The WORLD HOCKEY ASSOCIATION (French : Association mondiale de hockey) was a professional ice hockey major league that operated in North America from 1972 to 1979 . It was the first major league to compete with the National Hockey League (NHL) since the collapse of the Western Hockey League (1952–74) . Although the WHA was not the first league since that time to attempt to challenge the NHL's supremacy, it was by far the most successful in the modern era.
The WHA tried to capitalize on the lack of hockey teams in a number of major American cities and mid-level Canadian cities, and also hoped to attract the best players by paying more than NHL owners would. The WHA successfully challenged the NHL's reserve clause , which bound players to their NHL teams even without a valid contract, allowing players in both leagues greater freedom of movement. Sixty-seven players jumped from the NHL to the WHA in the first year, led by star forward Bobby Hull , whose ten-year, $2.75 million contract was a record at the time. The WHA also took the initiative to sign European players.
The WHA had an acrimonious relationship with the NHL, resulting in
numerous legal battles, as well as competition for control of players
and markets. In spite of this, merger talks began almost immediately,
as the WHA was constantly unstable, with franchises occasionally
relocating or folding in the middle of the season. NHL owners voted
down a 1977 plan to merge six WHA teams (the
Edmonton Oilers , New
England Whalers ,
Quebec Nordiques ,
Cincinnati Stingers , Houston
Aeros , and
Winnipeg Jets ) into the NHL before a 1979 merger was
approved. As a result, four teams – three Canadian and only one
American – the Edmonton Oilers,
The final WHA game was played on May 20, 1979, as the Jets defeated the Oilers to win their third Avco World Trophy .
* 1 History
* 1.1 Founding * 1.2 Teams * 1.3 Problems * 1.4 Talent competition * 1.5 International play * 1.6 Decline and merger
* 2 Legacy of the WHA
* 2.1 Fate of surviving teams
* 3 Hockey Hall of Fame members * 4 Trophies and awards * 5 Timeline of teams * 6 WHA All-Star Game * 7 See also * 8 References * 9 External links
World Hockey Association
The average NHL salary in 1972 was $25,000, the lowest of the four major sports, while players were bound by the reserve clause , a clause in every player's contract that automatically extended a player's contract by one year when it expired, tying them to their team for the life of their career. In October 1972, the WHA announced that it would not use the reserve clause, stating that "The reserve clause won't stand up to the scrutiny of ... players, players associations, the United States Congress, the public and the Supreme Court". The WHA also promised much higher salaries than the NHL offered, and by the time the league began play, it had lured 67 former NHL players to its league, including Bernie Parent , Gerry Cheevers , Derek Sanderson , J. C. Tremblay and Ted Green . The biggest name signed was former Chicago Black Hawks star Bobby Hull , who agreed to a 10-year, $2.7 million contract with the Winnipeg Jets , the largest in hockey history at the time, and one that lent the league instant credibility.
The NHL tried to block several of the defections. The
In November 1971, twelve teams were formally announced. They included
teams from cities without NHL teams such as the Miami Screaming Eagles
, as well as teams in cities where the league's promoters believed
there was room for more than one team, such as the Los Angeles Aces ,
Chicago Cougars , and New York Raiders . Two of the original twelve
teams moved before the first season started: the Dayton Arrows became
Although the league had many players under contract by June 1972,
including a few NHL stars such as Bernie Parent, many of its players
were career minor leaguers and college players. The new league was not
considered much of a threat, until
Bobby Hull , arguably the NHL's top
forward at the time, jumped to the new league. Hull had not been
thought to be seriously considering signing with the WHA even though
he was in contentious salary negotiations with the
The WHA officially made its debut on October 11, 1972 , in the Ottawa Civic Centre , when the Alberta Oilers defeated the Ottawa Nationals 7-4. Although the quality of hockey was predictably below that of the NHL, the WHA had indeed made stars out of many players that had little or no playing time in the NHL.
