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World Hockey Assn. Plans Fall Start

June 08, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

Organizers of the new World Hockey Assn. plan to begin operations this autumn with eight to 10 teams and will announce the league's lineup at a news conference Wednesday in Toronto.

Woodland Hills businessman Rick Munro, who owns the Dallas franchise, said several teams were trying to complete lease arrangements in time for a November start. The WHA plans to market itself as a fan-friendly league with low ticket prices and rules that promote more scoring than NHL teams have produced in the last decade.

"I'm very, very excited," Munro said last week after participating in a conference call with fellow owners. "We've got a great thing going. I think we have a great formula."

The league plans to have teams in the Canadian cities of Halifax, Quebec City, Toronto and, possibly, Hamilton.

U.S. franchises are planned in Dallas, at Reunion Arena; in the Pontiac (Mich.) Silverdome; and in Jacksonville and Orlando, Fla. Franchise fees were $1.5 million. Hartford, Conn., is another potential site if the ownership group there can negotiate a lease with the Civic Center.

Each team will have a $15-million salary cap, including up to $5 million for one star player. Players will travel by commercial airline, rather than on charter flights, and front-office staffs will be kept to a minimum, Munro said. He also said adding teams in Europe or California was possible after the first season.

"We don't want to overexpand and get the same problems as the NHL," Munro said. "We want quality hockey, and we want to find the right balance. I think we have a creditable alternative to the NHL."

The first WHA operated from 1972 until 1979, raiding many NHL teams for players until financial instability proved its undoing. Among its prize catches was Bobby Hull, who left the Chicago Blackhawks to jump to the Winnipeg Jets. The WHA folded in 1979, but four of its franchises were absorbed by the NHL, among them the Edmonton Oilers with Wayne Gretzky.

The new WHA, with Hull as its commissioner, is positioning itself as an alternative for hockey-starved fans this winter if the NHL can't reach a new collective bargaining agreement with the players' union. WHA officials have said they'll go ahead even if the NHL season proceeds as scheduled.

The WHA has scheduled a draft of entry-level players July 10. It will permit teams to draft 17-year-olds, one year younger than the NHL's minimum age. Canadian junior sensation Sidney Crosby, 17, probably will be among the WHA's top picks.

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