Thursday has been designated as Armistice Day for the great hockey war that has debilitated the sport since 1972.
The National Hockey League Board of Governors, meeting in Chicago, is considered virtually certain to gain the 13 votes necessary to approve a merger with the World Hockey Association.
Under terms of the merger agreement, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Quebec and New England would join the NHL, while two other WHA clubs, Birmingham and Cincinnati, would be compensated for disappearing.
Of the five NHL teams that voted down a similar move last week in Key Largo, Fla., at least two, Montreal and Vancouver, are expected to alter their positions, The vehicles are some minor adjustments to the original 19-page proposal and a flood of unfavorable reaction within Canada to the exclusion of Edmonton, Winnipeg and Quebec.
"The league needs this merger and next week we'll got it," said Peter O'Malley, the former president of the Washington Captals who formulated the defeated document at Key Largo. It was O'Malley's insistence on a public vote that loosed the anger of Canadians against the Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto clubs.
"They wanted a secret ballot, as usual, but I got up and said, 'It's my proposal, and I not only want a show of hands, I want a public vote,'" O'Malley said. "They said, 'You're intimidating us.' Can you imagine Washington intimidating Montreal? In the past, every vote was accompanied by rumors, leaks, deceit and treachery. This time, everybody knew where everybody stood.
"Now that the public knows where responsibility lies, you will see some changes in position. Reaction is already setting in. Canadians are always hearing how the U.S. is trying to run their businesses and tell them what to do. Well, this time three Canadian teams were being kept out of the National Hockey League, and they were being kept out by three Canadian teams."
Not the least of the pressures unleashed on the Canadiens was the threat of diminished sales in the spurned areas for products of Molson's Breweries, corporate owner of the Canadiens.
Jacques Courtois, president of the Montreal club, hustled onto Canadian television and said, "Since 1972, Montreal has consistently supported expansion, but this time the proposal presented in Florida contained 22 pages, not only affecting expansion but also property rights, player rights, Canadian television rights, realignment, scheduling, a lot of things that had nothing to do with expansion. We don't feel a few teams should carry the burden."
That position elicted little sympathy for the Canadiens, who have won three straight Stanley cups and reaped profits by the bushelful. What Montreal wanted was the rights to "defects," players it had drafted but permitted World Hockey Association teams to sign, and such a move would have stripped the entering WHA teams of talent and guaranteed the Canadiens reinforcements to fill some current trouble spots.
O'Malley, although he resigned as the Capitals' president 11 months ago, is a major force in both the team's operation and in league circles.
"Our proposal tried to address every argument that had been presented against a merger in the past," said O'Malley, who insisted it contained only 19 pages.
"Even though we lost, I left feeling good. It's the first time I've ever felt good after a league meeting. Always before, there's been a lot of talk and nothing else and I've left feeling I've wasted my time."
Oddly, one of the most progressive items of recent years, weighted scheduling within divisions, may have to be sacrificed to gain Vancouver's vote.
Both Courtois and Frank Griffiths, board chairman of the Canucks, were reported by their secretaries to be in meetings yesterday. They did not return phone calls.
Besides the three Canadian teams, Boston and Los Angeles cast negative votes in Florida, the Bruins apparently to keep out New England and the Kings to avoid complications with the players association, which once insisted a complete overhaul of its agreement with the NHL must accompany a merger.
However, Alan Eagleson, executive director of the players association, said the other day that merger was "in the best interests of the game. The time has come to get a stabilizing factor. The talent that exists in the NHL will prevail over the WHA players and we will have most of the jobs anyway.
"We took every club, asked what's their complaint and tried to find a way to make them happy. Bill Wirtz (of Chicago, a consistent for of merger) was solid for it and eventually we got 12 solid votes."
The Canucks reportedly want a balanced schedule -- four games against each of the other 20 teams -- rather than a weighted schedule within a geographic alignment of western clubs that would reduce the awful travel burden on the Canucks.
Presumably, New England's Gordie Howe, who turns 51 March 31, will delay his retirement yet another year, while NHL fans will be able to see the major leagues' youngest star, Wayne Gretzky of Edmonton. And won't it be fun the first time Tom McVie brings his Winnipeg Jets to Capital Centre?