The World Hockey Association was a direct rival to the NHL and of course many stars played in both leagues. Most would rank the WHA at a slightly lower calibre than the NHL of the day, but how close were the two leagues in reality? A good way to compare the calibre of the leagues is to compare players who played a significant amount of time in each circuit. Below, I list the points/game for players who played at least 200 games in both the NHL and the WHA.
Every player on the two lists which represent the top scorers in WHA history, every single one, scored points at a better rate in the WHA than the NHL. The first list is of players whose PPG is extremely higher in the WHA. Andre Lacroix, Serge Bernier, Rob Ftorek, Christian Bordeleau, JC Tremblay, Danny Lawson, Poul Popiel and Wayne Carleton all more than doubled their NHL scoring rate. Each were at least in their mid twenties when they jumped to the WHA, perhaps we can explain their inflated scoring rates on the fact they were all merely hitting their prime as players. Perhaps, but double… doubtful. On the other end of the age spectrum are Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, John McKenzie, Frank Mahovlich, Paul Henderson, Norm Ullman, Dave Keon and Pat Stapleton who were all at least 32 when they jumped leagues. Everyone of these guys, who’s production would in theory have dropped off, increased their PPG in the WHA. In this group however, we see that there is less discrepancy in their scoring rates and Mahovlich and Ullman were only very slightly better scores in the rebel league.
A note can be made about Mark Howe whose rate of 0.80 Points/game in the NHL is quite comparable to his 1.18 in the WHA seeing as once he joined the NHL, he was predominately a defenseman.
The two players at the bottom of the second list, are the only two who scored at a better rate in the NHL, Mike Rogers and Blaine Stoughton. They incidentally played together for the first two years of the Hartford Whalers between 1979 and 1981.
In looking at WHA career leaders, I was interested to see how many players actually NEVER got a chance in the NHL. The third list is of these leaders, all solid players but not quite NHL calibre. Interestingly, all of these guys failed to score at a point/game average even in the WHA. Most of these players had been established minor professionals in the Western, Central or Eastern Hockey Leagues (Lund, Peacosh, Patenaude, Sicinski, Adduano) or underage juniors signed right into the new “major” league (Kirk, Simpson). All could be compared to the “4A” player in baseball, too good for Triple A minor league ball, but not quite good enough for the bigs. It would seem that description could hold true for as well for the WHA in general.