World Hockey Association

World Hockey Association

Infobox Sports league
title = World Hockey Association

pixels = 150px
sport = Ice hockey
founded = 1972
country = USA
most_champs = Winnipeg Jets (3)
folded = 1979
The World Hockey Association (French: "Association Mondiale de Hockey") was a professional ice hockey league that operated in North America from 1972 to 1979. It was the first major competition for the National Hockey League (NHL) since the collapse of the Western Hockey League after the 1925-26 WHL season. 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.

The WHA hoped to capitalize on the lack of hockey teams in a number of major cities, and it also hoped to attract the best players by paying more than the cartel of NHL owners would. Key parts of its success were its firm stance in not recognizing the reserve clause that found its way onto NHL contracts of the time, and its active scouting of players from all over the world, in contrast to the NHL which mainly fielded players from Canada. However, the WHA was also known for its unstable franchises, and the multi-million-dollar salaries it introduced to the game have remained a source of contention.

Ultimately, the WHA folded with four of its strongest franchises joining the NHL: the Edmonton Oilers, New England Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, and Winnipeg Jets. Of these, only the Oilers remain in their original city today, the other teams having relocated (the Whalers as the Carolina Hurricanes, the Jets as the Phoenix Coyotes, and the Nordiques as the Colorado Avalanche).



The league was founded by American promoters Dennis Murphy and Gary Davidson, the founder and first president of the American Basketball Association, respectively. Murphy and Davidson were quick to bring Canadian investor Bill Hunter into the fold. Hunter was considered one of the most powerful men in hockey not associated with the NHL, and with his help, the WHA had solid backing in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg, potentially giving the new league four Western Canadian teams — one more than the NHL had in all of Canada at the time.

Part of the WHA's success was its abolishment of the reserve clause in its contracts, as well as the fact that it would also not honour the reserve clauses in NHL contracts. As many players employed by the NHL were set to have their contracts expire in 1972, many would try to defect to the WHA as a negotiation tool with their teams, or, in any event, consider offers to play for the fledgling league before looking to new NHL contracts. Some, including many stars such as Bobby Hull, would carry out their threat and join the WHA. The NHL, for its part, did nothing, believing the WHA would fold before their first season. When it was apparent that the WHA would play, the NHL responded by hastily adding the New York Islanders and Atlanta Flames to forestall WHA franchises in new arenas just opened on Long Island and in Atlanta.


In November 1971, twelve teams were formally announced. They included teams from cities without NHL teams such as the Miami Screaming Eagles -- possibly the best known hockey franchise never actually to take the ice -- as well as teams in cities where it was felt there was room for more than one team, such as the Los Angeles Sharks, Chicago Cougars, and New York Raiders. Two of the original twelve teams, the Dayton Aeros and the San Francisco Sharks, relocated citing arena troubles. These two franchises were moved to become the Houston Aeros and Quebec Nordiques, respectively. Other franchises, such as the Calgary Broncos and the Screaming Eagles, folded outright. The Philadelphia Blazers and the Cleveland Crusaders would replace the Screaming Eagles and the Broncos.

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 player at the time, jumped to the new league. Hull, who considered moving to the WHA as part of a negotiation tactic with the Chicago Black Hawks, had jokingly told reporters that he would only move to the WHA for a million dollars, at that time a ridiculous amount of money for a hockey player. But to everyone's surprise the Winnipeg Jets offered this sum. Hull accepted and moved to the WHA, signing a five-year, million-dollar contract, with a million-dollar signing bonus. Hull's signing attracted a few other top stars such as Gerry Cheevers, Derek Sanderson, and J.C. Tremblay.

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 would eventually win the WHA's inugural 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 were forced to "skate" their divisional championship trophy around the ice surface, much to the embarrassment of the WHA office.


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 Aeros and the San Francisco Sharks, relocated citing arena troubles. These two franchises were moved to become the Houston Aeros and Quebec Nordiques, respectively. Other franchises, such as the Calgary Broncos and the Screaming Eagles, folded outright. The Philadelphia Blazers and the Cleveland Crusaders would replace the Screaming Eagles and the Broncos. The New York Raiders was a key example: as the NHL's New York Islanders had locked up Nassau Coliseum for their own use, the WHA team was first forced to rent space at Madison Square Garden, and then to play in lesser arenas, often without visitor's locker rooms. Because of this, the franchise went through several ownership changes year after year.

