20 Most Corrupt Figures in NHL History

Rob KirkCorrespondent IIAugust 9, 2012

20 Most Corrupt Figures in NHL History

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    Corruption comes in many different forms. Like the picture above, it can be an excessively friendly handshake, but it can manifest itself in almost every conceivable angle. From egregious acts of greed to felonious activities, the actions of the morally bankrupt leave no doubt about the character of the following culprits.

    Some of these gentlemen are almost comically awful people, that have had their actions and in-actions tempered by the course of history. Others will forever be remembered as the face of evil, transcending sport as some of the most wretched piles of excrement in human clothing.

    It was both entertaining and sad to do some of the research for this article. Knowing that people's lives were quite literally ruined by these people, was kind of depressing. Some of the stories were so outlandish and reprehensible, they were almost hard to believe.

    So if there's a player on an opposing team that you love to hate on, maybe that guy isn't so bad when you compare him to this list. It's all about perspective folks.

Gary Bettman

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    While he keeps his nose relatively clean in most aspects of his life, it can be argued that Gary Bettman is in dire need of some ethical cleansing. While he has done some great things to advance the sport, and helped increase revenue for both players and owners, Bettman has overextended the league somewhat into some questionable markets.

    Self-serving and greedy to stamp his legacy has caused the relocation of one and possibly two (Phoenix) franchises in three years. Contrary to what the fans in Winnipeg may think, franchise relocation is not good for the growth of the game.

    There have also been far too many examples of what I call "rulings of convenience." These would be your "on-the-fly" adjustments to the rules that are in place. Sticking Brendan Shanahan in his current position may take the spotlight off of Bettman, but everyone knows who Sheriff Brendan answers to.

Bob Goodenow

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    While never indicted for anything more sinister than being a stubborn attorney and agent, Bob Goodenow took over the NHLPA in 1992 and teamed with Gary Bettman to send the NHL to three work stoppages over the next 13 years.

    Included in his reign as the players' representative was the complete loss of the 2004-05 season, a 103-day lockout in 1994 and a ten-day strike in his first few months on the job.

    It could certainly be argued that Goodenow stood up for the players when they needed him to. However, his personal agenda and storied personal disdain for Gary Bettman and NHL ownership did the NHLPA no favors in lost pay and lost play.

Billy Tibbetts

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    Most people have heard the Billy Tibbetts story by now, but if you haven't, here's a summary—he stole Vanilla Ice's identity and ruined his rapping career. OK, that's not true, but the resemblance is pure magic.

    Tibbetts was a talented player who had his career derailed because he couldn't keep himself out of legal trouble. He served the better part of three and a half years in jail for a probation violation from an initial statutory rape charge.

    After his time in prison, Tibbetts would eventually find his way to the NHL and was signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins. After bouncing up and down from NHL to AHL, Tibbetts was traded and then released by the Philadelphia Flyers.

    What had the potential to be a story of redemption and second chances, turned out to be a cautionary tale of what happens to a talented head-case that can't stay out of his own way.

Bill Wirtz

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    Nothing shows how much fans appreciate your efforts more than when they boo your memorial at the home opener following your passing. The Chicago Blackhawk faithful left no doubt about their feelings for William "Dollar Bill" Wirtz at the 2007-08 game.

    The long-time president and Chairman of the storied Chicago franchise, Wirtz was a shrewd businessman noted for taking Chicago home games off of local television (a dis-service to season ticket holders, he claimed), and firing coach, and former player Billy Reay by having a note slipped under his apartment door on Christmas Eve.

    Ethically vacant and morally destitute.

Len Barrie

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    Len Barrie made a brief career for himself in the NHL as a right-handed center, drafted by Edmonton in 1988. Maybe the Oilers were thinking they could replace another center they had just traded to Los Angeles that year? Hmmm.

    After a brief and unspectacular career that saw Barrie appear in only 184 games, he made a good bit of money as a real estate and resort developer in British Columbia. In fact, Barrie's portfolio improved so significantly that he was actually approved as a co-owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning for a couple of years (2008-2010).

    The problem with Barrie was that he was developing his Bear Mountain Resort on historic native sites and on environmentally sensitive areas. Classy. He has since had his financial records seized by the British Columbia Attorney General's office. Not good. The Bellagio hotel and casino has filed a $2 million claim against Barrie earlier this year as well. Uh oh.

Bill Dwyer

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    "Big" Bill Dwyer was a bootlegger and gangster who used his chosen vocation to fund the purchases of the Hamilton Tigers and secretly, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dwyer moved Hamilton to New York and renamed them the Americans. He then proceeded to literally try to fix games with goal judges at home games.

