It’s well known that the hockey players of the 1970s were not paid much more money than the rest of the population. Back then, when owners had all the leverage and convicted felon R. Alan Eagleson was in control of the union, some players had to get a job in the off-season just to make ends meet. Very few players, other than a handful of superstars, would have been considered rich men, and almost all of them needed to find a career after hockey. Some of them still didn’t make enough money or ran into other financial issues in retirement, and those are the saddest stories of al.
But for every rule, there are exceptions, and perhaps no player in the 1970s got more total money out of his career than Bill Clement — regardless of how much he earned as a player.
Clement was always a smart player, and he recognized fairly early in his career that he would have to play a role — mostly as a penalty-killer — to enjoy a long career. As a result, he lasted 12 years in the NHL and won the Stanley Cup championship twice. He also did another smart thing back then — a really smart thing.
What he did was to set himself up for life beyond hockey by beginning to work as a broadcaster while he was still an active player. In that sense, he truly saw the future, recognizing that he could parlay his relatively t high-profile — if not high-paying — career into a much longer one that, over time, would be more lucrative. Much, much more lucrative.
For the past 30 years or so, Clement has been a familiar face to generations of American hockey fans as one of the top broadcasters in the business. He showed remarkable skill and charisma early in his broadcast career, and he just kept building on that. He moved from hockey to Olympic sports with no trouble at all. He has never been without work as a broadcaster, and he has done voice work in hundreds of TV commercials, often appearing on camera as well.
But Clement did another smart thing — a really, really smart thing.
Clement set himself up to retire with a lot of money in the bank by parlaying his broadcasting skills into another field — motivational speaking. Today, he is a highly sought-after speaker — the kind of guy big companies love to put up in front of their employees to talk about leadership, teamwork, etc. And Clement is really, really good at it. Just watch some of the Youtube videos, and you’ll see what I mean.
In fact, Clement is such a good motivational speaker that he makes it possible for me to enjoy listening to a motivational speech. That’s no easy feat.
So hats off to you, Bill Clement. You have shown that not only is there life after hockey, there are ways to amplify success by continually looking toward the future and setting yourself up for it.
Clement is one of the few players of the 1970s who made far more money (adjusted for inflation) after his career ended than while he was playing. While he was a solid, dependable player, he was not a standout by any means. In today’s NHL, he would make about $2.5 million per year and would never have to work again after his career. But he didn’t play in today’s NHL. Instead, he took what he had and he built on it. And then he built on that. Today he is a true superstar in both the broadcast field and the world of corporate speaking. And he is still going strong.
What better type of person could there be to give a motivational speech?
In an earlier blog post about the potential discrimination against American hockey players in the 1970s, I mentioned how the perception that American players were less prone to fighting might have played a role in the NHL’s reluctance to accept them in larger numbers. The theme of fighting and violence in the 1970s comes up a lot as I look through hockey coverage from that decade.
The violence issue came up in researching Don Saleski, who was criminally charged for an altercation with a security guard in 1976. The issue arose again in researching Greg Polis, who was once sued by a Penguins fan. Hockey was on trial in the court of public opinion for much of the 1970s.
So far the most interesting violence-related news of the 1970s came up in my recent research on Dan Maloney, the former player and coach whose fighting skills were legendary in their day. The folks who visit sites like hockeyfights.com probably can speak more to Maloney’s prowess than me, but it’s clear that some fans who bought tickets in the 1970s must have felt they were getting their money’s worth when Maloney dropped the gloves.
Anyway, Maloney made history during the 1975-76 season when he became the public scapegoat for all violence in the NHL. You can read the whole story on his profile page, but the basics are that he became caught up in a Canadian politician’s efforts to show his constituents that he found violence in hockey abhorrent and that players on the ice should not be exempt from the rules of society. When Maloney was charged with assault on Toronto defenseman Brian Glennie, the case made headlines across North America. Several months later, it took a jury trial to find him not guilty. His lawyers did an outstanding job defending him and probably protected the NHL’s image in the process. They were able to successfully argue that on-ice violence (short of killing an opponent) was part of the culture of professional hockey, and it was unfair to hold someone to societal standards for assault when they had willingly agreed (and were paid) to be part of that culture.
Again, I recommend you click on the Maloney link above to read the whole story of what happened during the 1975-76 season, because it is truly fascinating to see both how violent the game was and how that violence suddenly became a political issue for the attorney general of Ontario. Maloney was the first of at least three players to be criminally charged with assault while playing at Maple Leaf Gardens that season.
One of the interesting things that came up in the Maloney trial was the defense’s assertion that hockey violence only became noteworthy once games started to be televised. The old-time hockey of Gordie Howe’s heyday and earlier was extremely violent, but most of it was never caught on tape, so the society at large didn’t have any concern for it.
I have never been particularly interested in hockey violence, and one of the things I enjoy most about the Olympics is that you don’t see fights. I understand why fighting happens, and I can accept the reasoning behind it. One thing I can say for sure is that the NHL we know today is far less violent than it was in the past. Yes, there is still fighting, but I don’t see the league using it as a selling point, which is clearly what was going on back in the day. The old joke about going to a fight and a seeing a hockey game break out will make little or no sense to a younger generation that is learning to love the game today. But in the 1970s, hockey violence was no joking matter. It was, in fact, what many people were paying to see.
While researching the profile for former NHL star Reggie Leach, I discovered that there is an online campaign run by Canadian song writer John K. Samson to get Leach into the Hockey Hall of Fame. You can check out Samson’s page in support of Leach right here.
