The World Hockey Association refused today to approve the Quebec Nordiques' contract with Robert Picard, thereby acknowledging the validity of the Washington Capitals' prior agreement with the 20-year-old defenseman.
However, Guy Bertrand, Picard's lawyer said by telephone from Quebec City that he would file a $1-million suit against the WHA and also would seek to have the Maryland courts vote Picard's agreement with the Capital's on the grounds of "false representation on one part and a seduction operation by the Washington Capitals in another."
Bertrand said Picard would stay in Montreal rather than report to the Capitals. Bertrand plans to come to Washington Saturday to institute legal proceedings as quickly as possible.
Peter O'Malley, president of the Capitals, said he hoped to meet with Picard, Bertrand and Picard's parents to persuade the youngster to report to the Capitals and fulfill his agreement with the team.
O'Malley said he did not plan to discuss any boost in salary for Picard, whose agreement calls for about $500,000 over five years, some $25,000 year less than the Nordiques offered.
"My attitude is I want to do what is right," O'Malley said, "but we should not discuss any change in contract at all, certainly not while it's not being honored. I want to meet with him, end this communications gap and invite him to camp. And I want to explain it all to his teammates, so there will no problem for him there."
Max McNab, the Capitals' general manager, who talked to picard lask week, said there was "some concern on Robert's part about reaction from teammates and fans. We think they'll understand that this is a 20-year-old boy. I think if we can just unwind his feelings, we'll have a good hockey player. There were some things said that will be difficult to undo. They will take discussion."
Picard, accompanied by his parents, signed his agreement with the Capitals on June 13, moments before Washington selected him in the first round of the NHL draft, as the third player chosen.
In the WHA draft held later that week, Quebec made him its fourth-round choice, the 37th player chosen, almost as a throwaway.
On Sept. 12, Picard, now represented by Bertrand, signed the contract with Quebec. That it was a sudden shift was indicated by the fact that the same day he agreed to terms with the Nordiques, the Capitals received a transportation questionnaire, postmarked four days earlier, stating the date on which he planned to drive to training camp.
Picard has been kept in virtual seclusion by the Nordiques and his only comments, made on two separate occasions, were vows that he would never play in Washington.
The Capitals brought suit Wednesday in U.S. Distric Court in Philadelphia, seeking an injunction against Picard's playing with Quebec, and asking compensatory and punitive damages as well as a contempt citation against the WHA, for violating a 1974 consent decree in which the WHA agreed not to sign any players under contract to the NHL.
It was apparently out of fear of a costly defeat on the latter issue that the WHA refused to honor Pichard's contract with Quebec.
In announcing his decision today in Hartford, WHA president Howard Baldwin said, "After reviewing the entire situation, we cannot approve this contract until such time as the WHA is satisfied that Picard is free to enter such an agreement.
"I have discussed this decision with WHA board chairman Ben Hatskin and we are in agreement that it is in the best interest of the WHA and the best interests of hockey.
"In this situation the responsibility lies with Picard and his representatives to establish his free agency."
John Dacres, president of the Nordiques, said, "Naturally I am disappointed in losing Picard. However, I respect the circumstances under which the decision was made and therefore I respect the decision itself."
Bertrand, anticipating the move by the WHA, had sent Baldwin a telegram this morning, threatening the $1 million lawsuit if the league intervened in the Picard matter.
"The WHA had promised not to interfere, in view of Robert Picard's decision not to play with the Washington Capitals," Bertrand said. "This is very prejudicial to our client as to his rights to obtain a favorable judicial decision. They are obstructing him from playing hockey."
Bertrand is seeking to have the Washington agreement invalidated on the grounds that the Capitals used undue persuasion to get Picard signed before the WHA draft and that Rodrigue Leymonyne, Picard's original lawyer, misrepresented the Nordiques' offer.
Lemoyne has said he will sue Picard and his father, Filles, for $500,000 if they do not render him a public apology.