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IN DEFENCE OF ALAN EAGLESON « Douglas Fisher

Fisher

 

IN DEFENCE OF ALAN EAGLESON

SOURCE: BY DOUGLAS FISHER

This past year a cascade of stories has hurt the personal repute of Alan Eagleson, founder and longtime chief executive of the NHL Players’ Association. Allegations of chicanery have been rolling since a series two years ago on Eagleson in a Lowell, Mass., newspaper. The most damning item in what remains a murky case is an FBI inquiry into the NHLPA, including interviews of Canadians in Canada.

Before Christmas, questions were put to Mulroney ministers by Grit House Leader Dave Dingwall which hinted wrong-doing between Eagleson and Hockey Canada, a public corporation formed in 1969.

(In ’69 the Trudeau government wanted all elements in our hockey pulling together for better teams and results against the Russians. Hockey Canada is not and never was a Crown corporation.)

Dingwall demanded the government make Hockey Canada open its books and explain why it had concealed the RCMP’s role in the case for so long.

On Dec. 18 from Toronto, The Canadian Press said Hockey Canada “was co-operating with the RCMP to help them provide information for the U.S. Justice Department . . . looking into the dealings of Alan Eagleson, former executive director of the NHLPA.”

On the Dec. 21 the Globe’s star investigator, Stevie Cameron, had a piece headed “Hockey probe may shock Canadians.” The probe was after Hockey Canada for whom Eagleson has been chief negotiator for major series since 1972. The Mounties were examining “whether any criminal acts were committed in Canada, specifically with the pension funds.”

Cameron noted “friends” of Eagleson like Brian Mulroney, John Turner and Justice John Sopinka. Skulduggery . . . in high places!

Cameron limned as heroes Rich Winter, a fearless Alberta lawyer and players’ agent, and Carl Brewer, a former NHL star. For some years both have been after Eagleson’s “conflicts of interest” and his handling of the NHLPA’s pension funds.

I believe the nasty imputations about Eagleson, vis-a-vis Hockey Canada, are haywire. I was an executive of Hockey Canada from shortly after its founding through to 1979. In that period two famous series were carried out with the USSR (1972 and 1974) and the first Canada Cup series (an idea of mine) was held in 1976.

Although Eagleson was hardly the A to Z in all such competitions and their deals, I know he was the crucial catalyst for the international series as enterprises. I believe he seized such a role to give his NHLPA leverage with the NHL owners which they could not evade.

I chaired the board of Hockey Canada for seven years. There were directors from the CAHA, the universities, Canadian teams in the NHL and for a time the WHA, the NHLPA, and two federal appointees (of whom I was one). In my time it was not a crew uncritical or mum about Eagleson and his works.

I followed Hockey Canada’s financial affairs closely. In 1972 and 1976 I worked with Eagleson in bargaining with NHL owners and the Europeans. I have boxes of Hockey Canada’s documents and accounts. The recent mongering asserts that reporters have been denied such data by Hockey Canada. To this day no one has asked me one question, for example, on splits to players’ pensions and to the NHL itself, issues in which I had a part.

After each of the big series I held press briefings in Toronto with our treasurer to account for money spent and made and the disposal of surpluses. These were hollow. Reporters had zero interest in the money which went to the NHL or the NHLPA or to Eagleson for the services his employees provided both Team Canada and Hockey Canada in the execution of arrangements for transport, hotels, tickets and press relations. At the board there were often challenges of the spending, usually led by CAHA executives. A rancorous issue after 1976 was Eagleson’s investment of $1 million we put aside for minor hockey coaching.

I can’t foresee how the Eagleson story will conclude, legally speaking, but he’s been maligned; so has Hockey Canada. What went on within the NHLPA is beyond me, but not the work of Eagleson for Hockey Canada in what those scourging him cite as the key years. To repeat: Without Eagleson and the association we would not have had such series, the victories – and the profits.

The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 1993, SunMedia Corp.

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