SUN Hockey Pool

Players will lose NHL war

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is worth approximately $1.4 billion. He is just one example of...

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is worth approximately $1.4 billion. He is just one example of how wealthy the NHL owners are these days, and how they can stand to wait out the players in the lockout. (Ottawa Sun/Tony Caldwell)

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

The battle is over, even if the fighting is not.

The owners have won the lockout of 2004-05 and, who knows, 2006.

They claimed their latest victory today when Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos said he thought the season was lost and he was ready to lose next year, too.

And he's fine with it. Wonder how the players, without a paycheque for better than eight months, are doing?

Repeat after me. Billionaires trump multi-millionaires. Multi-millionaires beat millionaires, and just about everybody beats me and you.

Having once won the labour war and lost the peace, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will not stop until he has locked-in terms that even the 30 clubs can't conspire to mess up.

Cost certainty, salary cap, call it what you like, but if ever there was a group that didn't deserve to have their costs fixed, it's the boys club of the NHL, owners and GMs division.

Given a marvelous game and a stable of loyal markets, these jokers have managed to put the game into hibernation in sure-fire cities like Chicago and Boston, dilute the talent base, cheapen the entertainment value, blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.

You know what? It doesn't matter.

There's a reason they call them owners. It's their game. They can screw it up as much as they wish and apparently, they wish to very much.

In the end, the owners have decided there will be no hockey and the doors are theirs to lock.

Here is the overriding message being delivered, through stony silence, to NHLPA chief Bob Goodenow.

You can beat us fair and square. Go ahead and outmanoeuver us, outthink us. You can hammer us using the very tools we gave you, arbitration and laughably restricted free agency. We handed the game over, piece by piece.

But when the collective bargaining agreement dies after 10 punishing years, we're taking it back.

In the end, the union position is easily understood.

They played within the rules of the agreement and skunked the house.

The owners' have lamented that given the seriousness of their economic situation, the players should have somehow turned back the clock.

Please.

Raise your hand if you think Peter Karmanos would willingly re-do a deal that had proven a spectacular win over their labour force. The players maximized their take. Who wouldn't?

Nor can Goodenow be blamed for thinking that the competitiveness and self-interest of individual owners, the very thing that had made them rich, would once again divide them.

But here's what went wrong for the players -- the money behind the clubs has gotten bigger.

There are now Wal-Mart heirs in Denver and St. Louis. The Maple Leafs morphed from Steve Stavros pride and joy to a part of a nearly $70 billion pension empire.

Tom Golisano, owner of the Buffalo Sabres, is worth $1.1 billion US. In one good week in 2003, an acquisition and favourable third quarter report boosted Golisano's net value by $170 million. He paid $70 million for the Sabres.

Chronically under-capitalized, the Ottawa Senators now are the chattel of Eugene Melnyk who won't need to sell a single racehorse should he decide to keep the Corel Centre closed this year, or the next 10 for that matter. He's worth somewhere around $1.4 billion.

All these big-money boys are relatively new to the game and all owe their spot at the table, in some measure, to Bettman.

Yes, the players are richer than a decade ago. Problem is, exponentially richer owners can now afford to wait ... and wait and wait.

ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE

Millionaires trump billionaires. If the Boston Red Sox can win the World Series, NHL owners can fall into line. It just goes to show you anything is possible.

Garroted by his own considerable pride, Goodenow will sign a deal with a salary cap, whether it's now or two years from now.

Either that or his successor will.

The players simply don't have the means to wait out their employers and, with the nicely veiled threat of some sort of scab action on tap for September, the union's leverage is ebbing by the day. Careers are short and Sears doesn't pay nearly as well.

The crow won't taste any different right now than it will a year from now.

The players had best get to it while there is still a season to save.

It's not fair, of course.

It's just business.


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