SUN Hockey Pool

Eagleson dives right in

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

One-time hockey power broker Alan Eagleson chided the warring sides in the lockout last night about mishandling the collective bargaining talks. "They should have been sitting down since the summer of 2003," Eagleson said on The Fan 590. "Every day, 20 owners and 20 of the top players hammering out something. Take a year to do it and put it to bed.

"And I still believe (a CBA would get done) if you got 30 owners and 30 team captains in a room, gave 'em a week, slid a pizza under the door and said: 'Don't come out until you make this deal.' If there are 20 items, sit down and solve the 17 easy ones. There's too much at stake right now."

Eagleson claimed to have seen the danger in the old CBA a decade ago.

"In 1994, the owners signed a bad deal and in 1999, instead of terminating it, they extended it to cover the Olympics," he said. "That was going to be the big blossoming of hockey in the U.S. But that was a no-brainer not to happen, so we got stung for another five years.

FUMING FOR YEARS

"What's happened now, is the owners have been fuming for 10 years. The hardliners were out-voted in '94 and '99 and now they're saying (to the doves): 'You listen to us'."

Eagleson was the founder of the National Hockey League Players Association in 1967 and though there was labour peace for his 23 years, it came at a hidden price. He pleaded guilty in Boston in 1997 to fraud and theft, involving player insurance premiums and was fined $1 million US. He served six months in jail on fraud charges in Canada for skimming profits from the union and hockey advertising.

But the 71-year-old has been making more public statements the past couple of years, lately about the lack of good-faith bargaining.

"It's almost equal opportunity for vitriol," he said. "If the owners are at a $1.3-million (average salary) and the players are at $1.8 million, you'd think someone will say: 'Try $1.5 million and if doesn't work, go to $1.8 million or $1.3.' But that seems to be too easy.

"The big stick that Bettman holds (over previous NHL leaders) is that he only needs eight owners to vote with him. If (Bettman and Goodenow can't deal), bring in someone you both trust. I don't know if that person exists, but this suggestion by Paul Martin about a mediator makes a lot of sense.

"The rhetoric between them certainly suggests it will be a long time before we see Hockey Night in Canada. It will take a long time to dilute the poison."


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