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Top WHA Centers

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08-25-2013, 04:11 PM
  #1
Canadiens1958
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Top WHA Centers

Discussion of the top WHA centers - offensive, defensive, two-way is long overdue. Give consideration to length of service - all seasons or less, pre or post NHL or contemporary NHL or WHA comparables. Touring internationals may be considered.

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08-25-2013, 07:13 PM
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Killion
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Andre The Magician Lacroix

All time points leader in the WHA. Came up through the Peterborough Petes mid 60's, tremendous player (small man, 5'8" but weighed like 185). OHA leader in Assists in 64-65 & Points in 65-66. Excellent two way player, also used on the PK. Selected by Philly & assigned to the Quebec Aces of the AHL, again, played brilliantly, called up in the Spring of 68. Next 2 season partnered with Simon Nolet & Jean Guy Gendron lead the Flyers in points, very popular player in the market. However, with Clarkes arrival, the Flyers wanting size, he was traded to Chicago where he was apparently pretty unhappy, eventually signing with the upstart Philadelphia Blazers of the WHA and a return to his beloved adopted home-town. Bounced around with intransigent ownership being what it was, eventually winding up in San Diego for a few years, then Houston/Hartford & amalgamation where he returned to the NHL however he was pretty much done by then, retiring in 1980. In the WHA he was a 3X 1st Team All Star & 2X League Scoring Champion, also playing for Team WHA against against the Soviets in 1974.

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08-25-2013, 07:27 PM
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Ulf
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08-25-2013, 08:09 PM
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Hardyvan123
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Ftorek is the top center IMO 4 straight all star berths.

After that I'm leaning Ulf then Lacroix but who would be 4th?

Bernier? Lawson?

Where would Keon in his late stages rank?

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08-25-2013, 10:49 PM
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Ed Wood
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1. Andre Lacroix
2. Ulf Nilsson
3. Robbie Ftorek
4. Serge Bernier
5. Christian Bordeleau

Pretty big drop off after these five.

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08-25-2013, 11:31 PM
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i did a little digging on the winnipeg jets' three main swedish guys when we did the top swedish players polls. couldn't turn up too much beyond how much abuse they took, but i'm very curious about ulf nilsson. i feel like he was the swedish larionov, insofar as his role was to hang back and be a wizard in transition, with hull and hedberg being his makarov and krutov so to speak?

my first instinct is to disregard some of the other guys' better WHA trophy cases and/or give ulf nilsson extra points for forerunning the '80s game? (sather famously has said he built the oilers around the jets' breakout.)

not sure if nilsson played anything analogous to larionov's defensive role on the green unit though.

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08-26-2013, 02:02 AM
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seventieslord
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed Wood View Post
1. Andre Lacroix
2. Ulf Nilsson
3. Robbie Ftorek
4. Serge Bernier
5. Christian Bordeleau

Pretty big drop off after these five.
Isn't Bernier a winger?

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08-26-2013, 08:36 AM
  #8
reckoning
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Nilsson and Ftorek both came to the NHL when they were 28 years old, which for most players is where their offensive production has started to decline. While it's impossible to get a definitive comparison between the WHA and NHL, I thought comparing their NHL numbers against other forwards the same age as them might help:

1978-79 28 year-old forwardss:
PlayerGPGAPtsPPG
Darryl Sittler703651871.24
Ulf Nilsson592739661.12
Gil Perreault792758851.08
Yvon Lambert792640660.84

1979-80 29 year-old forwards:
PlayerGPGAPtsPPG
Gil Perreault8040661061.33
Darryl Sittler734057971.33
Ulf Nilsson501444581.16
Reggie Leach765026761.00

As you can see, Nilsson missed a significant amount of time due to injuries both seasons. But his PPG indicates that his offence wasn't very far behind that of his two comparables age-wise, Perreault and Sittler, both of whom will certainly make the top-60 list.

Nilsson was primarily a passer, and his numbers likely suffered from not having a Bobby Hull on his line in New York (though that could also mean that Hull's presence helped inflate his WHA stats). I don't know if Fred Shero gave the Swedes the same offensive freedom that they had in Winnipeg.


1979-80 28 year-old forwards:
PlayerGPGAPtsPPG
Marcel Dionne8053841371.71
Guy Lafleur7450751251.69
Rick Martin804534790.99
Robbie Ftorek521833510.98

1980-81 29 year-old forwards:
PlayerGPGAPtsPPG
Marcel Dionne8058771351.69
Guy Lafleur512743701.37
Rick Kehoe805533881.10
Robbie Ftorek782449730.94

This doesn't reveal much, as everyone knows Ftorek is a significant step below Dionne. There were very few same-age centres as Ftorek those seasons, but some same-age wingers who Ftorek was scoring slightly more than would include names like Hedberg, Vickers, O'Reilly and Ramsay.

