Ken Dryden has played the high-stakes game of chicken from both sides of the street -- as an all-star netminder who sat out the entire 1973-74 season to get a raise on his $75,000 contract with Montreal, and 30 years later as vice-president of a Maple Leafs team that signed Mats Sundin to $9 million US a season.
Dryden, a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe winner in 1971 and Vezina winner and Summit Series hero in 1972, took it personally when the New York Rangers messed up the pay scale by giving an inflated $175,000 deal to the less-talented Ed Giacomin.
Some things never change.
"I knew I was better than Ed Giacomin," Dryden would say many years later. "And it bothered me."
So he sat out the whole season, finished his law degree and returned to a sign a better deal than Giacomin's.
The moral of the story, then as it is now, is sooner or later players always get what they want and salaries always skyrocket in a free market system.
"I've watched it from inside the room and what I know for certain is that owners cannot restrain themselves," said Dryden, now a Liberal MP who addressed the lockout during a recent visit to Edmonton. "They can't."
BOTH WANT TO WIN
And it's not because the self-made guys who built empires from scratch are too stupid to keep their payrolls in line.
"Owners and players both want to win," he said. "But a player, once he becomes a free agent, can find five or six different places to win; an owner has only one. So the owner always ends up being the chaser and the player becomes the chased, and that's when salaries start to go up.
"Restraint will never come from individuals restraining themselves. The only way in which restraint happens is when the structure dictates it. I think that's at least part of the solution."
That's the part the NHLPA is having such a difficult time digesting as last-ditch efforts to salvage the season drag well beyond the 11th hour. Dryden might be in the minority, but he hasn't given up hope.
"There's still time, but Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow need to have their feet put to the fire," he said. "They've had a pretty easy run of it so far, for missing half a season. But missing a whole season is a whole different story. That's embarrassing, it shouldn't happen to any league."
Putting feet to the fire is going to be tough, though, because Goodenow and Bettman have both been excluded from last-ditch talks, which suggests both sides believe personal issues between the two haven't helped the process.
"It's sort of like I won't meet with Rich Winter, but (assistant GM) Scott Howson does," chuckled Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, who's had many a run-in with Mike Comrie's agent. "You don't want to let your own issues get in the way of getting business done."
But there are many who believe it's already too late to strike a deal, negotiate the details, bring lawyers in to close the loopholes, hold training camps and still get a respectable number of games in.
Last year, the Oilers played 25 games from Feb. 14 on. It would be tough to cram many more in, especially with the Brier eating up a good two weeks worth of potential home dates.
"Someday the lockout is going to end, so why not make that day sooner rather than later," said Dryden. "The purpose for the owners is to find some measure of restraint, knowing they can't do it themselves. For the players, I'm sure there are other considerations in there."