September 12: The Art of the Contract

Holdout fever seems to be gripping National Hockey League training camps. It seems almost every team is dealing with players refusing to report to camp until they have signed their 1967-68 contracts.

This is a huge departure from years past, where players didn’t sign until they reported or often will into camp. This can be traced to the establishment of the new players’ association and the militant stance taken by their executive director, Toronto lawyer Alan Eagleson. It’s no coincidence that some of the recalcitrant players are closely connected with Eagleson.

Today we’ll try to provide some insight into how contracts are being negotiated in this new world order in hockey. We’ll also report what is a very busy hockey news day.

Horton Only Leaf Absentee

Toronto general manager-coach Punch Imlach has made progress with his holdouts, but still has one big hurdle to clear. Tim Horton, the Leafs star defenceman and one of the team’s longest-serving players, continues to stay away from training camp. The other three regulars, Mike Walton, Brian Conacher and Bob Pulford have all reported for workouts, although they haven’t yet signed their deals for this season.

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Tim Horton

Imlach has threatened to fine Horton $500 plus $25 for every subsequent day he is absent from camp. Faced with the possibility of losing that kind of money, Horton was philosophical, yet firm in his stance:

“I don’t intend to practice until I have a contract. That’s it. If I get fined, well, that’s the gamble I take. Life is a gamble. You’ve got to make sure you don’t step on a banana peel.”

Horton was making his comments to Lou Cauz of the Globe & Mail before driving to Hamilton, where he owns two doughnut shops. He said he had talked to King Clancy, Imlach’s assistant, over the summer, but hadn’t heard from anyone in the past two weeks:

“I spoke to Clancy two or three times during the summer. They’re going to have to get in touch with me. I’m not going up there.”

Tim’s Perspective

Globe & Mail columnist Dick Beddoes spoke with Horton who further explained the rationale behind his decision to stay away from camp, also describing how negotiations between players and management usually work:

“The way it works is that they usually call you in the first or second day of camp. You tell them what you think you’re worth. They tell you what they’re prepared to pay. It ends there. You go back to training. Several weeks later – just before the start of the season – you’re asked whether you’re going to sign or are they going to suspend you.

“Well the Leafs knew last winter where I stood. I told them I would not be at another camp until I had a signed contract. That was long before the players’ association was organized. In June or July I made a special trip down to the Gardens. I was ready to discuss contract. Punch was there. Nothing happened.”

Imlach said that Clancy was under orders not to phone Horton. It is rumoured that the Leafs have offered Horton a three-year contract with a sizeable raise. It’s difficult to see how that could happen if the two sides are not talking.

Horton, by the way is not a member of the players’ association. Eagleson says the group will support the veteran rearguard, despite his lack of interest in the organization.

Pulford Speaks

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Bob Pulford

Pulford said he reported to camp because he came to an agreement with Clancy on Sunday. The two had met at the Rock Haven Motel in Peterborough, rather than at the Leafs headquarters at the Empress Hotel.

However, an agreement with Clancy doesn’t equal a signed deal with Imlach, who has final say on contracts. Because of that, this morning Pulford told Red Burnett of the Toronto store that the door is still open for his leaving if talks don’t progress:

“I can’t say how long I’ll be in camp. This all depends on my talks with Mr. Imlach. I expect to meet him later today.”

Pulford said that he had taken his wife and baby daughter home from the hospital yesterday in Toronto before reporting to Peterborough. He said his wife had named the little girl Lindsay Ruth. He was asked by a reporter how Lindsay was to be spelled:

“I think ‘say’, but that’s up to my wife. She’s a brain, I’m just a dumb hockey player.”

Neither Walton nor Conacher would comment on what they had hoped to achieve by absenting themselves from early training drills. Walton’s only comment was :

“For once in my life I’m going to keep my big mouth shut.”

Pulford, Walton and Conacher worked on a line yesterday afternoon dubbed “The Rebel Line”, but were outscored 5-2 in their scrimmage.

