Thursday, June 10, 2004

Everything old is New Again!

New faces, old name. The WHA is now more than just a rotisserie league, with the announcement today of stadium deals in six cities and negotiations going on in two others.

Bobby Hull, the original marquee player of that old WHA is the corporate face for the new adventure with the old name. Hull fronted today’s Toronto news conference as the fledgling league announced that its first six franchises at least have a place to skate come October.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Quebec City, Quebec, Pontiac, Michigan, Dallas, Texas, Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida have all signed lease agreements in their respective cities. Franchisees in Toronto and Hamilton are still finalizing details in their communities and a group from Cincinnati is hanging around kicking tires.

Hull said that most likely the circuit will be an 8 team league by September but there is the possibility of putting 10 or 12 teams on the ice. More is expected to be learned about that as they get close to their first ever draft on July 10.

WHA execs figure the composition of each team will be that of 6 players with NHL experience, 6 from the AHL and 6 drafted from junior hockey, high on the wish list for the anxious to launch project is junior hockey phenom Sidney Crosby. With a salary cap of 15 million and a limit to one marquee player of 5 million dollars, Crosby might gobble up a lot of initial salary. However, before everyone gets too excited most hockey observers suggest Crosby will remain on his path to land in the NHL.

But with the NHL labour woes about to take things up another notch, there will be a lot of unrestricted NHL free agents looking for work. If the NHL arenas are dark for the start of next year and for who knows how the long, the new league may just find a large number of familiar names checking out the new employment options.

If nothing else the new league thinks big, the Detroit team will play in the Pontiac Silverdome with seating for 30,000 fans. Should Toronto get their stadium deal in place they will call the Skydome home with seats for 14,000 with an expansion of another 6,000 possible if necessary, it also sets up the opportunity for open air hockey live in Toronto. In a salute to it’s WHA past, the Toronto franchise will be called the Toro’s.

Pro Hockey will return to Le Colisee in Quebec for the first time since the Nordiques left the city for Colorado. The only real eyebrow raisers in the cities named were the two Florida franchises, neither of which can really claim any great hockey tradition. But then this is a year when a team from Tampa won the Stanley Cup, so perhaps the WHA will find itself in the right place at the right time.

At any rate, talk is cheap. And it may all turn to dust should the NHL and its players, settle their differences and return to the ice in September. For now though the dreams are in colour and the hopes are high. All that’s left is to stock the teams, drop a puck and see if anyone comes out to watch.

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