"The move is something that shouldn't have happened, something that should have been avoided," says North Star coach Bob Gainey. "You have a place with a grass-roots interest and suddenly.... I was thinking about historical precedents. Hockey started in western Canada, you know. All the little towns had teams. Then there was a team in New York, in the big cities in the U.S. The players from the little towns went to New York, and suddenly there were no teams in western Canada. Same thing in France. I played over there. Hockey started in the Alps. Then a guy in Paris started a team, and all the players went, and there was no hockey in the Alps. It all winds up where the money is."
The reasons for this modern sports move are wrapped in the usual Byzantine workings between a high-profile, out-of-town owner and local politicians. Green cited various plans that might have kept the North Stars in Minneapolis. He wanted to develop the land around the Met Center to take advantage of the one-year-old Mall of America, the country's largest shopping mall. He couldn't do it. He wanted to move the team to the downtown Target Center, home of the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves. The city wouldn't complete the deal by buying the Target Center. He would have moved to the Civic Center in St. Paul, but the deal never was good enough.
Green also cited various numbers to back up his contention that the Twin Cities couldn't support the team anyway. The market was too small, and it was already crowded with pro baseball, basketball and football and with the well-loved University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. North Star ticket prices were the lowest in the NHL, averaging slightly more than $21 each, not enough. The season-ticket base—only 6,400 were sold this season—was never good. The Met Center never had enough luxury boxes. All of this ignores the fact that even though the team has often stunk (one .500-plus season in the past eight), this season the average attendance has exceeded 13,000, despite the conflicting emotions. Green reported losing various amounts of money; the figures, which increase with each interview, have now reached $24 million.
"He says a lot of different things now," says Julie Hammond, president of the North Star booster club. "When he came here, he said, 'Only an idiot could lose money on hockey in Minnesota.' Well, I guess he proved that point."
The biggest impetus for the move came from the NHL Board of Governors in December, when it granted Green the right to switch cities within one year. He already had been talking with people in Anaheim about moving there, but when Disney became interested in that market, Green looked elsewhere.
"I never expected all this emotion, to be vilified the way I have been," Green said from Palm Springs. "I suppose I should have. My wife and I had bought a nice house on a lake in Minnesota, just beautiful, and I planned to spend summers there, no matter what happened. I said that to [broadcaster] Frank Gifford, who is a friend. He said it wouldn't be possible. He said, 'Have you ever heard of Walter O'Malley?' "
To make matters worse, last month Green was hit with a sexual harassment suit filed by Kari Dziedzic, his former executive assistant. She alleges that he often kissed female employees, including her, and required kisses in return, that he shook a female employee's shoulder to see if she was wearing a bra and that he wanted to hire a receptionist with "the right look," which he explained was blonde hair, large breasts and a pretty face. The suit followed stories in local newspapers about Green's behavior, including an allegation by a former North Star announcer, Dave Hodge, that all Green ever wanted on broadcasts were constant sales pitches for tickets and a barrage of good news, no matter what was taking place on the ice. A former female employee said she had been fired because Green told her she lacked "the right chemistry."
"He said, 'Before you were married, when you would meet men, sometimes there would be a chemistry,' " Patty Reid, formerly the North Stars' community-relations director, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. " 'You'd think, That's the kind of guy I'd like to date. That's what I mean by chemistry. You're not the kind of person I'd want to date.' "
Things began to deteriorate on the ice as well. Starting fast, the North Stars had the league's sixth-best record at the All-Star break, but they began to fall apart as speculation about the move developed. When the move was announced, things became even worse. "I was sent to cover the North Stars the day the announcement was made, to cover them as if they were a Dallas team," Ken Stephens, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, says. "I go with them for the first nine games, and their record is 0-8-1."
"You say that none of the outside stuff should distract you, and it shouldn't, but it had to have some effect," says North Star center Bobby Smith, a 15-year NHL veteran. "Everyone was talking about it, and if you weren't talking about it, someone was asking you about it. It was the only subject of conversation."