    The U.S. government cracked down on Dwyer, winning a huge court case against him, and draining his finances. Dwyer, left with the Americans as his only asset, borrowed $20,000 from his coach Red Dutton and promptly lost it at a craps game.

Mike Danton

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    The case of Mike Danton is almost as well-documented as Billy Tibbetts' with a decidedly darker twist. Danton was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, for hiring a hitman to kill his agent David Frost.

    After serving just over five years in prison Danton was released and eventually claimed (disputed by the FBI and the hired hitman) that the hitman was intended for his estranged father. Regardless of the target, hiring somebody to kill a significant person in your life seems fairly indicative of some major issues.

John Ziegler

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    John Ziegler accomplished some great things during his time as the fourth president of the NHL. He mandated that all players must wear helmets (except the grandfathered few), presided over the NHL-WHA merger that helped expand the NHL and was part of the Soviet integration into North American hockey.

    It could be argued that Ziegler just happened to be around for those last two, because his tenure was also riddled with inconsistencies and ineptitude. His end as president came about amidst the Alan Eagleson scandal.

    It was famously pointed out to him by Carl Brewer, attorney for Bobby Orr, that the NHL and major league baseball had started their pension programs in 1947. While the MLB pension was stocked with cash totaling $500 million, the NHL boasted roughly $31.9 million.

Peter Pocklington

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    When he isn't filling in as a member of a Bee Gee's cover band, Peter Pocklington is busy with his hand in many failed financial ventures. Not surprisingly, many of those failures are the result of unscrupulous business partners, and no fault of Pocklington's (according to him).

    We all know him as the owner of the Edmonton Oilers who helped merge the WHA with the NHL in 1979, leveraging young star Wayne Gretzky to join the larger league. Pocklington would enjoy the glory years in Edmonton with the Stanley Cup runs of the young Oilers, but would end up selling off the team piece by piece, starting with Gretzky in 1988.

    Pocklington would lose the Oilers in the mid-1990's after threatening to move the franchise because of financial losses. Pocklington would eventually file for bankruptcy under shady circumstances, and be placed under house arrest. He is currently in the midst of a securities fraud claim from the Arizona Corporation Commission for a mining venture in Arizona.

Rick Tocchet

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    On the ice, Rick Tocchet was known for his rough and tumble play, feisty disposition and legendary toughness. Off the ice, Tocchet is now remembered as a "mastermind" of an interstate gambling ring.

    What is confusing about the whole case, which named Janet Gretzky (The Great Wife) as a "bettor" (but not Wayne), is that after all of the investigation by local authorities, the FBI and the NHL, Tocchet's guilty plea resulted in two years probation. So for all of the splashy headlines and significant charges that the case produced, Tocchet was essentially allowed to return to the NHL.

    This past December, Tocchet had over $18,000 cash seized as he headed into the Bahamas. Stay shady, Rick.

Eric Lindros

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    Since his junior days of being touted as the "Next" one, Eric Lindros always seems to find the headlines for the wrong reasons.

    Active in the NHLPA during the tail end of his playing days, Lindros moved into a full-time role as the NHLPA Ombudsman, a position created as part of the NHLPA constitution in 2007. His role was technically to serve as a "watchdog" over the player representative program, providing a check to better serve the players' interests.

    He resigned approximately 14-months later with little to no comments of why, other than a well known beef with NHLPA head Paul Kelly. Lindros' name would resurface later in the year after the NHLPA chose to relieve Kelly of his duties. Though not formally involved with the NHLPA at that point, it was widely believed that Lindros played a major role in Kelly's ousting.

    Hard to believe that Lindros, whose reputation for being so "honest," could be behind anything so duplicitous, eh?

John Spano

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    A John Spano is a mythical creature who swoops into the hearts of New York Islander fans promising to return their franchise to greatness. Spano showed up from Dallas with brash claims of luring free agents to Long Island with piles of money from an inheritance.

    Unfortunately for the Isles faithful, Spano was a complete fraud who forged documents to misrepresent his wealth. The most embarrassing part for the NHL was that even after Spano unsuccessfully attempted to buy the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers, they spent less than $1,000 to check his background.

    Puck Daddy's Sean Leahy provides a more detailed look at the shortest ownership tenure in Islanders history.

Harold Ballard

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    While his skills as a businessman could certainly never be questioned, the methods Harold Ballard used were at times more than questionable. Between the installation of high intensity lighting (which he demanded the CBC pay for) and shutting off the water fountains during summer concerts at the Maple Leaf Gardens, Ballard never met a penny he couldn't pinch.

