SUN Hockey Pool

'It's just a game'

DOUG BEAZLEY -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

To hear Monty Ford tell it, today's hockey players are a pampered crew of prima donnas who won't lace up without a few million bucks worth of padding. "I'd have liked to see them try this nonsense 50 years ago," said Ford, 84, a veteran of the 1952 Olympic gold-winning Edmonton Mercurys squad.

"Back in the '40s, guys on the Flyers squad got $125 a week, and most of them worked road crews during the off-season. These players today, they think they're all entitled to be millionaires - play golf all summer and never do a proper day's work."

And with an NHL lockout confirmed, he's not the only one blaming the dizzying rise in players' salaries for the financial crisis in the league.

Peter Pocklington, former owner of the Oilers, said it's the fans who've suffered from the ballooning salary budgets in pro hockey.

"A dad can't afford to take his kid to a game anymore. It's only the corporations who can actually pay for seats," he said.

"That's just not right. This is supposed to be a game for the folks, not the suits."

Pocklington said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had no choice but to insist on a salary cap.

"This had to be done. You can't expect to pay players 500% of the gate and still have a league in a few years time," he said. "The NHL is a business, and its business isn't to make every player a millionaire.

"The Oilers spent something like $7-8 million on player salaries in the late '80s. They'd spend that on a single player now. It's time to reintroduce some sanity to the game."

Even some former NHLers are taking the league's side. Ex-Oiler Tom Gilmore said more experienced members of the players' union should have been lobbying for a compromise.

"They're the guys nearing the end of their careers. They're the ones who won't be able to replace the income they'll lose this season," he said.

"It's hard to blame someone for accepting a ton of money to play hockey. But the league has to be a viable business, and right now it's not."

But Gilmore said the teams with deeper pockets share responsibility for the league's current bind - they're the ones who sparked the bidding war for the best players.

"If I was an owner, I'd be making sure the lockout lasts an entire season," he said. "Unless a few players start missing mortgage payments and selling off their sports cars, they're not going to back down."

Former Oilers captain Lee Fogolin said he doesn't see the lockout ending soon.

"Both sides seem to be really dug in over this," he said. "Back in Gordie Howe's day the players got paid nothing and the owners had the upper hand. Now it seems to have gone in the other direction."

"Sign and get it over with," said Ford. "It's just a game, after all."


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