By Allan Muir
Chris Nilan was ready and willing to defend the honor of a teammate during his heyday with the Montreal Canadiens, and he wasn't shy about taking the offensive, either. So no surprise that the former enforcer was quick to refute reports that Whitey Bulger, the 83-year-old mobster convicted on Monday of 31 counts including murder and racketeering, was in possession of his 1986 Canadiens Stanley Cup ring.
Nilan, who now works for a sports radio station in Montreal, released the following statement on Tuesday:
"Recent media reports have inaccurately asserted that James Bulger is in possession of a 1986 Stanley Cup ring given to him by me. Those reports have no basis in fact. James Bulger was never given a Stanley Cup ring by me at any time.
"I won a Stanley Cup ring as a member of the 1985-86 Montreal Canadiens. I gave that ring to my father, Henry Nilan. I am currently in possession of that ring as it is being re-sized as a gift to my son, Christopher.
"In 1988, Montreal Canadiens general manager Serge Savard heard that I had given my original ring to my Dad and Serge generously presented me with a second Stanley Cup ring which I wear to this day.
"I commissioned a jeweler here in Montreal to make three women's Stanley Cup rings for my mother, my former wife and my late mother-in-law, Teresa Stanley. My former wife and my mother remain in possession of their rings. Mrs. Stanley wore her ring in her casket and before her burial, at Mrs. Stanley's prior request, that ring was given to my daughter.
"At no time, to my knowledge, did I or any member of my family give James Bulger a Stanley Cup ring. I have no idea where any ring in Mr. Bulger's possession was made and I hope that this statement provides absolute clarification in this matter."
It's interesting that Nilan didn't address his relationship with Bulger in the statement, but if a guy with more than 3,000 penalty minutes to his credit says the ring wasn't his, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
So it looks like we've got ourselves a good old-fashioned mystery, kids. All we know for sure is that Bulger has a ring ... and there's no chance he's ratting out whoever gave it to him.
UPDATE: Thanks to SI colleague Stu Hackel for pointing out this interview Nilan gave on Monday evening to Mitch Melnick of TSN 690 in Montreal in which he gets into some fascinating detail about his relationship with Bulger. It's worth the seven minutes to hear exactly what he has to say, but here are a few of the highlights in case you're tight for time:
On Bulger: "He's no angel. He did what he did. All I will say is I had a good relationship with him...He's a bad guy, he did some bad things, but that's the way it is in that business.
"It's payback time. He's a big enough man. He knows what he did. When you live that life, it's gonna come back at ya.
"I communicate with him. I write him letters. He writes me letters. I visited him once after he was arrested. He never did nothing bad to me. He was good to me, he was good to my family. To me, that's all that matters.
"What kind of friend am I if I'm not a friend to him at this point in his life?"
On his knowledge of Bulger's whereabouts while he was on the run: "I never had contact with him. He's not that stupid."
On Bulger's ring: "It's not mine. He had a ring made, a Stanley Cup ring. He saw mine, the one I gave my dad and he wanted one."
It's a fascinating interview, but it's that last comment that could raise the attention of the government. Bulger contends that the ring was a gift, and so not something that was acquired through the proceeds of his criminal activities. But if he had it made himself, as Nilan suggests, then it may be subject to forfeit like the rest of cash and valuables in his possession when he was arrested.