1978–79 WHA season

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1978–79 WHA season
League World Hockey Association
Sport Ice hockey
Regular season
Top scorer Real Cloutier (Quebec)
Avco World Trophy
Champions Winnipeg Jets
  Runners-up Edmonton Oilers
WHA seasons
None →

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, because the Racers had folded after playing an odd number of games, the Edmonton Oilers played the Finnish National Team (with future Oiler Jari Kurri) once at home so as to allow each of the six surviving WHA teams to play 80 regular season games. The Oilers won by a score of 8-4, a result which in itself made no difference by the end of the regular season which Edmonton won by an eleven point margin over the Quebec Nordiques.

During the season, an agreement was reached whereby four of the WHA's 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[edit]

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,[1] 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 standings[edit]

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 * 27 20 77
Czechoslovakia 6 1 4 1 * 14 33 107
Finland 1 0 1 0 * 4 8 2

x-team folded during season *-games counted in standings of the regular WHA teams

Player stats[edit]

Scoring leaders[edit]

Bolded numbers indicate season leaders

GP = Games played; G = Goals; A = Assists; Pts = Points; PIM = Penalty minutes

Player Team GP G A Pts PIM
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

Leading goaltenders[edit]

Bolded numbers indicate season leaders

GP = Games played; Min = Minutes played; W = Wins; L = Losses; T = Ties, GA = Goals against; GA = Goals against; SO = Shutouts; SV% = Save percentage; GAA = Goals against average

Player Team GP Min W L T GA SO SV% GAA
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

All-Star game[edit]

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.[2] In the first game, the line scored seven points, as the WHA All-Stars won by a score of 4-2.[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.[2] The line did not score in the final game but the WHA won by a score of 4-3.

Avco World Trophy playoffs[edit]

  • 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.[3] The goal was given up by the Winnipeg Jets Gary Smith.

WHA awards[edit]


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

All-Star Team[edit]

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

See also[edit]



  1. ^ McLelland and Stewart, p. 219.
  2. ^ a b c McLelland and Stewart, p 221.
  3. ^ 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.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
1977–78 WHA season
WHA seasons Succeeded by

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.