The 1991 NHL Dispersal and Expansion Drafts were held via telephone conference call on May 30, 1991. The dispersal draft took place to fill the roster of the league's only expansion team for the 1991–92 season, the San Jose Sharks, first from the Minnesota North Stars pool of players, and then from the rest of the NHL pool of players (to re-stock the North Stars' roster and to fill out the Sharks' roster).
Though the San Jose Sharks were technically founded in 1991, their lineage goes back further. In the 1970s, the Gund brothers, George and Gordon Gund, held minority ownership of the California Golden Seals, the NHL team representing the San Francisco Bay Area. The Seals had long-standing attendance problems, and the Gunds were instrumental in a move to Cleveland in 1976, where the team became the Barons. The move did not cure the franchise's financial struggles, and in 1978 the Gunds acquired the Minnesota North Stars, another failing team and were permitted to merge the two teams, which would continue under the "Minnesota North Stars" banner.
In 1990, as a result of slipping attendance and an increasingly inadequate arena, the Gunds petitioned the NHL for permission to relocate the North Stars to the Bay Area. The NHL, however, wishing to maintain a presence in Minnesota, denied their request. As a compromise, the league agreed to award the Gund brothers a new NHL expansion franchise to be located in the Bay Area, which would become the San Jose Sharks. The Gunds would sell the North Stars to an NHL-approved purchaser. One of the conditions of sale and expansion deal was that the Sharks would have the right to draft players from the North Stars organization. After that draft, the North Stars' roster would be replenished by the expansion draft as well. This effectively undid the 1978 merger between the North Stars and the Cleveland Barons, previously the California Golden Seals, the Bay Area NHL team.
The Gunds paid $50 million for the Sharks franchise. They sold the North Stars to a consortium consisting of Howard Baldwin, Morris Belzberg and Norman Green for $31.5 million. A series of disputes led to the team being completely controlled by Green, who would eventually move the team to Dallas after the 1992–93 season.
Dispersal Draft: Before the draft, the North Stars selected 14 skaters and two goaltenders who had played at least 50 NHL games by the end of the 1989–90 season. These players were protected. From the unprotected North Stars players (but excluding 1990 draft picks), the Sharks selected 14 skaters and two goaltenders. Up to three Shark selections could have been unsigned North Stars draft choices, while another three could have been players signed between May 2 and June 15, 1990.
After San Jose had chosen 14 skaters and two goaltenders from Minnesota, the teams would take turns choosing from the pool of unclaimed players until the Sharks roster reached thirty players.
Expansion Draft: The other 20 teams in the league were allowed to protect two goaltenders and 16 skaters. The Sharks and North Stars would take turns selecting from the pool of unprotected players until each had chosen ten players. 20 total players would be selected, one from each franchise.
Not all of the players selected by the Sharks and North Stars in these drafts stayed with their new teams for long. Among players moved before the start of the 1991–92 season were the following:
Tim Kerr, selected by San Jose in the Expansion Draft, was traded to the New York Rangers for Brian Mullen and future considerations on May 30, 1991,
Rob Murray, selected by Minnesota in the Expansion Draft, was traded to Winnipeg for a seventh-round pick in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft on May 31, 1991,
Greg Paslawski, selected by San Jose in the Expansion Draft, was traded to Quebec for Tony Hrkac on May 31, 1991,
Shane Churla, selected by San Jose in the Dispersal Draft, was traded back to Minnesota for Kelly Kisio, whom the North Stars had selected in the Expansion Draft, on June 3, 1991,
Dave Babych, selected by Minnesota in the Expansion Draft, was traded to Vancouver for Tom Kurvers on June 22, 1991,
Charlie Huddy, Randy Gilhen and Jim Thomson, all drafted by Minnesota in the Expansion Draft, were traded along with a fourth-round pick in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft to Los Angeles for Todd Elik on June 22, 1991,
Dan Keczmer, selected by San Jose in the Dispersal Draft, was traded to Hartford for Dean Evason on October 2, 1991,
Guy Lafleur, selected by Minnesota in the Expansion Draft, was traded back to Quebec for Alan Haworth, and he retired before the 1991–92 season began.
As with most other Expansion Drafts, the majority of the players selected did not have lengthy NHL careers; many of them ended up in the minor leagues. San Jose's original minor league affiliate was the Kansas City Blades of the International Hockey League. The Blades won the IHL Championship, the Turner Cup, in 1992, and a majority of their players were under contract to San Jose. In fact, many of those players were under contract with the North Stars the previous year and played for a rival IHL team, the Kalamazoo Wings.