September 24, 2004
Questions needing answers
By ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun
Some hard questions I'd be asking myself if I was an average National Hockey League player sitting on the couch wondering when the agents, union reps and superstars are finally going to get us a new deal: 1. Why, if our union is supposed to be shoulder to shoulder in a show of solidarity, are all the best players packing their bags and heading off to glamourous, easy-money gigs in Europe while I'm sitting back home getting ripped by the fans?
When this thing started we talked about being determined to stick it out as long as it takes. Well, it's easy to stick it out as long as it takes when you're staying sharp and showing off for a bevy of blonds in Sweden. In the meantime, I'm back here wearing devil horns and collecting dust.
Should I be concerned when the message our top players are sending out is something along the lines of: "I'll be eating chocolate in Switzerland and drinking wine in Italy. Let me know when the work stoppage is over. Solidarity forever! Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to pack for a road trip to Milan.''
2. If we're trying to convince people that we are not selfish, greedy mercenaries who don't give a puck about anyone but ourselves, why were 150 of us so quick to parachute into Europe at the first sign of trouble and put 150 fellow hockey players and their families out of work?
Joe Thornton doesn't have enough money in the bank. He's got to cut the legs out from under some European who barely has enough to feed his kids?
3. Should I be concerned when some of the same people who've been telling me "Relax, we'll win this. The fans are simple lemmings who'll be back at our feet the day after the stoppage'' are some of the same people who thought the Original Stars Hockey League would work?
Are the empty seats in that humiliating failure a chilling reminder that maybe we've misjudged our own self-worth, and that maybe fans aren't as dumb as they seem, and maybe we should pay attention to their concerns instead of flipping them the bird every time they ask about our salaries?
4. What happens if the stoppage goes for longer than a year and there's a major backlash from fans and the league loses four or five teams?
Who are the ones who'll be losing those jobs? Marquee veterans living the high life in Europe or pluggers like me who are only in the NHL to begin with because it's bloated from expansion?
5. Why, when we say we're only doing this for the next generation of players, are they the first ones we're willing to sacrifice with an entry-level bonus cap, and the ones who'll suffer most if fans boycott and salaries bottom out?
If we really want to help players who honestly need it, why don't we forward some of our money to the previous generation, guys who played in the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s, guys who really were getting screwed by management and are struggling to make ends meet now? If helping those less fortunate is really the issue here, shouldn't we share the wealth with our pioneers?
6. What about all those young players breathing down my neck who are getting better by the minute, playing in the AHL or in junior, getting sharper and hungrier while I'm collecting rust instead of money?
Are they another year closer to taking my job, another year in which I didn't earn a single penny?
7. Who else on my side of this dispute has a REAL stake in this battle?
The big-name veterans who've been doing most of the talking?
Weren't they set for life years ago with more cash in the bank than I'll ever see in a lifetime? And won't they be safe if teams start folding?
Isn't their career longevity about 25 years longer than mine, plenty of time to recoup the losses? And do they really care if teams fold or a kid in the AHL takes my job when they don't make a lot of money off of pluggers like me anyway?
Isn't it awfully easy to tell the union members to dig in their heels and be strong (you know, if they can't get one of those sweet gigs in Europe) when it's not your career nor your money that's wasting away?
Am I the only one here who REALLY has something to lose?
8. What else am I qualified to be doing for $1.8 million US a year? And if this goes as long as they say it might, how long is it going to take me to make up all the money I'm losing?
9. If our position is so strong, so righteous and so honourable, how come everyone is too embarrassed to even say it out loud.
Why do we dance around the real issue with talking points like, "We're doing it for the next generation'' and "We're innocent. It's the owners who set the market.''?
How come when I say the real reason out loud: "We'd rather shut down the league for 18 months, screw over our brothers in Europe, alienate the fans and risk the jobs of 100 NHLers than make $1.3 million instead of $1.8 million,'' - it actually does sound kind of selfish and greedy?