In last week’s column I answered the question I’m most frequently asked about my career, which is, “How did you meet Anne Murray?” However, the column has prompted two others: 1) How did you get involved with hockey? 2) Who were the other three major influences on your career besides Don Beach? I’ll deal with the hockey question first.
I played a lot of hockey in Toronto, including some Junior B. I also played some senior hockey in Charlottetown during the four years I was obtaining my chartered accountant’s designation. I was always, and still am, a huge fan. I became acquainted with the superstar goalie Glenn Hall while playing Junior B. Through Glenn I met a few Detroit Red Wing and Chicago Black Hawk players and often went out with them after the game when they played in Toronto. After becoming a CA I started doing income tax consulting for Glenn.
In 1968, Don Beach (there’s that name again) talked me into joining the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand (it was actually known as MacDonald Currie back then and is now PriceWaterhouseCoopers), so Glenn became a client of the firm. The firm already had Bobby Hull as a client, and as I’d met Bobby earlier through Glenn it was natural for me to take over the Hull account, which meant that Dennis Hull became a client as well.
In 1968, on Bobby’s behalf, I had a very rancorous and well-publicized contract negotiation with the Chicago Black Hawks which resulted in more NHL players becoming clients. Alan Eagleson and I then became acquainted, with the result that a number of his clients also became clients of mine, most notably Bobby Orr and Norm Ullman. Through my Eagleson connection, my partner Robin Logie became the auditor of the NHLPA. In the early 70s my client list included over fifty NHL players. Then Eagleson and I had a falling out.
Eagleson looked after Orr’s negotiations and other business activities while I was responsible for Orr’s personal and corporate income tax returns. One of Eagleson’s partners, who specialized in income tax, came up with an income tax arrangement involving the Boston Bruins, Bobby, Bobby Orr Enterprises Ltd., and a number of trusts created solely for the income tax arrangement. Although there was no decided law on the particular issue at the time, it was my opinion that the arrangement would not be acceptable under the provisions of either the US Revenue Code or the Canadian Income Tax Act, so I refused to sign the tax returns. Eagleson’s partner obviously disagreed with me and Eagleson, not surprisingly, sided with his partner.
I wouldn’t budge, so Eagleson arranged for my firm to be replaced as auditor of the NHLPA and also urged all the players I had as clients to leave my firm. Eagleson’s clout was such that all but five did. The five who stayed with me were Glenn Hall, Bobby Hull, Dennis Hull, Norm Ullman and Mike Pelyk. But this wasn’t my last involvement with the game of hockey.
A few years later Alan Eagleson and I again crossed paths when I was invited to join the executive committee of Hockey Canada, of which Eagleson was also a member. Then, somewhat ironically, in early 1989 I was offered the job of replacing Eagleson as executive director of the NHLPA, an offer which I declined.
In 1991, when Steve Stavro was moving to gain control of Maple Leaf Gardens, he approached me to become CEO. While I was still negotiating terms with Stavro’s and the Gardens’ lawyers, Stavro got outmanoeuvred, virtually behind his back, by his fellow directors Don Giffen and Thor Eaton by their hiring Cliff Fletcher.
Finally, a year or so later I was interviewed for the role of NHL Commissioner. It became pretty obvious to me during my second interview that the selection committee had already made up their minds to hire a (then nameless) New York sports lawyer, and that I and anyone else being interviewed were merely cannon fodder. I withdrew my name rather than go through the torture of another interview. Of course, the “then nameless” New Yorker turned out to be Gary Bettman.
I haven’t seen Mike Pelyk or Dennis Hull in years, but I do occasionally run into Bobby.
Anne (my wife, not Anne Murray) and I spent a couple of days of our honeymoon with Glenn and Polly Hall in Stony Plain, Alberta (the site of the famous barn that Glenn used to paint in order to avoid training camp) and they remained friends of ours. Polly passed away a couple of years ago.
Norm Ullman and his wife, Bibs, are the Godparents of our son, Matthew, and, as they live in Toronto, we still socialize.
I remain peripherally involved in hockey through my membership in a weekly luncheon group that includes Frank Selke Jr., Jim Gregory, Peter Conacher, Frank Bonello, John Shannon, Rick Briggs-Jude, Doug Beeforth, and former Hockey Night In Canada behind-the-scenes guys David Rae and Art O’Connor. We meet every Thursday for very long, often loud, lunches at Windfield’s Restaurant where the restaurant staff have become accustomed to answering the question, “Who the hell are those guys?”
How did the Orr income tax arrangement work out? Not well for Orr. For more information on this issue I suggest you read any of the Eagleson biographies.
Next week: a few more words about Don Beach and the names of the other three major influences.