September 05, 2014

1978-79: Hello Gretzky, Goodbye WHA

The Three Stars:

17 Year Old Wayne Gretzky Stars In Final WHA Season - Indianapolis Racers owner Nelson Skalbania signs teenage phenom Wayne Gretzky to a $1.75 million personal services contract, but then sells his contract less than 10 games into the season. Gretzky joins the Edmonton Oilers where he places third in WHA scoring with 104 points. It proves to be the WHA's last season as the league collapses. The NHL votes to adopt the 4 remaining WHA franchises - the Hartford Whalers, the Winnipeg Jets, the Quebec Nordiques and the Oilers.

Cherry Bomb - Leading Montreal 4-3 with just 2:34 left in game 7 of the semi-final, Boston blows its Stanley Cup chances with a careless too many men on the ice penalty. Guy Lafleur famously scores, then Yvon Lambert wins it in OT. It's the fourth consecutive Stanley Cup for the power house Canadiens and 5th consecutive 50 goal season for Lafleur. However three prominent Habs retire at season's end - Yvan Cournoyer, Jacques Lemaire and Ken Dryden.

Bad Knees End Orr's Career - The only thing that could stop Bobby Orr was his health. After six major knee surgery Orr officially retires at the age of 30, though he barely played the last couple of seasons. Orr finished his 12 year career with 270 goals and 915 points, both NHL records for defensemen at the time. He won three Hart trophies and eight Norris trophies. He is immediately inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Season Highlights:

  • The failing Cleveland Barons franchise merges with the Minnesota North Stars. The team remains in Minnesota.
  • Minnesota drafts Bobby Smith first overall.
  • New York Rangers star Don Murdoch is suspended for the season (later reduced to 40 games) when caught crossing the border with cocaine.
  • Buffalo's Tony McKegney becomes the NHL's first full-time black skater.
  • On Dec 23, 1978 New York Islanders star Bryan Trottier scores 8 points against the New York Rangers (5 goals, 3 assists) and sets a NHL record with 6 points all in one period.
  • Trottier wins the Art Ross Trophy with 134 points. Teammate Mike Bossy is the league's top goal scorer with 69 goals. Denis Potvin wins the Norris Trophy for the second straight year.
  • On March 11, 1979 LA Kings defenseman Randy Holt sets a record with 67 PIMs in one game. He receives 1 minor, 3 majors, 2 10 minute misconducts and 3 game misconducts all on his first shift of the game.
  • In place of the annual All Star game, the NHL All Stars fall to the Soviets in a best of 3 Challenge Cup at Madison Square Gardens.
  • In the WHA's final season Real Cloutier paces the league with 75 goals and 129 points. The Winnipeg Jets defeat Edmonton in the final WHA Avco Cup championship.

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