You Spin Me Right Round, Baby…

right round, like a record, baby…

According to the always quote-worthy Jeremy Roenick, the whale might be on the loose once again.That’s right, the World Hockey Association (A.K.A. the WHA, A.K.A. “the whale”) is back – maybe even for real this time.

According to an interview with JR and the WHA website (www.worldhockeyassociation.net), the WHA will be hosting a tourney from May 20th to June 2nd featuring NHL players.

The games would be played in Hamilton and Vancouver, with six teams overall. The winner will be taking home a 2 million dollar prize. All players would reportedly earn 20,000 for participating. Roenick is leading the charge to get NHL players into the tourney.

Already listed as participating on the WHA site are; Andrew Raycroft, Scott Gomez, Mark Recchi, Tony Amonte, Derian Hatcher, Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, Jose Theodore, Nicklas Lidstrom, Shane Doan, Keith Primeau and JR among many others.

Ricky Smith, president/owner of the upstart, dismantled, upstart, dismantled and upstart again league says, ”We’re grateful for NHLers coming to the tournament and we want to show them what wide-open hockey would look like in the WHA.”

The tournament, called “The Bobby Hull Invitational” after the legendary player who defected to the WHA so many years ago for the ground-breaking fee of one million dollars (try saying it in a Dr. Evil voice for the full effect). Bobby Hull is also the commissioner of the league in its current incarnation. The idea of the tourney is that it’s meant to be a springboard to jumpstart the new league. The new WHA will feature as many as 16 teams, although Smith notes it will likely be closer to 10.

Of course, we’ve heard this before, as recently as last year. Had the WHA started this season instead of next (if at all), they no doubt would have captured many fans with no NHL this season. Some say they already missed their golden opportunity.

Whatever the case, this tourney does seem pretty close to a sure thing, and would give the league some much-needed publicity, and even more importantly – a chance to show players and fans that they are serious and organized.

Among the rule “changes” (from the NHL rules that is) listed on the site for the tourney (and possibly for the league itself) are; no red line, no icing during penalties (I assume this goes for BOTH teams), players sit out full penalties regardless of goals scored, unlimited curve to sticks and finally, enforcing penalties vs. clutching and grabbing. All of these rules are clearly designed to up the excitement level and scoring. The WHA also has a “rule survey” on their site that allows you to vote and contribute. http://www.worldhockeyassociation.net/fanzone/index.php?SurveyID=RULES if you’re interested.

The impact of this tournament is huge and far-reaching.

1. As mentioned, it is a chance for the WHA to show the players and fans that they are for real this time. They have new owners with new money and new ideas. If this tourney goes off well, many players may switch to the league if it starts up this year or early 2006. This, of course, may happen to a greater degree if there is still no NHL or an NHL with replacements.

2. Will the threat of the WHA alone be enough to get the NHL to cave into some sort of deal with the NHLPA. Right now, NHL players only have Europe and minor leagues as serious job options. A new league in North America offering decent pay and fun hockey might be enough for the two sides to reach a deal.

3. Will the open style of play and increased scoring that will surely exist in the WHA lead to fans changing leagues they watch? Fans are sick of clutching and grabbing, and even more sick of NHLPA millionaires whining. The superstars aren’t as admired as they used to be. Will the 7-5 finals in the WHA be more appealing than the 2-1 finals in the NHL?

4. Will the fan reaction to the WHA be enough to finally convince the NHL to do something about increasing scoring?

5. What about Crosby and other youngsters? If they enter the WHA and then leave – do they become free agents to the NHL?

I don’t even want to begin to answer these things, but at least the NHL-NHLPA negotiation just got a little bit more interesting. On top of that, we will at least have a few games (hopefully televised?) of exciting hockey with NHL players to watch – even if it’s just a small tourney in the WHA.

One thing seems clear, the WHAle is back baby. I look forward to the day where I can wear my Hartford Whalers hat in public again and not only be noticed by fellow hockey dorks.

I’m willing to give the WHA a chance. Let’s see what they bring to the table.