Also notable was when Harold Ballard, owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, deliberately made the Toronto Toros' lease terms at Maple Leaf Gardens as onerous as possible. 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 before having a falling-out with Ballard and Stafford Smythe. The Toros' lease with Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. called for them to pay $15,000 per game, which was negotiated by Ballard's son Bill while the elder Ballard was in jail.Fact|date=October 2008 However, by the time the Toros played their first game, Ballard had regained control of the Gardens. Much to Bassett's outrage, the arena was dim for the first game. It was then that Ballard demanded $3,500 for use of the lights. Ballard also denied the Toros access to the Leafs' locker room, forcing them to build their own at a cost of $55,000.Fact|date=October 2008 He also removed the cushions from the home bench for Toros' games (he told an arena worker, "Let 'em buy their own cushions!"). [ [ Hockey Trade Rumors - NHL Rumors from around the league - 37 Year Cup Drought - The Legacy of Harold Ballard ] ] It was obvious that Ballard was angered at the WHA being literally in his backyard, and took out his frustration with the renegade league on the Toros. These terms forced Bassett to move the team to Birmingham.

Part of the financial trouble was also attributed to the high player salaries. For instance, Derek Sanderson was signed by the Philadelphia Blazers for $2.6 million, which surpassed that of Brazilian soccer star, Pelé, making him the highest-paid athlete in the world at the time.Fact|date=October 2008 Unfortunately, his play did not live up to the expectations of his salary—nor, realistically, could it have—and between an early-season injury, intemperate remarks to the press, and Blazer financial troubles. Ending up, Sanderson was paid even more money to sit at home as the team opted to buy out the remainder of his contract. As well, big stars lacked supporting players and the quality of the on-ice product suffered.

Talent competition

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 Marc Tardif and Gordie Howe, and in later years, Frank Mahovlich and Paul Henderson.

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 Czech center Vaclav Nedomansky. 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. [ Thunder and Lightning: a No-B.S. Hockey Memoir, Phil Esposito and Peter Golenbock, ISBN 978-0771030864 ]

Decline and 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 30 teams of the NHL and WHA had badly strained the talent pool. Merger discussions then began, with one proposal (not popular enough among the NHL owners) having six of the then eight WHA teams moving to the NHL. Another idea had the Edmonton Oilers and the New England Whalers moving to the NHL, with the Winnipeg Jets following a year later. Neither of these ideas were accepted.

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 Gretzky, Mark Messier, Ken Linseman, and Mike Gartner. The Birmingham franchise alone would feature future NHLers Rick Vaive, Michel Goulet, Rob Ramage, Craig Hartsburg and Gaston Gingras. [ Bill Boyd, All Roads Lead to Hockey, 2004, Key Porter Books, 1-55263-618-6 ]

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, New England Whalers (renamed the Hartford Whalers), Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets -- joined the NHL. The other two WHA teams, the Cincinnati Stingers and Birmingham Bulls, were paid $1.5 million apiece in compensation. The agreement was very tilted in the NHL's favour. The older league treated the new clubs' arrival as an expansion, not a merger, so the four WHA refugees thus had to pay a $6 million franchise fee. The NHL also refused to recognize any WHA records. While the new clubs were allowed to stock their rosters with an expansion draft, NHL teams were allowed to reclaim players who had jumped to the WHA.cite book |title=Champions: The Illustrated History of Hockey's Greatest Dynasties |last=Hunter |first=Douglas |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1997 |publisher=Triumph Books |location=Chicago |isbn=1572432166]

The WHA was able to wrangle only two 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.

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--two votes short of passage. The Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks all voted against the deal. The Bruins weren't pleased with having to share New England with the Whalers. Los Angeles and Vancouver feared losing home dates with NHL teams from the East. Montreal and Toronto weren't enamored at the prospect of having to split revenue from "Hockey Night in Canada" broadcasts six ways rather than three. Maple Leafs owner Ballard had a personal grudge as well; he'd never forgiven the WHA for plundering his roster in the early 1970s.Fact|date=October 2008

When a second vote was held in Chicago on March 22, however, Montreal and Vancouver changed their votes, allowing the deal to go forward. The Canadiens' hand was forced by a massive boycott of Molson products in Edmonton, Quebec City and Winnipeg. Vancouver was won over by the promise of a balanced schedule, with each team playing the others twice at home and twice on the road.

