They'd be complete idiots to ruin the opportunity that is in front of them right now.

Monday, November 22, 2004
League may drop the puck in Jan.

The Hockey News

TORONTO -- The new owner of the World Hockey Association says his league will be up-and-running this season, perhaps as early as the end of January.

Ricky Smith, a 47-year-old British Columbia native, purchased the rights to the defunct league in October and told The Hockey News he hopes to make an announcement by the end of November detailing his master plan.

"The amount of seriousness we've put into this is at an extremely high level ... and time and money," Smith said. "And it's not just because the NHL is where it is today. The intention of this league was to work parallel with the NHL. We're going through with our plans."

Smith says those plans include:

A significant role for Bobby Hull, commissioner for the previous group that failed to get the league off the ground

A 42- to 46-game season in Year 1

Eight to 12 teams in Year 1, most likely concentrated in Central and Eastern Canada and the Northeast United States

One marquee player per team and two "sub-marquee" players, with the rest of the roster composed of journeyman NHLers and AHLers

Rule changes that would open up the game and make it more entertaining

Less expensive ticket prices than the NHL

A European Conference to begin play in Year 2

Smith says the league has been in contact with player agents about securing their clients' services and will try to attract some of the 200 unsigned NHLers. In addition, he says they'll attempt to entice some of the players who have gone to Europe to return to North America and will take another run at persuading phenom Sidney Crosby to join the fold.

"We'd be crazy not to (pursue Crosby)," he says. "His agent and his family would see we're extremely serious. It would be a very similar situation to when Wayne Gretzky was signed by the Indianapolis Racers (in 1979)."

Smith, whose family is involved in the timber industry, is confident he'll succeed where others have failed because his group -- which he says includes New York investment bankers -- has the necessary capital. He says the league, which he envisions being similar in stature to the 1972-79 WHA, has begun negotiations on arena deals and will pay for the leases up front. The league will then sublease the space to individual team owners.

Potential locales for franchises are New Jersey, Quebec and Toronto/Hamilton, Smith says.

Hull is also convinced this venture is different from the previous group and is excited about unveiling a new brand of hockey.

"We have to groom our game to the type of people we'd like to play in it," Hull says. "The kind of player who can play all over the ice and entertain the people royally. I'm talking about players like Brett Hull, Mike Modano, Chris Chelios and Jeremy Roenick."

As for rule changes, Hull said he's in favor of the introduction of no-touch icing, tag-up offsides, penalty shots for certain major fouls, shootouts and smaller goalie equipment.

"Let's put the same equipment on (today's goalies) as Glenn Hall and Terry Sawchuk and Tony Esposito and Gerry Cheevers and Johnny Bower had and let's see if they can stop the puck," he says.