WHA One Step Closer to Its Goal; But Is It All For Naught?

As reported in this week’s edition of the Hockey News, the WHA has officially announced that the league will start with 10 franchises and play its first game in December of this year. And to distinguish the league from others, one of those teams will consist entirely of Russian players, based in a Canadian city.Now there’s a couple of things that HN mentions in its story that I found interesting. The first is that the press conference finished before it was supposed to start. The writer, Wayne Karl, even went so far as to say that the press conference, “was all very entertaining, but it falls short of the kind of professional and well-presented package that will be necessary to convince people this WHA is for real.”

The second thing that caught my attention is that they didn’t announce exactly where the WHA would play, even though they said they had commitments from 10 cities. Karl mentioned possible cities like Quebec City, Toronto, Hamilton, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Portland, OR, St. Louis, Chicago and Orlando. But they didn’t actually name cities, team names, ownership groups. And if those details weren’t finalized, then why bother to annouce anything at all at a press conference.

So here’s how I see this new WHA going down based on this story. This league could be the XFL of pro hockey. First of all, I don’t see a WHA franchise in Toronto, for two reasons. First, they have no place to play. The Leafs won’t let them anywhere near the ACC, and even so, the Raptors take up enough dates where it would be next to impossible to get any kind of home stand going. There’s always the Ricoh Coliseum, but I don’t think they’ll get to play there either. I would assume that the Roadrunners have proprietary rights there, which means that they could legally prevent the team from playing their games there. And both the Maple Leafs and the parent Oilers would both strongly suggest that the Roadrunners do just that. That leaves just one place to play; Maple Leaf Gardens. And if MLSE won’t sell the Gardens to a junior team owner, you can damn near guarantee that they won’t sell it to the owner of a competing team in a competing league. And second, Toronto has one team when it comes to hockey. The Roadrunners draw their best crowds when the St. John’s Maple Leafs come to town (gee, I wonder why). Other than that, they don’t draw very large crowds.

But the real reason I see this becoming hockey’s XFL is because the XFL had more hype behind it than the current WHA does, but it fell flat on its face. Vince McMahon had a captive audience to market to, but he couldn’t get them to watch. People didn’t know who the players were, and the rules changes didn’t add to the game. The big names give the game some novelty, but at some point the product has to stand on its own. It almost looks like the league’s organizers are using Bobby Hull to launch the league the way it was done in the 70s. How is Bobby Hull going to launch this league from an office in Toronto or New York or wherever it’s going to be? Bobby Hull made the first WHA work because his talent, and the talents of Gordie Howe, Gerry Cheevers, and Wayne Gretzky made it a comparable game. How many players like that are going to be in this WHA? Do you think Sidney Crosby will play in this league as a 17-year old like Wayne did? Hull will try his best to sign him, but I don’t think he’ll get Crosby to play there. I think they’ve set their sights too high, and it will become a shaodw of what the initial WHA was. Only the NHL won’t be absorbing teams this time around.


20 Responses to WHA One Step Closer to Its Goal; But Is It All For Naught?

  1. Donovan says:

    Wasn’t I supposed to be covering the Whale? Nothing wrong with you covering it, but I can’t remember what I said I was going to do with it.

    Sure the NHL might shut down this off-season. But what if is dosen’t? Don’t have an answer Mr. Hull do ya?

    Well, I’ve lost my faith in the Whale. 10 teams by December-Good Luck. Thats 11 months to sign aproxiamtley 300 players, find arenas, hire staff members, spread the gospel. It just will not work. They wasted the whole summer just screwing around with Bobby Hull.

    They need to swoop in a sign all the underage and undiscovered talent they can find. Will Ovechkin or Crosby join the Whale? Hell no, because nobody takes them seriously. First they need to sign a couple of big name free agents to monster deals, just like Bobby Hull’s infamous contract. They may offer great hockey, but I’ve seen beginer-leagues that are more organized.

    What the hell are they thinking with an all-Russian team in Canada? I don’t want to see a bunch of fairies prancing around. I bet Western Canadian farmboys want to see that.

    Here’s my idea: Have a few teams based in the US and Canada. That could be one conference. Have a few other teams based in European cities. There’s the other conference. The N. American champs play the European champs for the title! There’s your World Hockey Association.