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 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 (Mark Howe, Rod Langway, Dave Langevin, Robbie Ftorek, 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 WHA's success in Canada led the NHL to re-consider the other major Canadian cities without NHL teams. There were only three Canadian teams in the NHL prior to 1979. The Atlanta Flames would move to Calgary in 1980 to spark a fierce intra-Albertan rivalry with the Oilers and the Ottawa Senators would (re-)join the NHL as an expansion team in 1992. Both of these teams remain in their respective Canadian cities as of 2008. However, a proposal by Hunter to move the St. Louis Blues to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was rejected by the NHL, and repeated overtures to bring an expansion team to Hamilton, Ontario have been rebuffed. Various ownership groups that wanted to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins have also wanted to move the team to Hamilton or Winnipeg if a new arena wasn't agreed on to replace the Mellon Arena. Again, the NHL declined, and Mario Lemieux has since taken the team off the market.

Another rival to the NHL, the Global Hockey League, attempted to start up in 1990 with the support of Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull. However, it failed to launch, despite speculation by some hockey commentators that it would get off the ground if Brett Hull switched over, like how his father Bobby Hull's move gave the fledgling WHA credibility.

Fate of surviving teams

The former WHA clubs were expected to struggle after joining the NHL since the terms of the expansion allowed the incoming WHA teams to protect only two goalies and two skaters each in the player dispersal draft. Instead, though, each did respectably well in their first year, with the Whalers and Oilers earning playoff berths. The Whalers' Gordie Howe and the Oilers' Wayne Gretzky were selected to the midseason All-Star Game, respectively the oldest and second-youngest ever to play in such a match.

The 1980s was considered a successful period for the former WHA teams. The Oilers led by Wayne Gretzky shattered numerous NHL records and amassed a Stanley Cup dynasty. The Jets were decimated by the dispersal draft but went on to develop a solid nucleus of star players who helped the club achieve respectable regular season finishes. However, the Jets managed only two postseason series wins, coming in 1985 and 1987, due to the playoff structure of the time that had them face fellow Smythe Division teams, the Oilers and Calgary Flames. The Nordiques developed a rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens and captured the Adams Division title in 1985-86. The Whalers had similar rivalries with the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, attracting many Bruins and Rangers fans to its home games at the Hartford Civic Center, and winning the 1986-87 Adams Division title.

In the 1990s, the on-ice performances of the former WHA clubs declined, missing the playoffs or exiting in the first round. Furthermore, like other recently-added expansion NHL teams, they suffered from escalating player salaries and restricted revenue because of less populous fanbases compared to the large market franchises. The ex-WHA clubs based in Canada (plus Calgary, Ottawa, and Vancouver) were also hit hard by the declining value of the Canadian dollar, as these teams' revenues are earned in Canadian, but salaries are paid in US. The Nordiques finished what would be their last year in Quebec at the top of their conference, the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, but went onto a first-round playoff exit, which made it certain that they would relocate. Both the Oilers and Nordiques had asked for bailouts from Alberta and Quebec, respectively, but both provincial governments ultimately declined, as it would be perceived by voters as government subsidization of a hockey club that paid multi-million dollar salaries. (Federal industry minister John Manley also unveiled a multi-million dollar rescue package for the cash-strapped Ottawa Senators, being a friend of owner Rod Bryden, but later withdrew the aid after critics argued that there were better uses for public funds. [ [ The Canadian Encyclopedia] ] )

The Nordiques moved to Denver in 1995 and became the Colorado Avalanche, the Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix in 1996 and became the Phoenix Coyotes, and the Hartford Whalers moved to North Carolina in 1997 and became the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes played temporarily in Greensboro, then in Raleigh from 1999 onwards. In 1998, Peter Pocklington nearly sold the Oilers to Leslie Alexander who sought to move the team to Houston, but at the sale deadline, a consortium of local investors came up with the funds necessary to keep the Oilers in Edmonton, so it remains the last WHA team still in its original city. The Edmonton investors were supported by the NHL, which did not want to see a third Canadian (and ex-WHA) team relocate after the Nordiques and Jets, as this would have put the league's lucrative Canadian television contracts in jeopardy.

The financial status of the small market NHL teams, including former WHA teams, has since stabilized. The Avalanche were an instant success in their new home of Denver and now rank among the wealthiest franchises, enjoying 487 consecutive home sellouts [ [] ] , winning nine straight division titles, and being a mainstay in the Western Conference finals. League commissioner Gary Bettman implemented the "Canadian assistance plan", a revenue sharing agreement that saw American teams give money to help support the four smallest-market Canadian teams. The 2004–05 NHL lockout resulted in a hard salary cap, player salary rollbacks, and revenue sharing, which enabled small market teams to be more competitive. The Oilers have enjoyed strong fan support ever since, selling out all but one home game in the 2005-06 season.

