Before NHL players had any sort of union or any kind of say in their matters, owners and management did pretty well whatever they damn well felt like doing. Management had all the power, and many players came from impoverished families with hockey as their only way out. They didn’t want to work in mines or mills or farms like their fathers, and the men in suits upstairs knew it.
Back then, especially as the 1950’s unfolded, it was common practice for owners to give management a certain amount of money and tell them to sign players for as little as they could and keep what was left over.
So of course management were cheap bastards.
The following story was told by Ralph Backstrom to my friend Susan Foster, and was included in her wonderful book, The Power of Two. In this, I’m paraphrasing.
When Ralph was a 17 year old hockey phenom in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, the Canadiens sent Ken Reardon, a man who had graduated to Montreal management once his playing days were over. At the Backstrom kitchen table, Reardon sat with Ralph and Ralph’s parents and placed five $100 bills on the table which would be the Backstrom’s to keep if Ralph signed on the dotted line. Ralph told Susan that at that time, neither he or his parents had ever seen even one $100 bill, let alone five, and Ralph signed the paper, making him part of the Canadiens family.
As Reardon was leaving, he reached into his pocket and pulled out another five $100 bills, waved them in Ralph’s face, and told him he’d been authorized to pay twice as much for Ralph’s signature. Then he put the 500 bucks back in his pocket.