Canadiens Not Having Trouble

Montreal Canadiens general manager Sam Pollock is encountering very little resistance during negotiations with his players. He spoke with hockey writer Dink Carroll of the Montreal Gazette and gave his version of how discussions of contracts with player should work:

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Sam Pollock

“There are three things you have to consider when you talk salary with a player. The first, of course, is ability. The second is age and the third is box office appeal. A player may be 22 years old and be about equal in ability to another who is 36. But the youngster can’t expect to draw the same salary as the veteran who has made a contribution over a long period of years.

“Then there’s the matter of box office appeal. I don’t know what Bobby Hull’s salary is, but let’s suppose it’s $40,000. Now there’s a kid, say, who figures he’s a little more than half as good as Hull and he wants to be paid on that basis though he may not put a single fan in the building while Hull packs them in.

“There are certain players on every club who are gate attractions and they should be paid for it. In Chicago it’s Hull and Mikita. In Toronto it’s Mahovlich and Keon. With us, it’s Beliveau and Henri Richard. And in Boston it’s already Bobby Orr though he’s only been in the league one year.”

Pollock went on to provide more detail how hockey executives go about determining the value a player has to a team. He relates a story about how the legendary Lester Patrick handled a particularly difficult contract negotiation for the New York Rangers:

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Lester Patrick

“I remember hearing a story about how Lester Patrick signed a player who was holding out with the Rangers. Lester said to the player ‘You come and stand with me in the Garden lobby before a game. If there’s one fan who recognizes you and calls you by name, I’ll give you what you’re asking. If nobody recognizes you, you accept my terms.’ The player agreed. Nobody recognized him and he signed the contract Lester offered him.”

Pollock doesn’t think increased television revenue has prompted players to ask for more money. He says those revenues haven’t increased proportional to those of baseball and football. He believes that expansion has caused the players to be unsettled, and they can’t be blamed for trying to get as much money as they can in this new environment.

Canadiens have only four players who have not signed. They are Dick Duff, Jean Beliveau, Danny Grant and Bryan Watson. Pollock expects no trouble getting all of them under contract in short order.

Pollock admitted that Toronto’s Punch Imlach had made a trade offer involving forward Bob Pulford. He said he wasn’t interested in Imlach’s request of two of Montreal’s top 15 players. Pollock wouldn’t name names, but Carroll hinted that a four-player trade would have seen Pulford and Mike Walton come to the Habs in exchange for Duff, a former Leaf, and Ralph Backstrom.

Blake Eager to Get Started

Canadiens coach Toe Blake is eager to get the season underway, even though game one is nearly a month away. Blake feels the Canadiens are in solid shape and he believes they could start the season with a lineup very similar to what finished last year.

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Carol Vadnais

Blake is high on several players whom he rated a good shot at winning a regular spot on the big club. On defence, he’s looking to youngsters Serge Savard and Carol Vadnais. Vadnais my be particularly appealing to the coach because he can take a turn up front, like the departed Jean-Guy Talbot. Strong forward candidates are rookies Grant, Mickey Redmond and Garry Monahan, all graduates of the Junior A Peterborough Petes. Veteran Bryan Watson, the super-pest, can be added to the mix as well. He was picked up in one of those complicated draft-day deals Pollock engineered with the Minnesota North Stars.

Hawks Missing Six

The Chicago Black Hawks were missing six players when workouts began at Chicago Stadium. Of those, only one player’s absence was a complete surprise. The others were not  expected to be on hand for the first day.

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Bobby Hull

Defenceman Matt Ravlich had the most credible excuse. He still has his broken leg in a cast after suffering that gruesome injury last March. He’s expecting it to be removed shortly, but he’ll still not be ready to play until December.

Superstar Bobby Hull didn’t report, but again, that’s no worry for general manager Tommy Ivan and coach Billy Reay. Hull was given permission to report late to attend to a cattle auction involving some of his prized Herfords on his Ontario farm. Ivan said Hull was in Chicago last week and appears to be in tremendous shape.

Pit Martin and Pat Stapleton were expected to decline to report. Neither has signed their contract and had indicated that they wouldn’t participate in training until their demands were satisfied. Both are said to be closely involved with the new players’ association. Ken Wharram is believed to be in a similar boat and his absence was also no surprise.