The New England Whalers eventually won the WHA's inaugural championship, later renamed the Avco World Trophy when the Avco Financial Services Corporation became its main sponsor. However, the World Trophy had not yet been completed, and the Whalers skated their divisional championship trophy around the ice surface, much to the embarrassment of the WHA office. Alternate WHA logo
Right from the start, the league was plagued with problems. Many
teams often found themselves in financial difficulty, folding or
moving from one city to another, often in mid-season. Two of the
original twelve teams, the Dayton Arrows and the San Francisco Sharks
, relocated, citing arena troubles. These two franchises were moved to
The New York Raiders , initially intended to be the WHA's flagship
team, suffered from numerous problems. While they planned to play in
the brand new
Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum
In another instance, Harold Ballard , owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs , deliberately made the Toronto Toros ' lease terms at Maple Leaf Gardens as onerous as possible after they moved from Ottawa. The Toros were owned by John F. Bassett, son of Canadian media mogul John Bassett . The older Bassett had formerly been part-owner of the Leafs with Ballard and Stafford Smythe before falling out with his two partners. At the time the Toros' lease at Maple Leaf Gardens, Ballard was serving a lengthy prison term for fraud and tax evasion and unable to intervene, however, by the time the Toros played their first game, Ballard had been paroled and had regained control of the Gardens. Much to Bassett's outrage, the arena was dim for the first game. Ballard also ordered the cushions from the home bench removed for Toros' games (he told an arena worker, "Let 'em buy their own cushions!"). It was obvious that Ballard was angered at the WHA being figuratively in his backyard, and took out his frustration with the renegade league on the Toros. These terms compelled Bassett to move the team to Birmingham .
Part of the financial trouble was also attributed to the high player salaries. For instance, the Philadelphia Blazers signed Derek Sanderson for $2.6 million, which surpassed that of Brazilian soccer star, Pelé , making him the highest-paid athlete in the world at the time. Unfortunately, his play did not live up to the expectations of his salary, and between an early-season injury, intemperate remarks to the press, and Blazer financial troubles, Sanderson's contract was bought out before the end of the season.
As well, big stars lacked supporting players and the quality of the on-ice product suffered.
The WHA had won several key victories, including a court ruling which
prevented the NHL from binding players to NHL teams via the reserve
clause, and the signings of more NHL stars such as
In 1974 , to broaden a depleted talent pool, the WHA began employing European players – which the NHL had largely ignored up to that time – in serious numbers, including stars such as Swedish players Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and Slovak center Václav Nedomanský , who had just defected from Czechoslovakia . Winnipeg especially loaded up with Scandinavian players and became the class of the league, with Hedberg and Nilsson combining with Bobby Hull to form one of hockey's most formidable forward lines. Along with the mass import of European stars, the Vancouver franchise attempted unsuccessfully to lure Phil Esposito away from the NHL by offering a contract similar to that of Bobby Hull, with a million dollars upfront.
The 1972 Summit Series , which pitted Team Canada against the Soviets, did not permit WHA players, due to the decision of series organizer Alan Eagleson , an NHL agent who was influential in forming the Canadian team. Bobby Hull , one of the best WHA players, was ruled ineligible to play because of his defection from the NHL, despite being initially selected by coach Harry Sinden . Dennis Hull initially planned to boycott the event as well as a show of support for his older brother, but Bobby persuaded him to stay on Team Canada. Other WHA stars turned down included Gerry Cheevers , J.C. Tremblay and Derek Sanderson . Some NHL owners also threatened not to free their players to participate if WHA players were permitted.
The WHA organized the 1974
Summit Series against the Soviets, giving
an opportunity for Hull and 46-year-old
In the 1976 Canada Cup , the NHL and NHLPA broadened the scope of the competition, inviting to the tournament a number of hockey countries and allowing each invited country to send the best possible team they could muster, so this time WHA players were permitted. WHA players played on four of the tournament's six teams.
In December 1976 and January 1977, the Super Series \'76-77 tournament took place, opposing the HC CSKA Moscow (Red Army) and WHA teams. The Red Army won the series 6-2.
DECLINE AND MERGER
Main article: NHL-WHA merger
By 1976 , it had become evident that many of the WHA's franchises were teetering on the verge of financial collapse, with stable teams few and far between, and that the (at one time) combined 32 teams of the NHL and WHA had badly strained the talent pool.
In 1977, merger discussions with the National Hockey League were first initiated, where six of the eight WHA teams would move to the NHL, as Houston, Cincinnati, Winnipeg, New England, Quebec, and Edmonton applied for entry. After a lengthy debate, the NHL voted the proposal down as it was never popular among NHL team owners.
Merger discussions resumed in 1978, but
The final two seasons of the WHA saw the debut of many superstars,
some of which became hockey legends in the NHL. They included Wayne
Mark Messier ,
Mike Liut , and
Mike Gartner . The Birmingham
franchise alone would feature future NHLers
However, by the end of the final season, only six teams remained.
