Defunct NHL Teams – NHL Teams That No Longer Exist

old hockey jerseys hanging in the locker room and some hockey pucks on the bench

In the modern-day quest for the almighty Stanley Cup, sometimes we forget to look back at how we got here. Who paved the way for the current hockey teams and stars? Beyond the thrilling fights and the jaw-dropping goals, there’s a narrative less explored. A tale of teams that once held the spotlight and skated in packed arenas, only to fade into the archives of NHL history. These are the Defunct NHL Teams.

Not every team can stand the test of time and be the Montreal Canadians or Chicago Blackhawks. Some teams on this list only lasted one year, like the poor Quebec Bulldogs. We’ll cover them all, from the Ottawa Senators, who were early ice hockey royalty, to the short-lived St. Louis Eagles, who were a mere blip on the NHL radar. Each of these teams has a story as rich and vibrant as any.

Though now lost to the annals of history, their narratives are woven with the threads of triumphs, trials, and sheer love for the game. They were hockey communities and families, and some were hockey pioneers. As we dive into the sagas of these extinct teams, let us skate with them once more in spirit, reliving their glorious, fleeting moments under the bright lights of the NHL stage.

Why Do Hockey Teams Go Defunct?

There are several reasons why a hockey team can go defunct, but most of the time, it comes down to money. For some teams on this list, The Great Depression took them out; for others, they were sold and relocated in the hopes of a glorious rebirth. Whatever the reason, each defunct NHL team has its own unique story on why they disappeared. 

How Many NHL Teams Have Gone Defunct?

Since the National Hockey League (NHL) was founded in 1917, 19 teams have gone defunct.

List of Defunct NHL Teams

Now, we’ll go through the list of every defunct NHL franchise in chronological order of when they vanished into the NHL history books.

Montreal Wanderers – 1917-1918

What happened to them? The franchise folded

The Montreal Wanderers Hockey Club was founded in 1903 and played in four different hockey leagues before joining the NHL when it was founded in 1917. The Montreal Wanderers were one of the four original NHL hockey teams in 1917. In 1906,  as a member of the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association, they challenged the Stanley Cup champion Ottawa Senators to a Stanley Cup Championship and won.

Sadly, a fire burned down the Montreal Arena just four games into their inaugural NHL season, and they could not repair and rebuild it. There was also a shortage of players due to World War I. The Montreal Wanderers will go down in hockey history as the shortest-lived NHL franchise.

Quebec Bulldogs 1919-1920

What happened to them? Relocated and became the Hamilton Tigers

The Quebec Bulldogs Hockey Club was founded in 1878, just a few years after ice hockey was invented. They joined the NHL two years after the league was founded. Before joining the NHL, they were a member of various other leagues and won two Stanley Cup Challenges back-to-back in 1912 and 1913.

The NHL took over the franchise amidst some shady business dealings and sold the club to new owners who moved it to Hamilton, Ontario, where they changed the name to the Tigers. While they could have operated in another league, they didn’t have the opportunity to do so.

Hamilton Tigers 1920-1925

What happened to them? The franchise folded

The Hamilton Tigers made their NHL debut in 1920, signaling the start of a journey brimming with promise and potential. Yet, their narrative took a dramatic turn due to an internal salary dispute that disrupted their operations in 1924. This stirred up drama within the team, dampened player spirits, and disrupted their teamwork and chemistry. Consequently, their performance nosedived, fans lost interest, and the organization hit financial rock bottom, leading to the team’s downfall.

In the end, the Hamilton Tigers shut their door, and their players were sold to the fancy new hockey team, the New York Americans. The Tigers’ story serves as a stark reminder of the delicate balance between talent, teamwork, and financial stability in the world of professional sports.

Pittsburgh Pirates 1925-1930

What happened to them? Relocated and became the Philadelphia Quakers

The Pittsburgh Pirates were named after the baseball team as a symbol of unison for the professional sports teams of The Steel City. The franchise faced a challenging journey right from the get-go. Just three years in, the Pirates were sold to Benny Leonard. Then, the Great Depression and stock market collapse of 1929 happened, and the team slid further into financial despair. 

