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How NHL superstar Sidney Crosby almost ended up in Toronto

Sidney Crosby is one of the most storied NHL players of all-time. He’s a part of the storied Triple Gold club, he’s got three Stanley Cup rings, and all the accolades in the NHL to show he’s one of the best to ever do it.

But his NHL career almost didn’t happen in thanks to an attempt to revive a long lost hockey league.

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It started in 2003 when two men — Allan Howell and Dr. Nick Vaccaro — decided to revive the World Hockey Association that got snuffed out by the NHL in 1979. The pair brought on Bobby Hull to commission the league, and off they went their first attempt at running the league.

Howell and Vaccaro had plans to have 12 teams play in the inaugural 2004-05 season with each team having a $10-million salary cap, with an exception for one marquee player.

The plan was to capitalize on an impending lockout and bring more hockey to the table.

“Right now, the number of (NHL) players that are under contract past 2004 you can probably count on your hands and feet,” Howell told The Canadian Press’ Pierre LeBrun in July 2003. “If, in fact, we’re correct about the two-year (NHL) lockout, there’s going to be two years worth of kids coming out of junior with no place to play.

“And we think that anyone that’s 30 years or older will also be looking for opportunities and other places to play.”

Despite a plan relatively full of holes, the league was able to secure a number of homes in Dallas, Detroit, Halifax, Hamilton, Miami, Toronto, Vancouver, and Quebec City.

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Detroit would be known as the Gladiators, while Dallas took on the name of the Americans. Quebec would be the Nordiks, a play on the Nordiques name, while Halifax took the IceBreakers moniker. Lastly, Toronto would be known as the Toros, adopting its original WHA name.

And in 2004, the league held two drafts: first, their amateur draft and second, their free-agent draft.

The first amateur selection went to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who took none other than the best major junior hockey player available — Sidney Crosby.

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After the July 2004 draft, Crosby was offered a three-year, $7.5-million contract from Mario Frankovich, the owner of Hamilton’s franchise. Some confusion was abounded to say the least, given that Crosby was drafted by Toronto but yet Hamilton offered him a contract. Maybe this is why the WHA never took off…

Nonetheless, with a massive contract that would’ve seen Crosby give a $2-million signing bonus had the league formulated or not, he ended up turning down the deal to pursue a Memorial Cup with the Rimouski Oceanic.

“It wasn’t an easy decision and the offer was flattering,” Crosby’s father, Troy, told the Globe and Mail. “It was a lot of money. I realize some people might not understand why Sidney turned down the offer. But he has his mind made up right now about where he wants to play. He wants to stick with his plan of playing another year in Rimouski.” – Source

While he never hoisted the Memorial Cup, Crosby posted another incredible year further cementing himself as the no-brainer No. 1 selection in the NHL draft.

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Crosby, as we all know, has gone on to have a tremendous NHL career scoring 1263 points in 984 games en route to a future spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The rebooted WHA, meanwhile, never formulated. After its entry draft and as the summer of 2004 progressed, the league pulled the Quebec franchise as Toronto failed to find an arena, shortly dropping out soon after. The Florida franchise never came together, and by September the league was down to four teams.

The league’s rights bounced around and never truly came to form again as a pro league. Instead, there was a junior hockey league based out of B.C., Alberta, and the Northwestern United States led by President Ricky Smith, and Bobby Hull as the commissioner. That league only lasted a few seasons before the wheels fell off the wagon.

On Twitter: @zjlaing