Bernie Nicholls on concussions, NHL lawsuit (Puck Daddy Q&A)

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Bernie Nicholls still has his Stanley Cup memories.

The former Los Angeles Kings forward, who joined the team’s coaching staff as part of the 2012 championship run can recall the games and what it was like the hoist the trophy for the first time in his hockey career.

In recent years, Nicholls – who played 1,127 games and had 1,209 points with six NHL teams – has struggled with memory loss so still being able to cherish this top hockey moment in his life is important to him.

“I remember the Cup. I remember most of the games. The run through it was pretty spectacular,” Nicholls said.

His memory loss, which he believes was a result from head injuries from his playing career, has made his days more difficult.

“I used to remember phone numbers and street addresses I used to live in and zip codes when I was in my 20s. I couldn’t give you a street address I lived in last year,” Nicholls said.

The 55-year-old Nicholls is a part of a former players’ lawsuit against the NHL in regards to concussions. He has been outspoken about what repetitive head trauma has done to his brain.

“It affects it a lot because I look at stuff and I’m supposed to do interviews, or somebody texted me or something and I was supposed to get back to them and I would forget,” Nicholls said. “I go through stuff – when I forget daily stuff. It’s like if I’m doing an interview with you I would say ‘can you text me that day or give me a heads up?’ I have the guy from the company call me all the time when I have stuff. Usually that day he will give me a heads up or maybe an hour before, because I forget. It’s frustrating to forget little things like that.”

But for now the former NHL 70-goal scorer is still able to manage some day-in-day-out routines. He’ has been bullish on a new business opportunity with a company called AllSportsMarket. Nicholls has put much of his time and effort into the company, which according to its website, “is an experimental exchange where investors can buy and sell sports teams, just like traditional stocks, and earn dividends when their teams win or appreciate in value.”

He owns shares in the company and has tried to open some doors for the organization into the sports world.

He’s also planning to be a part of the Los Angeles Kings’ 50th anniversary celebration this year.

We spoke with Nicholls about his struggles, his thoughts on the concussion lawsuit, and how he’s tackling this latest business venture.

Q: What’s a day like for you right now? What parts of the day do you struggle with because of head injuries?

NICHOLLS: “The only thing I run into really that’s really frustrating – I get dizzy every now and then. That’s fine. Just the memory, people don’t know how frustrating that is, right? It’s like, you just forget stuff all the time and it’s unbelievable how frustrating that can be. People wouldn’t understand that unless they go through it. To me that’s the biggest thing. I’m a mild case. There are other guys with headaches all the time, dizziness all the time. Memory loss all the time. Those are the people I feel bad for. I can deal with mine, as frustrating as it is – obviously you can live with it but it’s still very frustrating, right?

“My dizziness has not gotten worse. It’s kind of the same. I know how to trigger it and I know how not to. I know if I’m going to lay back without a pillow and I look the left and I’m going to get dizzy. I’m going to get that every now and then. That is not bad. I can handle that. But I can’t say mine isn’t getting worse, my memory loss, because when did it start? Is it getting worse? Imagine if you were to talk to my family, my wife, they would probably say it’s getting worse or they’re just used to it, right? So whether it’s kind of the same, it’s just bad. Is there different degrees of bad? I don’t know. Is it getting worse than bad? I don’t know, but I know it’s bad and that’s what’s really frustrating to me.

“It ain’t old age. My mom’s memory is still as good as it was when she was young. I remember not long ago, I used to remember phone numbers and street addresses I used to live in and zip codes when I was in my 20s. I couldn’t give you a street address I lived in last year. I just changed my phone from a 310 to a 702, I don’t remember what my 310 phone number was. I had that other phone for years. I honestly can’t tell you what my last phone number was and that’s not good. I had that 310 number probably since I was back with the Kings in 2012. So I had it for five years.”

Are these problems preventing you from getting back into coaching?

“I don’t think this has anything to do with that. I think if I wanted to, hopefully I could. I loved it there (with the Kings in 2012). Darryl Sutter – the opportunity he gave me, we won a Cup. I was there for two years. My biggest problem is I do a lot of hunting in the fall – from September to January I hunt. I always said, if a team would hire me from January to the end of the playoffs, I would be there in a minute. Just absolutely loved it. That’s what happened with me and the Kings. Darryl took over the first of January. He let me come there Jan. 3. We won the Cup. Next year was the lockout year. I didn’t go back until January to the end of the year. That was awesome. But it’s tough to find a team that will go, ‘we’ll hire you for half the season,’ right?’

“I would love it because I absolutely loved it. I still talk to the boys all the time. Being a part of it, there’s nothing better than being a part of an NHL hockey team.”

I would hope your memories of winning the Cup haven’t gone away.

