Say the season is over

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:03 PM ET

An open letter to Bob Goodenow. Dear Bob:

Here's how you can turn the tables in the public relations war you are losing so spectacularly to the NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman.

Call a news conference for tomorrow morning. Just you. No show of strength, no Trevor Linden, no Daniel Alfredsson, no Bob Boughner. We've already seen enough of these loogans.

Announce that the NHL season that never was now truly is dead.

Tell the fans you are putting the game out of its misery.

Tell the people that the players refuse to perpetuate the notion that a 20- to 25-game regular season with a jerry-rigged playoffs is a workable or honourable endeavour.

Tell them what they already know, that the lockout was orchestrated years in advance.

Mostly, tell the folks you understand why they are angered at being denied one of the rare pleasures of winter. Tell them you're sorry.

You, better than anyone, see now that there will be no season. Last week's two days of negotiations in New York were about tilling the soil for the return of the game in 2005-2006. At least in this you and Gary are getting an early start.

Bob, you're a smart guy. You've blown it and you know it.

By tying your future and that of your membership into an unwinnable and flat-out stupid philosophical position against a salary cap, you got into a starvation contest with a sumo wrestler.

Players aren't philosophers, they're businessmen. Ask Jeremy Roenick. If communism maximized their take, they'd all dress like Mao.

You never seemed to understand that most people's lives exist within a fixed salary structure. For many, it's called minimum wage and they're bloody grateful that it exists.

Many more of us work under a salary grid; it's the staple of union shops everywhere.

Your problem always has been the fact that the NHLPA is not really a union. It's an association of consortiums that uses collective bargaining on one hand and capitalist theory on the other to collude and extort as much money as possible from the National Hockey League. Your unionism repels right-wingers and I'm going to tell you, you're not winning too many friends among garment workers, either.

Here's the problem: The businesses you're fighting, and this is particularly poignant in Alberta, are vested in the community's consciousness.

People may not care for the Ontario Teachers' Pension Fund or cotton to Larry Tanenbaum, but they root for the Maple Leafs. Fan loyalty is with the uniform. For all the claims players make about being the game, they can never own the jerseys.

That's why, despite plenty of support from the media, you couldn't possibly win the public relations war ... until now.

Nothing showcases the NHL's disdain for the paying customer more than its refusal to cancel the season.

DAMAGE

Right after the unconscionable damage to working people who need this business to feed their kids, the goodwill between the game, its players and the customers, is the most objectionable element of the lockout.

The public, repulsed by both sides but particularly rankled by the players, can be won over by the one thing so missing from the last 144 days: A show of honesty and integrity.

This season is dead. Say so.

It won't bring NHL hockey back, but it might save your butt. The public won't love you but I guarantee, they'll hate you a little less.

Right now, that's as good as it's going to get.


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