Behind the Bench Hockey LeagueWelcome to the homepage of the Behind the Bench (BTB) hockey league. BTB is a Simon T Hockey Simulator (STHS) league remaking history during the wild days of the 1970s when the WHA challenged the NHL for puck primacy!

BTB began with the 1972-73 season and will continue to move forward through history, with the fate of the teams and leagues undetermined. Which WHA teams will make it to the merger? Nothing is guaranteed - the on-ice results will drive the narrative.

From Espo & Orr to Hull & Howe, all the stars of both leagues will be present in the league - though not necessarily remaining with their historical club. BTB will be open-ended and unscripted.

The Simon T Hockey Simulator provides a free-to-use GM client that participants can use at no cost to manage their teams as we move through the rollicking decade of the 1970s, into the free-wheeling 80s and beyond.

League Rules are below (scroll down the page).

If you'd like to see the league's web portal with standings, statistics, rosters, etc please use the Main Menu above - Hockey > Behind the Bench > Web Portal.

If you are interested in being a part of the Behind the Bench hockey league, please feel free to contact the commissioner through the Info link in the main menu at the top of the screen.

Thanks!

NOTE: BTB is currently on hiatus but if you are interested in joining for a possible restart please contact the commissioner.

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Behind the Bench Rules

VERSION 1.0 (6/8/16)

SECTION I: GENERAL/SETUP

Simulation Engine: Behind the Bench (hereafter referred to as BTB) will always use the most recent version of the Simon T Hockey Simulator. GMs will participate by using the free GM Client (download here) from STHS.

Initial League Alignment: BTB will cover both the NHL and the WHA. The initial alignment of the leagues will follow real history with subsequent expansions and contractions depending upon team performance as outlined below. See Section III below for more details.

Initial Player Dispersal: The league will begin with the roster with which it historically opened the 1972-73 season.

Prospects: Players will enter the league universe in the year in which they turned pro (generally around the age of 18). As we progress forward these players will form the annual rookie draft pool. The draft itself will be conducted on the league forum.

GM Participation: GMs are expected to regularly monitor their teams and take care of injured players and other roster issues by submitting exports with legal rosters and line assignments. Daily exports are not mandatory although you can certainly do so if you wish. It would also be considerate to let the commissioner know if you're going to be unable to participate for a time to prevent your team being assumed to be open and given to someone else. The league also will utilize Slack for real-time messaging as an addition to the forum and in place of emails for league communication. It is therefore important for the GMs to use Slack. Using Slack will allow GMs to conduct trade talks much more easily than through the forum and/or email.

 

SECTION II: PLAYERS

Roster Size: Historic roster rules will be in use for the season being simulated. In the event of a conflict in historic NHL and WHA rosters, the NHL roster size will be used.

Player Pool: The player pool will be comprised of all players active in the NHL, WHA, AHL, CHL, NAHL, or IHL who either previously or in the future, played in the NHL or WHA. European players will be added when they historically first played in one of the aforementioned North American leagues. Once a player is in the player pool, he remain there until he retires in the league.

Player Retention: Each league will utilize an internal reserve clause (meaning no free agency within the NHL for NHL teams and vice-versa with WHA teams). However, because the leagues were technically "at war" they will not respect the reserve clause of the other league. This means WHA teams may attempt to sign NHL players and vice-versa. Generally this will occur only when a player's contract is up. However, there is going to be a "raid" system (descrbed below) where players under contract may possibly be stolen from the other league.

Minor League Claim System: If a player is 25 years of age or older and did not appear in at least 5 of his club's top-level games he will be eligible to be claimed by another club within his league. Exceptions to this are if a player was injured for the entirety of a season. Claims may be made in the offseason and priority is given to teams based on the order of finish, worst-to-first, the previous season. This is not a draft, and each team may only claim one player in this fashion per season.

Random Free Agent (or Raid) System: Each year, all GMs will name three players as franchise players and assign a slot number of 1-20 for the next 20 players in terms of playing time. A state lottery game will determine which of these players becomes eligible to be signed as a free agent by the other league. If a player is not signed his rights return to his previous team. Players may only be franchised two years in a row and then must be exposed to the lottery at least once before being eligible to be franchise-protected again. This means the top players can theoretically be protected 4 out of every 5 seasons. 

 

SECTION III: TEAMS

Expansion: Expansion may occur in 1974-75 if there are GMs on the waiting list. If two GMs are available, the NHL may add the Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts. If four GMs are available, the WHA will also expand, adding the Indianapolis Racers and Phoenix Roadrunners.

Relocation: GMs may elect to relocate their teams. In both leagues, if a team relocated historically the GM may elect to do so without regard to team performance. In other cases (non-historical relocation) each league has separate rules:

  • NHL: If a team did not relocate the GM may elect to move it so long as it is not an Original Six team (O6 teams may not relocate), there is a historically open slot and it has either had declining attendance figures for each of the previous three seasons or has finished in the bottom three in revenue for the previous three seasons.
  • WHA: Any team may relocate as long as there is a historically open slot and the team had a decline in attendance the previous season OR was in the bottom three among WHA teams in revenue.