“I remember the run. The pictures I had. The day we had the Cup. What’s funny is, I get this every day. I’ll have my mom or someone say – I don’t remember my mom and dad being in my house in Chicago. I used to live in the John Hancock building. They were there. I do not remember that. I’ve had people who came to watch me play in certain cities for a week and I don’t remember that. I remember the Cup. I remember most of the games. The run through it was pretty spectacular. I couldn’t imagine what it would always be like. I never won it as a player but being a coach and coaching staff and being a part of the team for that run was as close as it could be, but I just couldn’t imagine what the feeling would be to do it as a player. It would be something spectacular I’m sure.”

You had been critical about Mark Napier in the past. Is it welcome for you that Napier will reportedly leave his post as head of the NHL Alumni Association?

“Well to be honest with you I think he should have been out of there a long time ago. That ran its course a while ago. I never thought he’s done the best for the people he represents.

“When this lawsuit came out, he was told – he’s the president, it’s his obligation to let everybody in his group know that ‘this is what’s out there. If you want to do it, do it. If you don’t, you don’t.’

“He’s obligated to tell people ‘this is what’s going on’ and then to find out later that he’s sending information from our side to the NHL. That just shows what kind of a leader he is to the players. To me, it couldn’t come soon enough. I’ve had issues with him forever just because of that. I don’t think he represented all the players – trust me, he takes care of his boys. He has his boys that he takes care of all the time, but that’s not what his job is. He is supposed to to take care of everybody equally and do what’s best for the alumni and he has never done that.”

What do you think about Gary Bettman’s comments on questions about the link between head injuries and degenerative brain disease?

“You know what? I love what Gary has done for the league. I really do. I have nothing against Gary. I understand where he’s coming from at times. I get – and to me, you just think, the NFL went through it. They’ve stepped up, they’ve done it. I just wish he would know that at the end of the day the chances are good he’s going to have to pay anyway. I don’t know why he wouldn’t just stand up and be the one that says – just because of what they’re doing now, just because of what they put in place now shows that they didn’t really take care of the players before. They’ve just proven it by doing what they’re doing now. I don’t know why he just doesn’t say, ‘hey, let’s take care of this now.’ There are a lot of players that need help, so take care of them. And I think people would get along with him better or he would come across as the guy who did the right thing.”

It seems like some issues with the lawsuit involve questions about hockey culture vs. the NHL and which is more responsible for head injuries. What’s your take on that?

“I know the concussions – you get enough of them over time it absolutely has an effect. The problem we have is and going through my deposition with people they go, ‘you knew you were going to get hit, that’s part of the game.’ No, it’s not part of the game. I always said that for me, I’m going to play if I can play but at the end of the day it’s up to the trainer or the doctor to tell me whether I could play or not. I’ve frozen my feet. I’ve broken both my feet, my ankle. I‘ve had them frozen to play. I’ve taken needles to play, but at the end of the day when it comes to your brain, the doctor has to say ‘you’re not healed to play yet. I’m telling you that you can’t play until that’s healed.’ We never had that. They have that now, which is great but by saying they have that now they’re kind of telling us ‘we kind of missed the boat with these other guys,’ right? That’s my thought on that.”

Getty Images
Getty Images

Can working on AllSportsMarket be a distraction from your issues with head injuries?

“For me, it’s in my head all the time because I forget all the time. With me and my concussions and stuff, what’s discouraging is my memory loss more than anything. I get dizzy a little bit at times at night or lay my head down or look up or something. But the memory of forgetting stuff is what’s really discouraging. It doesn’t really matter what I do unless I’m playing hockey or golf or doing something where my mind is focused on one thing but it’s discouraging when you forget a lot.”

Does it at least bring some structure to your day?

“Yeah, for sure. The only reason that I ever think about the lawsuit, and what lots of people don’t understand is there’s two categories. There’s a class one and a class two. I’m class one. I don’t get anything for doing this. I’m doing it for my brothers, the people that I played with. The people I played with, the people who are class two have serious, serious problems. I think the NHL has acknowledged that they screwed up in the past because they changed the way it is now. They have a concussion protocol in place. Any kind of hits to the head you have to go through a series of tests to be able to play again. They’ve acknowledged that they kind of screwed up with us in the past. For me it’s easy. My whole life, I played a team event. I played for my brothers. There’s guys, we’ve lost guys to suicides, young kids. If this had anything to do with it then it’s up to me and other guys to stand up for them. It’s easy for me to fight for a guy who can’t fight for himself. Trust me, I had guys my whole life protecting me. I wasn’t a fighter and I had guys standing up for me all the time. Now it’s an opportunity for me to stand up for guys. That’s why I wish more people would come forward because you’re not getting paid unless you need it. The cool thing is it’s down the line some of us class one guys, if something happens where we need it, then it would be there for us but right now if we’re fortunate enough to win this thing, it goes to help people that are in desperate need of it. That’s why I wish more people would stand up because you’re not fighting for yourself. You are fighting for guys who played before you that maybe stood up for you that needs help right now and that’s the only reason I’m doing it.”

How does your memory loss affect you with AllSportsMarket?