It also didn’t help that they didn’t perform very well on the ice, finishing last place several times. Their arena, Duquense Garden, was outdated and did not offer the fans a good experience. It was small, and the seats were not very comfortable. In 1930, with no new arena in sight and mounting debt, Leonard relocated the team to Philadelphia, becoming the Quakers.

Philadelphia Quakers 1930-1931

What happened to them? The franchise folded

An orange hockey jersey of the Philadelphia Quakers, a defunct NHL team

The Philadephia Quakers faced numerous challenges since their move from Pittsburgh. The economic hardships of the era severely impacted the team’s financial stability and ability to attract a large fan base. In their single season (1930-31), the Quakers struggled on the ice, reflecting the turmoil and uncertainty surrounding the franchise. They recorded one of the worst records in NHL history, which only compounded their off-ice troubles.

The combination of poor performance, low attendance, and ongoing financial strain made it clear that the team could not sustain itself. The Quakers’ existence in the NHL was short-lived, and they ceased operations after just one season in Philadelphia. This marked the end of Philadelphia’s first foray into the NHL, leaving the city without a team until the arrival of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1967 and the beginning of The Broadstreet Bullies.


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Ottawa Senators 1917-1934

What happened to them? Relocated and became the St. Louis Eagles

an old black and white picture of the hockey team the Ottawa Senators

The original Ottawa Senators were early ice hockey legends! Originally known as the Ottawa Hockey Club, they were founded in 1883 and were an original four member of the NHL in 1917. They dominated the sport in its early days, winning the Stanley Cup eleven times. Some were before the NHL existed, but they still won the trophy. 

They were pioneers of hockey by helping organize several of the first hockey leagues before the NHL existed. They were founding members of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC) in 1886, the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) in 1890, and the Canadian Amateur Hockey League (CAHL).

The Senators would face serious financial issues and could never recover from the Great Depression of 1929. In 1934, the NHL took over control of the team and forced them to relocate to St. Louis. The proud city of Ottawa held onto the name “Senators,” though. The new team was named the St. Louis Eagles. It took almost 60 years for the NHL to return to Ottawa, but they got the Senators back in 1992.

St. Louis Eagles 1934-1935

What happened to them? The franchise folded

The St. Louis Eagles played only one season in the NHL after moving from Ottawa due to financial problems. Unfortunately, the money problems only worsened; the team was still playing against Canadian teams, and the travel was overwhelming. The cost of the trains was increasing, and the players grew tired and weary from the long trips back and forth, so their performance suffered on the ice. So, the travel costs would put the nail in the coffin of this once proud franchise.

Montreal Maroons 1924-1938

What happened to them? The franchise folded

The Montreal Maroons were founded in 1924; during this time, Montreal was divided into French-speaking and English-speaking communities. The Maroons were formed to represent the English-speaking side of Montreal, as the French heavily favored the Montreal Canadians. They played at the newly constructed Montreal Forum, one of the most famous hockey arenas of all time.

The Maroons won The Stanley Cup twice and were a formidable opponent due to their tenacious forecheck. Unfortunately, they were another victim of the Great Depression; they could never get back on their feet financially, and in 1938, they closed their doors and went bankrupt. 

Since the Montreal Maroons went defunct, no NHL team has won a Stanley Cup and then folded or relocated.

New York Americans 1925-1942

What Happened to Them? The franchise folded

an old hockey jersery or sweater of the New York Americans

The New York Americans were founded in 1925 as the third NHL expansion team. Even though they were the first hockey team to call New York home, a year later, the New York Rangers were founded and soon took over as the most popular team in the Big Apple.

Although the Americans never won The Stanley Cup, they were a formidable foe. Many hockey legends laced up their skates for the Americans, including Eddie Shore, Billy Burch, and the legendary Red Dutton, who became one of the best coaches of all time.

World War II hit the New York Americans hard; they had never fully recovered from the Great Depression, and then the war came along, and they had a hard time attracting fans. The NHL took over the team but could not solve the financial crisis, and they folded in 1942.

After the Americans went defunct, the NHL was left with six teams, marking the start of the NHL’s Original Six era, which lasted until 1967.

Califonia Golden Seals 1967-1976

What Happened to Them? Relocated and became the Cleveland Barons

Known for their bright teal and gold uniforms, the California Golden Seals had a turbulent history marked by financial problems due to a lack of fan attendance. The Seals were one of the six teams added to the NHL in 1967 and were by far the least successful. 

