The 1978–79 WHA season was the seventh and final season of the World Hockey Association (WHA). Prior to the start of the season, the Houston Aeros folded leaving seven teams to start the season. Only six would finish, however, as the Indianapolis Racers folded after 25 games on the December 15, 1978. The remaining six teams each played 80 games, including one game each per team against a Soviet All-Star squad and the Czechoslovakia National team, the second consecutive year for this arrangement. The Soviet team won four of their six games and tied another; the Czech team only won once and tied once against four losses. In addition, to allow each regular team to play 80 games, the Edmonton Oilers played the Finnish National team (with future Oiler Jari Kurri) once at home, winning by a score of 8-4.

After the end of the season, an agreement was reached whereby four of the teams, the Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques, Winnipeg Jets and New England Whalers would be admitted to the National Hockey League (NHL) as expansion teams for the 1979–80 NHL season, and the WHA would cease operations. The Cincinnati and Birmingham franchises were paid to disband.

Regular season and playoff formatEdit

The dying WHA would go to almost any length to try and stay afloat. The NHL had rules regarding the age of players that could play while the WHA didn't. Nelson Skalbania, the owner of Indianapolis Racers, signed the 17 year old future super-star, Wayne Gretzky to, at that time, a whopping personal contract worth between 1.125 and 1.75 million dollars over 4 to 7 years. Skalbania, knowing that the WHA was fading, felt owning the young star was more valuable than owning a WHA team. Eight games into the season, though, Skalbania needed cash and liquidated his greatest asset to his old friend and former partner, Peter Pocklington, owner of the Edmonton Oilers. Pocklington purchased Gretzky and two other Indianapolis players, goaltender Eddie Mio and forward Peter Driscoll paying $700,000 for the contracts of the three players, although the announced price was actually $850,000. On Gretzky's 18th birthday, (January 26, 1979), Pocklington signed him to a 21 year personal services contract worth between 4 and 5 million dollars, the longest in hockey history. Gretzky would go on to capture the Lou Kaplan Trophy for rookie of the year, finish third in league scoring, and help the Oilers to first overall in the league. Nevertheless the Winnipeg Jets defeated Edmonton in the Avco World Trophy finals winning their third championship overall and second in a row.

Playoff format: The top five teams in the league qualified for the playoffs. The 4th and 5th place teams started in a best-of-three quarterfinal series, while the top three finishers received byes into the semifinals. In the semifinals, the 1st place team played the 4th/5th winner, while 2nd place played 3rd place. Both semifinal series were best-of-seven. Since the 2nd and 3rd place teams knew they'd be playing each other in the semifinals, they started their series while the 4th/5th mini-series was still going on. The finals, like the semifinals, were best four-out-of-seven games.

Final standingsEdit

Note: W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, GF= Goals for, GA = Goals against, Pts = Points

Edmonton Oilers 80 48 30 2 98 340 266 1220
Quebec Nordiques 80 41 34 5 87 288 271 1399
Winnipeg Jets 80 39 35 6 84 307 306 1342
New England Whalers 80 37 34 9 83 298 287 1090
Cincinnati Stingers 80 33 41 6 72 274 284 1651
Birmingham Bulls 80 32 42 6 70 286 311 1661
xIndianapolis Racers 25 5 18 2 12 78 130 557
#Soviet All-Stars 6 4 1 1 9 27 20 77
#Czechoslovakia 6 1 4 1 3 14 33 107
#Finland 1 0 1 0 0 4 8 2

x-team folded during season #-played limited schedule

Scoring leadersEdit


WHA All-Star Team

All-Star gameEdit

Wayne Gretzky appeared in the 1979 WHA All-Star Game. The format of the game was a three game series between the WHA All-Stars against Dynamo Moscow at Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum. The WHA All-Stars were coached by Jacques Demers and Demers asked Gordie Howe if it was okay to put him on a line with Wayne Gretzky and his son Mark Howe. In the first game, the line scored seven points, as the WHA All-Star won by a score of 4-2. In the second game, Gretzky and Mark Howe each scored a goal and Gordie Howe picked up an assist as the WHA won 4-2. The line did not score in the final game but the WHA won by a score of 4-3.

Avco World Trophy playoffsEdit

  • New England 2 Cincinnati 1
  • Winnipeg 4 Quebec 0
  • Edmonton 4 New England 3
Avco World Trophy finals
  • Winnipeg 4 Edmonton 2

The final game was played at the Winnipeg Arena, a 7 to 3 final score in favour of the Jets. The Oilers' Dave Semenko scored late in the third period of the deciding game, to record the last goal in the history of the WHA. The goal was given up by the Winnipeg Jets Gary Smith.

1979 WHA Champs Winnipeg Jets

Jets captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg carrying the Avco World Trophy

WHA awardsEdit

Avco World Trophy: Winnipeg Jets
Gordie Howe Trophy: Dave Dryden, Edmonton Oilers
Bill Hunter Trophy: Real Cloutier, Quebec Nordiques
Lou Kaplan Trophy: Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers
Ben Hatskin Trophy: Dave Dryden, Edmonton Oilers
Dennis A. Murphy Trophy: Rick Ley, New England Whalers
Paul Deneau Trophy: Kent Nilsson, Winnipeg Jets
Robert Schmertz Memorial Trophy: John Brophy, Birmingham Bulls
WHA Playoff MVP: Rich Preston, Winnipeg Jets

External linksEdit

Preceded by
1977–78 WHA season
WHA seasons Succeeded by
1979–80 NHL season1

1 Four of the WHA teams were admitted to the NHL as expansion franchises — the New England/Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets.

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