“It affects it a lot because I look at stuff and I’m supposed to do interviews, or somebody texted me or something and I was supposed to get back to them and I would forget. I go through stuff – when I forget daily stuff. It’s like if I’m doing an interview with you I would say ‘can you text me that day or give me a heads up?’ I have the guy from the company call me all the time when I have stuff. Usually that day he will give me a heads up or maybe an hour before, because I forget. It’s frustrating to forget little things like that.

“I hate to be late for something. I hate to miss something. If I have something set up with you, you’re kind enough to do an interview with me and I forget, it’s frustrating. That’s the part that bothers me the most.”

So what exactly are you doing with this company? How’s it all going for you?

“It’s going great. We just actually launched the NFL, NHL and NBA a week ago, or a couple of weeks ago now. We started with baseball in the spring when they started. We wanted to start at the start of the season. Basically it’s the same as the stock market. Instead of buying shares in say gold and silver or a company, you’re buying shares in sports teams. It’s not gambling. You can buy shares right now in the LA Kings for $2.50 and it’s performance based. If they perform well, your stock goes up. And if you win you get paid dividends on wins. If they lose, you don’t lose your investment. It’s not gambling. It’s not betting. It’s investing. We’ve got a non-profit, so I think to me – I played in L.A. when we had 10,000 fans so to me it doesn’t matter if you got the worst team in the league or the best team in the league. Fans are fans and they love their team. To me, to feel like you have a vested interest in your team every time they’re playing you get to watch your investment perform every night. You can invest for $2.50. You don’t have to invest $10,000, $20,000, a million bucks. I think the concept is brilliant.

You can invest to a team and hold onto it as long as you want. You can sell it whenever you want. We actually have a great promotion right now. For signing up you get into a draw for a million shares in the company and if you can buy a share in each team and each league and then get four more chances to win. These million shares – if the company goes the way it’s going, our goal is to go public with it. It has potential to be a double-digit stock. There’s nothing out there like it. And to me, we want to get the leagues involved. I sat in with Bill Daly, assistant to Bettman, and explained what we had. We want to get every league 50 percent of every transaction made in their sport for nothing. We want to regulate it. We want people to pay taxes on it. We want to give back to government. We want to help with the economy. We want to do everything right, which we’re doing and no one else does that. No teams give back. There are no other companies like that. We want to give back to the leagues and give back and help our economy. We want to do everything right. To me I don’t know a true fan that won’t want to feel like they own a little piece of their team.”

What are the numbers that make you think this can be so lucrative? Why do you see potential in this?

“There’s nothing like it out there. It’s a global company. We just launched four leagues right now. We’re going to do soccer. We’re going to do college sports. It’s global – like fans, to me as a player I always loved the fans. I think fans will love the idea of feeling like they’re going to watch their teams but they have vested interests on their teams, whether it’s $2, $10, $100, whatever it is they have a little piece of their favorite team. To me the concept is brilliant. There are other ways you can do it. For people who love the action, they need the action every day. Say you invest in the New York Yankees and they’re your favorite team. You’re looking at the schedule and you see the Dodgers or the Toronto Blue Jays have a home stand or looks like they have some bad teams coming in. You buy shares in them, hold on for two or three weeks. You get paid dividends on every win, turn around sell them, look for another team you can get some quick hits on, something like that.

“Hockey is notorious – around the trade deadline you see teams that are jockeying for position and they’re going to make a big deal. They may not be your favorite team, but you want some action. You invest in a team for the playoff run. You collect money on their wins and if they do well, obviously the shares are going to go up, turn around and sell them at the end and look for another team, so I just think the concept to this is better than anything out there.”

Do you follow the stock market or did you check out stocks every day as a player?

“I did not. I had people that told me about some stuff, but to me that would not interest me. I like to watch – what we have you get to watch. It’s similar to the Green Bay Packers. They’re the only real publicly traded sports team. Everybody is invested, whether they have a $100 share in their team or $100,000. They all have a little piece of it. To me that’s what’s exciting. You go to a building every night. You watch the Kings play or the Rangers play – to think everybody in that building can feel like they have a little piece of their team. That to me is exciting when you get to watch your money and investment perform. That would be exciting, you know. I just like that concept.”

What was the genesis of this with you? How did you hear about it? How did you get into it?

“I was introduced to it probably about 10 years ago. My cousin had introduced it to me. They were just starting to put it together. They got the concept to the U.S. They went to Congress and they wanted to do everything right with it. They didn’t want to be associated with gambling or anything like that. So they were looking for a spokesperson or a sports person to open some doors. I got them in to meet with the NHL. It was MLB or the NBA – one or the other, but they loved the concept too. I think as a fan playing both sides where I did gamble before, I just think as a fan, if I could tell a fan you can either invest in a team or you can gamble on a team, I’m going to try to discourage the person from gambling because I’ve been there. At the end of the day you’re not going to win gambling, you’re not. But investing – people do well investing every day and I guess if someone comes to me with a stock they thought had a good chance of doing well, I would probably look into investing in that as well. Here you get to play GM, you get to study teams. You get to put your owner’s hat on and kind of invest that way, right? That’s what’s exciting to me.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!