The Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings were the first National Hockey League teams to open training camp today. The Leafs began with physicals at Peterborough, Ontario while the Kings players began reporting to their workouts at Guelph.
Four Leafs Missing
The big news of the day wasn’t who showed up. It was a cause celebre when it was revealed that four prominent members of the Stanley Cup champion Maple Leafs failed show. Bob Pulford, Mike Walton, Tim Horton and Brian Conacher were very conspicuous by their absence. It should be noted that none of the missing four have signed their 1967-68 contracts. The NHL implemented a rule this year that states all protected players must have signed their deals before training camp.
Imlach Downplays No-Shows
Toronto general manager-coach Punch Imlach, in an interview with Toronto Star’s Red Burnett, downplayed any concern over the missing players:
“Pulford’s wife just had a baby and you can’t expect a player to come to camp under such conditions. He wants to be with his wife.
“Regarding the others, it’s nothing new to give players a day or two to think things out when they are not signed or had other commitments.”
Imlach was asked about what might happen if the absences stretched into several days. He deflected the question, refusing to talk about consequences or what action the club might take against holdouts:
“We have Murray Oliver, Pete Stemkowski and Dave Keon for centre and that’s not bad. And there are a few good kids to try on that left side where I’d like to come up with a couple of industrious players. We also have a few defencemen eager to play on this team.”
Battle with Players’ Association Looms
While Imlach declined to say that the players had officially informed him they weren’t reporting because of unsigned contracts, it’s apparent this is the first shot fired across the bow in what will be a test of the new players association. Part of the agreement between the NHL and the association is that protected players must be signed before reporting to camp. This is a huge departure from past practice.
Players association counsel Alan Eagleson, addressing the fact that some unsigned players did report, provided perspective:
“The association’s view is that the player must be signed. The owners feel differently. All we have told our members is that we will stand behind them and I believe quite a few players are going to stay away.
“Some are pretty close to a contract so they have decided to report immediately.”
It is significant that Pulford is very close to Eagleson, and was elected the association’s first president. He said that he was not a holdout. He did confirm that he had asked for “a pretty good raise” but wouldn’t comment on the amount.
June Agreement Disputed
Eagleson says the dispute arises from the June meeting between the player representatives of the six established clubs and the board of governors. The association was asking that all the players on the six established clubs rosters be signed before training camp. Norm Ullman, player representative of the Detroit Red Wings explained what happened:
“We gave in on that and settled for the 12 players each team protected before the draft.”
Eagleson told the Detroit Free Press that is where the disagreement begins:
“The governors say they didn’t agree even though our six players (at the meeting) felt they did. And there aren’t any minutes of the meeting for corroboration.”
The six players who were present were Ullman, Pulford, Pierre Pilote (Chicago), Bob Nevin (New York), J.C. Tremblay (Montreal) and Ed Johnston (Boston).
Eagleson also said that the players have been advised not to attend training camp if not signed, but if they did report, the association would stand behind them. Players were asked to advise Eagleson if they did decide to report to camp unsigned.
In other news from the Toronto camp, rookie forward Garry Unger, who starred for the London Nationals in the Ontario Hockey Association Junior A series last season, arrived on crutches. He suffered a knee injury in a workout last night.
Another missing player is Rochester goalie Bobby Perreault. Perreault runs a restaurant in Three Rivers, Quebec and Red Burnett related Perreault’s humorous notification to Imlach by way of a telegram that he would be late for camp:
“I be there Monday because I got trouble with my chef-cook. Good cook but bad goalie. Miche Perreault, chef-cook.”
One player who may not have been expected to report to camp showed up early. Captain George Armstrong ended his very brief retirement and was among the first to arrive. He remarked:
“I’ll stay as long as Imlach wants me. I still have to make this team.”
Abel Expects No Problems
Sid Abel, general manager-coach of the Detroit Red Wings, anticipates no problems with the 12 players he must sign before his camp opens this Saturday at the Olympia in Detroit. Abel says he has five of the players under contract and expects the rest to fall in line. However, Red Wings player representative Norm Ullman told Jack Berry of the Detroit Free Press that he feels unsigned players won’t report.
Abel said “he hadn’t given it a thought” that some players might not report to camp. He said he mailed contracts to the players and expected them to be returned unsigned. He feels that the contracts were only a basis for beginning negotiations.
Bruins Sign Three
The first three players to sign their 1967-68 contracts with the Boston Bruins are all newcomers to the club. Phil Esposito, Fred Stanfield and Ken Hodge, all picked up in the major trade with the Chicago Black Hawks in May, inked their deals yesterday. The three were acquired in exchange for Gilles Marotte, Pit Martin and Jack Norris.
Esposito had 25 goals and 40 assists for Chicago last season. Hodge scored 10 times and added 25 assists while Stanfield had 20 goals and 25 assists for St. Louis of the Central Professional Hockey League.
- Detroit Red Wings have signed Dennis Huculak, a 24-year-old all-star defenseman from Michigan Tech.
- Ike Hildebrand will coach the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey Association Junior A Series this season. Ike also sells Louisville Slugger baseball bats. Louisville also plans to manufacture hockey sticks.