SI Vault
Mark Mulvoy
February 28, 1972
Words flew faster than greenbacks as the World Hockey Association, a group of rare birds with major league aspirations, drafted Orr, Hull, a state governor and everyone else owning a pair of skates
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February 28, 1972

See The Pucklings Wobble In

Words flew faster than greenbacks as the World Hockey Association, a group of rare birds with major league aspirations, drafted Orr, Hull, a state governor and everyone else owning a pair of skates

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Dayton drafted minor leaguer Billy Orr before Bobby, no kin either by blood or ability. Minnesota picked a former U.S. Olympic hockey player named Wendell Anderson and carefully explained that "he has the type of job where he might become available at any time." Anderson is the Governor of Minnesota. Miami's Lester Patrick kept it all in the family by claiming his brothers Glenn and Craig. Calgary apparently drafted every hockey player in Russia, Czechoslovakia, Sweden and Finland. New England filled its roster with every college player who had won a letter, except perhaps Love Story's Oliver Barrett IV. And Quebec picked all the players who could say bonjour.

It was that kind of weekend in a hotel room down the street from Fantasyland in Anaheim, Calif., as the World Hockey Association stocked its 12 franchises with a total of 1,082 players, their names ranging from Jeff Ablett to Wayne Zuk. So now hockey players and governors everywhere await the start of another Great Checkbook War. The lines are drawn. On one side: the established National Hockey League. On the other: the fledgling WHA. In the middle: the 1,082 players. The weapons will be cool green dollars.

So far, however, the WHA has been much talk and little action. Some of the talk has been rich. According to reports from Miami, the Screaming Eagles—yes, that's the name—have offered Boston's Derek Sanderson and Toronto's Bernie Parent the 79th Street Causeway, two hotels on the Beach, 10 seats on the 50-yard line for all football games in the Orange Bowl and more than $500,000 apiece to jump from the NHL to the WHA. Chicago's Bobby Hull supposedly has been guaranteed $1 million to play for the Winnipeg Jets, who presumably would throw in a few dozen snowblowers as a bonus. Toronto's Norm Ullman is rumored off to Edmonton for $125,000 a year, Vancouver's Dale Tallon to Minnesota for $100,000 and Goaltender Ken Dryden from the Montreal Canadiens to the Los Angeles Sharks for $600,000 over four years, 5% of the club's stock and a partnership in the law firm of former California Governor Pat Brown, who is the team's legal counsel but never played Olympic hockey. "I've heard the same story," Dryden says.

The WHA has been in verbal contact with most of the players in the NHL. That means Steve Arnold, the WHA's director of player personnel, drops by the hotels where NHL teams stay on their trips to California and arranges for private chats with as many players as possible. "We'd be crazy not to listen," says one Montreal player. "Besides, if the Canadiens even think I've talked to the WHA, it puts me in a much better bargaining position at contract time."

Converting conversation into WHA dollars is another matter. "Your men can talk all they want," Alan Eagleson, the executive director of the NHL Players Association, told the WHA's owners after the draft. "If your money is green, I'll get you all the NHL players you want. If it isn't, well, forget it." The owners all nodded.

"We welcome such a businesslike approach," said Wild Bill Hunter of the Edmonton Oil Kings.

"Yeah, as long as the players don't ask too much money," Eagleson countered.

"I think the Edmonton branch of the Bank of Montreal is pretty solid," Hunter replied.

"I'm sure the bank is solid," Eagleson said. "I just hope the accounts are solid, too."

Eagleson was laughing then, but he was in an angry mood when he arrived at the draft the night before. "Can you believe it?" he said. " Dennis Murphy [a co-founder of the WHA] has threatened me with an antitrust action. I've told all the players not to sign anything unless they get the money in advance. Hell, the NHL has good credit and always pays its bills. We all know that. But we don't know anything about the WHA."

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