Facing financial difficulty and unable to meet payrolls, the WHA
finally came to an agreement with the NHL in early 1979. Under the
deal, four WHA clubs – the
Edmonton Oilers ,
The WHA was able to extract three key concessions. First, the WHA
teams were allowed to protect two goaltenders and two skaters to keep
their rosters from being completely stripped clean by the old-line NHL
teams. Second, the NHL allowed all of the WHA's Canadian teams to be
part of the deal. The NHL had originally only been willing to take the
Oilers, Whalers and Jets, but the WHA insisted that the Nordiques be
included as well. Third, although the NHL had insisted on treating the
deal as an expansion, it agreed to freeze the expansion fee for each
team at $6 million U.S. – a relatively inexpensive price considering
that it was nominally the same fee paid by every other team that had
joined the NHL in the 1970s (a decade of high inflation). By
comparison, when the
The deal came up for a vote at the NHL Board of Governors meeting in
Key Largo, Florida on March 8. Despite the one-sided nature of the
proposal, the final tally was 12-5, one vote short of passage, as a
three-quarters majority was required to permit merger (13 teams out of
17 would have represented 76.5% of the league). The
When a second vote was held in
The agreement officially took effect on June 22, 1979 (three months to the day after the deciding vote). On that day, the WHA folded and the NHL formally granted expansion franchises to Edmonton, Hartford, Quebec City and Winnipeg.
LEGACY OF THE WHA
On the ice, the WHA teams had proven themselves to be the NHL\'s competitive equals, winning more games than they lost in interleague exhibition games.
The WHA had many lasting effects on NHL hockey. The NHL used to recruit virtually all its players from Canada, but following the success of the Jets' Hedberg and Nilsson scouts began looking overseas for the best players that Europe could offer. Teams such as the Whalers and Fighting Saints also offered excellent opportunities for young American players, and several U.S.-born or -raised NHL stars of the early 1980s (such as Mark Howe , Rod Langway , Dave Langevin , Robbie Ftorek , and Paul Holmgren ) began their pro careers in the WHA. As a result, the NHL evolved into a truly cosmopolitan league during the 1980s.
The WHA also ended the NHL policy of paying its players only a fraction of the league's profits and, combined with the abolition of the reserve clause, led to much higher player salaries. Many great stars began their careers in the WHA, including Mark Howe , Wayne Gretzky , Mike Gartner , Mike Liut , and Mark Messier . Messier was the last WHA veteran to play in the NHL; he opened his professional career with 52 games with the Indianapolis Racers and Cincinnati Stingers in 1978–79 , and played his last NHL game on April 3, 2004. The final active player and official in any on-ice capacity for the league was referee Don Koharski , who started as a linesman for the WHA and retired at the end of the 2008–09 NHL season .
The WHA instituted sudden death overtime for regular season games to break ties. If no team scored during a 10-minute overtime period then the game would end in a tie. In the 1983-84 season, the NHL then instituted a 5-minute sudden death overtime period to break regular season ties.
The WHA also experimented with blue colored pucks which were supposedly easier for fans to see. The NHL did not adopt the blue pucks, but any remaining blue WHA pucks are highly sought after collectors\' items .
FATE OF SURVIVING TEAMS
The former WHA clubs, by the terms of the expansion, could protect only two goalies and two skaters each in the player dispersal draft . The Jets posted a dismal nine wins in their second season (second-fewest all-time for a season in the NHL), and finished last that season. However, the other former WHA teams did respectably well in their first year, with the Whalers and Oilers earning playoff berths. The Oilers chose to protect Wayne Gretzky in the dispersal draft, which would prove fortuitous. Gretzky and the Whalers' Gordie Howe were selected to the mid-season All-Star Game, respectively the second-youngest and the oldest ever to play in such a match.
