NHL oldtimers say fans getting 'shafted'

“They never consider the fans,” says 93-year-old Wally Stanowski, the oldest living Maple Leaf, who...

“They never consider the fans,” says 93-year-old Wally Stanowski, the oldest living Maple Leaf, who thinks the NHL lockout is all about "money, money, money" and needs to end now. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI Agency file photo)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:08 PM ET

Escrow? HRR? Make whole propositions?

Lockout lingo is a foreign language to the National Hockey League’s Original Six elders, who’ve watched this 21st century dispute unfold with a mix of anger and abashment.

“They never consider the fans,” said 93-year-old Wally Stanowski, the oldest living Maple Leaf, during a veterans’ luncheon at a Markham diner. “If they all decreased salaries, seats would be cheaper. So think of the fans once in awhile.”

Stanowski says he tries to follow the collective bargaining developments — or lack of them — in the news.

“As far as I can tell, it’s the players who have to give. They’re overpaid, as most athletes in every sport are today. It’s money, money, money. Take Alex Rodriguez of the Yanks. He makes much more than the president of the United States. No one is worth that kind of money.”

Stanowski, a four-time Cup winner in Toronto, started with a $1,500 salary in the late 1930s, with a ceiling of $10,000. He had to hitch a ride to Toronto with fellow Winnipeger Pete Langelle. They stopped in Thunder Bay where the Leafs’ Rochester minor league team was training so Langelle could visit a farmhand friend.

“The guy told Peter he’d just signed for $1,000 — and an overcoat,” Stanowski cackled.

When the lockout is discussed among oldtimers, there is little love for either side.

“We’re not too happy, because we’d have played for nothing,” said Ivan Irwin, a defenceman with Montreal and New York in the 1950s. “The most I made was $11,000 a year. A good year, you had a $500 raise, a bad year, they cut you by $1,000.

“In our era, we didn’t have agents, which wasn’t good either. We were taken for a ride (by the owners). You did learn to negotiate and (stand up) for yourself. But at the time, we couldn’t care less. We were happy to be playing. Then you came home after the season and had to take a job in construction or somewhere else.”

Phil Samis, a farmhand who played seven games for the Leafs, recalls going to club boss Conn Smythe and asking for a $500 raise on his $4,000 salary after three years in the organization. Turned down, he refused to sign at all and was suspended.

“They weren’t as generous as they are now,” Samis laughed. “I went to a friend who ran the Oshawa Generals and said ‘I’m suspended, what do I do now?’ He said if you went to Mr. Smythe and apologized, he might take you back.”

Irwin, who coached and ran hockey schools after retiring as a player, also fears for the fan.

“They’re the ones who are getting shafted. Will (owners) up the ante with ticket (prices) going up again? It’s too expensive now to go to games.

“There has been some comment about putting them all in a room and locking it until they have some kind of agreement. Maybe that’s the best way.”

Bob Nevin, who played on two Leaf Cup winners in the early 1960s, is among those wondering how the league could allow the mega-million contracts that came in under the Sept. 15 lockout wire and now cry poor. Those optics are bad enough, but he thinks the real damage will be south of the border.

“The Kings won the Cup and they were just getting peope interested in hockey there again,” he lamented. “It’s sad what’s happening. We don’t talk about it much among ourselves. It’s billionaires against millionaires.”


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