Goalkeeper Denis DeJordy’s early holdout was not anticipated. DeJordy is finally receiving the chance to be a full-fledged number one NHL netminder with veteran Glenn Hall now with the new St. Louis Blues. DeJordy figures this state of affairs makes him even more valuable to the Black Hawks and he’s balking at the contract offer made by Ivan. He’s doing his negotiating from Buffalo, New York, where his wife works.

Ullman Still Sits

Norm Ullman, star centre of the Detroit Red Wings, remains unsigned and is not taking part in the team’s training camp. He has discussed contract with general manager-coach Sid Abel. While progress has been made, the two sides are not close to an agreement.

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Norm Ullman

Ullman is an important cog in the Red Wings machine. He led the team in scoring two of the past three seasons despite a shoulder separation, broken rib and thyroid condition. Last year he finished third in league scoring and was the second all-star team centre. He is the Red Wings player representative and was instrumental in the forming of the players’ association.

There has been no discussion about fines for his missing workouts.

Abel did sign four players who were ready to hold out. Now under contract are forwards Bruce MacGregor, Paul Henderson and Ted Hampson, and defenceman Bob Falkenberg. MacGregor and Henderson were 20-goal men last season and are critical to any success the Detroiters might enjoy this season.

Shack, Westfall Ink Pacts

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Eddie Shack, left, skates for the first time in a Bruins uniform.

The Boston Bruins had only two holdouts and both put their name on new contracts yesterday. First to sign was Eddie Shack, the whirling dervish acquired from the Maple Leafs in May for Murray Oliver. A little later in the day, utility man Ed Westfall agreed to terms.

Shack participated in workouts and attracted attention with his bull-in-a-china-shop style. He certainly made the usually boring early workouts much more lively.

Bruins still have several unsigned players who are participating in practices. Among them are Ted Green, Gary Doak, Skip Krake and Ron Murphy. General manager Milt Schmidt feels he won’t encounter problems with that group:

“I don’t expect we’ll have any difficulty with these fellows. Green wanted to wait until he saw how he’d been skating before he had discussions with me and I admire him for that.”

Orr Recuperating

Budding Bruins superstar Bobby Orr is continuing to recover from the controversial knee injury he suffered during that exhibition game last month in Winnipeg. The cast has been removed from his leg and he’s taking physical therapy at his home in Parry Sound, Ontario. The Bruins are in no hurry to rush him back to Boston, preferring to err on the side of caution.

Seals Fined for Tampering

The California Seals have been fined an amount believed to be about $1,000 by NHL president Clarence Campbell. Campbell levied the fine after he determined that the Seals were guilty of tampering with retired defenceman Carl Brewer. Brewer is still the property to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Seals did a lot of public talking about making a deal with the Leafs and bringing Brewer back to the NHL. This was despite the fact that Brewer is unable to play in the league for at least two years after being placed on the retired list and being reinstated as an amateur.

Quick Hits

  • Hockey legend Charlie Conacher is back in a Toronto hospital. Conacher survived a serious throat operation in April.
  • Toronto has sent rookie centre Garry Unger home to Calgary to recover from successful surgery to remove knee cartilage.
  • Former Japanese Olympic hockey team member Yasushin Tanaka has been impressive at the Los Angeles Kings training camp. General manager Larry Regan says Tanaka has not looked out of place.
  • Not reporting to the Philadelphia Flyers Quebec City training camp are two of the team’s top Expansion Draft picks, Ed Van Impe and Joe Watson, both defencemen.
  • Pittsburgh newspapers are excited to report on the new Penguins and are eagerly awaiting the team’s first game.Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 10.10.22 AM.png
  • Penguins coach Red Sullivan plans to use Earl Ingarfield and Andy Bathgate together on a line. That plan may be scuttled if Ingarfield goes through with plans to hold out until he receives a suitable contract.
  • Dick Duff, Yvan Cournoyer and Jacques Laperriere have returned from Germany, where they conducted a hockey camp for Canadian servicemen and their families.
  • Flyers forward Jean-Guy Gendron is late for training camp. He says he is delayed by the responsibilities of his job as a golf professional in Quebec.
  • Bill McCreary says the first day of St. Louis Blues training camp was the toughest he’s faced in 12 years as a pro hockey player.
  • The Blues say that defenceman Doug Harvey’s arrival at training camp has been delayed by income tax problems.

 

 

 

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