INTRODUCTION: ABOUT THE WORLD HOCKEY ASSOCIATION
by Timothy Gassen
The World Hockey Association simply changed major league hockey forever. Starting in 1972, a whopping 26 different teams eventually took the ice, with New England, Quebec, Winnipeg and Edmonton merging with the rival NHL in 1979. Only the Edmonton Oilers (and a new version of the Winnipeg Jets) now remain as a living reminder of the WHA, but the leagues' influence endures.
The WHA challenged in court and defeated the NHL's draconian Reserve Clause, freeing players to negotiate contracts as free agents. Player salaries exploded, and hundreds of new major league hockey jobs were created by the rebel league. Countless NHL stars, suddenly given a choice, jumped to the WHA, bringing legitimacy and elevating the quality of the league's play. By the mid-1970s the WHA was on par with the rival NHL, and over several years won a series of exhibition games against the more-established league.
The WHA also worked to evolve the game of hockey. It adopted regular season overtime, and a variety of rules designed to speed up the game, create scoring and make hockey more attractive to new markets. Many of these evolutions have since been grudgingly adopted by the NHL — and widely hailed by players and fans.
The WHA also brought highly skilled European players and the high-flying, swirling European style to North American major league hockey. The WHA Winnipeg Jets, for instance, became the template that WHA coach Glen Sather used to build the eventual Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s.
The WHA also opened up new and long-ignored markets to major league hockey, though the year-by-year growth of the league proved too ambitious. Franchise instability — brought on in part by the 1970s recession and high player costs — plagued the WHA, with some teams moving cities or folding during a season. Escalating on-ice violence also gained momentum in both leagues, and threatened to overshadow the developing talent in the WHA.
Despite the financial challenges, some WHA cities blossomed and iced legendary teams. Gordie, Mark and Marty Howe brought world championships to Texas with the Houston Aeros decades before the NHL, and Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson followed suit with the Winnipeg Jets. The 1976-1979 WHA Jets remain one of the most impressive and formidable major league hockey teams of all time, and signaled the high point of the WHA's evolution.
The WHA was also fun, and became a colorful alternative to the reserved and perpetually conservative NHL. While many WHA fans felt vindicated by the eventual 1979 merger with the NHL that included four WHA teams, the cities and teams left behind remain dearly missed. Major league hockey has not returned to the promising markets in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Houston, Cleveland, Hartford and Quebec (as of this writing). Other former WHA locations such as Denver, Phoenix, New Jersey, Calgary and Ottawa now proudly boast NHL teams.
The World Hockey Association pushed forward the game of hockey. We honor the players, coaches and management who made it possible, and salute their contribution to the evolution of the game. (c) 2010 PCMP LLC
WHA All-Time Teams: (Logos left to right)
Los Angeles Sharks &
Minnesota Fighting Saints
Ottawa Nationals &
New York Raiders
Winnipeg Jets &
Indianapolis Racers &
San Diego Mariners
Denver Spurs &
Calgary Cowboys &
Birmingham Bulls &
Houston Aeros &
Michigan Stags &
New England Whalers
Philadelphia Blazers &
Edmonton Oilers &
New York Golden Blades
Baltimore Blades &
the WHA Hall of Fame logo
Trademarks remain the property of their owners, and are included for historical purposes. The WHA HOF is not associated with the National Hockey League.