Contraction: Both the NHL and WHA will also have contractions during the 1970s. Players from contracted teams will be dispersed via a special contraction draft. Teams will be contracted only when one or more GMs leave the league and a replacement is not available. When considering contraction, the following rules apply:

  • Original Six teams can not be contracted
  • All active teams, both NHL and WHA (except O6 as mentioned above) will be compared to determine the contracted team(s). The teams with the four lowest fan support numbers will be candidates for contraction. Each of the four will be assigned a state lottery game (Pick 3) and the four drawn numbers will be used to determine which team(s) fail to remain in the league. 

Merger: At some point the NHL and WHA will merge. The earliest this can occur is 1977-78 and the latest it will occur is 1980-81. There will be a merger schedule as outlined below:

  • 1977-78: 25% chance of merger. All active WHA teams eligible, contraction occurs prior to merger (should any GMs drop out during the offseason proceeding the merger)
  • 1978-79: 50% chance of merger. Same scenario as above.
  • 1979-80: 75% chance of merger. Same scenario as above
  • 1980-81: 100% chance of merger with same same scenario as above.
  • State lottery game will be used to determine the number used for whether or not merger occurs.

 

SECTION IV: DRAFT

Rookie Draft Pool: Players will appear in the rookie draft in the year they turned pro or were drafted by an NHL team (whichever occurs earlier). The WHA and NHL will draft from the same pool with one exception - the WHA may draft players at age 18 while the NHL will not draft anyone younger than 20. Players drafted by teams in both leagues will be awarded via lottery with odds based on the league with which the player historically signed. The historically signed league will have a 65% chance of signing the player and the other league will have a 35% chance. This should add a layer of luck/strategy to the draft - do you use a high pick on a guy you only have a 35% chance of getting? Various state and or provincial lotteries will be used to generate these results with each player's result coming from one unique state (so no two players will be based on the same lottery game).

Annual Draft: Prior to each season players newly added to the draft pool will be available via the rookie draft. 

Draft Lottery: There will be no draft lottery. The chance of not getting that #1 pick (since they're likely going to be double-drafted) is chance enough.

The Howes: A special rule will be observed for the 1973 draft only. Whichever WHA team selects Mark Howe (18 years old and ineligible for the NHL draft) in the first round will also get Marty and their father Gordie Howe. Using this option will cost the team it's 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th round picks in the 1973 draft. Still worth it for whichever team is willing to do it.

 

SECTION V: SIMULATION PARAMETERS

Season Length: Both the NHL and WHA will follow historical season lengths, divisional formats and schedules where possible. 

Sim Length: Each sim session of the season will cover one week of the NHL/WHA season (measured Monday to Sunday) and will be held each weekday morning, typically between the hours of 6 am and 9 am Eastern time. 

Game Rules: Appropriate rules for the era for each league will be in use. Where a conflict between NHL and WHA rules exists, NHL rules will be used. 

Player Development:  Player development will be based on a two-thirds historical rating and a one-third STHS prior season-based rerate using a player's potential rating. This will keep the players somewhat in line with their historical performance while allowing for some variance.

Player Retirement: Players will retire based on a chance-based system that accounts for the season in which they actually retired. Players automatically will remain active until they historically retired but may remain around longer if they survive a retirement check in STHS based on their age. This will keep players like Gordie Howe around as long as they were historically but also ensure that no one sticks around too long beyond his "expiration date" in real life.

 

 The above rules are subject to revision based on experience, GM feedback, etc.

The Backstory

INTRODUCTION

WHA Logo

Serious hockey fans know the real story of the World Hockey Association (WHA) and it's seven-year battle against the venerable National Hockey League (NHL) during the 1970s. These fans undoubtedly know that when the WHA folded up its show in the summer of 1979, and that it left behind a legacy that goes beyond the four member clubs who survived to merge into the NHL (the Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets - although only the Oilers remain in their original location today). The WHA's legacy included large-scale signings of European players, leading to a more free-flowing style of play that would eventually take root in the NHL; adoption of rules - particularly overtime - that have been picked up by the NHL as well; and perhaps most impactful: the WHA abolished the reserve clause (and refused to acknowledge the NHL's reserve clause), resulting in higher player salaries (often to the detriment of its own teams), and more player movement which has evolved into today's free agent system.

Coming as it did on the heels of the NHL's rapid expansion from the Original Six to twelve - and then 14 - clubs, the arrival of the WHA meant that just six years after the top level of hockey was comprised of just six teams, there would in the fall of 1972 suddenly be 28 - and eventually the two leagues would peak at a total membership of 32 teams spread across North America.

There were plenty of mistakes along the way - poorly run franchises placed in cities that weren't ready for major league hockey, substandard arenas, low quality of play in the early years (though the WHA eventually approached the NHL's level of play towards the end of its run), and overly aggressive expansion. All of these played a role in the ultimate demise of the WHA. 

