As part of the NHL–WHA merger, the WHA insisted on including all of its surviving Canadian teams, including the Nordiques, among the teams taken into the NHL at the end of the 1978–79 season. As a result, the Nordiques entered the NHL along with the Whalers, Oilers, and Jets. The Nordiques would be placed in the Adams Division of the Wales Conference.
Forced to let all but three players go in a dispersal draft, the Nordiques sank to the bottom of the standings. They finished the 1979–80 NHL season last in the division despite the play of promising rookie left winger Michel Goulet. An early highlight to the otherwise dreary season came when Real Cloutier became the second NHL player, following Alex Smart, ever to score a hat trick in his first NHL game.