SUN Hockey Pool

Owners must share blame

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

A season could be saved today and tomorrow. Could -- but likely won't.

No, brace for more of the same old song and dance from Gary Bettman and the NHL owners on hand for their meeting with the players' association in Toronto.

No matter how much the latest proposal from the NHLPA gives back in terms of salary rollbacks, limits placed on rookies and changes to arbitration, expect the league to walk away spewing the same rhetoric about not speaking the same language.

Then we'll wait for a drop-dead date from Bettman.

And it's a crying shame.

Only two weeks before Christmas, a great big nail likely will be put in a coffin to bury the 2004-05 campaign.

All because of greed.

Let's face it: The players have been criticized since Day 1 for their greed. There's no denying they deserve it, either.

Yes, they'll admit the game needs help and are willing to do something about it -- reportedly a 10% pay cut in this latest offer.

Big whoop.

Remind us again how much salaries have increased over the 10-year life of the now-expired collective bargaining agreement.

Oh yeah, they went from an average of $572,000 US to $1.8 million. Given that salaries have more than tripled in a decade, 10% sounds like a joke. Until the players accept a decrease in the 20-30% range, their claims of benevolence ring hollow.

Plus, some of us believe the only reason the NHLPA refuses to link salaries to revenues is a feeling the house of cards is going to come crashing down.

Think about it: With a non-guaranteed network TV contract south of the border and the sour taste this lockout has put in fans' mouths, the $2-billion pie is going to shrink immensely.

That the owners, led by commissioner Bettman, have put so many peoples' livelihoods at stake is just as disgraceful.

They're the ones who spent like drunken sailors when expansion revenue began to flow, acting like it was an unlimited fountain, only to realize much too late critical mass had been reached.

They're the ones who signed ludicrous free-agent contracts to Bobby Holik, Martin Lapointe and Bill Guerin.

They're the ones who signed restricted free agents Joe Sakic, Sergei Fedorov and perennial underachiever Chris Gratton to those offer sheets that sent spiralling salaries further out of whack.

They're the ones who continued to offer qualifying offers with 10% raises year after year to third- and fourth-line grinders until they became million-dollar players -- the owners only realizing the error of their ways a couple of years ago.

They're the ones who almost immediately blew apart the rookie-salary cap by giving contracts with easily attained bonus clauses, giving third-year players more than $4 million US per season.

The NHL owners have every right to stop the bleeding; however, they're demanding the players start playing under a salary-cap system -- sorry, 'cost certainty' -- without a meaningful form of revenue sharing.

Seeing as they point out the NFL and NBA use a cap system, so it's good for the NHL, the fact they fail to propose a similar sharing system is on the verge of hypocrisy.

And they've been doing all this without giving any proof to fans such changes will result in decreased ticket costs.

Without those in place, it's far too easy to believe their cries of poverty and need to reduce expenses so greatly is only a means to pad their bottom lines.

Can you imagine how much profit the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers would show with a $35-million US salary cap and no revenue sharing?

Knowing most Canadians support them in their fight, the owners haven't had to do anything to maintain their position in the public relations war.

If they simply walk away from this negotiating session, the first since before the lockout began in mid-September, that will change very soon.

It's time for Bettman and the owners to find a way to save the season.

Then, learn from their past mistakes and keep it all in check.


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