Saturday, July 03, 2004

Meet the Detroit Gladiators

Although it is unclear who will even play in Bobby Hull's World Hockey Association come this October, it is certain that Detroit will have its own team. Meet the Detroit Gladiators, the name chosen after weeks of online voting. Gladiators got 32%, Cougars 28%, Demons 19%, Speed 13%, and Dynamos 8%. I voted for the Cougars, simply because "Gladiators" is too similar to the Spartans (ie Michigan State University), and I'm a student at the University of Michigan. And my family owned a Mercury Cougar automobile way back when. Case closed. The following is a breakdown of what is going on for the WHA and the Gladiators: Draft The WHA draft, originally scheduled for July 10 and July 11, has been pushed back to July 17 and July 18. This reflects the disorder of the league, which isn't even sure if it will have enough teams to compete. The league will likely be similar to the Original Six of the 1926 NHL. Another reason for the schedule change is that NHL free agents go on the market on July 1. The WHA is unsure of how many NHL players will suit up in their league. The WHA draft will take place at the Fallsview Casino Niagara. The plans are that 30 NHL/AHL free agents be picked on July 17 and 30 entry level free agents on July 18. The minimum draft age of 17 makes QMJHL phenom Sidney Crosby eligible. Crosby will otherwise be the first pick of the 2005 NHL draft, as minimum draft age is 18 in the NHL. Crosby joining the WHA before his first shift in the NHL wouldn't be unprecedented: the old WHA did the same with Wayne Gretzky in 1978. The Great One made his step to the NHL when the Edmonton Oilers of the old WHA became a NHL franchise in 1979. Regular Season Scheduled to begin in late October. There will be 76 games, beginning October 29. But take this with a grain of salt, as the WHA has also said that there will be a minimum of 10 franchises, when only four are currently confirmed. Salary Cap Franchises will be under $15 million dollar salary cap, which includes a $5 million dollar marquee distinction. This terminology means that each team will be allowed to shell out no more than $5 million total for one or two high-end players (ie a franchise player clause). With the NHL lockout partially due to teams' poor business management and loss of money, the WHA needs to make sure that they are a league that practices sound business. That means make profits. The London Free Press calculates, in Canadian Dollars, that
"At an average ticket price of $50, it will take 38 crowds of 10,000 to come close to covering the players' salaries alone, without factoring all the other overhead. Arena leases, travel and front-office salaries all have to be covered as well. Given the sorry history of most new hockey leagues, an average crowd of 10,000 in any of the markets will be an amazing success. To do it, the WHA will have to score an almost unprecedented marketing coup."
Rules of Play Some rules differences include the removal of the center red line, no-touch icing, touch up offside, and three on three overtime, which will be followed by a sudden death shootout to eliminate ties in league standings. Board of Governors Mario Frankovich (Hamilton) Chairman Rick Munro (Dallas) Vice-Chair Jean-Paul Boily (Quebec) John Marshall (Halifax) Gino Naldini (Toronto) Jay Patel (Detroit) WHA commissioner Bobby Hull, Brett Hull's controversial father, is the commissioner of the re-born WHA. He has the fastest recorded shot (116.3 mph), scored 610 goals for Chicago, and led the Blackhawks to the 1961 Stanley Cup. In June 1972, Bobby Hull changed The Game forever. He was the first player to earn a $1 million dollar salary with a 10-year, $2.75 million dollar contract with the WHA's Winnipeg Jets. This had him leaving an Original Six city in Chicago for the uncharted waters of the WHA. Hull has said that he regretted the decision months after taking the road less traveled (for all you Robert Frost fans). Bobby Hull made the WHA a credible league, paving the way for Wayne Gretzky to join the WHA in 1978. Amazing Bobby Hull quote on Gordie Howe:
"Before I went to the WHA, folks asked me what I'm going to do when I approach Gordie. I said that I'm going to score one less goal than Howe, then retire. I don't think I could have gone by the great old man."
