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Guy Lafleur and the 10-Year Contract: Part 5 — Fading star

Popular sentiment in Montreal begins to turn against Lafleur during his latest contractual squabble.


Guy Lafleur and the 10-Year Contract | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

The 1980-81 season was a fall from grace for the Montreal Canadiens as the dynasty that dominated the 70s was gone. Along with it went the star power of Guy Lafleur, who was struggling with injuries and lowered production, blaming the team for not providing him with the sort of support he enjoyed in the prime of his career.

Meanwhile, a federal tax reform hit a lot of professional athletes hard. Lafleur, in the midst of a war of words with the Canadiens managing director, Irving Grundman, was seeking to re-open his contract to counter these new measures. But he would find that the support that he so widely enjoyed from the media and the fans slowly began to erode.

The fourth re-negotiation

As always, the root of Lafleur’s issues would invariably be just compensation. Marcel Dionne was once again used as the barometer, with a salary of $600,000 per season with the Los Angeles Kings.

“It’s not at 35 years old that I will be able to hit the jackpot. Some rather ordinary players have huge salaries in the NHL. In Montreal we are also hit by the new federal budget. This is why I want to get a better contract,” Lafleur said, to build context around his latest round of contract discontent. “I have been slowed down by the organization these last three years and I don’t appreciate it at all. Before I used to play 35 minutes per game. Now it’s rarely more than 15. If this team doesn’t want to start playing me on a couple of lines, maybe it’s time for me to go play elsewhere. For the first time since joining the Canadiens, I trained this summer. I run eight miles a day and I play two hours of tennis on a regular basis.”

On August 10, 1982 a grinning Lafleur emerged from Grundman’s office. The general manager had not only agreed to once again re-negotiate the infamous 10-year contract, but he offered him a substantial raise over the $375,000 he was due to make.

Lafleur undertook this latest round of negotiations by himself, leaving his agent, Jerry Petrie, behind. “It’s time that I take my business into my own hands. It’s the first time I negotiated for myself, and I admit I found it to be an interesting experience. Grundman didn’t have to re-negotiate with me. He could have sent me packing and I would have nothing to say about it. But I’ve seen him under a different light these last few weeks. He’s a man who is working very hard, and who has taken the success of the team to heart.”

“I still have three years left on the deal, plus an option year. I have no intention of asking for an extension. I will play out this contract, and then we will see. Personally, I think I will be capable of several more good seasons, especially if I am given all the tools necessary.”

Lafleur changed his tune soon afterward. As he was taking time to think about Grundman’s offer, veteran defenceman Guy Lapointe signed a two-year deal with the St. Louis Blues that shook Lafleur. “In two years with the Blues he will make more money than he did in 10 years with the Canadiens. Plus he’s getting paid in American dollars, will pay less taxes, and will be eligible for deductions that we don’t have access to. He’s more motivated than I recall ever seeing him, and I get it.” Lapointe’s salary was $350,000 with the Blues, essentially the same as Lafleur.

Grundman’s new offer for Lafleur was mainly comprised of performance bonuses for the amount of goals scored, starting at 50. “I mentioned to him that the Canadiens are no longer as strong as they used to be, and that under these circumstances it would be difficult for me to hit those targets. Plus my ice time is now only 17 minutes per game.”

Petrie, who didn’t agree with the strong-arm methods of Lafleur, gave an interview in which he summarized a bit of an underlying notion. “It’s true, Lafleur is losing his lustre, even with the francophones. Among the anglophones I get it, but even with the french?” The tide of public opinion finally turned against Lafleur.

But it wasn’t just any francophone of whom Lafleur ran afoul. Rene Levesque, the premier of the Province of Québec, offered his two cents on the situation without naming names. “I think it’s a bit excessive that a professional athlete would let down the people who made him in the first place for a few thousand dollars. I find that a bit tough to swallow. I am obliged to say that among the most spoiled children in our society currently you will find professional athletes at the peak of their careers.”

“Guy isn’t crazy,” his wife, Lise, said, being one of the first to comment after Levesque gave his scathing remarks. “He knows very well that he is not always well-viewed by the public, but he has decided to stay on course because he made a choice after thinking about it for quite a while. He’s convinced he’s right.