THE FORMATION OF THE WORLD HOCKEY ASSOCIATION

Gary Davidson and Dennis Murphy

The two men who pioneered the WHA were veterans of creating "rebel" leagues. Dennis Murphy and Gary Davidson had worked together in building the American Basketball Association, which by 1971 had proven to be a somewhat unstable, but serious, contender for the hearts & minds of pro basketball fans in America, and a definite thorn in the side of the established NBA. Though both men were from Southern California and had absolutely no experience with hockey at any level, they decided to team up to create a hockey league styled upon the ABA.

Like the ABA, the WHA would not honor the existing contracts of hockey players with their NHL teams. One of the avowed missions of the WHA would be the abolishment of the reserve clause that tied every hockey player to the NHL team which owned his rights in perpetuity. Ignoring the reserve clause and playing upon the player's disillusionment with their lack of power would be a prime tool for the WHA to lure players - possibly even star players - away from the NHL.

Murphy and Davidson decided upon a 12-team circuit and would place their teams in North American cities that either had no NHL presence (places like Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary in Canada along with relatively small Dayton, Ohio and unlikely hockey locale Miami, Florida in the U.S.) and the major TV markets in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Bids poured in - the pair had set the franchise admittance at just $25,000 and that attracted plenty of suitors - many of whom had no clue how to successfully run a pro sports franchise, let alone how much money it would actually take to do so. 

The original slate of clubs as announced at a press conference on November 1, 1971 at the Americana Hotel in New York were: Alberta (Edmonton), Calgary, New York, New England (Boston), Ontario (either Hamilton or Ottawa), Winnipeg, Chicago, St. Paul (MN), Dayton (OH), Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco. It didn't take long for reality to set in and for those locations to be dramatically altered.

There were arena issues right from the start. It turned out that Miami didn't have an adequate arena anyway and the club was shifted to Philadelphia, playing in the Civic Arena. Similarly, the Dayton club couldn't find a home and ended up transferring to Houston to play in the Sam Houston Coliseum. Calgary's owner became ill and the team was shifted to Cleveland, Ohio where they would share a home with the NBA's Cavaliers. The Chicago entry was blocked from Chicago Stadium (home of the Black Hawks) and ended up signing a lease for the International Amphitheater (where they would struggle financially due to small crowds). San Francisco couldn't get off the ground either and ended up losing its nickname (the Sharks) to LA and its team to Quebec.

When the dust settled in the summer of '72 the WHA had a 12-team circuit. In the Eastern Division would be the New England Whalers (playing occasionally in the Boston Garden - when the Bruins & Celtics were away - but more often in the smaller Boston Arena), the New York Raiders (leasing space in Madison Square Garden at a costly rate), Cleveland Crusaders, Ottawa Nationals, Philadelphia Blazers, and Quebec Nordiques. In the West would be the Winnipeg Jets, Alberta Oilers, Los Angeles Sharks (playing in the LA Sports Arena and occasionally in Long Beach to avoid conflicts with the LA Forum's tenants, the NHL's LA Kings), Minnesota Fighting Saints (who would get a brand new arena in St. Paul in January of '73 while battling the NHL's North Stars who played in nearby Bloomington), Chicago Cougars, and Houston Aeros.

The WHA would have head-to-head confrontations with NHL clubs in Boston (New England), Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Minnesota.

THE NHL REACTS

Meanwhile, the National Hockey League was watching these developments with a general attitude of disdain. The prevailing belief was that the new enterprise would sink in an ocean of red ink. NHL president Clarence Campbell, having just expanded his league from six to twelve clubs in 1967 and then added two more in 1970, had promised no further expansion until "at least 1974" but the new league forced a reassessment. While Campbell was openly dismissive of the WHA at the start, he also recognized the opportunity to stick it to the newcomers when William Shea (of NY Mets fame) approached him about putting a new NHL club in the Nassau Coliseum. The WHA Raiders had been hoping/planning to play on Long Island - Campbell took the opportunity to expand early and placed the NY Islanders there. He also pre-empted the planned WHA foray into the U.S. south by putting the Flames in Atlanta (which turned out to ultimately be a failure, but it took nearly a decade for the fallout to occur). What Campbell and the NHL failed to do was come up with a cohesive plan to deal with the WHA's upcoming player raids. And that would cost them dearly.

Initially most of the big names stayed put with the glaring exception of Bobby Hull who famously remarked that the only way he'd go to the WHA is if they wrote him a million dollar check. When Murphy scraped together enough money from the WHA owners to do just that, Hull signed a 10-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets and the WHA had it's first marquee player. Others would come in time but Hull was the first and gave the upstarts a much-needed dose of legitimacy - after he finally was cleared to play, having missed 14 games while the lawsuit between the NHL and WHA was worked out. The fact that the courts upheld Hull's right to jump leagues would prove to be a boon for the bank accounts of hockey players in the future.

All things considered, the NHL was the better league - it had a galaxy of stars even with Gordie Howe having retired. But the cost of doing business was about to go up, and Hull wouldn't remain the only marquee player to jump to the WHA.