With Ted Saskin’s leadership still the subject of simmering discontent among a
group of dissident players, the NHL Players’ Association is getting hit with potentially troublesome questions on another front.
Los Angeles Kings forward Jeremy Roenick and retired players Bob Probert and Denis Savard are trying to find out what the union did with player dues and licensing money during their careers. They want to know if proper financial records and annual balance sheet were kept, as appears to be mandated by the NHLPA constitution, and if not, why not.
Windsor-based lawyer Patrick Ducharme has written to the union on behalf of the three to ask if a copy of the NHLPA constitution in his possession is still accurate. Article 5, Section 5 of the document, which appears to be dated from 1990, stipulates that the union secretary treasurer is responsible for sending an annual report of the financial operations of the Association??to members. It also says the union’s annual statement must be prepared by an independent chartered accounting firm.
Roenick says he has never seen such a statement in his career. To the best of Ducharme’s knowledge, neither have Probert nor Savard.
I’m on a discovery mission right now, said Ducharme, who served as Probert’s agent during the enforcer’s 16-year NHL career. I’m not suggesting anybody has done anything wrong, I’m just simply saying I’ve been asked on behalf of clients to discover whether or not this constitution is still in place and whether or not you’ve followed it.
When Ducharme first contacted the union, NHLPA representatives said they couldn’t give him any information. Probert then wrote a letter as a former union member instructing the union to answer Ducharme’s questions.
If it turns out the PA hasn’t followed the constitution, then it would be a question of whether my clients instruct me to do anything further, Ducharme said.
The union mailed back a reply to Ducharme’s questions on the morning of Dec. 6.
“The NHLPA recently responded to Mr. Ducharme and advised him that the NHLPA has always provided annual financial reports to its members, and that all revenues received by the NHLPA are maintained in a general fund under the
direction of the Executive Board,” said NHLPA associate counsel Ian Penny. “We further advised Mr. Ducharme that in the past the NHLPA has disbursed monies to players out of this general operation fund and may do so again in the future at the direction of the Executive Board.”
Roenick said he became involved after talking with Chicago owner Bill Wirtz and senior vice-president Bob Pulford about Probert’s financial situation. The Kings were in Chicago to play the Hawks Nov. 30.
If I can help Bob Probert in any way, you know I’m going to do it, Roenick said. There’s probably a lot of money sitting in the PA bank account right now that could really help him.
Asked if the demand for old records will add to the turmoil currently surrounding the union, Roenick replied: No question, it will add to the turmoil.
It’s believed the NHLPA took in many millions of dollars in licensing fees during the 1990s from the sale of trading cards, union dues and other licensing promotions. One of the unanswered questions is whether the union had a right to stockpile money for a lockout fund or other future uses rather than pay back excess monies to players.
Roenick said the players used to receive occasional cheques from the union, but that stopped about six or seven years ago. He says the union has made a lot of money from the images of players through trading cards, video games and action dolls, and that players deserve to see some of that money back.
Nobody really knows how much money is in the account, Roenick said. That’s a problem, I think.
For Probert and Savard, the time period under question is the 1980s and 1990s, when the union was led first by Alan Eagleson and then by Bob Goodenow. It will be Saskin, however, who is left to account for what went wrong and deal with the fallout if Roenick and the others don’t find answers to their liking.
It seems to me at minimum that you’ve paid money in and they are at minimum required to account for it and perhaps, arguably if there’s money left over, to maybe pay back the money, Ducharme said. How does anyone determine when you’re holding money for members when and how that money is properly spent if you’re not making this proper accounting?
Probert, Savard and Roenick were all members of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1995-96. Roenick was traded to Phoenix that summer, but Savard and Probert were together with the Hawks for another six seasons, Probert as a player and Savard as a player and, later, a coach. Savard is currently an assistant coach for the team.
Probert, who battled alcohol problems during his career, had a charge of assaulting a police officer at his Windsor home dropped last month after a home security camera showed the charges were unwarranted.
Probert and Savard couldn’t be reached for comment.