“A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do,” John Wayne’s character mused in the 1939 film, “Stagecoach”. In Ron Salcer’s case, that means taking on zealous fans, the local media, even crooked executives, all in order to defend his principles.
Salcer, who runs Icy Luck, Inc. out of Manhattan Beach, CA, represents Marian Gaborik, the uber-talented albeit injury prone right winger for the Minnesota Wild who will be an unrestricted free agent next July. The speedy Slovak is a fan favorite–most Minnesotans are more apt to remember his historic, five goal performance against the N.Y. Rangers last December, for instance, than the maddening bouts of inconsistency that always seem to come around playoff time. Moreover, Gaborik has yet to finish a full-season without some injury of note. He now sits in the final year of a three-year, $19 million deal, that pays him $7.5m this season.
That said, Gaborik correctly feels he should command top dollar. His upside especially still places him among other elite names in the NHL. However, thus far he and Salcer have rejected multiple offers from the Wild. Contract talks that the team had hoped would be done by the end of the preseason have now officially stalled, and relations between the two sides have gone from bad to awkward. Gaborik now sits on the injured reserve thanks to a conveniently cryptic and allegedly lingering “lower-body injury”. Meanwhile, the Wild has skated to one of the best records in the league even in his absence, utilizing as always a trapping style of play arguably ill-suited to someone of Gaborik’s flash anyway. And Salcer, who bit his tongue early on while bloggers and sports writers in the Twin Cities began to bash his client for reportedly turning down some fairly generous offers, seemingly had enough when he lashed out last week in local papers. While it had been reported that the Wild offered a variety of proposals, ranging from six to 10 years for more than $8.5 million annually, Salcer dismissed such talk as exaggerated. “Unfortunately, Marian has been absorbing a character assassination on the premise of misinformation that has circulated like gospel,” Salcer said. “The offers that have been thrown at the wall of 10 years, $85 million, $90 million and $100 million are wrong, as are what I now hear — seven years, $70 million and eight years, $80 million. They’re also wrong. When and if they do get offered, something certainly may happen.”
What seems clear to many pundits is that Gaborik has no intention of staying in Minnesota, and moreover that he feels he can command more money elsewhere. Rumors of a trade to Montreal sound credible to some, though knowing that Minnesota will be loathe to lose him for nothing next summer, the bargaining power doesn’t seem to rest with Wild GM Doug Risebrough. That said, is Gaborik worth top five money? If Salcer has indeed priced his stud out of the market like some analysts think he has, then it may be harder to get the free market to bite, especially as Gaborik sloughs away on the IR. Others opine that it is inevitable that someone will decide to overpay eventually, especially as the year unwinds.
Either way, Salcer isn’t backing down–from bloggers, the media, or even the Wild itself–and if he lands his man a new deal making him one of the highest paid players in the NHL, his mission will be complete. In the meantime, you can bet that he will continue scouring the print media and listening intently to the public airways for further “misinformation,” because well, that’s just the type of guy he is. Salcer got started in the business, for example, in the early 1980s after meeting and befriending several L.A. King players in his apartment complex. He was mortified to learn how paltry players’ salaries, pensions and medical benefits were, and his anger eventually lead to the uncovering of a league-wide scandal that implicated former NHLPA boss Alan Eagleson, who stepped down in disgrace in 1992 and later served prison time for fraud. “I was hearing horror story after horror story. I watched players’ salaries go up maybe 5% every year and we never knew who was making what. They’d say eight guys were making X amount and 72 were making the median, but nobody knew who was making what. [Eagleson] said to players, ‘You’re making more money than your parents. Don’t rock the boat.’ I felt if I was going to continue as an agent, there would have to be dramatic changes.” An investigation turned up that Eagleson was making under the table deals with close personal friends John Ziegler, then NHL president, and Chicago Blackhawk owner Bill Wirtz, then chairman of the league’s board of governors, suppressing salaries by giving up free agency in labor agreements and by advocating a merger of the World Hockey Association and the NHL, thus curtailing the bidding that had driven salaries up.
Flash forward and Salcer is now credited with many things modern players take for granted: agents can no longer represent players and coaches or club executives, players’ salaries have skyrocketed, the pension fund is well endowed by events such as the World Cup, and players are kept up to date about NHLPA finances. So when Salcer gets miffed, like he was this past week on behalf of his client, Gaborik, people pay attention. Sounds like the Duke.