A long forgotten league of renegades to some. The best hockey hockey league that seemingly few noticed to others. The World Hockey Association, (WHA), is now a distant memory. But it’s legacy still remains.
The impact of the WHA is still felt in the NHL to this day. Through style of play on the ice currently in the league, to drafting strategies by general managers, to the pay scale of players today, a lot of it can be credited to, (or blamed), on the WHA.
It’s a legacy worth recalling. Especially to “newer” fans that never got to experience it. Some of the names may even sound familiar. I’ll be working on a continuous series of WHA stories over the next while, so where better place to start than the end I figure?
Making their fifth Avco Cup appearance and seeking their third title, the Winnipeg Jets defeated a very young Wayne Gretzky led Edmonton Oilers team four games to two. It would end up being the last ever Avco Cup final.
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.
The Jets finished third in the league that year with a record of 39-35-6. Coach Larry Hillman, who had guided the team to the 1978 Avco Cup championship, was fired and replaced with Tom McVie. McVie coached the final 19 games and managed a third place finish, one point ahead of the New England Whalers, thus clinching a first round bye. Bobby Hull was limited to only four games that season, and the Jets were led by Kent Nilsson, (107 points) and Morris Lukowich, (99 ponts).
The Jets would sweep the Quebec Nordiques to meet the Edmonton Oilers in the finals. An 18 year old Wayne Gretzky, who tallied 43 goals and 61 assists in 72 games played, was also joined by future NHL teammate and enforcer Dave Semenko on the Oilers. The Jets and Oilers had split the season series 7-7. Edmonton had finished first in the WHA with 98 points.
Willy Lindstrom and Morris Lukowich would lead the Jets in playoff scoring, (with 15 points each). Peter Sulliuvan and Kent Nilsson would add 14 points each as well. Gary Smith would be the goaltender of note in the playoffs, earning an 8-2 record with a 3.73 GAA.
Oilers Fire Todd McLellan, Ken Hitchcock Takes Over
Currently, the Oilers are 9-10-1 and in sixth place in the Pacific Division and own the sixth-lowest point percentage in the league at .475, leading to the team’s decision to part ways with McLellan who had been at the helm since the 2015-2016 season.
Hitchcock, 66, has the third-most wins in NHL history with 823, trailing Joel Quenneville (890) who was fired by the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this season, and Scott Bowman (1,244), and has spent 22 seasons as a head coach in the NHL, with stints with teams such as the Dallas Stars (2 stints), Philadelphia Flyuers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and St. Louis Blues.
Oilers’ Zack Kassian Wants to Remain with Team
Edmonton Oilers forward Zack Kassian had reportedly requested a trade from the team recently, in an effort to get more playing time, but is now clarifying what had happened and is stating that he prefers to stay with the team moving forward.
According to TSN’s Ryan Rishaug, Kassian sayss that he didn’t directly ask for a trade, explaining that his agent spoke with the Oilers front office about potential interest from other teams, and Kassian has since told teammates that he wants to remain in Edmonton.
The Oilers have scratched Kassian several times this season and his playing time has dipped significantly, but he was back in the lineup on Sunday when he scored his first goal of the season in less than 10 minutes of playing time.
Oilers Place Ty Rattie On Injured Reserve
The Edmonton Oilers have placed veteran forward Ty Rattie on injured reserve after it was announced on Saturday that he would miss multiple games with a midsection muscle injury.
In a corresponding move, the Oilers have recalled Cooper Marody from the AHL.
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