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Monday, 1 July 2013

TBC: Game Misconduct

It's always a great day when you have the day off. When it's a national holiday, it's even better! So how did I spend Canada Day 2013? Learning about how on Canadian man nearly ruined the sport of hockey through his unfathomable actions and illegal activities. Having read The Power of Two, Carl Brewer's and Sue Foster's battle against the NHLPA over players' pensions, I was intrigued over how Alan Eagleson misappropriated funds owned by players and wanted to know more. Today, I finished what might be, in my opinion, the penultimate book dealing with the Eagleson crimes as Teebz's Book Club is proud to present Game Misconduct, written by Russ Conway and published by MacFarlane Walter & Ross in 1997. This book is officially mandatory reading for all hockey fans as ordered by me. We'll see why shortly.

Russ Conway worked at the Eagle-Tribune newspaper in Lawrence, Massachusetts from 1967 until 2005 when he retired after medical issues. He worked closely with the Boston Bruins as the Eagle-Tribune's beat writer on the team since 1968 until his retirement. His five-part series entitled "Cracking The Ice" earned Russ Conway a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1992, narrowly missing out on the prize as a finalist. The series won many regional and national newspaper awards in its own right. Russ Conway was awarded the 1999 Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Russ is 65 years-old, and still commutes to a condo in Pompano Beach, Florida when possible.

I have yet to find a book or a writer who has so thoroughly exhausted a subject like Russ Conway has in Game Misconduct. Page after page, readers are given more and more evidence against R. Alan Eagleson regarding how he operated and how he mismanaged the NHLPA's funds and Hockey Canada's funds over the course of approximately thirty years. Russ Conway's efforts not only helped to indict and convict R. Alan Eagleson of the crimes outlined in the book, but his efforts also solidified and galvanized the NHLPA whereby they would prevent this type of crime against them going forward. Needless to say, Russ Conway might be one of the most important figures in hockey history.

Where The Power of Two was more about Brewer's and Foster's battle from one man's perspective, Game Misconduct encompasses what was happening to a vast number of players behind the scenes. From denied injury insurance claims to contract monies being misappropriated to pension funds being loaned to Eagleson's personal contacts to double-dipping on almost every financial transaction, Russ Conway leaves no stone unturned in Game Misconduct in exposing the wrongs committed by Eagleson. Game Misconduct may very well be the perfect piece of investigative journalism that I have ever read, and I have barely scratched the surface of what Mr. Conway has done within the covers of the book.

Among the revelations brought forth by Mr. Conway in Game Misconduct included the details about how Bobby Orr left Boston to sign in Chicago. It seems clear that Bobby Orr wanted to remain in Boston as far as Mr. Conway saw it. He has several quotations from Orr that indicated as such. But somehow the Bruins allowed Orr to sign with Chicago. It almost sounds as if Boston's management simply didn't want Orr back.

What happened during the summer of 1976 is entirely different. On May 17 and 18, indicated by travel records of Quebec businessman Roger Baikie, it seems as though Bobby Orr signed an agreement to join the Chicago Blackhawks under the guidance of R. Alan Eagleson. This happened despite Orr's contract with the Boston Bruins being in effect until May 31, 1976! How could the leader of the NHLPA and Orr's agent allow this to happen?

Further to this, it was revealed that Orr would be making $500,000 per year for three years guaranteed, and an additional seven years with options after the initial three years with Chicago after the official announcement on June 9, 1976. While that sounds lucrative enough for that period of time, it was nothing compared to the deal that Boston offered much earlier while still under contract - a deal rejected by Eagleson and, apparently, Orr - that would have made Orr richer than any other deal he could have received.
The truth was that Boston had tried to sign Orr as late as the night before the official announcement, and that Eagleson had declined a stunning offer from Boston in that January 29, 1976 letter to [Paul] Mooney. In the letter, Eagleson confirmed - and rejected - the Bruins' latest offer. (The letter also mentioned an earlier rejected offer from the previous team owner, Storer Boradcasting.) Eagleson wrote, "As you are well aware, Bobby is anxious to finalize his agreement with you. I am sure your records will indicate that our last offer from you was as follows:

"Salary: $295,000 a year for five (5) years, plus a payment of $925,000 on June 1st, 1980, or 18.5% of the hockey club in lieu thereof.

"You are also no doubt aware that Storer Broadcasting offered the sum of $335,000 per year for a five (5) year contract commencing on the 1st day of September, 1975.

"These offers were both declined by me and my client."
Yes, you read that correctly. Bobby Orr apparently turned down nearly one-fifth of the ownership of the Boston Bruins that would have taken effect on June 1, 1980. The only problem? Bobby Orr never knew of this offer as Alan Eagleson kept his client in the dark. Orr never knew about Boston's offer, and Eagleson made sure his client became an employee of Bill Wirtz, a longtime friend and associate of Alan Eagleson.

Looking back, the money involved in that offer would have been less than what Chicago offered in terms of liquid assets, but, as of 1994, the Bruins were worth $86 million US, meaning Orr's share would have been worth approximately $16 million - far more than Orr would have ever earned on that Chicago contract. Carrying it forward today? The Bruins are worth $348 million. Orr's share would have increased to $64.38 million.

The reasons for Eagleson forcing Orr's hand are many, but none are more stomach-churning than the grudge held by the Wirtzes towards the Bruins. According to Mr. Conway, Bill Wirtz's father always felt that Boston swindled the Blackhawks in 1967 when Boston GM Milt Schmidt fleeced Chicago GM Tommy Ivan in a trade that sent Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, and Fred Stanfield to Boston in exchange for Pit Martin, Jack Norris, and Gil Marotte. Bill Wirtz saw this as the ultimate revenge - Boston receiving no compensation whatsoever for Bobby Orr signing with the Blackhawks.

Being that Wirtz and Eagleson were tight, Bobby Orr, Eagleson's client, had no say in determining where he would play as Eagleson used Orr as a pawn in a political play to gain favor with the Wirtz family. What kind of executive director of the NHLPA would (1) allow a player to be signed to a competing team while still under contract, (2A) turn down the most lucrative contract in NHL history to (2B) gain favor with an NHL owner, and (3) allow this to happen while also acting as the player's agent?!? Seems pretty criminal, doesn't it? And this is just one of the many, many revelations that Russ Conway brings to light about Alan Eagleson's shady dealings in Game Misconduct!

It's hard to fathom that Alan Eagleson almost got away with everything, including the destruction of Canada's national sport, had it not been for the US Government. The Canadian Government, where Eagleson had many high-ranking friends, seemingly wanted nothing to do with bringing down hockey's most powerful despite his kingdom being built on crime after crime committed against those who put him in power. The chapter that delves into the Canadian Government's lack of interest is sickening, and I am ashamed of the politicians named in the book who deflected and interfered with the investigation into Alan Eagleson. If I had my way, each and every politician named in Game Misconduct should also be indicted on charges. I am disgusted by the corruption that gripped the House of Commons during this period of time, and they should be ashamed as well. Russ Conway's work here should be put on a pedestal for how thorough and exhaustive it is.

I honestly cannot say enough about how good Game Misconduct is. While I realize that Russ Conway missed out on the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, this book stands the test of time in chronicling the vast array of criminal activity in which Alan Eagleson participated. Mr. Conway went beyond the call of duty in Game Misconduct, illustrating just how involved Eagleson was in all facets of NHLPA business and how corrupt he was within those business dealings. If I could award the Pulitzer Prize, I'd certainly be awarding it to Game Misconduct. However, I don't have that power, but Game Misconduct will receive the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

Find yourself a copy of this book, readers. You won't be disappointed!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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