CHICAGO – As Alan Eagleson made his rounds at the morning skate at the United Center before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final, some of the many former players on hand felt uneasy. Others were angry. One former player refused to shake Eagleson’s hand. Eagleson asked for a picture with another and he reluctantly agreed so as not to make a scene.
Twenty-three years after Eagleson stepped down as the executive player of the NHL Players’ Association he was instrumental in starting and 17 years after he was convicted of fraud in two countries and of embezzling funds in Canada, the 82-year-old Eagleson has resurfaced in the hockey world during the Stanley Cup final. Eagleson has been around the United Center during the playoffs. He is not a guest of the NHL and the Chicago Blackhawks media department said it was not certain whether he was a guest of the team. Eagleson is friends with longtime Blackhawks executive Bob Pulford, who was the first co-president of the NHLPA along with Bobby Baun and he had close ties with late Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz, whose family still owns the team. Eagleson managed to get into the building and that has rankled some of the many former players who are around right now.
“I don’t like it,” said former NHLer Barry Melrose, an analyst for NBC Sports. “He shouldn’t be allowed to be here. I can’t believe he’s here. I can’t believe the NHL lets him be here.”
There are a lot of former players serving in different capacities at the final, some of whom played when Eagleson was the NHLPA’s executive director. Ray Ferraro, an analyst for TSN, was an Eagleson client early in his career. Glenn Healy, an analyst for CBC, voted to remove Eagleson in 1992 and was very active in the NHLPA. Among the former players with the NHL now are Kris King, Stephane Quintal, Mike Murphy and Colin Campbell. Those who are here as broadcasters include Mike Milbury, Jeremy Roenick, Craig Simpson, Ed Olczyk, Brad May, Martin Biron, Anson Carter, Brian Boucher, Marc Denis, Aaron Ward, Kevin Weekes. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and his assistants Mike Kitchen and Kevin Dineen are all former players, as is Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, assistant GM Pat Verbeek and assistant coaches Steve Thomas and Rick Bowness.
There were certainly mixed feelings when it came to Eagleson’s presence. On one hand, he’s a major reason why Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will pull down $13.8 million in salary each of the next three seasons. Without Eagleson, the NHL might not be playing in the Olympics. The upcoming World Cup, which is expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for both the league and the NHLPA, might not exist had Eagleson not established its predecessor, the Canada Cup. But it’s impossible to separate Eagleson from his legacy of fraud and embezzlement, for which he was sentenced to 18 months in jail and served six.
“I have strong feelings about his legacy,” Healy said. “Other people maybe have a little more willingness for forgiveness. I certainly don’t. I have no interest in seeing him. None. Zero. No interest in speaking one word to the man.”
Milbury, who has been vocal in his criticism of Eagleson in the past, said he doesn’t have a huge problem with Eagleson being around, saying it’s probably time to let bygones be bygones.
“I actually don’t give a (expletive),” said Milbury, an analyst for NBC. “That’s so old. I don’t know what he would want to be doing around the game. I guess he enjoys being with hockey players and watching the game and that��s fine. He’s paid his price for the mistakes he made. Some people say it was enough, some people say it wasn’t enough, but get over it is my basic feeling on that. I’m over it.”
Others were ambivalent about it. Biron said, “we shouldn’t be celebrating him, that’s for sure,” and Yzerman said he’s more worried about the playoff series than he is about Eagleson being around. “No interest in getting into that now,” he said. “We’re in the Stanley Cup final and I have my own team to worry about.”
For his part, Eagleson does not appear to be looking for redemption. In an interview with Marc de Foy of Le Journal de Montreal, Eagleson was unrepentant. “Ah, it’s easy to return to the past and ask myself why I did some things the way I did or why I didn’t do certain things,” Eagleson told De Foy. “The truth is, things were different and the times were different.”