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THE MAN WHO RULES HOCKEY
John Papanek
July 02, 1984
Alan Eagleson, union boss, friend of management, players' agent and international negotiator, has used his many conflicting roles to take control of the sport in the NHL and beyond
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July 02, 1984

The Man Who Rules Hockey

Alan Eagleson, union boss, friend of management, players' agent and international negotiator, has used his many conflicting roles to take control of the sport in the NHL and beyond

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Wilson's lawyer, Howard Schwartz, says, "Eagleson should have volunteered to collect Murray's union and NHL insurance. If the union isn't going to stick up for you, what good is the union?"

The current NHLPA president, Tony Esposito of the Chicago Black Hawks, feels that it's the union's responsibility to assist players seeking help in grievance and insurance matters. "If a player has a problem, he comes to us. We'll fight it for him," says Esposito. "That's our job—to protect the players."

Although Eagleson acknowledged having a phone conversation with Wilson about the problems, he says, "I have checked my files on Murray Wilson and at no time did he or his lawyer ask us to intercede.... I can't do things or guess what Wilson is doing. There are 500 members in the Players' Association."

Glen Sharpley, a 27-year-old former Minnesota North Star and Chicago Black Hawk, says that in 1982 he agreed to pay Eagleson, then his agent, $14,250 for collecting $325,000 worth of NHL, NHLPA and optional disability insurance after an eye injury ended his career. "Mr. Eagleson told me that he would not handle this if I did not sign [a contract guaranteeing Eagleson a percentage of the claim]," says Sharpley, now working as an equipment service employee for Northwest Orient Airlines at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Sharpley says he'd already paid about $60,000 in contract negotiation and management fees to Eagleson during the seven years that he'd been an Eagleson client. Says Sharpley, "[Eagleson] said, 'Because of my super high cost in handling this [insurance matter], I've got to charge you.' " Sharpley says he agreed to Eagle-son's terms because "my back was to the wall. I needed the money."

Eagleson also charged Dailey, another former client, for collecting a disability claim. Dailey says he didn't object to paying Eagleson, but he now believes he may have been misled by Eagleson. Both Sharpley and Dailey say that Eagleson told them his fees would include the cost of flying Bernard J. Warren, chairman of Crawley Warren, and his wife from London to Minneapolis and Philadelphia in January 1983 to meet with Sharpley and Dailey. According to Dailey, Eagleson said the Warrens' trip would cost the players about $5,000 and would "speed up getting our money."

The Warrens' visit happened to coincide with the Soviet national hockey team's trip to Minnesota and Philadelphia. "I had breakfast with Warren and Eagleson the morning after the game [in Minnesota]," says Sharpley, "but we hardly discussed the claim. I think Bernie and his wife had a nice vacation."

Warren says that he and his wife had been invited to Minnesota and Philadelphia not by Eagleson but by an unspecified "team manager." Furthermore, Warren said the trip was paid for by his own company. Warren said he did discuss insurance matters with clients during the trip but not in any "significant detail."

Eagleson has also used his multiple roles in hockey to bestow favors on friends who bestow favors on him in return. In 1980, for example, Eagleson was retained by American Airlines to arrange the participation of NHLPA members in an airline golf tournament in Toronto. Eagleson's payment included a number of travel passes on American, according to Henry Kelly, American's manager of passenger services at Toronto International Airport at the time. According to Kelly, Eagleson also received American passes unrelated to the golf tournament for, says Eagleson, "personal business...promotional contact between my clients and American." Eagleson also says he receives "an unlimited" number of passes from Air Canada for the business he does with them. Once again, where Eagleson's personal business ends and his representation of hockey players begins is blurred. The only things that are clear are that Eagleson receives many free passes, and he decides who gets to use them.

The unusually large number of free passes issued in Toronto to Eagleson and others prompted American Airlines in 1980 to launch an investigation of Kelly and Gregory Britz, then the airline's general manager for Canada. Kelly was fired in July, 1980, and Britz resigned five months later. In 1981 Britz, whom Eagleson describes as a "good friend" of 10 years' standing, was hired by Eagleson as a $100-an-hour lawyer to represent the NHLPA in arbitration cases against the NHL. Kelly is suing American for "wrongful dismissal and intimidation" and is now manager of a Toronto travel agency which, according to Kelly, "handles travel arrangements for Alan, his companies and the NHL Players' Association." Adds Kelly, "It's a damn good account."

Two of Eagleson's most prominent clients—Bobby Orr and Vaclav Nedomansky, a former captain of the Czech national team who played nine years in the WHA and NHL after defecting to Canada in 1974—have left his stable with more than a hint that Eagleson mishandled their affairs.

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