The 1980s was a successful period for the former WHA teams. The
Oilers shattered numerous NHL records and amassed a Stanley Cup
dynasty. The Jets, decimated by the dispersal draft, developed a solid
nucleus of players which helped the club achieve respectable
regular-season finishes. They had initially been placed in the Norris
Division when the league re-aligned its divisions and adopted a
playoff format that mandated intra-divisional matchups for the first
two rounds in 1981. Winnipeg might have enjoyed better playoff
fortunes had they been able to remain in then relatively weak Norris,
however, just one year later, the Colorado Rockies moved east to New
Jersey and the Jets were compelled to shift to the
Smythe Division in
order to re-balance the divisions. The Jets were never able to
overcome the Oilers to win a
Smythe Division title and advance past
the second round of the postseason. After missing the playoffs in
their first NHL season, the Nordiques quickly became competitive,
advancing as far as the third round of the playoffs in only their
third season. Quebec developed an intense rivalry with the Montreal
Canadiens , advanced to the third round again in 1985 and captured the
Adams Division title in 1986 . The Whalers had similar rivalries with
In the 1990s, the former WHA clubs suffered from escalating player
salaries (ironically, the same trend that was instigated by the WHA),
which were difficult to meet with the restricted revenue streams in
their smaller markets. The ex-WHA clubs based in Canada were also hit
hard by the declining value of the
HOCKEY HALL OF FAME MEMBERS
List of WHA players and executives inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame , for achievements in their hockey career.
Andy Bathgate , Vancouver Blazers
Gerry Cheevers , Cleveland Crusaders
Mike Gartner , Cincinnati Stingers
Michel Goulet , Birmingham Bulls
Wayne Gretzky , Indianapolis Racers, Edmonton Oilers
Rod Langway , Birmingham Bulls
Frank Mahovlich , Toronto Toros/Birmingham Bulls
Mark Messier , Cincinnati Stingers, Indianapolis Racers
Bernie Parent , Philadelphia Blazers
TROPHIES AND AWARDS
This is a list of the trophies and awards handed out annually by the World Hockey Association.
Avco World Trophy – Awarded to the playoff champion
* Gary L. Davidson Award /
TIMELINE OF TEAMS
Three Canadian teams completed all seven WHA seasons based in the same city, and were the same three Canadian teams that ultimately joined the NHL. The other WHA team to enter the NHL, the Whalers, were the only other WHA team to play all of its home games over seven seasons within a relatively small geographical area. Of the original 12 WHA franchises, only the Winnipeg Jets remained for all seven seasons without relocating, changing team names, or folding.
FRANCHISE CITIES/NAMES YEARS FATE
Edmonton Oilers 1973–1979
Cincinnati Stingers Cincinnati Stingers 1975–1979 Folded, 1979
Cleveland Crusaders 1972–1976
Minnesota Fighting Saints 1976–1977
Ottawa Civics 1976
Indianapolis Racers Indianapolis Racers 1974–1978 Folded, 1978
Michigan Stags 1974–1975
Baltimore Blades 1975
Minnesota Fighting Saints Minnesota Fighting Saints 1972–1976 Folded, 1976
New York Golden Blades 1973
Jersey Knights 1973–1974
San Diego Mariners 1974–1977
Toronto Toros 1973–1976
Birmingham Bulls 1976–1979
Philadelphia Blazers 1972–1973
Vancouver Blazers 1973–1975
Calgary Cowboys 1975–1977
Phoenix Roadrunners Phoenix Roadrunners 1974–1977 Folded, 1977
Quebec Nordiques 1972–1979
WHA ALL-STAR GAME
Every season of the
World Hockey Association
* 1972–73 Eastern Division 6, Western Division 2 @ Quebec * 1973–74 Eastern Division 8, Western Division 4 @ St. Paul * 1974–75 Western Division 6, Eastern Division 4 @ Edmonton * 1975–76 Canadian-based teams (5) 6, US-based teams (9)1 @ Cleveland * 1976–77 Eastern Division 4, Western Division 2 @ Hartford * 1977–78 AVCO Cup champion Quebec Nordiques 5, WHA All-Star team 4 @ Quebec * 1978–79 WHA All-Star team vs Dynamo Moscow in a three-game series @ Edmonton. WHA won all 3 games 4-2, 4-2, 4-3
* ^ Jeff Jacobs (June 27, 1994). "Forget Rest".
* McFarlane, Brian (1990). 100 Years of Hockey. Summerhill Press. ISBN 0-929091-26-4 . * Pincus, Arthur (2006). The Official Illustrated NHL History. Readers Digest. ISBN 0-88850-800-X . * Willes, Ed (2004). The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association. McClelland & Stewart. ISBN 0-7710-8947-3 .
* Internet Hockey Database – standings and statistics
World Hockey Association