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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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SI: Pollock built his empire by trading expendables for first-round draft choices. The first-round draft choices—Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt, for example—became stars and the expendables remained expendables. Why not prohibit clubs from trading first-round choices?

Ziegler. I always felt that clubs should not be restricted from trying to improve themselves as they saw fit. History suggests this judgment may need reevaluating. But then, if you prohibit a club from trading away a first pick, you may deny it the chance to get the one key player who might lift it into the playoffs next year. Ultimately, any imbalance must be corrected by management, by good drafting.

Eagleson: There are no magic formulas. You can't legislate against stupidity.

SI: Something that has produced some exciting play is international hockey, particularly the two memorable NHL-Soviet series. Yet eventually isn't international play just going to create one more problem for the NHL? After all, once you've seen Canada-Russia, how can you get excited by Colorado-Washington?

Ziegler. We feel that international competition creates interest in hockey. The fans want it and it produces revenue. And there's prestige to be gained from it.

SI: Even when the Russians beat you as they did 5-2-1 in the club series two seasons ago?

Ziegler. That's just a fact of life.

SI: Alan, besides being head of the players' association, you're also an agent for individual players, with the result that you represent some players at one level, others at two levels. While wearing your agent's hat, and with the help of four accountants and six secretaries, you represent not only 100 players and several coaches but also half a dozen general managers, the very men with whom you negotiate players' contracts. You join the management to stage international tournaments. And while leading the NHL players' association, you've delivered players into the WHA. In 25 words or less...

Ziegler. That'll be a first.

SI:...aren't there some obvious conflicts here?

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