SUN Hockey Pool

Clarke is no Mr. Fix-it

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

Bring back the hockey guys. No more lawyers.

That was the golden fleece put forward by the NHLPA yesterday and in a process replete with half truths, distorted notions and downright lies, it fit right in.

One of the really helpful ideas put forward by the idled rich yesterday at the NHLPA meet and greet was the notion of grafting Philadelphia Flyers general manager Bob Clarke onto the owners' management team.

Honest.

"A great hockey mind," was the way PA president Trevor Linden worded it.

"He (Clarke) would be very helpful to the process.

"We need more people like Bobby Clarke in on those meetings," the ever-eloquent Brendan Shanahan said. "Less lawyers and more hockey people."

This might strike you as odd since, the day before, Clarke had remarked someone needed "to grab (NHLPA head Bob) Goodenow by the throat and tell him to look after the Canadian cities."

It's a pretty savvy move, though and a perfect illustration of the way the PA does business.

NASTY PROCESS

What better way to distract from the nasty process of spanking the players who sidestepped the bargaining committee, Jarome Iginla, Chris Pronger, Robert Esche and Jeremy Roenick, than to throw a grapple grommet into the equation.

And you have to admit, for a public sick of duelling lawyers, the idea of a barrister-free zone carries a real cachet. After all, the players will tell you, they're just straightforward guys who want to play in a system that's right for everyone.

Hockey players want to deal with Bob Clarke for the same reason the Road Runner wanted to work with Wile E. Coyote. If you freeze-framed Bob Clarke negotiating, the Latin phrase (freeagentus dimentus) would appear under his name

John LeClair has earned $34 million US over the past four years thanks to Clarke -- scoring 73 goals since.

Luke Richardson was making $664,300 for Edmonton, last we looked a Canadian team, in 1997. Clarke gave him $12.6 million over five years and poor Luke couldn't play a lick.

Chris Gratton, a $9-million signing bonus to leave Tampa in 1997.

Now, this is not to dump all over Clarke, especially when New York Rangers GM Glen Sather is a far easier target.

And far be it from me to blame players for wanting to include their accomplices in a salary escalation that saw labour's average salary triple in a decade.

But when you urge ownership to bring more "hockey guys" into the mix, you are essentially saying, "Hey Stupid. how about tying one of those arms behind your back so I can hit you some more?"

There were, in all the mendacity, some telling moments none more revealing than when Goodenow called the lockout an "economic attack" on his 750 players, as if the right to work for an average of $1.8 million was every player's God-given right.

For all their talk of a rollback, the players want a return to the rosy days when they could pick off ownership through any number of tools, arbitration or qualifying offers to name just two.

It isn't collusion when 750 players conspire to goose salaries, only when 30 owners conspire to keep the same salaries down.

That's the fair system the players yearn for and it's going to get much, much worse, before things get better. Even after cancelling the season, the two sides are not one iota wiser.

For now, we are left to savour the real message from labour: For the good of the game, bring back your maroons.


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