November 3, 2004
Principle over pragmatism costly
By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
The only thing missing from the hotel hallway was a group hug of hockey players, followed by a campfire and a chorus of Kumbaya.
They are that together -- just ask them -- these men of the National Hockey League Players' Association. There is no dissent. There is no crumbling of their stance All, as Kevin Bacon screamed in Animal House, is well.
Unless you happen to disagree with their anti-salary cap stance. Then all isn't so well. Then you're either misinformed, uneducated or both.
"We're still strong, we're still together," said Bill Guerin, who has yet to collect a penny of the $8,866,445.31 US he was earn from the Dallas Stars this hockey season. "Obviously some guys (who have spoken out against the NHLPA's rigid stance against cost certainty) aren't as informed as we'd like them to be."
The Kool-Aid, in this case, is being supplied by Bob Goodenow, the executive director of the NHLPA, who can pour it as well as anyone. Yesterday's overhyped meeting of the player reps was nothing more than a pep rally without cheerleaders, a chance to bring the troops together, inform them of the evils of the salary cap, and explain why it is they are likely to not earn a cent outside of Europe this hockey season.
The reality, as it has been for a year or three now, hasn't changed. The stance of the NHL hasn't changed. The stance of the players, for all their talk of concessions, hasn't changed.
There will not be an NHL season until one side or the other is somehow shaken. And that remains highly unlikely.
Who can bring NHL hockey back?
Let's begin with who can't. Goodenow can't because he refuses to budge from his anti-salary cap stance. Commissioner Gary Bettman can't because, in the words of Jim McKenzie of the Nashville Predators, "The guy is more interested in conquering than compromising." The players can't because they line up like sheep behind their leader and somehow buy into the fact that they owe something to their hockey-playing brothers of the future.
So who can? Player agents, who have remained remarkably silent -- not that we haven't tried -- as their incomes have disappeared. They won't be quiet forever, either to the union or to their client base.
Wives, surprisingly, can play a role in this also. Mrs. Bill Guerin, assuming there is one, has been used to her husband taking home about $800,000 a month, give or take a dollar, during hockey season. Suddenly, that figure is down to zero.
UPSET IN THE HOME
How long before there is upset in the home? Two paycheques haven't been missed yet. What happens when it hits 10 and 20 and 30?
"We're fighting for our lives right now," said Adrian Aucoin, the New York Islanders defenceman who was due a $4.25-million stipend for this unplayed season. "It's very important we stick together."
Very important for him maybe. It wouldn't be for me. The $1 million you relinquish now is $1 million you never get back. The $4 million Aucoin loses out on is $4 million he'll never see again.
Why? To protect the future of Matt Stajan or Andrew Raycroft? The players can somehow rationalize it, Goodenow can sell it, they can line up in song, but down the road they'll still be down $4 million.
And one day, long after this is over, they'll wonder about the cost of principle over pragmatism. They'll wonder how they let that $4 million get away.