Beginning in 2012, I'm going to start paying some long overdue respect to the World Hockey Association here at Shoebox Legends. My Card of the Month posts this year will instead be WHA Card of the Month posts, and I'll talk a little bit about the "rival league"...
1972-73 O-Pee-Chee - #297 - Bobby Sheehan
Bobby Sheehan here represents my very first 1972-73 O-Pee-Chee card. He also represents my favorite part of the '72-73 O-Pee-Chee set, the fourth and final series (cards 290 - 341) featuring players from the World Hockey Association. Given that 1972 was the first year of existence for the league, these are obviously the first WHA hockey cards issued by O-Pee-Chee. It's a crime that it took me close to 5 years to add one to my collection.
The NHL has seen a few competitors throughout the course of its history, but none of them as successful as the WHA was. The Association began in 1972, and challenged the NHL by establishing a 12 team league and attracting a few bonafide NHL stars, most notably Bobby Hull and Gerry Cheevers (and eventually Gordie Howe). All told, 67 NHL players jumped ship to the WHA for its inaugural season. They were lured by higher pay and the promise that there would be no reserve clause.
I stated above that none of the NHL's competitors throughout its many years were as successful as the WHA, but success is a relative term. Many franchises, and indeed the WHA as a whole, encountered plenty of logistical and financial challenges. In the brief period that the WHA existed it saw its teams change their names (sometimes mid-season), relocate (sometimes mid-season), swap divisions, and sometimes never play a single game! It saw expansion, teams fold (sometimes mid-season), its divisions disappear and then eventually a merger with its cheif rival, the NHL.
The WHA's founders did have experience at this sort of thing. They were the same guys that were responsible for basketball's ABA, begun a few years prior in the late '60s. Putting together an operation on this scale is no easy task though, and things went far from perfectly. One of the best examples of failure would be the team Bobby Sheehan skated for in '72-73, the New York Raiders.
The Raiders wore some very 1970s red and blue sweaters, and although it's difficult to make out on this card, the logo is actually a hockey player wearing a viking helmet skating in front of a backdrop of the city. They were supposed to be the
team in the WHA, but they were doomed from the very beginning. Their first overall draft pick from the WHA's entry draft? He signed with the Boston Bruins in the NHL. Oh, and guess where they had to play their home games? At Madison Square Garden, the home of their major competition from the NHL, the New York Rangers. The original owners didn't even last the first season, with the league taking control of the team and selling it in the off-season. The new owners renamed the team to the New York Golden Blades but were no more successful than the first group. Just 24 games into that second season they were out of the picture and the league once again had control of the team. After two failed attempts, the WHA realized that it could not compete in the New York market and moved the team to New Jersey where they played on a rink where the ice was sloped (I'm not kidding).
The New York Raiders were just one of many great failures from the other league, but there were many successes as well. I'll be sharing plenty of them here through cards in the coming weeks and months.