The team struggled both on and off the ice. Frequent changes in management and ownership contributed to a lack of stability and success. Their time in the NHL was characterized by poor performance, never making it past the first round of the playoffs. The Golden Seals’ inability to secure a solid fan base in the Bay Area and their on-ice struggles led to declining attendance and revenue. 

They were relocated in 1976 to become the Cleveland Barons. They didn’t do much on the ice, but those were some sweet sweaters!

An ice hockey goalie and player wearing teal jerseys of the Calfornia Golden Seals

Kansas City Scouts 1974-1976

What Happened to Them? Relocated and became the Colorado Rockies 

The Kansas City Scouts had a brief chapter in the NHL history books. They entered the league as an expansion team in 1974 and struggled out of the gate. Their lackluster performance on the ice led to disinterest in the Midwest community, which was not known for its love of hockey. The NHL tried to expand to a new market and quickly discovered that hockey wasn’t that popular in the Great Plains region.

After just two disappointing seasons in the books, the league decided to move the Scouts to Colorado, after which they moved again and became the New Jersey Devils.

Cleveland Barons 1976-1978

What Happened to Them? Merged with the Minnesota North Stars

After relocating and rebranding from the California Golden Seals to the Cleveland Barons, the franchise’s new home wasn’t any better.  Their stint in the league was a rocky ride, with their performance barely scraping by with a 25 percent win rate and a whopping 147-goal deficit. 

As much as the Barons struggled on the ice, their financial situation was just as bad, if not worse. The money problems that haunted the franchise in California followed them across the country and continued in Ohio. After just two years in the NHL, the team merged with the Minnesota North Stars, who were also struggling financially.  The North Stars eventually moved to Dallas, where they won a Stanley Cup. 

Atlanta Flames 1972-1982

What Happened to Them? Relocated and became the Calgary Flames

Founded as a part of the NHL’s expansion to combat the rival World Hockey Association, the Atlanta Flames, alongside the New York Islanders, were introduced in 1971. The team experienced moderate success, qualifying for the playoffs in six out of their eight seasons. However, they could not secure a playoff series win, which might have led to their attendance problem.

The Flames had some excellent players in Eric Vail and goalie Dan Bouchard but could never get over the hump. Their financial struggles hit a peak when they were unable to secure a TV deal. The team relocated to Calgary, Alberta, where hockey is ingrained in the community. The franchise saw brighter days as they won the Stanley Cup in 1989.

Colorado Rockies 1976-1982

What Happened to Them? Relocated and became the New Jersey Devils

After the Kansas City Scouts relocated and became the Colorado Rockies, they continued to struggle on and off the ice. They only qualified for the playoffs once, despite having some stars on the team, including forward Lanny McDonald, who had one of the best mustaches ever! 

Lanny McDonlad a hockey player on the Colorado Rockies, an old defunct nHL team

Off-ice, the Colorado Rockies faced instability, with frequent changes in coaching and ownership. They had seven coaches in just four years, and the team’s ownership changed hands twice in the same period. This turbulence contributed to their lack of consistent performance and inability to develop a strong team identity.

Finally, in 1982, the team moved to East Rutherford, New Jersey, where things started to turn around. They became the New Jersey Devils, and they won three Stanley Cups.  They were led by stars like Scott Neidermeyey and Scott Stevens, one of the most fearsome fighters of all time.

Minnesota North Stars 1967-1993

What Happened to Them? Relocated and became the Dallas Stars

It’s hard to believe a team would struggle with attendance and financial issues in The Hockey State. But that’s exactly what happened to the Minnesota North Stars. They came into the NHL during the expansion era in 1967. Despite some playoff success, they could never win the Stanley Cup.

A new stadium deal ultimately caused the franchise to move to Dallas. They could not work out a deal for a new barn (hockey slang for a stadium) and refused to play in the Minnesota Timberwolves (the basketball team) arena due to poor ice conditions.