    A bold idea. Is it daring? Yes. Is it dilusional? Quite so. Could it work? Maybe

  2. TC_4 says:

    This league is really starting to sound like a joke. The last thing you should do is put an ex player in charge of the BUSINESS. Yes, he’ll have great ideas on how the rules should be and how much money the players should get, but there is so much more then just that. I heard(and could be wrong)they are going to play 4 on 4. I, along with all the other traditionalists out there, hate that idea. I think the ice surface should be made a little bit bigger(not international size though), and they should get there refs to call EVERY hook, hold and interference. Also, one referee system back in place. I think a few players will go to the WHA if there is a lockout(Brett Hull without a doubt will be one)but not a whole lot. Still, maybe it will help a guy like Kris Beech, or Michael Henrich, or Brian Finley become stars and be able to take that confidence back to the NHL.

  3. Primis says:

    Now there’s a couple of things that HN mentions in its story that I found interesting. The first is that the press conference finished before it was supposed to start. The writer, Wayne Karl, even went so far as to say that the press conference, “was all very entertaining, but it falls short of the kind of professional and well-presented package that will be necessary to convince people this WHA is for real.”

    The WHA really isn’t very organized. A quick look at their website will show almost no news, examples, or instances of administration or leadership, or even organization.

    The second thing that caught my attention is that they didn’t announce exactly where the WHA would play, even though they said they had commitments from 10 cities. Karl mentioned possible cities like Quebec City, Toronto, Hamilton, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Portland, OR, St. Louis, Chicago and Orlando. But they didn’t actually name cities, team names, ownership groups. And if those details weren’t finalized, then why bother to annouce anything at all at a press conference.

    The cities that will have WHA franchise are (according to the official website right now):

    Birmingham, AL

    Detroit, MI

    Chicago, IL

    Cincinnati, OH

    Cleveland, OH

    Hamilton, ONT

    Minneapolis, MN

    Portland, OR

    Quebec City, QBC

    St. Louis, MO

    Toronto, ONT

    The mere fact the word “Birmingham” appears in that list should scream “joke”.

    So here’s how I see this new WHA going down based on this story. This league could be the XFL of pro hockey. First of all, I don’t see a WHA franchise in Toronto, for two reasons. First, they have no place to play.

    Nor do the Chicago or Detroit franchises, and probably several others at least. A buddy of mine in Chicago and I were discussing where a Chicago team could possibly play, and the only option we could come up with was possibly the UIC Pavillion, as all other rinks and arenas would be busy/under contract. The Horizon will have the Wolves to deal with, and the United Center sure won’t let them in.

    Same for Detroit. I came up with no less than 6 arenas in the Detroit-metro area and all of them are taken by teams already, including the State Fair Arena by a new sub-ECHL-league franchise the Snipers.

    Look, it’s really simple. This WHA idea wasn’t horrible at first.

    The only product the WHA has managed to put out so far is a juniorish league in, of all places, the sun belt with teams form Asheville, NC to Miami, FL. That’s right, the already-established ECHL is strugglign in these markets and has been for years but the WHA jumped right on in already with a league of their own alreayd in play suposedly in these markets.

    The WHA is not a step closer to snything. Nothing has been accomplished since a year ago when the idea and story first broke. A year and they’ve come up with nothing.

    There’s been nothing but weak-to-nonexistant leadership and administration displayed, we’re in 2004 with little-to-no info on the parent WHA teams/franchises, no schedule, no players, no rules, and to be honest, no league. All this for a league claiming they’ll be ready to play and compete in 7 months.

    Aside from that the WHA is doing fine I guess…

    WHA aint’ going to happen people… wake up.

    Just ask the IHL what happens when you try and compete with the NHL and AHL…

    — Primis.

  4. Donovan says:

    Thats what I said. Take all of the guys with loads of potential that turned into complete busts (Beech, Brendel) Under the right conditions they can turn into real stars the Whale can build on.

  5. Donovan says:

    Primis, this is probably one of the best comments I read on the Whale. They have no time to build a legitmate league. They are just expecting to start a NHL rival overnight. Resurecting the Whale sure sounded like a good idea, but it would take atleast 2 years of planing and one year to actually start building the league. Its probably just two nerds working out of thier garage and Bobby Hull agreed to it because

    A. They have pictures of him

    B. He has Alzhiemers

    And about the places to play, thats one of the major problems. They need a lot of cash to rent arena’s, but they don’t have any. As for here in Detroit, how about COBO?

  6. Lint07 says:

    As much as I’d like it to see a team here in Quebec City while there is an NHL work stoppage next year, I don’t know how they’ll manage to make this all happen in that very short period of time..

    We’ll see, I guess.

