunting nine game road trip. The trip started on October 9th, in Toronto where the Scouts were routed 6-2 by the Maple Leafs. Losses to the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Atlanta Flames and Chicago Blackhawks followed before the team picked up its first point with a 4-4 draw against the Golden Seals in Oakland. The team dropped 3 more games to finish the road trip with a 0-8-1 record. Kansas City's first home game was on November 2nd, against Chicago, with the Blackhawks prevailing by a 3-2 count. The Scouts would finally taste victory for the first time in their next outing, a 5-4 road win over the Capitals. After defeating Washington, the team returned to Kansas City for a five game homestand. They lost the first three before posting a modest two game winning streak, beating the St. Louis Blues 5-3 and then the Islanders 4-2 . A 2-12-3 run followed before the team won three out of four to finish the first half of the schedule. Once December rolled around, the club started tweaking its roster and shedding some of the players it selected in the expansion draft. First, forward Bruce Deadmarsh was sent to the Vancouver Blazers of the WHA for cash. On December 14th, Bart Crashley would be packaged with RW Ted Snell and D Larry Giroux (who was acquired in October for Chris Evans) and sent to the Detroit Red Wings for center Guy Charron and D Claude Houde. Charron would provide the Scouts with some much needed offensive punch. On January 10th, the Scouts traded G Michel Plasse to the Pittsburgh Penguins for G Denis Herron and D Jean-Guy Legace. The moves had little effect in the standings as the Scouts only improved by one point over their first half performance, finishing with a record of 15-54-11, in the basement of the Smythe Division, after winning only once during the final 19 games of the season. SImon Nolet led the team in scoring with 58 points. Rookie Wilf Paiement tied Nolet for the team lead in goals with 26 and added 13 assists while racking up 101 PIM. Guy Charron picked up 42 points in his 51 games with the Scouts. Denis Herron’s 3.75 GAA was best among the three goalies to play for Kansas City that season as he solidified the position after being acquired from the Penguins.

Prior to the start of the 1975-76 season GM Sid Abel was busy continuing the roster revamping he started in December. On June 18th, C Lynn Powis and Kansas City’s 2nd round pick in the 1976 amateur draft were sent to St. Louis for RW Craig Patrick, LW Denis Dupere and cash. In August, backup goaltender Peter McDuffie and D Glen Burdon were swapped for G Bill McKenzie and D Gary Bergman in a four player deal with the Red Wings. The 1975 amateur draft would yield little immediate return for the Scouts as first round selection, LW Barry Dean, would instead suit up for the Phoenix Roadrunners and produce 34 points for the WHA club. The Scouts would only get 7 games from 2nd rounder, LW Don Cairns, 8 games from 5th rounder, D Terry McDonald, and one start from G Bill Oleschuk, who was chosen in the 7th round. Two games into the regular season Abel would send C RIchard Lemieux and KC’s 2nd rounder in 1977 to the Atlanta Flames for RW Buster Harvey.

The reconfigured Scouts opened the regular season with a 1-1 tie against the New York Islanders in Kansas City. Three nights later the team would beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 to post their first winning record, albeit at 1-0-1. They dropped the next two games but rebounded to beat Washington 4-2 and the Boston Bruins by a 3-2 count for consecutive road wins. This was the last time the Scouts would ever be above the .500 mark. Reality set in as the team lost their next five games, getting shutout four times in the process. The final game of the losing streak was a humiliating 10-0 blowout loss to the two-time defending Cup champions in Philadelphia. A 3-2 win over the lowly Golden Seals and a 3-3 tie against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Kemper Arena temporarily stopped the bleeding but the 1-5-1 road trip that followed set the club back again. While the team still hadn’t turned the corner they were showing some signs of improvement including an exciting 6-5 home win over the powerful Montreal Canadiens on December 3rd. The Canadiens would only lose 11 games during the campaign so this was a definite highlight for the Scouts. A 3-1 victory over the Golden Seals in Oakland on December 28th, left Kansas City with an 11-21-4 record and only a single point behind St. Louis for the third and final playoff spot in the weak Smythe Division. No one could have imagined that one of the worst stretches in NHL history was about to follow or that the Scouts were on the verge of playing themselves right of Kansas City. The beginning of the end started in Vancouver with a 5-2 loss to the Canucks on December 28th to close out 1975. The Scouts would not win in January as the losing streak reached fourteen games before the team managed a 4-4 tie with Pittsburgh on the 31st followed by a 3-3 draw with St. Louis on February 4th. The dizzying swoon cost the team its first captain and its first head coach. On January 9th, Simon Nolet and C Ed Gilbert were traded to Pittsburgh for rugged D Steve Durbano and RW Chuck Arnason. The teams also swapped first round picks in the upcoming 1976 amateur draft. On January 21st, Bep Guidolin stepped down due to clashes with players and management. He was replaced for the remainder of the season by Eddie Burns after GM Sid Abel filled in for three games. On February 7th, the team finally snapped the sixteen game winless streak with a 5-1 victory over the Washington Capitals at Kemper Arena. Unbelievably, this would be the last time the franchise would win a game as the Scouts. The club would finish its second and final season in Kansas City with a 27 game winless streak (0-21-6) meaning they had only won once during the final 44 games of the season, clocking out at an awful 12-56-12. The final home tilt for the Scouts at Kemper Arena was an 8-6 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on March 30th. The Scouts led 6-5 after two periods but could not hang on to get the win. In a strange twist of fate, their final game was a loss to the Vancouver Canucks by the same 5-2 score and in the same place that the run of futility started. Guy Charron, who assumed the captaincy after Nolet was traded, was a bright spot all season, finishing with a team leading 71 points but his -51 rating was a testament to just how bad the Scouts were in both ends of the ice. Wilf Paiement picked up 43 points in only 57 games and D Gary Bergman added 38 points from the blue line. D Larry Johnston finished with a staggering -61 rating while Steve Durbano led the league in penalty minutes. Denis Herron posted 11 of the team’s 12 wins in goal while compiling a 4.03 GAA and no shutouts.

The Kansas City Scouts seemed doomed from the start. With 32 teams in operation between the NHL and WHA, quality players were harder than ever to come by, especially for brand new expansion teams. While the Scouts were better on the ice than their expansion cousin Capitals, Washington owner Abe Polin had deep enough pockets to get the team through its early years. The Kansas City ownership group was not as willing or well-heeled. Fans were hard to come by too, a constantly losing team and a sharp economic downturn in the Midwest kept the average attendance to just over 8,200 during the team’s two seasons at Kemper Arena. The NHL cancelled its planned 1976 expansion and probably should have done the same in 1974 or at least jettisoned the Scouts, who were a bad idea to begin with. While both franchises ultimately survived it wasn’t easy or very pretty. The war with the WHA and the accompanying talent dilution of the times was really beginning to take a toll. With only 2.000 or so season ticket holders, the team’s 37 man ownership group concluded the NHL would not work in Kansas City and sold the team to interests led by Jack Vickers who relocated it to Denver. The franchise would continue on as the Colorado Rockies. With the opening of the Sprint Center in 2007, Kansas City is back on the NHL’s radar but is probably a long shot to ever get a second chance in the league.

NHL Seasons: Two

Stanley Cups: None

Notable Players: Guy Charron, Wilf Paiement, Simon Nolet, Denis Herron, Gary Croteau

Should the NHL return to Kansas City?

Yes, Kansas City would be welcome addition to the league one day8
Maybe, the team would need the right ownership/management to succeed like Nashville7
No, this is a market the NHL should avoid13