They haven’t even drafted the schedule yet and already they have to make some major changes. The WHA which thus far is all press release and no substance took a serious hit in the credibility department on Friday when two of the fledgling league’s franchises chose to drop out of the reborn circuit.
The two Florida franchises Orlando and Jacksonville have decided that the machinations of the new league are just a bit too sketchy and have advised that they will rejoin the Southern Hockey League, a lower level minor pro circuit in the US south.
The two American cities were announced as part of the flashy debut of the WHA a few weeks ago, joining the likes of Detroit, Dallas Quebec and Halifax in the re launch of hockey’s second pro league.
The pull out of the two cities will reinforce those that have been naysayers about the league for the last year. With lease problems to sort out and a July 10 draft date fast approaching, the new circuit needs to get its shaky debut under control. With plans to add Hamilton and Toronto apparently still in the works, the specter of folding franchises popping up even before the first puck is dropped is not a good omen. Though should the new circuit land hockey mad cities like those two Canadian cities they might have a fighting chance.
So far the only public relations work the league has received after its splashy launch was this latest bit of financial worry. The clock is ticking on the ability to take advantage of a possible player lockout, if the WHA continues to shed franchises and can’t lure any decent players to the ones it believes will be there at the start of the season.
Fighting for a share of the hockey pie with the NHL could be aided by the current labour problems, but if the finances aren’t there, then neither will be the players. Three weeks from stocking the rosters, the league isn’t even sure how many rosters they have to stock. Until they can figure out that one small detail, the WHA will continue to generate rolled eyes and frustrated believers.