This is Sid Abel interviewing Greg Joly, late 70s based on haircuts. One of the things I’ve tried to do in this series is impress upon you the idea that the NHL was run in a fashion that did not have the best interests of the game in mind. The league’s expansion setup is a supreme example, but there are others filtered through the series.
In the next two installments, I’ll offer further proof about how rules got changed, and then give you chapter and verse about the “sponsorship” program.
This is Peter Mahovlich. Detroit picked him 2nd overall in the 1963 Amateur Draft and Big Pete (“Little M”) had a fine career. Of course, by the time he emerged he was in Montreal and the Red Wings had dealt Mahovlich for a lesser version of himself–incredibly, the guy taken #1 overall in the 1963 Amateur Draft.
I’d like to tell you a story that appeared in the March 4, 1967 edition of The Hockey News. In an article entitled “Abel Forces Rule Change to Farm Rookie Out” Jack Berry gives us great insight into how the league ran during that time.
The League board of governors–meeting in New York–passed a rule enabling Detroit to farm out 20-year old Peter Mahovlich without asking waivers. The governors, glowing after hearing a financial report that showed attendance up 92,000 as of January 1st, settled the sticky business with a smooth stroke.
New York had blocked Detroit’s attempt to waive Mahovlich so that the young giant could get minor league experience. In turn, Detroit blocked Toronto’s attempt to farm John Brenneman and Red Wing GM Abel said stubbornly that he certainly wasn’t going to let Toronto move Brenneman out if he couldn’t get Mahovlich down.
As a result, the two players watched the games from the stands, collected their salaries and weren’t getting any experience. So the owners came up with a rule allowing a player to be farmed out, without asking waivers, but the player must remain in the minors the rest of the season and cannot be called up for the playoffs.
“Peter was a victim of circumstance,” Abel said. “I think he’s going to be a good hockey player but right now, fighting to make the playoffs, I feel we’ve got to go with experience.”
The article tells us this: the owners got together and partied because attendance was up, and then after much port they made up a rule that allowed Abel and Imlach to do what they wanted, pushed the players back down to make minor league money and handcuffed (potentially) the clubs in the post-season. And it was all done mid-season!
Folks, the NFL went to a draft format for amateurs that hasn’t changed much, and they did it in 1936. Major League Baseball has a draft (Rule V) designed to make certain teams cannot stockpile talent that other major league teams would elevate, and they did that before any of us were born.
The keepers of the NHL game treated it like a cash cow, with little regard for players, fans, credibility or advancing the enjoyment of the game beyond the on-ice product. The NHL in 1967 was a completely unfair system for players. They owned your rights forever, and if you were 20-years old, making $6,000 a year but not playing they’d sure as hell find a way to get you back to the busses even if it meant a rule change forced the governors to push back lunch.