SUN Hockey Pool

NHL making huge mistake

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:23 AM ET

A top-level hockey agent who has been around the game since the days of the World Hockey Association said over the weekend he was sure the National Hockey League would reject the players' offer. His premise was that league executives are consistent and, in every serious negotiation, they always make at least one monumental blunder.

The rejection of the players' Dec. 9 offer -- which according to a TSN report will take place today -- is the monumental blunder of this particular lockout.

It appears the NHL leadership cabal that gave us games no one wants to watch, negotiated a U.S. network TV contract that pays nothing, presided over an era in which 50-goal scorers became extinct, orchestrated two labour disruptions with the players and one with the on-ice officials, has now decided that player concessions most sports executives would knee their mother out of the way to get their hands on are not enough.

NO DISPUTING IT

TSN claims to have a copy of a memo -- there is no reason to dispute that claim -- from the league's chief legal counsel, Bill Daly.

The pertinent sentence in the document is: "There is virtually nothing in the union's proposal that would prevent the dollars 'saved' from going right back into the players' compensation system."

Well, you're dead right there, Bill.

There's also nothing that would prevent the geese from migrating next spring.

There's nothing that would prevent telemarketers from phoning at dinner time.

Of course there isn't.

It's not the players' job to do that. Controlling the owners' spending is the owners' job.

It stands to reason that if all salaries are cut by 24%, which is the union's proposal, then the owners will find themselves at the very starting point they themselves have said is the ideal level if their salary cap concept were to be implemented.

Now all they have to do is stop spending stupidly.

It can't be that hard, can it?

The rookie levels are under control -- as part of the players' proposal -- so the owners won't have to deal with the leverage provided by the kids when they are negotiating with the veterans.

The 10% boost that used to be mandatory to keep the rights to most free agents has been eliminated.

The owners don't even have to succumb to the demands of a high-impact player who has a great demand on the open market. They can take him to the so-called reverse arbitration. All the pressure points that would force salaries to rise unreasonably are gone.

Over in England, young soccer phenom Wayne Rooney already is on his second team at the age of 18, having decided he wasn't earning enough money from the first one.

But hockey is the most restrictive sport in North America.

Where else can you get a player's rights at 18 and hold on to him until he's 31 in a system that gives him almost no leverage except public opinion?

If owners want to stage these macho wallet-flexing contractual battles with each other, it's hardly the players' job to prevent them from doing so.

But Bettman doesn't trust the owners to act responsibly.

ARTIFICIAL SYSTEM

Neither does Daly.

They want an artificial system that prevents the owners from making a decision because they know that the owners have a remarkable propensity to be quite smart in their first business and astonishingly stupid in their second.

And invariably, hockey is their second business.


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