“If we are not happy, why would we be attached to the notion of a career spent in the Forum? There are players who were very happy, like Pierre Larouche and Serge Savard, and others who left. We’ve contemplated the whole and we’ve accepted it. We are ready to leave tomorrow.”

Lafleur rejected the salary offer from Grundman in late August, and threatened to skip training camp, starting September 12, and if a deal couldn’t be reached he demanded a trade to an American team.

“I am not asking for the moon and I am not even asking for what I could get if I played in the United States. All that I want, it is more consideration for the services rendered to the Canadiens. When I let Grundman know that I wanted to talk to [Molson President Morgan] McCammon, he warned me that McCammon would not reverse his decision, and that he was the only boss when it came to the Canadiens. Still, I’m looking forward to meeting with him. I’m sure that I am right and I will have my point of view heard.”

McCammon ended up cancelling his meeting with Lafleur the day before it was due to occur under the guise of having to leave Montreal for business. Grundman scored a victory over Lafleur in these negotiations. “Mr. McCammon called Guy on Thursday night to tell him to come to an agreement with me. I think that is normal under the circumstances.”

“I’m disappointed that my meeting with Mr. McCammon was put off,” offered Lafleur. “But what choice did I have? For now Mr. McCammon is my only option.”

Heading into the 1982-83 season, Grundman was facing a full-on mutiny. Larry Robinson was also quite upset with the contract that Guy Lapointe signed. Mario Tremblay wasn’t getting what he wanted, Rod Langway was still without a deal. Mark Napier, Dennis Herron, Pierre Mondou ... the list list kept going. Meanwhile another “washed-up” Canadien, Yvon Lambert, signed a rich two-year contract with the Buffalo Sabres.

Robinson and Lafleur formed a united front against Grundman, and this proved to be too powerful a contingent. Grundman gave in to all the demands. On the morning of the first day of training camp came news that both Robinson and Lafleur had come to an arrangement with Grundman that would resolve the losses incurred by the federal budget. The deal was brokered by Robinson’s agent, Norm Caplan, whom Lafleur entrusted to complete the negotiations.

“Without Caplan I wouldn’t be here right now.” Lafleur was prepared to go on strike.

Both kept their original contracts, each with four years of term remaining, but the new allocation of funds provided some tax shelters against the new fiscal measures.

Although for Robinson it was sufficient to receive a promise from Grundman that they would work out the issue, Lafleur demanded immediate financial compensation in order to proceed. “I lost $100,000 last season due to the federal budget, and I have negotiated something that I find satisfactory. It’s all that I wanted.

“Even if I was ready to exile myself as of this season if I didn’t get satisfaction, deep down inside I’ve always wanted to finish my career with the Canadiens. I still want to help this team for as long as possible.”

With Caplan stepping in to conclude the negotiations, it essentially put an end to the business relationship between Lafleur and Petrie when it came to hockey. Petrie would remain Lafleur’s agent for his business dealings off the ice, but Caplan managed to grow his influence with the Canadiens by adding the superstar to his roster of players that also included Guy Carbonneau, Mats Naslund, and Richard Sevigny, among others.

A few days later, Grundman’s status with the team grew, as McCammon stepped down as President of Molson Breweries and Chief Executive of the Montreal Canadiens. Gone was the title of Managing Director for Grundman as he gained the title of Interim Vice-President and General Manager of the Canadiens, introducing the term into the modern lexicon of hockey hierarchy.

Unfortunately it was a short-lived promotion. Molson Breweries named Ronald Corey its new president, and following Grundman’s performance closely, a third consecutive first-round exit in the playoffs led to his firing at the conclusion of the 1982-83 season, along with head coach Bob Berry and head of scouting Ronald Caron. It was the most sweeping change in the history of the Montreal Canadiens.

With Grundman gone, Lafleur was offered, yet again, the opportunity to have a fresh start with a new general manager and a new head coach. Ironically, it was the familiarity with the the people put in these roles that would ultimately bring an end to Lafleur’s association with the Canadiens.