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HOCKEY 1977-78
Jerry Kirshenbaum
October 17, 1977
For the first time in 31 years the National Hockey League opens its season with a president whose name is not Clarence Campbell. The NHL's new boss is John Augustus Ziegler Jr., 43, a Detroit lawyer who inherits from the retired Campbell a host of critical problems, including empty seats, a flood of red ink, a schedule packed with mismatches, lack of a network television package, 18 owners who usually agree only to disagree and—because the NHL spurned a merger this summer—continued warfare with the World Hockey Association. Ziegler (right) was a vice-president of the Detroit Red Wings, a team which lost more than $2 million last season while compiling the worst record in hockey. He also was the chairman of the NHL's board of governors last year, selecting Ziegler as the league's first American-born president, NHL owners kept him on as board chairman, thus giving him a broad and unprecedented mandate to put their troubled house in order. Ziegler, though, has no more clout than that routinely wielded by Attorney Robert Alan Eagleson (left), the executive director of, the NHL Players Association as well as the game's leading players' agent. The ebullient Eagleson, 44, is largely responsible for the fact that the average player salary in the NHL is $85,000 (plus $11,000 in fringes), an obvious boon to the men he represents but a drain on club coffers. A Toronto resident and onetime member of the Ontario Parliament, Eagleson is also the prime mover in Hockey Canada, the quasi-governmental body that runs that country's ventures in international hockey. For better or worse, the future of hockey depends on what kind of leadership Ziegler and Eagleson provide—and on how they get along at the bargaining table. For clues to how they might deal with the sport's problems—and each other—SPORTS ILLUSTRATED brought them together in a New York hotel suite. Ziegler and Eagleson talked hockey for more than two hours, bantering on more than a few points but also sounding several encouragingly statesmanlike themes.
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October 17, 1977

Hockey 1977-78

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Eagleson: Print it again.

SI: Hockey has been embarrassed by controversy and court actions over on-ice violence. The NHL has taken steps to cut down the violence. Can't more be done?

Ziegler. Hockey has gotten a bum rap on this. It's a violent sport, there's no denying it. You can't put men skating 20 mph, where part of their purpose is to run into one another, and you can't fire a hard rubber puck at more than 100 mph, and say there isn't violence. But people get confused. There's some unfortunate use of sticks in hockey and if that's your definition of violence, then, yes, that's out. That's bad violence.

SI: But what about the fighting? Doesn't that turn fans off?

Eagleson: No, a lot of them like that aspect of it—I don't know why. But basically, because of rule changes [game misconducts to the third player entering a fight, heavy fines for players leaving their benches to join an altercation, etc.] I think that violence has already become less of an issue.

SI: Divisional realignment, overtime, fighting—at least it's possible to kick these subjects around. But everybody seems stumped when it comes to restoring the NHL's competitive balance, which has been destroyed, above all, by Sam Pollock and company up in Montreal. Wouldn't it help the NHL if there were some suspense about who was going to win the Stanley Cup for the next decade?

Eagleson: Some of the players came up with a cure. Just make Sam an itinerant general manager working one year for each team. Within 18 years you'd have them all balanced. Of course, who'd want to take the 18th spot?

SI: In a feeble effort to spread the talent around, the new players' contract provides for an internal "waiver draft" by which have-not clubs can claim marginal players from haves like Montreal and Boston. The number of players the strong clubs can protect will drop over five years from 23 to 19, excluding first-year players. But realistically, isn't that going to move all of about eight players?

Eagleson: That's probably 80 less than we should move but it's eight more than we moved before. We would have liked a protected list of 15. Again, it's easy for us to say.

Ziegler. If you'd told me 18 months ago we'd achieve even this much, I'd have said. "What've you been smoking?"

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