Bob Goodenow was plucking arrows out of his business suit by the time he departed the CBC's Front St. studios last night. The executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association faced a far more hostile line of questioning from fans than league commissioner Gary Bettman had the night before on the segment of The National devoted to the lockout.
The theme of greedy players hijacking the season occupied much of the hour-long show, with even former Maple Leafs captain Rick Vaive saying people "have a hard time feeling sorry" for a guy making up to $8 million US a year.
Host Peter Mansbridge resisted piling on, as Goodenow had to handle several questions in studio and on video hookup across Canada. Some of the missiles were ignorant of the concessions the union has tried to make, such as a 5% wage rollback. But Goodenow's defence sometimes was lost in the legalese and business bafflegab of a collective bargaining war.
Andrew Stelmack, wearing the sweater of the defunct Winnipeg Jets, said he had no empathy for highly paid players, even with the NHL's proposed reduction in average salary to $1.3 million from $1.8 million.
"If we look at the average playing career as four years, at 30 years old (the players) will have $5 million US in their pocket to start any life they want," Stelmack said. "Anybody on this planet would jump at that opportunity."
Goodenow retorted that owners set player values and, until recently, they liked the system very much.
"No one's asking for empathy, sympathy or anything else," Goodenow said. "Yes, hockey players are highly paid and they deserve it, but how much they get paid is controlled strictly by the owners. It's the fairest way for fans, owners and players.
"Players are not greedy. They live in a marketplace, where salaries can go up or down. If you're skilled enough to be in the NHL, you deserve some of the revenues."
On the subject of a salary cap, studio participant Lyn St. Georges asked "what makes you think your players are so special that traditional business parameters (such as the cap in the National Football League and National Basketball Association) don't apply, to the point where you won't even enter into discussion on a compromise?"
Goodenow said he can't find one NFLer to say a good thing about their cap.
As with Bettman, Mansbridge attempted to nail down when talks might resume. Goodenow said there was a possibility of a kick-start in a month, but that he didn't expect to be making the first move.
"This is hanging in the air for now," Goodenow said. "Gary has said one thing, 'I have to have a salary cap.' And that's not a compromise."