The first step in a return to normalcy in professional hockey is likely to be claimbed today when the National Hockey League Board of Governors meets in Chicago to vote on a proposed merger with the World Hockey Association.
A similar proposal fell one vote short of the necessary three-quarters approval two weeks ago in Ky Largo, Fal. Since that time, one of the five dissenters, Vancouver, has agreed to second a revised merger motion by the Washington Capitals.
Montreal, under pressure of boycotts of its parent Molson Breweries' products, is also expected to change its stance, leaving only Boston, Toronto and Los Angeles in opposition.
The Bruins have threatened to go to court to upset the merger, claiming that it upsets both player and property rights and should require unanimous consent. The Bruins are anxious to keep the New England Whalers from NHL membership. Other prospective WHA recruits include Winnipeg, Edmonton and Quebec.
Unanimous consent is required in matters affecting property rights and has long been a hindrance to hockey reform, but the merger is being effected in the name of expansion, which needs only three-quarters approval.
Once the merger is approved by the NHL, the terms must be accepted by the WHA, which is also committed to pay its Cincinnati and Birmingham teams to disappear. It is expected that the WHA, losing money by the bucketful, has endured enough red ink to accede, despite recent threats to expand and escalate signings of under-age players. Such threats are believed to be merely a smoke screen to nudege reluctant NHL teams into acceptance of a merger.
Additionally, the NHL's contract with the players association must be renegotiated and Alan Eagleson, executive director of that group, has demanded most of the WHA money settelement as the players' price for approval.
Since Agleson has been lobbying for the merger and had chided the reluctant five for placing personal interests over the good of the sport, this demand is not being taken seriously, either. Eagleson has been representing himself and his group as progressive forces stymied by owner intractability for too long to risk that image in a money grab.
Merger would give the NHL 21 teams and the terms would include partial realignment, with Washington believed set for inclusion in the Patrick Division with Philadelphia, Atlanta and the two New York teams. That is the toughest drivision in the NHL, but the balanced schedule of four games against each team that was said to be Vancouver's price for approval would make division allignments virtually meaningless.