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DATE: JUNE 14, 1977

The 15th NHL Amateur Draft marked the end of an era in the intense fight between the NHL and its rival major league, the WHA. As the draft, originally scheduled for May 31, 1977, drew near, the NHL and WHA were already discussing a merger or another scenario in which the NHL would absorb the top WHA teams. After five years of struggle over signing draft choices -- a period that drove salaries up to crippling levels for both leagues -- a light had appeared at the end of the tunnel and the draft would no longer be overshadowed by the big rivalry.

In 1977, the NHL had an even greater concern than the 5-year-old WHA squabble. The same financial pressures that had threatened to drive Kansas City out of the NHL a year earlier were now hovering over the Cleveland franchise. As draft day approached, the Cleveland franchise was on the brink of folding. The situation was so desperate that the NHL delayed its draft until June 14, 1977, in order to determine if Cleveland would be returning to the league.

Fortunately, the Barons were able to solve their financial woes (at least on a temporary basis) and the event went ahead with a full 18 teams. The delayed start pushed the NHL draft to just two days before the WHA draft, thereby eliminating much of the lead time the league could have used in signing players before they were selected by WHA teams. This was no longer a major concern, however, since the leagues appeared poised to make peace. The true resolution would ultimately be delayed by a year, but the end was already in sight.

Despite the suddenly friendlier climate between the leagues, the NHL chose to maintain a degree of secrecy around the 1977 draft. Once again, the draft was conducted via conference call, and  its results were not heavily publicized so as to keep the information away from WHA clubs fighting to sign the same junior players. This would mark the last time such behavior was necessary, and in future years the draft would evolve into a very public event.

NHL executives made a significant change in the draft rules for 1977. Teams were told that if they did not sign a player within one year of the draft -- up to 48 hours before the next draft -- that player would be allowed to re-enter in 1978 if he wished. An NHL team faced more pressure to decide if they wanted to keep a player in the organization, cutting its window of time from two years to one. Players enjoyed more freedom to get away from a team they did not wish to join, but the teams received the benefit of cutting down the number of potential free agents in a bid to control rookie salary escalation.

The big winner in 1977 was U.S. college hockey, which set a record with 49 players selected from its ranks. Europeans were in less demand than the previous year, as only three Finnish and two Swedish players were drafted. The NHL was also a winner -- dominating the WHA in the final year of all-out signing wars. Top picks Dale McCourt and Barry Beck signed within days of the draft, and the WHA was able to keep just one first-round junior (Scott Campbell) out of the NHL.

Eligible For Draft: All amateur players born before January 1, 1958.
Draft Order: Teams drafted in reverse order of their 1976-77 finish.
Irregularities:  There was no set number of rounds. Teams had the right to pass in any round, and the draft continued until all teams were done selecting. Buffalo passed in Round 7 but re-entered in Round 8 to trade its next four picks to Philadelphia before passing again in Round 12. Pittsburgh passed in Round 7 but re-entered in Round 8 to trade its next five picks to Philadelphia before passing again in Round 13. Vancouver and Los Angeles passed in Round 8. Cleveland and Boston passed in Round 9. Colorado, Chicago, Minnesota, St. Louis, Atlanta and Toronto passed in Round 10. Washington passed in Round 11. Philadelphia passed in Round 12. N.Y. Rangers passed in Round 13. N.Y. Islanders and Montreal passed in Round 16, leaving only Detroit to pick in Rounds 16 and 17.
Rotation: Detroit, Colorado, Washington, Vancouver, Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota, N.Y. Rangers, St. Louis, Atlanta, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Buffalo, N.Y. Islanders, Boston, Philadelphia, Montreal.
Total Rounds: Seventeen
Cost to Draft: The NHL paid the CMJHL $1,000 for each major-junior player selected, plus another $4,000 for each player who signed an NHL contract. Every time a drafted player completed a set of 40 NHL games (up to 120 games), his NHL team would pay $5,000 to his last major-junior team. No NHL team was required to pay more than $15,000 of this "developmental" money for any single player.
Draft Rights: Team could offer player contract at any time after draft. Players who did not sign within the following year -- up to 48 hours before the next draft -- would be eligible to re-enter the draft in 1978 if they chose to do so. Otherwise, they would have to wait for at least one more year before becoming unrestricted free agents.
No. 1 pick: Dale McCourt (by Detroit)
Reached NHL: 97 players (52.4 percent)
Won Stanley Cup: 8 players (4.3 percent)
Most NHL Games: Gordie Roberts (1,097 games)
Most Playoff Games: John Tonelli (172 games)
Highest Pick to Miss: No. 42 (Guy Lash)
Lowest Pick to Reach: No. 184 (Val James)
Players Drafted: 185 (104 forwards, 57 defense, 24 goalies)

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Total Selected: 185
Forwards: 104
Defense: 57
Goaltenders: 24
Major Junior: 123
College Players: 51
Canadian: 141
Euro-Canadian: 2
USA Citizens: 37
U.S.-Born: 36
European: 5
Reached NHL: 97
Won Stanley Cup: 8
Hall of Fame: 2
All-Star Game: 13
Year-end All-Star: 5
Olympians: 9
Picks Traded: 37
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