The loss of the Aeros meant the WHA would open the 1978-79 season with seven teams, down from a high of 14 just three seasons earlier, but after 25 games, the Indianapolis Racers would fold on December 15, 1978.
By the time the six surviving clubs had reached the playoffs, two more had received a death sentence, as a deal was struck on March 30, 1979 what would allow four of the WHA teams to join the NHL as expansion clubs, which in no way did the NHL consider to be a merger with the WHA.
The playoff format called for the top five of the six teams to advance to the postseason. That left out the Birmingham Bulls, who finished with 70 points, just two out of a playoff spot in sixth place. Stat heads will also note that the final WHA standings include the 5-18-2 Racers with 12 points as well as entries from the Soviet All-Stars and Czechoslovakia, who both played one game against each of the six full season clubs which counted in the WHA standings. The Soviets went 4-1-1 while the Czechs were 1-4-1. With the Racers having played an odd number of games, a contest between the Edmonton Oilers and the Finnish National Team was arranged to give Edmonton an 80 game schedule like the others, which was won by the Oilers 8-4.
In the playoffs, the fourth place New England Whalers (83 points) faced the fifth place Cincinnati Stingers (72) in a best-of-three series, which was won by the Whalers 2 games to 1, bringing an end to the Stingers franchise.
The Whalers advanced to play the number one seeded Edmonton Oilers in a best-of-seven Semifinal series, while the second place Quebec Nordiques (87) faced the third place Winnipeg Jets (84) in the other.
While Edmonton required the full seven games to eliminate New England, the Jets made quick work of the Nordiques, sweeping them in four straight.
The AVCO World Cup Finals began on May 11th with a 3-1 Winnipeg victory in Edmonton. The Jets then grabbed the series by the throat with a second win on the road, 3-2. The Oilers returned the favor, dominating Game 3 in Winnipeg 8-3, but the Jets put the Oilers on the brink with a 3-2 win at home in Game 4.
As the series moved back to Edmonton for Game 5, the Oilers let everyone know they would not be leaving quietly, as they hammered the Jets 10-2 to extend not only their season, but their doomed league for at least one more game, which came on this date in 1979 as the series returned to Winnipeg for Game 6 with the Jets leading three games to two.
The Jets prevailed in front of their delirious home fans 7-3, as the astute fans in Winnipeg knew the Jets had not only just won the championship, but that they next time they arrived at the Winnipeg Arena later that fall, it would be to watch the Jets play as a part of the National Hockey League.
With the arrival of the WHA refugees, the NHL would expand from 17 teams to 21 with the addition of Edmonton, New England, Quebec and Winnipeg, all of whom played in the WHA from 1972-73 until 1978-79. Combined, the four clubs won five of the seven Avco World Cup championships, with the defunct Aeros, led by Gordie Howe, having won the other two.
Before New England could become a member of the NHL, there was an additional stipulation placed upon their entry from their original landlords, the Boston Bruins, who demanded that the Whalers change their name from New England to Hartford.
The results were predictable, as the WHA teams all finished in the bottom eight of the standings. However, a ridiculous 16 of 21 teams made the playoffs back then, so Edmonton and Hartford did manage to qualify for the postseason, with the Oilers being swept in three games by Philadelphia.
After having scored 102 points in 1977-78 in the WHA, the Jets plummeted to last in the NHL in 1979-80 with just 51 points. Things got even worse in year 2 with a all-time franchise low of 32 points, which the club turned into first overall selection Dale Hawerchuk.
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions