SUN Hockey Pool

Domi was ahead of his time

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

If you are among those who still care -- and there is no telling how small that number may be -- there is every reason to be infuriated by the state of negotiations between the National Hockey League and its locked-out Players' Association.

One side seems as self-destructive as the other. Both sides, sadly, deserve each other.

This morning, the NHL and the NHLPA return to the bargaining table -- again -- not necessarily to further the process, but to actually turn the clock back and take care of business that should have been attended to more than a year ago, if either side was acting responsibly.

Get this, they are trying to determine what is and isn't revenue before they go forward. This, after the owners offered to open their books to independent auditors more than three years ago. This, after the players' union has done a complete about-face concerning what it will and will not negotiate.

This is the madness for the hockey fan as no games are played, franchise values dip significantly and players haven't received a cheque in 13 months.

And what's more outrageous is this: The very framework the NHLPA is now negotiating from was proposed in a private meeting between Maple Leafs governor Larry Tanenbaum, Pittsburgh Penguins owner and player Mario Lemieux and the unlikely man who brought them together, Leafs enforcer Tie Domi.

When Tanenbaum, Domi and Lemieux sat down in December in an attempt to bring the lockout to an end, they did so by representing the views of players, successful franchises and downtrodden franchises. They were covering their bases well.

Only union executive director Bob Goodenow, tripping over his own ego and his own rhetoric, caught in a semantical storm, would hear nothing of the terms salary cap and linkage -- the very terms he is now negotiating.

All that has happened, in the waste of time and money that has been the past five months, is damage. Damage to the league. Damage to players' salaries. Damage to the sport and the game.

Goodenow and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman should be embarrassed by their performance here, burying their own constituents in the process. But now, the shrinking time frame is significant for one basic reason. If there is no deal in place by next month for a 2005-2006 season, then the only thing disappearing quicker than fans will be league sponsors.

Estimates already have $400 million US lost from this season in league revenue and advertising. Some major sponsors of the league already have departed. One company, which has been a top Canadian market club sponsor, has admitted to having a better year of sales without NHL games than in the previous year.

Add to that this piece of American trivia: ESPN has fared better financially by televising reruns and canned programming than it did by being the major network carrier for the NHL.

Had anybody listened to Tanenbaum, Lemieux and Domi in December, there would have been a season played -- and there would be a salary cap in place with a sliding scale. Had anybody bothered to hear from the Leafs, rather than worry about protecting the interests of the Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes, there would have been playoff hockey on television last night, tonight and tomorrow night.

Instead, Bettman gave short shrift to Tanenbaum, and Goodenow all but ignored the Leafs' boss.

The window to get a deal done and still keep advertisers on board is down to a few weeks. At the same time, networks don't know what to charge advertisers for a product they might not have, not knowing how many people, in fact, will even be watching. The ad rates are dropping faster than Marc Habscheid's coaching stock.

The only positive sign, if there is one: The NHLPA executive cancelled its internal meeting with players, scheduled for the last week in May, because it believes the next three days of negotiating could represent some kind of breakthrough.

It could, but with Bettman and Goodenow involved, don't bet on logic prevailing.


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