If any of you have the 1976 Canada Cup DVD, in the Canada/U.S. game it's clear that Ftorek was the only American forward who could actually compete against the more talented Canadians.

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08-26-2013, 09:21 AM
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tony d
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Top 5:

1) Lacroix
2) Ftorek
3) Nilsson
4) Bordelau
5) Lund

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08-26-2013, 11:05 AM
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Killion
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Quote:
Originally Posted by seventieslord View Post
Isn't Bernier a winger?
Thats a good question. He supposedly played Centre as a Junior in Sorel, was Drafted 5th by the Flyers in 67 & played for 3 seasons in Quebec with the Aces of the AHL as a Centre & when called up in 70 same. Traded to LA, also Centre; jump to the WHA and Im assuming Centre however, wiki, hockeyreference & hockeydb, the HHOF player profile page all have him listed as a RightWinger.

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08-26-2013, 12:14 PM
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BM67
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Bernier centered Tardif and Cloutier, so at least as far as the WHA goes, he'd have to be thought of as a center.

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08-26-2013, 12:39 PM
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Canadiens1958
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Serge Bernier

WHA, Serge Bernier was mainly a center, very little drift to RW. WHA lacked center depth and versatility. Bernier, a RHS was precious at center.

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08-26-2013, 02:47 PM
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Killion
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Originally Posted by Canadiens1958 View Post
WHA, Serge Bernier was mainly a center, very little drift to RW. WHA lacked center depth and versatility. Bernier, a RHS was precious at center.
Well, then it would appear we've stumbled upon the repetition of some erroneous information here with respect to several thus far trusted sites. How could they all get it wrong like that I wonder? Wiki, hockeydb & hockeyresource.com. Most peculiar.

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08-26-2013, 05:36 PM
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Dennis Bonvie
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Killion View Post
All time points leader in the WHA. Came up through the Peterborough Petes mid 60's, tremendous player (small man, 5'8" but weighed like 185). OHA leader in Assists in 64-65 & Points in 65-66. Excellent two way player, also used on the PK. Selected by Philly & assigned to the Quebec Aces of the AHL, again, played brilliantly, called up in the Spring of 68. Next 2 season partnered with Simon Nolet & Jean Guy Gendron lead the Flyers in points, very popular player in the market. However, with Clarkes arrival, the Flyers wanting size, he was traded to Chicago where he was apparently pretty unhappy, eventually signing with the upstart Philadelphia Blazers of the WHA and a return to his beloved adopted home-town. Bounced around with intransigent ownership being what it was, eventually winding up in San Diego for a few years, then Houston/Hartford & amalgamation where he returned to the NHL however he was pretty much done by then, retiring in 1980. In the WHA he was a 3X 1st Team All Star & 2X League Scoring Champion, also playing for Team WHA against against the Soviets in 1974.
Like Ftorek, not afraid to wield his stick. But not nearly as dirty.

From the numbers you can tell it was a bit of a different story when he was in the NHL, though.

Andre liked the pace of the WHA much better.

He was the Whalers color commentator after he retired for several years.

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08-26-2013, 05:52 PM
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Ed Wood
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Quote:
Originally Posted by seventieslord View Post
Isn't Bernier a winger?
He played centre and right wing. His best years in Quebec he centered Michel Parizeau and Rejean Houle.

As noted above he also centered Tardif and Cloutier during his Nordique days.


Last edited by Ed Wood: 08-26-2013 at 05:57 PM.
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08-26-2013, 07:26 PM
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cam042686
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Thats a good question. He supposedly played Centre as a Junior in Sorel, was Drafted 5th by the Flyers in 67 & played for 3 seasons in Quebec with the Aces of the AHL as a Centre & when called up in 70 same. Traded to LA, also Centre; jump to the WHA and Im assuming Centre however, wiki, hockeyreference & hockeydb, the HHOF player profile page all have him listed as a RightWinger.
During the 1974 Summit Series Bernier centered "The French Selection" line of Bernier, Marc Tardif, and Rejean Houle. That line played very well. You can read about it in my book.

http://www.amazon.com/Forgotten-Summ...rgotten+summit

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08-26-2013, 08:19 PM
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Killion
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During the 1974 Summit Series Bernier centered...You can read about it in my book.
My God Craig, thats a shameless plug... but I'll let it stand.

