I brought this question up in the hockey change room last night after another summer league win. Is Mark Howe the last Hall of Famer that will have played in the WHA? We tend to swing from very informed hockey discussions in the change room from Hall of Fame qualifications, possible signings and trades, various trivia I pull off the top of my head, Seinfeld, Happy Days, Good Fellas quotes and 20 year old drinking and dating stories. On this night though, the topic of the recent Hall inductees was the main one and my query about Howe being the last WHA veteran inducted was debated.
The first and only real obvious name that came up as possible future WHA Hall of Famers was Paul Henderson. Now, in reality Paul Henderson is probably not a Hall of Famer but his unbelievable week in Moscow in September of 1972 puts him at least in the discussion. Henderson is the only WHA veteran to have even a remote chance at the Hall. The truth is though there are a few WHA vets that are borderline Hall of Famers. In my opinion if Clark Gillies is in the Hall why not team mate John Tonelli?
Tonelli played 1252 comined games in the WHA and NHL and scored 389 goals and 986 points. He won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders and was MVP of the 1984 Canada Cup. I'd put him in over Gillies, easily. Another ex-WHA-er who wouldn't be out of place in the Hall is Ralph Backstrom. He was an integral piece of six Stanley Cup wins, played 1336 big league games and scored 378 goals and 892 points. Backstrom is a more qualified Hall of Famer than Bob Pulford or Dick Duff.
The best of the rest of ex-WHA players who will likely not be Hall of Fame worthy, but should at least be in the discussion: (combined NHL/WHA GP-G-A-Pts)
Bob Nevin 1141-310-421-731, 2 Cups
John McKenzie 1168-369-51-887, 2 Cups
Kent Nilsson 711-345-555-800, 1 Cup, 5 Intl. Tournaments 47-22-32-54
Vaclav Nedomansky 673-257-274-631, 11 Intl. Tournamnets 93-80-39-119
Marc Tardif 963-510-557-1067, 2 Cups
J.C. Tremblay 1248-123-664-787, 5 Cups
Ken Linseman 931-294-589-883, 1 Cup
Andre Lacroix 876-330-666-996
Anders Hedberg 751-408-447-855, 6 Intl. Tournaments 49-24-20-44
Real Cloutier 686-429-481-910
Mike Liut 325-310-78, 28 shutouts, 2.83 Adjusted GAA better than 6 goalies in the Hall.
So, it would appear that unless Paul Henderson ever gets in it is indeed very likely that Mark Howe will be the last WHA veteran to gain entry in the Hockey Hall of Fame.