    His trial on 49 counts of fraud, theft and tax evasion involving $205,000 landed him in prison, convicted of 47 charges. He only served a third of his sentence in a minimum security country club.

James Norris

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    James Norris Sr., was certainly significant enough to have a pretty important trophy named after him. After amassing an enormous fortune as a grain, shipping and cattle tycoon, Norris took over the Detroit Falcons in 1932, renamed them the Red Wings and introduced the "winged wheel" logo. His wealth helped resolve the team's debts, and under Norris they became a powerhouse in the NHL.

    His integrity took a significant left turn when he bought Chicago Stadium in 1936, becoming the landlord of the Blackhawks. He had previously attempted to bid for the Blackhawks in their 1926 inception, but lost out to Frederic McLaughlin.

    Norris was also a majority stockholder in Madison Square Garden, and though he was "forbidden" by the NHL constitution to have an owning interest, his influence effectively controlled the New York Rangers.

    When McLaughlin died in 1944, Norris helped front Blackhawks president Bill Tobin's purchase of the franchise. While Tobin was the "owner," Norris had the most influence on the franchise.

    So, in summary, Norris owned and controlled three of the original six teams from 1944 til his death in 1952. Conflict of interest anyone?

Colin Campbell

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    As the "Sheriff" of the NHL, Colin Campbell's job was to enforce policy and punish the rule breakers. While the majority of his time in that position was without the scrutiny of his successor "The Shanahammer," Campbell's fall from grace will forever tarnish his legacy.

    In late 2010, TSN reported on a series of emails sent by Campbell in regards to the wrongful termination case of referee Dean Warren. As a public record, Campbell's emails show the former league disciplinarian to be a petty, spiteful nepotist singling out Marc Savard and his son, Gregory Campbell. The younger Campbell would later, ironically become Savard's teammate.

    With information like that coming to light, while Campbell was still holding his position in the NHL, you wonder what else was in his emails?

Ted Saskin

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    Speaking of emails, Ted Saskin saw his time as director of the NHLPA limited to just under two years because of his pilfering of the electronic mail accounts of NHL players. Saskin was heralded as a kinder, gentler negotiator for the players after the stubborn Bob Goodenow was forced to resign.

    A deputy of the Goodenow regime, you would have thought that Saskin would have known better, but after a lawsuit in 2006, spearheaded by Chris Chelios, Saskin must have gotten nervous and taken a morality vacation.

Bruce McNall

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    One glance at this photo and you wonder what's not to love? You have Gretzky, Uncle Buck and convicted felon Bruce McNall. Convicted felon? That's right. With McNall you may have to spin the corruption wheel to figure out what felony he's actually doing time for.

    His autobiography, Fun While It Lasted: My Rise and Fall in the Land of Fame and Fortune, could not have been named more appropriately. Though currently free from the shackles of the penal system, McNall's claim to fame is swindling around $236 million from six different banks over a ten-year period.

    Oh, yeah, and the Gretzky deal, which many Canadians still feel is a crime that went unpunished.

Alan Eagleson

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    Being the first executive director of the NHLPA means that there is nobody to be compared to. Setting the bar as low as possible with that title is something that Alan Eagleson's successors can be thankful for.

    Quite possibly one of the sleaziest attorney-turned-executives ever, Eagleson bilked the NHLPA pensions and reallocated hundreds of thousands of Canada Cup proceeds to supplement his income.

    A Pulitzer Prize-winning series of publications from Russ Conway led to 34 counts of fraud, racketeering and obstruction of justice from the FBI. With his political clout in Canada, Eagleson was able to avoid extradition to the United States until 1997. He was disbarred upon his disgraceful return to Canada and served six months of an 18-month sentence in Toronto.

David Frost

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    David Frost is the name of the intended victim in the Mike Danton murder-for-hire case from 2004. A much deeper investigation after Danton's arrest and incarceration revealed a horrific relationship between Frost and some of the young players he had been coaching and mentoring.

    While charges against him were eventually dropped, Frost moved to the United States and resigned as a player agent. Somehow this detestable human being manages to still work in hockey and with young players under the alias of Jim McCauley at the Laguna Niguel Hockey Academy in California.

Graham James

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    What Gerry Sandusky is to college football Graham James is to junior hockey. Shielded by the guilt and embarrassment of the young men he molested, James was able to engage in countless unspeakable crimes from as early as 1984 through 1995.

    When Sheldon Kennedy and another unnamed player came forward in 1996, it brought an end to James access to the underage players. The horrors of his despicable actions will unfortunately live on for a much longer time with countless other victims who chose not to come forward.