The question in Houston is whether Howe's 45-year-old legs will carry him through his 26th season. "Why not?" Gordie asks. "It's easier to skate than walk, and I don't have any trouble walking." There certainly is nothing wrong with his shot (he scored a goal 21 seconds after taking the ice in his first WHA exhibition) or his temperament (he gave a New England player a mouthful of elbow and a vicious butt-end in one game, then took 15 minutes in penalties the next). Says Howe: "As long as they want to jazz around with me, they'll get it." Howe's 18-year-old son Mark is a wing. The third Howe, 19-year-old Marty, will be Houston's swing defenseman. "Mark's probably my best defensive winger already," says Coach Bill Dineen, "and he's got a mean streak in him, just like his dad."
Minnesota should be the most improved team in the league. "Forget that David and Goliath stuff, the Fighting Saints against the North Stars," says General Manager Glen Sonmor. "We're on trial here, and the people won't accept us unless we give them what the North Stars have already given them—major league hockey." Sonmor hit the road, wallet in hand, and signed Forwards Mike and Rob Walton, Steve Cardwell and Murray Heatley, Defenseman Rick Smith and Goaltender John Garrett.
One of the few quality goal-scorers Sonmor missed en his midnight raids of the NHL was Marc Tardif, the left wing who scored 75 goals for Montreal the last three seasons. Tardif signed with the Los Angeles Sharks, and if one of the team's young centers—either holdover J. P. LeBlanc or Reg Thomas, snatched from the Black Hawks—can headman the puck to the flying Tardif, he may score 75 goals this year. One of the more pugnacious Canadiens, Tardif will fit well with the Sharks. "They used to call us a bunch of animals," says Shark Coach Terry Slater. "We'll be more discreet now, but we're still going to push the other guys around."
In Vancouver, the Blazers will try a fresh start thousands of miles away from Bernie Parent's attorney. Better still, they have sold 10,000 season tickets. "We had too many stars and too much confusion last year," says Phil Watson, the former NHL coach who works the bench so that Coach Johnny McKenzie can play right wing. "We used to have to beg Parent to get in there and play. Now we've got five goaltenders who really want to play."
After missing the playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers decided to try another coach with the same players and hired Brian Shaw, tutor of the amateur Edmonton Oil Kings. He needs Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe.