"When I signed my first pro contract [with the World Hockey Association's Birmingham Bulls in 1977], I figured I would play 10 years, and with at least a million dollars in assets, I wouldn't ever have to work for anybody," he says. "I've since found out it takes more money than that, but I think I'm doing well enough that I'll always be my own boss." Linseman's primary involvement is in real estate, but he also has interests in horses, oil, stocks and art.
He's becoming a little leery of the last, even though he has Andrew Wyeth originals. "They're great," he says, "but art is too fickle. They're not appreciating at the rate I'd like. I'm looking to sell." He calls the 16 thoroughbreds he owns in two separate partnerships "my high-risk investment with, of course, the good write-off." This has been The Wall Street Journal Minute....
Linseman was a student for one year at Queens University outside Toronto but admits he only attended because his father promised to help him buy a car. Linseman's business acumen springs not from formal training but from intuition, common sense and a staunch refusal to invest in any scheme he does not fully understand. "It's a matter of working the streets," he says. Typically, on an off day for the Bruins, Linseman will return from practice to his home by 3 p.m. and will make business calls until around 7 p.m.
The day before a Bruins game against the Flyers in the Spectrum this season, Linseman arranged an early flight to Philadelphia so he could meet with some of his business advisers, people the Rat met when he was playing for Philadelphia. Says Kaminsky: "Kenny is a very well-off young man. He has prepared himself well."
Linseman has always looked for an edge: in hockey, as a smallish player who needed to gain respect by resorting to the occasional unsavory tactic, and in business, by finding the holes the system allows the clever businessman to exploit.
"It's the intensity that makes Kenny unique," says Behn Wilson, a Chicago Black Hawks defenseman who played against Linseman in junior hockey and with him in Philadelphia. "It's that intensity that makes him a great hockey player, it's that intensity that makes him a great businessman, and it's that intensity that makes him an interesting person."
Linseman was gnawing at the fabric of organized hockey long before former Flyers teammate and current Philly G.M. Bob Clarke thought to call him the Rat. In his final year with the Kingston Canadians of the Ontario Hockey Association, Linseman and Jeff Geiger of the Ottawa 67's had been going at each other, physically and verbally, for much of a game. Finally, Geiger charged after Linseman, and a melee broke out. According to Linseman, he was cracked over the back of the neck by a stick, went a little bonkers and kicked Geiger in the head. "Blood everywhere," recalls Tim Higgins, who played for Ottawa and is now with the New Jersey Devils. "It was one of the most frightening things I ever saw." Pictures of the brawl, which showed Geiger with a gruesome crimson mask, belied the fact that the cut required only four stitches to close. Nonetheless, 17 months later, an Ottawa court found Linseman guilty of assault. "It was blown out of proportion, a political thing," he says. "It was during that whole 'violence-in-hockey' uproar."
Another uproar he created at about the same time would have more far-reaching implications. Nineteen years old and tired of junior hockey, Linseman refused to wait until the NHL and WHA minimum draft age of 20. He and Kaminsky got in touch with John Bassett Jr., then the maverick owner of the WHA's brawling Birmingham Bulls. Bassett agreed to sign Linseman and challenge the age rule. In October 1977, a federal district court in Hartford, Conn. granted a temporary injunction permitting Linseman to play on the basis that the age limit was in violation of antitrust laws. The door to the 18-year-old draft had been opened.
"I was aware of the ramifications of what we were doing," Linseman says. "For me, it made sense. On the other hand, so many of these kids come in so young, and they're not ready to handle professional hockey."
Linseman was ready for the WHA, though, quickly establishing himself as a swift skater and deft playmaker with 38 goals and 38 assists for Birmingham. But it was his talent for provocation that earned him an indelible reputation. With tough-guy teammates like Dave (Killer) Hanson, Gilles (Bad News) Bilodeau and Steve Durbano around to clean up his messes, Linseman tormented and taunted the opposition with a barrage of cheap shots and brash talk. "For me, it was a way of surviving. I had to play that way," says Linseman. "I was only 155 to 160 pounds back then [he is now listed at 175]. Those were the Flyers' Broad Street Bully days, and everybody was looking for the big, tough players. I thought I had to play that way to be at least noticed."