  7. DohCanada says:

    Hey, maybe instead of the NHL absorbing some of their teams, this time around the WHA could absorb some of the less successful NHL teams! I can think of about 1/2 dozen, but all teams have fans, so I’ll not offend them – they get enough of that with ‘contraction talk’ on this and other sites.

  8. FlyHigh says:

    I know it sounds stupid and all, but next season, there is about an 80% chance that there won’t be an NHL. Fans gotta see hockey somewhere….

  9. TRaPT1307 says:

    Actually they could play at the palace if there were to be a team in Detroit. The Vipers did it for a number of years and were pretty successful.

  10. Freeze says:

    Brett Hull will be the first to join.

    A lot of aging vets who are UFAs might sign, especially if they don’t think they’ll get an offer from an NHL team.

    How big can the salaries be in the WHA when there will likely be no National TV contract (the NHL is almost there now), the rinks may be less than half the size of NHL rinks, and the schedule appears to be condensed into far fewer games? The price of admission and concessions is likely low to lure fans in. Where’s all the $$$ coming from? I will admit that the pay is likely higher than the beer leagues, but I can’t see the WHA posing a serious threat to the NHL. The WHA will face the same economic woes as the NHL.

    You can’t pay big time dollars to a hockey player because hockey is not a big time sport. ESPN and other major networks would rather show poker matches, billiards competitions, and infomercials than NHL hockey games. Too bad there aren’t more hard core hockey fans like us.

  11. mattf says:

    as much as i would like an alternative to the corporate mainstream professional hockey being the nhl, the whl will not put the same quality of players on the ice, and will be horribly marketed – therefore it will suck shit.

    bobby hull is praying for a fucking lockout to exploit professional hockey introducing his shitty ‘baby-league’.. players will not move and take a pay cut to play in a more open league regardless of the traditional excitement of hockey from the 70s.

    ok, so brett hall and probably a few older respectable players will move.. what will happen to the state of hockey? they are aging and obviously shadows of their past selves… hockey will not have the same excitement. there is a reason why players retire as they age – not just because of injury alone. they will prolong their careers at younger players’ expenses. the whole thing is stupid, someone should slap bobby hall in the face with a used condom or something

  12. Primis says:

    And about the places to play, thats one of the major problems. They need a lot of cash to rent arena’s, but they don’t have any. As for here in Detroit, how about COBO?

    At last check Cobo was being used by the Compuware team. And the Fraser Falcondome by… well… the Detroit Falcons.

    — Primis.

  13. Primis says:

    Actually they could play at the palace if there were to be a team in Detroit. The Vipers did it for a number of years and were pretty successful.

    The owner of the Pistons owned the Vipers and at the time had a stake also in the Tampa Bay Lightning. I don’t know if that’s changed.

    If it hasn’t though I’d imagine he’d remain NHL-loyal and not support a possible competitor. That’s why I doubt the Palace as a venue.

    — Primis.

  14. rojoke says:

    Are you talking about the guy who said that Lecavalier would become “the Michael Jordan of hockey?” Davidson I think his name was. I thought he sold the team about a year or two after he bought from the Japanese group.

  15. rojoke says:

    Based on your list of cities, and what HN reported, the Russian team would be in Hamilton, Toronto or Quebec City. My gut tells me that Quebec City wouldn’t do it, as they’d be pretty reluctant to follow a team that had absolutely no francophone content, especially in the nationalist capital.

    oh yeah, one more thing. There’s a website?

  16. rojoke says:

    It’s called the AHL. Chances are you’ll see some current NHL players down there. Anyone who wouldn’t have to clear waivers, or guys on two-way contracts, will play there in the event of a stoppage. That’s what happened in ’93-’94. Plus, the quality of play is very good, but the officiating will have you suicidal within a week or two.

  17. rojoke says:

    I wouldn’t call submitting one article as covering the Whale. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all yours, man. Just thought I contribute a little more than my usual two cents.

  18. Donovan says:

    Yes, but its nothing. They don’t even update

  19. TC_4 says:

    You would think. It worked for Rico Fata(kinda). Beech was supposed to be a blue chip.

  20. EmptyNetter says:

    I have a theory. The WHA never intended operate as an actual hockey league. It’s really a ploy to wrangle a quick settlement in the current CBA negotiations. It’s an ultimatim to NHL owners from a group sympathetic to the NHLPA:

    Don’t make this any tougher than it has to be. If you lock the players out, you’ll be the only ones losing money because we’ve created this nice new league for them to play in. And the longer you hold out, the stronger we’ll become. Mwa-ha-ha.

    The WHA is just a big con job if you ask me. And not a very well-thought out one at that.

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