SUN Hockey Pool

Same old NHL trying to keep deal a secret

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

All through the terminally tedious negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, there were promises of the dawning of a new age.

Some were explicit. Some were implicit. But with a great degree of consistency, the message was clear.

Once it had a new deal, the National Hockey League would work with the entire hockey community to create a grand new vista.

Yeah, right. Perhaps it's going to start next week. It sure hasn't started yet.

As soon as the league reached an agreement with the NHL Players' Association, it announced that the terms of the deal would not be revealed until next week.

Why not?

What could possibly be gained by such secrecy? This deal is going to be ratified. Everybody knows that. And even if it weren't, what's wrong with fans knowing about a deal that got turned down?

Does the league figure it has far too much publicity and needs to turn away fans?

This was an opportunity for fans to discuss the relevant issues and to hear from the people who will have to use the new deal to further the game, especially the general managers and player agents.

HAVEN'T SEEN IT

But what happened when the media sought out the views of these people? "We don't know how it's going to affect your favourite team," they said. "We haven't seen the deal."

A number of players saw it, but made it clear that they had been told to keep the public in the dark.

Out in Vancouver, Trevor Linden, the president of the NHLPA, complained that some of the figures being bandied about by the media were not accurate.

Linden did not, however, see the need to explain what those mistakes were, or to provide accurate figures to prevent any further misconceptions.

For decades, the NHL has been plagued by a public-relations approach that, most of the time, bordered on disastrous. The rest of the time, it was disastrous.

It treated agents like the enemy, the media like pariahs, and even its own general managers like a necessary evil to be emasculated at every turn.

So now, when this new agreement came about, what better opportunity to make amends than to get it to the people it affects as quickly as possible?

No chance. Instead, the league reverted to the tired old eyes-only concept.

But what happened, as anyone with even the most minimal understanding of the hockey world would have anticipated, was that the media picked up tidbits and pieced it together.

Yet the agents, to whom time is precious because they have to try to make the best possible deal for their clients, are still left whistling in the dark.

Thanks to the media, they think they know most of the provisions. But why should they have any doubt at all?

Similarly, the GMs presumably will learn the salient points of the CBA from ownership. But the league is taking its sweet time about explaining those provisions to the men who will have to implement the deal.

One of the clauses (we have been led to believe) creates a 10-day window after ratification during which teams will be allowed to buy out contracted players. After that, any player on the roster will be subject to the salary-cap provisions.

Not only do GMs need to know such intricacies to plan the makeup of their teams, but agents need to know the GMs' intentions so that they can plan the future of their players.

But as far as the league is concerned, the players can wait for the ratification that everyone knows is a certainty and have their lives put on hold a bit longer.

The agents can fumble their way through the dark.

So much for the new NHL and its spirit of co-operation.


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