It’s a shame they kept the name when they moved to Texas because the Minnesota North Stars are an iconic brand with some of the best jerseys in hockey history.

a hockey player, Brian Billows of the Minnesota North Stars, one of the defunct NHL teams

Quebec Nordiques 1979-1995

What Happened to Them? Relocated and became the Colorado Avalanche

The Quebec Nordiques were one of the founding teams of The World Hockey Association (WHA) in 1972.  They moved to the National Hockey League in 1979 in an effort to create more revenue. The team was known for its passionate fan base and intense rivalry with the Montreal Canadians. Some games against their hated rival got out of hand, and lots of penalty minutes were racked up.

The team was forced to relocate to Colorado in 1995 due to financial troubles caused by the small market and the weakening Canadian dollar compared to the American dollar. It’s too bad they couldn’t hold on for one more year in Quebec, as the Colorado Avalanche found instant success in winning the Stanley Cup the first year they were in Denver.

They had legendary young stars like Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, one of the best Swedish players ever. One can’t help but wonder if they had stayed in Quebec and won the Cup there, maybe the franchise could have gotten a financial boost and stayed in Canada. They do have one of the best logos of all time, though.

A picture Joe Sakic an ice hockey player in a blue Quebec Nordiques jersey, they are a defunct NHL team

Winnipeg Jets 1979-1996

What Happened to Them? Relocated and became the Arizona Coyotes

The Winnipeg Jets were another founding member of the WHA in 1972. They dominated the WHL, winning the Avco Cup three times and making the finals twice in just seven years. Then came the WHA-NHL merger in 1979. The move to the big leagues didn’t treat them very well, as they only won two playoff series in their 19 years in Winnipeg. 

Despite a valiant effort by the local Manitoba community to keep them there, it came down to money, like most things do in professional sports. They were sold to an American businessman who relocated the franchise and traded the frozen plains of Winnipeg for brighter pastures in the southwestern desert of Arizona. They were renamed the Coyotes. Unfortunately for the franchise, the struggles continued both on and off the ice. 

Hartford Whalers 1979-1996

What Happened to Them? Relocated and became the Carolina Hurricanes

The Hartford Whalers, originally the New England Whalers, were a founding member of the World Hockey Association in 1972 and joined the NHL with the merger in 1979. They did win the first WHA championship, but the move to the NHL was not kind to The Whalers.

Despite having the legendary Gordie Howe on the team (although it was at the end of his career), the Hartford Whalers only won one playoff series in their 18-year existence. They were forced to relocate to the Carolina Hurricanes in 1996 due to several factors, including a small market with a shrinking corporate base, a small (but passionate) fan base, and mainly the proximity to the Boston Bruins, who dominated the New England market.

Atlanta Thrashers 1999-2011

What Happened to Them? Relocated and became the Winnipeg Jets

In 1999, the National Hockey League awarded an expansion franchise to the Atlanta Thrashers. Hockey was growing in the southeast, with new teams in Carolina, Tampa, and Miami. The NHL wanted to bring hockey back to Atlanta after the Flames moved to Calgary in 1982.

Even with stars like the great Russian winger Ilya Kovalchuk and the big, bruising defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, they did not find success on the ice. They only made the playoffs once in their 12-year history and were swept by the New York Rangers.

Then, the dreaded lockout of 2004 happened, and hockey took a downturn. The Atlanta Thrashers were already struggling to get people to come to the games, and the lockout only worsened the situation. In 2011, The Thrashers was sold to a Winnipeg group and relocated, and The Winnipeg Jets were reborn. After two unsuccessful attempts to bring hockey to Atlanta, will there ever be a third?

Final Thoughts on The Defunct NHL Teams

Now that we’ve gone through the List of Defunct NHL teams, we hope you got a look back at the history of the NHL and the teams that helped shape it into the league it has become. From ancient legends like the original Ottawa Senators to the short-lived Cleveland Barons, each defunct NHL team had an impact in one way or another on the NHL landscape.

Looking forward, the history of these defunct NHL teams serves as a valuable lesson for the league, current franchises, and potential future teams. It highlights the importance of sustainable business practices, the need for strong community support, and the impact of market dynamics. 

The NHL continues to evolve, with expansions and relocations still occurring, but the stories of these defunct teams remain an integral part of its history. They remind us of the volatility of professional sports and the importance of cherishing and supporting local teams because they might be gone tomorrow.

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