Swedish forwards Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson arrived in 1974 and starred with Bobby Hull on the WHA's most famous and successful forward line (nicknamed "the Hot Line"). The players had instant chemistry dazzling opponents and establishing itself as one of the most feared combinations in all of pro hockey and led the Winnipeg Jets win two World Hockey Association championships.
They were called the 'Hot Line,' and for appropriate reason. The Winnipeg Jets were a very good team in the fledgling World Hockey Association from its humble beginnings in 1972-73, but they became a great team, a dominant team, when they signed Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson during the summer of 1974.
Teamed with scoring star Bobby Hull, the trio quickly picked up the moniker, the 'Hot Line,' and they were just that. They played together just four years, but during that time, dominated the scoring parade and led the Jets to the championship final four times, winning the Avco World Trophy on three of those occasions.
"I didn't know much about the NHL or the WHA in those days," admitted Anders Hedberg, already a star in Sweden. It was Hedberg who suggested that Winnipeg also sign Ulf Nilsson. "We decided it would be so much better if we could go together and influence a team with the European style of play," said Nilsson. "The more we talked about it, the better Winnipeg sounded."
There was no line in our league who even came close to them. They were the best I ever played with or against.JOE DALEY, the Jet's netminder through its entire seven-season run
The two joined the Winnipeg Jets in the WHA for the 1974-75 season, signing two-year contracts that began at an annual salary of $60,000.
The Swedes were paired with playing-coach Bobby Hull, who had already established himself as a superstar from his time with the National Hockey League's Chicago Black Hawks before he jumped to the WHA and continued his wild scoring exploits. "I knew Bobby's name, but I didn't know anything about the way he played," said Hedberg. "I think that helped us." The 'Hot Line' scored 41 seconds into their first regular season game playing together, a contest against the Vancouver Blazers.
The trio helped rejuvenate hockey in Winnipeg. Attendance swelled by 2,500 in their first season together. Bobby Hull led the league in scoring with 77 goals (24 more than the previous season) and 142 points, 47 more than 1973-74. Slick playmaking Nilsson collected 94 assists and 120 points. With explosive speed, Anders Hedberg scored 53 goals and 100 points, winning the Lou Kaplan Trophy as the WHA's rookie of the year.
"It was a new lease on life," commented Hull. "I finally found a couple of kids who could play the game the way I wanted to play it."
Their wizardry on ice made hockey fans in North America sit up and take notice. Joe Daley, the Jets' netminder through its entire seven-season run, stated, "There was no line in our league who even came close to them. They were the best I ever played with or against."
Glen Sather admitted that he used the template of the speed and skill exhibited by the Hot Line and the Winnipeg Jets to create the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980's.
"They revolutionized the game," stated Andre Lacroix, who starred in the WHA for each of its seven years of existence. "It was exciting."
Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.