1978–79 WHA season
|League||World Hockey Association|
|Top scorer||Real Cloutier (Quebec)|
|Avco World Trophy|
|Finals champions||Winnipeg Jets|
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 Czechoslovakian 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 a sum to fold.
Regular season and playoff format
Nelson Skalbania, the owner of Indianapolis Racers, signed the 17-year-old future superstar Wayne Gretzky to, at that time, an unprecedented personal contract worth between 1.125 and 1.75 million dollars over 4 to 7 years; then as now, the National Hockey League's rules did not permit the signing of 17-year-olds. Skalbania, knowing that the WHA's long-term prospects were poor, felt owning the young star was more valuable than owning a WHA team. Eight games into the season, though, Skalbania needed cash and sold Gretzky 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. On Gretzky's 18th birthday, 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.
Note: W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, GF= Goals for, GA = Goals against, Pts = Points
|New England Whalers||80||37||34||9||83||298||287||1090|
x-team folded during season *-games counted in standings of the regular WHA teams
Bolded numbers indicate season leaders
GP = Games played; G = Goals; A = Assists; Pts = Points; PIM = Penalty minutes
|Real Cloutier||Quebec Nordiques||77||75||54||129||48|
|Robbie Ftorek||Cincinnati Stingers||80||39||77||116||87|
|Wayne Gretzky||Indianapolis - Edmonton||80||46||64||110||19|
|Mark Howe||New England Whalers||77||42||65||107||32|
|Kent Nilsson||Winnipeg Jets||78||39||68||107||8|
|Morris Lukowich||Winnipeg Jets||80||65||34||99||119|
|Marc Tardif||Quebec Nordiques||74||41||55||96||98|
|Andre Lacroix||New England Whalers||78||32||56||88||34|
|Peter Sullivan||Winnipeg Jets||80||46||40||86||24|
|Terry Ruskowski||Winnipeg Jets||75||20||66||86||211|
Bolded numbers indicate season leaders
|Dave Dryden||Edmonton Oilers||63||3531||41||17||2||170||3||89.0||2.89|
|Richard Brodeur||Quebec Nordiques||42||2433||25||13||3||126||3||90.1||3.11|
|Jim Corsi||Quebec Nordiques||40||2291||16||20||1||126||3||89.9||3.30|
|Al Smith||New England Whalers||40||2396||17||17||5||132||1||88.3||3.31|
|Michel Dion||Cincinnati Stingers||30||1681||10||14||2||93||0||87.3||3.32|
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-Stars 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 playoffs
- 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.
|Position||First Team||Second Team|
|Centre||Robbie Ftorek, Cincinnati||Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton|
|Right Wing||Real Cloutier, Quebec||Blair MacDonald, Edmonton|
|Left Wing||Mark Howe, New England||Morris Lukowich, Winnipeg|
|Defence||Rick Ley, New England||Dave Langevin, Edmonton|
|Defence||Rob Ramage, Birmingham||Paul Shmyr, Edmonton|
|Goaltender||Dave Dryden, Edmonton||Richard Brodeur, Quebec|
- McLelland and Stewart, p. 219.
- McLelland and Stewart, p 221.
- McLelland and Stewart, p. 241.
- The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association, p. 219, McLelland and Stewart, Toronto, ON, ISBN 0-7710-8947-3.
1977–78 WHA season
|WHA seasons||Succeeded by