Opinion

SUPPLIED</p><p>Hockey agent Allan Walsh is a take-no-prisoners lawyer who spent five years as an L.A. prosecutor that tried almost 40 murder cases, before turning his talents to player representation.

SUPPLIED

Hockey agent Allan Walsh is a take-no-prisoners lawyer who spent five years as an L.A. prosecutor that tried almost 40 murder cases, before turning his talents to player representation.

He’s the NHL’s most outspoken player agent, a take-no-prisoners lawyer who cut his teeth putting away gang-bangers, drug-dealers and cold-blooded killers in California before setting his sights on something a little more white-collar — rich hockey executives and owners.

And so you likely won’t be surprised to hear Allan Walsh has strong opinions on the current impasse right now that continues to delay terms of a 2020-21 season from being finalized. And unlike most others in his profession who apparently believe silence is golden, Walsh isn’t afraid to voice his publicly.

Not on his Twitter page, where the Montreal native often posts lengthy threads for his more than 42,000 followers. And not in a wide-ranging, nearly hour-long phone conversation with me Thursday, where his frustration with the current situation was palpable.

"In any situation where I’ve spoken out or made any kind of a move, it’s always been the last resort. In other words, every other avenue has been exhausted and you really have no other means of protecting your client or calling somebody out who’s doing a grave injustice to your client," Walsh said from his Octagon Hockey office in Los Angeles.

"And when it gets to that point, I really don’t give a (expletive)."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

(AP PHOTO/CHARLES KRUPA, FILE)

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

In this case, Walsh is pointing the finger squarely in the direction of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman for trying to alter the collective bargaining agreement the league and players’ association signed off on this past summer. Walsh called the league’s actions "unseemly."

"In what other business would the employers come to unionized employees, after they signed an agreement four months ago at the height of the pandemic, where the CBA was signed to actually deal with the pandemic, and come back to employees and ask them to make further concessions without really offering anything in return?" said Walsh, the former agent for Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec whose firm now represents Patrik Laine.

"I know Gary’s claiming he’s not seeking to re-negotiate the deal but he is. He’s looking to change material terms of the deal."

Hey, at least he hasn’t posted a photo-shopped picture of Bettman plunging a sword into the backs of a group of players. Not yet, anyway. You’ll recall Walsh created a firestorm during the Stanley Cup playoffs when long-time client Marc-Andre Fleury was benched in favour of Robin Lehner, and Walsh sent a not-so-subtle message about the Vegas Golden Knights decision and loyalty with the image of the impaled Fleury.

Under the existing escrow calculation, financial inequities will eventually get sorted out one way or the other and "made whole," as players and the league have a formula for splitting hockey-related revenues 50-50. Quite simply, the league wants players to pay a bigger share now (which would mean less later). The players are insisting a deal is a deal and they’ll cross that bridge when they get there,

To which Walsh has another pointed message.

"I would say to them, you take care of your side, and we’ll take care of our side. Our faith and trust is in Don Fehr and the NHLPA to decide what’s in the players best interest, and I don’t really want Gary Bettman offering his opinion on what’s best for the players down the road," he said.

"We’re only talking here about a timing of payment issue."

NHL Players' Association Executive Director Donald Fehr.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/GENE J. PUSKAR,

NHL Players' Association Executive Director Donald Fehr.

Players have agreed to a 10 per cent deferral of salary for the 2020-21 season, based on forecasts it would be an especially difficult one for the league given all the uncertainty. They would also put 20 per cent of the remaining salary in escrow next year, for a total take-home pay of 72 per cent. As an example, a player making US$1 million would defer US$100,000, then have 20 per cent of the remaining US$900,000 put in escrow, for an actual salary of US$720,000.

They also agreed to put 14-18 per cent in escrow in 2021-22, 10 per cent in 2022-23, and six per cent for the remaining three seasons.

The NHL says that’s not good enough for the current crisis they face, as predicted losses for the upcoming season are going to be deeper than forecast just a few short months ago. They are asking for that 10 per cent salary deferral doubled to 20 per cent, and the escrow increased from 20 per cent to 25 per cent. So that same US$1 million player would defer US$200,000, then have 25 per cent of the remaining US$800,000 put in escrow, for an actual salary of US$600,000.

SUPPLIED</p><p>Hockey agent Allan Walsh and client Max Pacioretty of the Vegas Golden Knights.</p>

SUPPLIED

Hockey agent Allan Walsh and client Max Pacioretty of the Vegas Golden Knights.

According to Walsh, Bettman is trying to fix a bad read he made last summer, when all the various scenarios were on the bargaining table for consideration. Perhaps he truly believed fans could be back in buildings by January, but that’s unlikely to be the case in most, if not all, markets for the foreseeable future.

There have been rumblings the NHL could simply decide to cancel the entire season using the force majeure clause, which cites "unforeseeable circumstances," but the former prosecutor believes that would get laughed out of court. How would the NHL make the case it’s unsafe to play because of COVID-19 when other leagues, including the NBA in many of the same venues, will be well underway,

"I don’t think he relishes the idea of basically coming hat in hand. He doesn’t have the lockout quiver in his pocket that he can threaten the players with. I think Gary would be subjecting the owners to billions of dollars in liability if he actually went forward and cancelled the season," said Walsh.

So finding a solution would appear to be the most likely outcome, one Walsh believes will follow a similar pattern of the 2012-13 NHL lockout, in which the league and players went a long stretch without talking before getting a last-minute deal done with the clock ticking towards a final deadline. It’s why he’s predicting a 48-game season, likely to begin in early February.

"When we go as we recently just did, eight days without ay communication between the senior people at the NHL and the senior people at the NHLPA, that tells me, that lack of urgency, we’re not at the date yet where things need to get done," said Walsh.

"As we approach those dates I am very confident there will be a pick-up in communication."

One thing is clear — you know there will no communication issues when it comes to Walsh, who wears his heart on his sleeve but swears he’s not trying to start any trouble by speaking out.

"I don’t believe in ever looking for a fight in any circumstance. I think when you do that you’re doomed to failure and putting your client in a much worse situation than they were ever in before," he said.

But when the going gets rough, as it is right now in the NHL, Walsh is the kind of straight-shooter you’d love to have in your corner.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

   Read full biography
   Sign up for Mike McIntyre’s email newsletter, On Sports