And he saw them everywhere. Much of the profit from international hockey, Eagleson proudly reminds the athletes, goes directly into the players' pension fund. Eagleson has considered the establishment and continuation of these contributions to be fundamental to the last several NHL-NHLPA collective-bargaining agreements. As for how much profit there is, or, for that matter, exactly how the pension plan works...well, as Wayne Gretzky says, "A lot of players don't have a clue as to what's going on."
On the question of conflict of interest, Eagleson says, "Of course," his square jaw jutted. Far from cowering before such charges, he is well practiced in taking them on, grappling with them face to face. Every opportunity to do so is an invitation for Eagleson to exercise his famous bravado and slice his accuser to ribbons. "I make no secret of the fact that I wear several different hats," he has said. "And when I put a new one on, the old one goes back in the closet."
But it can't be quite as simple as that. If Eagleson wears only one hat at a time, surely some of them have many crowns. In addition to the several top players he represents (five of whom are currently on the NHLPA Executive Board, which has 26 members), Eagleson has represented a number of NHL coaches and general managers, and counts several NHL owners, notably Wirtz, as well as Ziegler, among his friends.
Ziegler, himself a lawyer, doesn't believe it's a conflict of interest for Eagleson to represent management, "as long as it's disclosed." Says Milbury: "I don't know how a guy who's close friends with the negotiators on the other side of the table can be as fair, as honest, as cruel or ruthless as you have to be in bargaining."
Says Eagleson: "I consider Bill Wirtz a friend except at the negotiating table, when I consider him the enemy.... Everything I do is out front. If the players don't like it, all they have to do is fire me. I'm the only person who can do the job. I'm the only person that I know who can stand up to these conflict-of-interest charges and survive them."
Beyond the many conflicts of interest that Eagleson makes no attempt to apologize for, there are a number of instances in which Eagleson appears to have used his position for his own or his friends' personal gain. Interviews with former Eagleson clients and associates provide a glimpse into how he operates.
For more than a decade, Robert H. Bradshaw & Associates Ltd. of Toronto handled the NHLPA's substantial medical, disability and life insurance policies. Bradshaw was a relatively inexperienced insurance agent when he met Eagleson in the early '60s. A few years later, Bradshaw arranged an insurance policy for Eagleson's prized client and partner, Orr, and soon afterward Bradshaw's firm began handling the insurance contract for the NHLPA. "Alan and I became friends. I liked the guy very much," says Bradshaw, who now works for Reed Stenhouse, a Toronto-based insurance company. "I was swept up by his charm and his enthusiasm and his excited approach to life and his bright ideas."
Bradshaw, who would go on to become the preeminent sports insurance broker in all of North America, says that at first his business with the NHLPA was "very small." By the early '70s, however, the account had become more lucrative, and at that time, Bradshaw says, Eagleson's "ego and greed" came into play. "As time went on," Bradshaw says, "his demands on us became unbusinesslike."
"It started when we would be told right out of the blue what our company's contribution to Toronto Big Brothers [of which Eagleson was a director] was going to be," Bradshaw says. "That went on for a couple of years. Then he started to use our assets. We kept a car and driver in Toronto. He'd phone up and tell us when he was using them. Then he would advise me when he was staying in my flat in New York and when his wife was.... We sort of put up with that stuff [because that's how business works]. Over the years, if you get hit on the head enough, you learn to live with the headache."
By the mid-'70s, Bradshaw says, Eagleson made it known that he would be available to perform legal services for Bradshaw's companies. Bradshaw says that for several years he reluctantly engaged Eagleson to perform legal services, for which Bradshaw paid a considerable amount. But the only services Eagleson's firm ever rendered, says Bradshaw, were little things "such as arranging the licensing of my snowmobile trailer.... It was like buying a Volkswagen and paying Rolls-Royce prices."