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08-26-2013, 08:25 PM
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cam042686
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My God Craig, thats a shameless plug... but I'll let it stand.
Thank you, lol!

Craig

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08-26-2013, 09:01 PM
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reckoning
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I'm not trying to build a case against Lacroix, but there's one aspect of his career WHA stats that is a bit alarming:

Career Reg.Season PPG - 1.45
Career Playoffs PPG - 0.90

That's a bigger dropoff than Marcel Dionne's which is always brought up on here.

Ulf Nilsson's production in both areas was almost identical (1.61, 1.60). Ftorek's numbers dropped from 1.40 to 1.23, but he had very little time in the playoffs (just three first round losses).

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08-26-2013, 09:14 PM
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Killion
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I'm not trying to build a case against Lacroix, but there's one aspect of his career WHA stats that is a bit alarming:

Career Reg.Season PPG - 1.45
Career Playoffs PPG - 0.90

That's a bigger dropoff than Marcel Dionne's which is always brought up on here.

Ulf Nilsson's production in both areas was almost identical (1.61, 1.60). Ftorek's numbers dropped from 1.40 to 1.23, but he had very little time in the playoffs (just three first round losses).
Ya, the impression Ive gotten is that he was a sort of poor mans version of Dionne who had about an inch and maybe 10lbs on Andre Lacroix, not to mention considerably more talent of course but still. Thats quite a drop-off. I guess in his defence you could consider that he played for I think 6 teams in 7 years with the WHA, never once being actually traded, so there was that lack of consistency with the teams with which he played along with the fact that the WHA was like the Wild West; high scoring & anything goes pretty much. He wasnt Drafted out of Junior despite some excellent numbers & play with the Peterborough Petes, considered too small for the NHL. He tried out for & was signed by the AHL Quebec Aces who in 67 were bought by the Flyers. In his 3 seasons with Philadelphia, really, very respectable numbers. Had he been Drafted by the Canadiens, I could see a different career arc here with this guy, with little debate as to his to his being a Top 100 All Time Centre... then again, I guess you could say that about more than a few players who but for the fact that they didnt play for Montreal, Boston, the Islanders or Oilers etc how different things mightve been.

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08-27-2013, 07:47 AM
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reckoning
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Another thing to consider are centres who played the majority of their careers in the NHL, but had some time in the WHA. It's entirely possible that players in that position could have their shorter WHA time overlooked when evaluating their careers.

There's two players in particular who are likely (but not certain), candidates for the top 60 centres project. Would their WHA time be enough to put them over the edge?:

Ralph Backstrom: Spent the last four years of his career there. Was Chicago's leading scorer his first season. Played very well in the series against the Soviets

Kent Nilsson : Had two 100 point seasons there at the start of his career.

And how much does Dave Keon's time there add to his legacy? I know in the late-70s the Islanders were trying to acquire him, thinking that he may be the missing piece to get them to the Cup, so he must've been still highly regarded as a player.

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08-27-2013, 10:07 AM
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Killion
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Believe Keon himself was actually interested in going to the Islanders himself during his contract dispute with Ballard who not only refused to give him a raise after he'd not only given so much to the organization but so too had put up some serious numbers and clearly deserved one. Ballard refused to give him a raise & refused to trade him (Keon requested a trade to the Islanders) essentially, demanding way more than any player was worth in exchange. So he jumped to the WHA, forever embittered. Cant say I blame him.

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08-27-2013, 03:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BM67 View Post
Bernier centered Tardif and Cloutier, so at least as far as the WHA goes, he'd have to be thought of as a center.
The line was generally Bordeleau/sometimes Bernier centering Tardif & Cloutier.


Last edited by dennilfloss: 08-27-2013 at 03:33 PM.
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08-27-2013, 06:03 PM
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LeBlondeDemon10
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Originally Posted by reckoning View Post
Another thing to consider are centres who played the majority of their careers in the NHL, but had some time in the WHA. It's entirely possible that players in that position could have their shorter WHA time overlooked when evaluating their careers.

There's two players in particular who are likely (but not certain), candidates for the top 60 centres project. Would their WHA time be enough to put them over the edge?:



Kent Nilsson : Had two 100 point seasons there at the start of his career.
Yeah, Kent "The Magic Man" Nilsson was a significant player for the Jets in the late 70's. His first 100 pt season was overshadowed by Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson's exploits, while his second one was a main reason the Jets won the last Avco Cup. Given the short tenure of the WHA, I think a two season run is acceptable.

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