Bob and weave at agents' meeting

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

The elbows came up both inside and outside yesterday's National Hockey League player agent meetings at the Westin Harbour Castle.

A group of 67 agents were addressed by Players Association executive director Bob Goodenow, who sources say gave as good as he got in a few spirited exchanges involving such isssues as communication and alleged circumventing of the talks with owners.

Goodenow chastised a small group of agents and players whom he said had harmed the negotiating process, likely refering to the private peace initiative. But the agents in question were apparently not in attendance.

During the four-hour conference, some agents also complained of feeling left out during the talks, a situation Goodenow promised to improve. There also is some division regarding replacement players, with some agents vowing they would never represent someone who crosses the line next September if the league starts up with subs.

Others say a split on the issue is inevitable.

But as the conference doors opened after four hours, the agents all were behind Goodenow, many turning their guns on commissioner Gary Bettman's handling of the failed collective bargaining process.

"Why are we taking directions from a bunch of basketball executives who only know how to lose millions of dollars, minimize talent and (screw up) TV deals?" said Edmonton-based Ritch Winter, refering to Bettman's NBA roots.

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"Clearly since 1994 when we were on the cover of Sports Illustrated the game has eroded under this regime. It's time to fire people. At some point, general managers and team executives should be held as accountable as the players."

A day after Goodenow filled in more than 100 players on details of the last hours prior to the season's cancellation, the agents got the same spiel and departed with a printed chronology of events to show their clients.

"There was a point when that feeling (of a deal) was in the air, but the sandwich fell to the floor and there was mayonnaise all over the walls," Mark Gandler said.

"It's very difficult to get back to the table when there is more mistrust than ever before."

Gandler, Winter, J.P. Barry (Mats Sundin's agent) and Pat Brisson (junior phenom Sidney Crosby's handler) were among those adamant they would not taint themselves associating with replacements.

"It's not a viable alternative," Barry said. "If the NHL goes that way it will do further damage to the league."

Don Meehan was asked if agents who represent an equal number of rank and file players and superstars will be in a tough position if replacements are introduced. Some of those lower tier players might need the work.

"What became clear is there will be players who are going to have opposing views throughout this process," Meehan said. "There are agents that will have their own views and the (union executive) will have their views. I can't think everyone would all think the same way.

"What I welcomed was that everyone had a opportunity to convey their thoughts and concerns and ask as many questions as they wanted to. If we could arrange to have that more often on both sides of the fence, we'd all be better off."


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