NHL Notes : Eagleson Says NHL-Soviet Play Good for Everyone
The Super Series between two Soviet teams and various National Hockey League teams has produced only one unattractive game for the fans in the first 10 and has been a financial and aesthetic success, according to the league’s chief international negotiator, Alan Eagleson.
Eagleson, speaking by phone from Toronto, said the 14-game series that will conclude Tuesday will “pump $5 million into hockey,” including more than $1.5 million for the players’ pension fund.
According to club figures, the first 10 games drew an average of 14,296 fans, which represents 85 percent of capacity at the arenas. And that was despite the New York Islanders’ crowd of 9,504 at Nassau Coliseum against Red Army.
“When we booked that game,” said Eagleson, who also is the executive director of the Players’ Association, “the Islanders had won the Patrick Division title. Who knew this (tumble to last place) was going to happen? We were a little disappointed with the crowd on the Island ... but the Pittsburgh game was worth having the series for. Somebody knocked off Red Army! People saw Mario Lemieux put his magic to work.
“Canadian TV did six games and the New Jersey game was the only one they were disappointed with -- because it was over so early.” The Devils lost, 5-0. “If we had all stinkers, we’d have to look at it. But as long as we’re drawing more than 75 percent and getting quality games, the more the better.”
Eagleson said the final games -- in Hartford, Buffalo, St. Louis and Minnesota -- probably will be seen by small crowds because those NHL teams have losing records and have been drawing poorly. He said the Soviets will net about $35,000 per game plus expenses and equipment.
There was concern in NHL circles about overkill because this is the fifth meeting in the past three years between NHL players and the Soviets. The others were Super Series ’86, Rendez-Vous ’87, Canada Cup ’87 and the 1988 Calgary Olympic Games. NHL players also competed against the Soviets in the 1986 and 1987 World Championships. “I think we’re going to play them every year,” Eagleson said. “Next year they’re going to play one game in all 21 NHL cities. We expect to have either three Soviet teams playing seven games each or four teams with each playing one of our divisions. I hope that happens in each of the next five years. And then we’ll have the Canada Cup in ’91 or ’92.” Eagleson said money is the primary reason the Soviets will travel here next season and most of the proceeds will benefit their federation’s hockey programs.
Eagleson said the NHL will announce on Jan. 25 the names of the two teams that will tour the Soviet Union in September. A source close to Eagleson said one Canadian-based team and one U.S. team will be chosen and Calgary, Quebec and Montreal are the Canadian front-runners, with Washington and Pittsburgh the top candidates among U.S. teams.
Not all NHL officials are as gung-ho as Eagleson about international competition. “So what?” Rangers General Manager Phil Esposito said about the current series. “The Players Association makes good money, but some of the teams had minor-leaguers playing. L.A. had a whole line. We didn’t want to play them. We didn’t want to play them next year. But we’re going to have to.”
Esposito said the Rangers might play two exhibition games in London this fall, possibly against Scandinavian teams.
A Bob Probert sweepstakes is being conducted by Detroit General Manager Jim Devellano, who is trying to make a deal with either Calgary, Hartford, the Rangers, Los Angeles or Boston.
Probert, the Red Wings’ 6-3, 210-pound All-Star left wing who has had alcohol-related problems, got three goals and two assists in a three-game span in December, but is pointless in the 11 other games he has played. Devellano has told some observers Probert might be gone any day now. “I haven’t been able to get anybody to say, ‘Yes,’ ” he said. “Maybe they think I’m asking too much.”
Sources, who said the Red Wings thought they had a deal for Probert Tuesday, also have said the reason no deal has evolved with the Rangers is Devellano wants defenseman James Patrick, and Esposito does not want to part with his power-play point man. “I have not talked to Jimmy D about Probert,” Esposito said.
The Kings are said to have dangled feisty right wing Marty McSorley and left wing Bob Carpenter. A Red Wings source said if Probert is traded, Detroit will have to get a tough player in return. That eliminates Hartford defenseman Dave Babych. Devellano would love to get Joel Otto from the Flames or Steve Kasper from the Bruins. Stay tuned.
Esposito bristled when asked if 37-year-old, fourth-line center Marcel Dionne or center Lucien DeBlois, who will be 32 in June, will survive the season as Rangers. Esposito said his acquisition of center Carey Wilson Dec. 26 came after Whalers President Emile Francis called and asked for Norm Maciver, Brian Lawton and Don Maloney. “That’s a dumb question, ‘Who’s next?”’ Esposito said. “I do whatever it takes to win. You want me to stay stagnant, not win and lose my job? When a deal is made, it’s not me offering. It’s other teams asking.”
Dr. Gerry Wilson, a Winnipeg orthopedic surgeon and father of Carey Wilson, convinced Swedes Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg to sign with the World Hockey Association’s Jets in 1974. Wilson said his father went to Sweden to write a book on the physiology of hockey players. “He used the Swedish national team as guinea pigs,” Wilson said, “and worked with Hedberg. He was able to convince him and the others to come. He wasn’t working for the Jets, but he was a fan and scouted for them.”
Carey Wilson knows enough of the language to talk to linemate Tomas Sandstrom in Swedish in the dressing room, but he does not use it on the ice, he said, because “I don’t think in Swedish.”
Chris Chelios is not on the block in Montreal. He is paired with stay-at-home Craig Ludwig and playing the best hockey of his career. The Canadiens have won eight straight and are 23-3-5 in their past 31. Over the holidays, they became the first team since the 1982-83 Islanders to win consecutive road games in Calgary (4-3) and Edmonton (4-2). They also beat the Kings (3-2) and Canucks (4-0) on the trip.
According to the NHLPA, the average length of a player’s career is 5.53 years, up from last year’s 5.47. Their average age is 25.34, up from 25.24. The average salary of 318 American-based players is $179,000, up from last year’s $166,000, and the average salary of 160 Canadian-based players is $205,000 (Canadian), up from $187,000. The figures do not include signing bonuses. A Canadian dollar is worth about 85 cents (American).