Since 1979, three of the four former WHA teams have won the Stanley Cup: the Oilers have played in the finals seven times, winning five; the Avalanche have played for it twice, winning on both occasions; the Hurricanes have played for it twice, winning once. The 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs marked the first time two former WHA teams played for the Cup, with the Hurricanes defeating the Oilers in seven games. At least one of the former WHA teams had qualified for the NHL playoffs in every season from the merger until the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Only the Jets, despite winning the most WHA championships, have not managed much success in the NHL, nor have they come close to making the Cup finals. Unlike the Whalers and Nordiques who won championships since their relocations, the Jets has not won a playoff series since becoming the Phoenix Coyotes, even with the seeding changed, and have not qualified for the playoffs since 2002.

Hockey Hall of Famers

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
*Gordie Howe, Houston Aeros, New England Whalers
*Harry Howell, New York Golden Blades/New Jersey Knights, San Diego Mariners, Calgary Cowboys
*Bobby Hull, Winnipeg Jets
*Dave Keon, Minnesota Fighting Saints, Indianapolis Racers, New England Whalers

*Rod Langway, Birmingham Bulls
*Frank Mahovlich, Toronto Toros, Birmingham Bulls
*Mark Messier, Cincinnati Stingers, Indianapolis Racers
*Bernie Parent, Philadelphia Blazers
*Jacques Plante, Edmonton Oilers
*Bud Poile, WHA Executive Vice-President
*Marcel Pronovost, Coach-Chicago Cougars
*Maurice Richard, Coach-Quebec Nordiques
*Glen Sather, Edmonton Oilers
*Norm Ullman, Edmonton Oilers

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 / Gordie Howe Trophy - Most valuable player of the regular season
*Bill Hunter Trophy - Leading scorer of the regular season
*Lou Kaplan Trophy - Rookie of the year
*Ben Hatskin Trophy - Best goaltender
*Dennis A. Murphy Trophy - Best defenseman
*Paul Deneau Trophy - Most gentlemanly player
*Howard Baldwin Trophy / Robert Schmertz Memorial Trophy - Coach of the year
*WHA Playoff MVP - Most valuable player in the playoffs

Timeline of teams

:"Teams in" bold "were absorbed into the NHL."
*Alberta Oilers (1972-79, renamed Edmonton Oilers in 1973)
*Chicago Cougars (1972-75)
*Cincinnati Stingers (1975-79)
*Calgary Broncos (never played) / Cleveland Crusaders (1972-76) / Minnesota Fighting Saints (1976-77)
*Denver Spurs (1975-76) / Ottawa Civics (1976)
*Dayton Aeros (never played) / Houston Aeros (1972-78)
*Indianapolis Racers (1974-78)
*Los Angeles Sharks (1972-74) / Michigan Stags (1974-75) / Baltimore Blades (1975)
*Minnesota Fighting Saints (1972-76)
*New England Whalers (1972-79)
*New York Raiders (1972-73, renamed New York Golden Blades in 1973) / New Jersey Knights (1973-74) / San Diego Mariners (1974-77)
*Ottawa Nationals (1972-73) / Toronto Toros (1973-76) / Birmingham Bulls (1976-79)
*Miami Screaming Eagles (never played) / Philadelphia Blazers (1972-73) / Vancouver Blazers (1973-75) / Calgary Cowboys (1975-77)
*Phoenix Roadrunners (1974-77)
*San Francisco Sharks (never played) / Quebec Nordiques (1972-79)
*Winnipeg Jets (1972-79)

WHA All-Star Game

Every season of the World Hockey Association had an All-Star game, but the format had changed with regularity. [ [ A to Z Encyclopaedia of Ice Hockey - Wh ] ]
* 1972-73 Eastern Division vs Western Division contest.
* 1973-74 Eastern Division vs Western Division contest.
* 1974-75 Eastern Division vs Western Division contest.
* 1975-76 Canadian-based teams (5) vs US-based teams (9).
* 1976-77 East played West.
* 1977-78 AVCO Cup champion (Quebec Nordiques) vs WHA All-Star team.
* 1978-79 WHA All-Star team vs Dynamo Moscow in a three game series.

ee also

* Avco World Trophy
* WHA Amateur Draft
* List of NHL seasons
* List of pre-NHL seasons
* List of WHA seasons
* List of ice hockey leagues
* World Hockey Association (proposed)
* Global Hockey League


External links

* [ Internet Hockey Database] - standings and statistics

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