It seems the primary reason that Reggie Leach fans want to see him join the Hall of Fame is as much about the wonderful work he has done inspiring First Nations kids in Canada — Manitoba, in particular — as it is about his hockey career. There is no question that Leach has done some great things to spread both a love of hockey and a new appreciation for life among Native peoples of Canada. He deserves a lot of admiration and respect for this, particularly since he now says this means more to him than anything in his hockey career — including winning the Stanley Cup. Leach has helped countless kids avoid bad choices such as alcohol and drugs by telling his own story about how addiction nearly destroyed him. Few former athletes are as open and candid about their personal struggles, and Leach is right there with the best of them when it comes to giving back to the community.
However, the issue I would like to consider here is whether or not Reggie Leach should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and it actually touches on many other athletes in other sports who also may or may not deserve Hall of Fame status. The question is what criteria should get a player into his sports’ Hall of Fame, and on the flip side, are there any Hall of Famers who deserve to be kicked out.
When it comes to getting into a Hall of Fame in a Player’s category, I am a firm believer in the actual on-ice achievements and how they relate to those of other players and Hall of Famers.
Let’s look at Leach’s NHL career in brief. A few things jump right out that suggest Hall of Fame consideration. First and foremost, there was his remarkable 1975-76 season and playoffs in which he scored a combined 80 goals. He led the league with 61 in the regular season and then again in the playoffs with 19 goals — although his Philadelphia Flyers team came up short of the Stanley. Nearly 40 years later, Leach is tied with Jari Kurri for the most goals in a playoff year, but Leach’s per-game average was higher, since he did it in three fewer games). Leach also had a record 10-game goal-scoring streak during the 1976 playoffs (truly amazing when you think of the game today!) and he scored five goals in one playoff game to tie the NHL record. Leach remains the only non-goaltender to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP while playing on a losing team.
So Leach’s 1975-76 season alone goes a long way toward making him a potential Hall of Famer. The other big numbers in his favor are a second 50-goal season in 1979-80 and nearly 400 career NHL goals. It’s worth noting that there are players in the Hall who scored fewer career goals than Leach.
But once you get past 1975-76, the second 50-goal season, the one Stanley Cup championship, and the 381 career goals, there is very little from Leach’s NHL playing career to suggest Hall of Fame status. Take those three accomplishments away from him, and he is clearly not a Hall of Famer. And this is where it gets interesting for me, because in my view — regardless of sport — the definition of a Hall of Famer is someone who was consistently outstanding throughout the prime years of his career. Gilbert Perreault, drafted two spots ahead of Leach, and Darryl Sittler, drafted after him, both meet this criteria. Leach does not. At the time he was cut by Flyers head coach Bob McCammon in 1982, Leach himself noted that he had had “some good seasons and some bad seasons” in his career. Some of his success was also due to the performance of linemates Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber, who are both Hall of Famers.
So my feeling is that Leach does not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame in the player’s category any more than several other players of his generation who are also not in there. Personally, it’s harder for me to understand why Rick Middleton, to name one player off the top of my head, is not in the Hall of Fame. I’m not saying he should be in there either, but his career was certainly more consistent than Leach’s. By the way, there are a handful of players in the Hall that probably shouldn’t be there any more than Leach or Middleton, but that doesn’t mean the standards should be lowered for others.
Are the people lobbying to get Reggie Leach in the Hall misguided? No, I just think they have a different standard. In their view, Leach deserves the recognition because of the obstacles he overcame and the work he has done to help others. These are great qualities, but they do not change the basis for Hall of Fame membership, in my view. I think the people backing Leach would be better served if they petition the Hall to have a special area just for remarkable players who either overcame obstacles or did tremendous community work, as Leach now does. I would like to go to Toronto and see these people honored for their off-ice work. I would really like to see a ceremony at the Hall honoring people in this category every year. If the Hall ever did that, Leach should be in the inaugural group of honorees along with Willie O’Ree and other great ambassadors of the game who came from diverse backgrounds or made it their life’s work to help others.
The flip side of this equation is my sense that while outside behavior shouldn’t get you into a Hall of Fame, it should be able to get you removed. This already happened with Alan Eagleson, who was removed from the Hall after being convicted of cheating NHL players out of millions of dollars. I believe Gil Stein was also removed from the Hall when it was discovered he had used his job-related power to influence the vote in his favor.
I would go one step further and say that even the greatest of sports stars should be removed from a Hall of Fame if they are later convicted of murder or some other horrible crime that forever disgraces them in history. This is basically the O.J. Simpson situation. Football, however, has not removed Simpson from Canton. Since he was never actually convicted of murder, perhaps this was the fair decision, but I’m sure I’m not the only guy who would argue for his removal.
On the other hand, I firmly believe Pete Rose belongs in Cooperstown. There is no question he merits that as a player, and his gambling problem did not adversely affect his performance on the field. More important, his gambling problem didn’t physically hurt anyone, and I don’t believe there is proof that he deliberately bet against his own team when he was playing (if there is, and I don’t know about it, then he shouldn’t be in, just like Shoeless Joe). Pete Rose had character flaws, for sure, but he is a deserving Hall of Fame player.
So that’s it, I guess. Reggie Leach was a great talent and is an inspiring human being. I love his life story, which should somehow be permanently recognized in the Hall. However, he was not a Hall of Fame hockey player, and I could not honestly sign a petition to grant him that status.