The National Hockey League, delighted to rid itself on an 11-year running sore, conducted speedy funeral services yesterday for the Cleveland Barons.
The Barons, nee Oakland Seals, and their various financial obligations dating back to Charles O. Finley's ownership, were absorbed by the Minnesota North Stars, no gleaming beacon, either, since their birth in 1967.
The merged club was permitted to protect 10 players and two goaltenders from the combined rosters. The Washington Capitals, for $30,000, will be permitted to choose skater No. 11 at a special dispersal draft this morning, prior to the league's annual amateur draft.
The newcomer is not likely to be a star, since the two teams boasted only one player, the Barons' Dennis Maruk, with more 25 goals last season. The rosters of the nonplayoff teams are dotted with the likes of ex-Capitals Harvey Bennett and Walter McKechnie.
After the Capitals and St. Louis Blues choose a player apiece - the picks cannot be traded - the merged team can protect one more player. Then Vancouver and Pittsburgh pick one each, another is protected and Colorado chooses one. The rest of the players remain the responsibility and obligation of the North Stars.
Aside from player dispersal, many factors remain to be settled between Cleveland owners Gordon and George Gund and the Minnesota ownership led by Gordon Ritz. For example, general managers Harry Howell of Cleveland and Lou Nanne of Minnesota will both participate in today's amateur draft, in which the merged team will lead off by choosing Ottawa center Bob Smith, Canada's junior player of the year.
Washington will select center Ryan Walter of the Seattle Breakers, who figures to be of considerably more help than the former Baron/North Star. The merger, however, helped Washington slightly in another way, since Cleveland's first-round selection disappeared, giving the Capitals the 19th and 22nd picks in the amateur draft.
Red Sullivan, the Capitals' chief scout, said he expected American college players to be drafted as early as the late stages of round one. Washington has shown particular interest in right wing David Silk of NCAA champion Boston University.
The North Stars will take Cleveland's place in the Adams Division, reducing the Smythe Division to four teams and leaving Washington with the possibility of harboring the NHL's only fifth-place team next season.
'With our combined forces we expect to give Minnesota and the Adams Division a potent contender," Ritz said. "One of the joys of moving into the Adams Division is being with Boston Mr. (Don) Cherry and I have a fine relation that draws large crowds."
Cherry, the Boston coach, accused the North Stars of cowardice last year, while Minnesota folks referred to the Bruins by such endearments as "mad dogs."
The NHL had planned to expand intradivisional scheduling next season, but now there is a possibility the league will adopt a more balanced schedule, with each team meeting each other team five times.
Oakland-Cleveland has been a liability since the 1967 expansion, rarely drawing five-figure crowds in either city.
"I'm confident it (the team) will no longer be No. 7 on our agenda every year," said NHL President John Ziegler, who added that the merger had received unanimous consent.
It took a full day of discussion, however, before all parties agreed on a 10-plus-two protected list rather than eight-plus-two, as suggested by the have-nots who benefit from the dispersal draft.
The NHL Players Association was advised but not consulted in the merger, Ziegler said.
Last night, in a joint news conference, the NHL and the players association confirmed participation in the Feb. 8-10-11 All-Star Series against the Soviets in New York. Fans will choose the starting team, using ballots similar to those for baseball's All-Star game.
The league announced its All-Star Team for the past season, led by right wing Guy Lafleur and goalie Ken Dryden of Montreal. Boston's Brad Park and the New York Islanders' Denis Potvin were the defensemen, with the Islanders' Bryan Trottier at center and Clark Gillies at left wing.