Trading Cards Pacific Trading Cards was awarded an exclusive license to be the league's manufacturer of trading cards. League resurrected The WHA operated from 1972 to 1979, and is now coming back for the 2004-2005 season. Bobby Hull, the first $1 million dollar contract visa vie the WHA, is a large part of this resurrection. Also, the widely known NHL lockout plays a factor. The WHA hopes to capitalize on the void of hockey in the mainstream market, and again become a major rival league of the NHL. Tentative Teams With teams slated for Jacksonville and Orlando bowing out, the WHA is down to an Original Four of confirmed teams: Detroit, Dallas, Halifax (Nova Scotia), and Quebec City. Toronto and Hamilton (Ontario) are franchises in "good standing" pending the completion of business terms. Other possibilities include Vancouver and Miami. Future teams could end up in Birmingham, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, Montr�al, Phoenix, and Toledo. But, as it looks now, the WHA will at best have its own version of the Original Six. This news comes as an obvious disappointment. The WHA had anticipated a minimum of 10 franchises, which was recently decreased to seven. If you followed my article regarding the contributions to The Game based on regions of North America, mark the loss of Florida teams as another sign of the bad state of hockey in the South. Website The World Hockey Association website is found here. The league can't even afford to get a .com domain name, has only a few major sponsors, and is in a dream-world thinking that things will go smoothly four months from now. WHA affects AHL? The re-birth of the World Hockey Association could hurt the AHL, and, thus, the Grand Rapids Griffins. Red Wings' minor-league talent, such as Nathan Robinson, Jiri Hudler, Darryl Bootland, Matt Ellis, Tomas Kopecky, Eric Himelfarb, Danny Groulx, Brett Lebda, and Joey MacDonald, could end up joining the new WHA team in Detroit or elsewhere if they can get significant salary increases or want to take a big career gamble by joining the new league. Moe Mantha, Gladiator Coach Moe Mantha, former NHL player, was the first head coach to be confirmed in the WHA. He has most recently been working with the US national team based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Gladiators' Home Ice The Gladiators will play their 38-game home season in the now-defunct Pontiac Silverdome, which used to be the home of the Detroit Lions before they built their new stadium, Ford Field, in the heart of Detroit. Gladiator Ownership Senticore Inc, based in Hollywood, Florida, purchased the Detroit franchise. If you followed my article regarding the contributions to The Game based on regions of North America, mark this one up for the South. Gladiator Players TBA. Red Wings players such as Manny Legace, Brett Hull (notice this as one of the last times Brett Hull will be named as a Red Wing), or any third-tier players like Jason Williams or Mark Mowers, who want to stay in shape, are possible participants. And, as stated before, AHL players could make the jump (which could very well be off a cliff). Ex-Wing News With some Wings fans hopeful that GM Ken Holland could bring ex-Wing Mike Knuble back home, that is now a pipedream. Knuble, formerly of the Boston Bruins, where he joined Martin Lapointe as a defector from Hockeytown, has signed a three-year deal with the Philadelpia Flyers. Knuble is a huge physical presence at 6-3, 230 pounds, but can also score, adding 21 goals and 25 assists in 82 games last season. The Wings drafted Knuble on June 9, 1991 as a 4th round pick (76th overall). In addition, Knuble was around for the Stanley Cup wins in 1997 and 1998. At the time, the divorce of Knuble and the Wings was a good move for both sides. The Wings just couldn't give him the ice time to flourish, and Knuble has had an offensive surge since leaving (notably 2002-2003: 30 goals, 29 assists, +18). Touring stars Similar to when Wayne Gretzky organized a tour of all-stars during the 1994 NHL lockout, it is again possible that such a tour could take place sometime this winter. This is all reliant on whether the NHLPA and/or player agents allow it, but the International Management Group, which represents Joe Thornton, Mats Sundin, and Jaromir Jagr, has been looking into the possibility. The main purpose of the tour is to keep players in shape and keep The Game alive and well with the absence of regular NHL play.


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