The players bailed on Bob

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

Many a person in Bob Goodenow's position would have stayed on.

The job was there if he wanted it -- nearly three more years at the helm of the National Hockey League Players' Association raking in a sizeable salary.

But he would have had to be operating under a collective bargaining agreement that he didn't want, and he would have had to be dealing with players who had lost his respect.

Goodenow would never admit to either one of those assertions, but if you know Goodenow and if you study the way he has operated over the years, then you know that they have to be true. You just have to add up the facts.

Back in the early stages, how many times did Goodenow say that the players would never accept a salary cap? How many times did the players echo the same thought?

Goodenow wasn't unaware of the owners' plight. He listened to commissioner Gary Bettman's demands for a $1.3 million average salary and on Dec. 9, produced a proposal that provided exactly that.

At the same time, he offered a series of concessions that would prevent inflation if the owners used common sense.

But the owners turned down that deal, and the players' resolve started to waver.

There was no reason for Goodenow to expect such a turn of events. Every single player -- at least, every one who was interested in being heard -- had been given a questionnaire to be filled out in private asking how firm he intended to be in pursuing the PA's stance.

Overwhelmingly, the players said they would stay out "as long as it takes."

But by Christmas, many of them were having second thoughts. Shortly afterwards, there were some who were naive enough to think they could approach the league's negotiators directly without giving the owners reason to believe that player resolve was cracking.

Throughout his tenure, Goodenow consistently praised his players. He loved their grit, their principles, their determination and their integrity. He loved the way they stood up for each other and the way they overcame obstacles to get the job done.

So if you think about it, when most of them changed their minds and started a chorus of, "We just want to play," and then let it be known that they would take any offer the owners gave them, it had to seem to Goodenow that they had forsaken all those values he so greatly admired.

There are many people in the world, especially in North America, who place money ahead of values. They will do any job, no matter how distasteful or despicable, as long as they get well paid for it. Bob Goodenow is not that type of person.

His close friends knew years ago that he would resign after this agreement. This development is not a whim. It does not come as a surprise.

That circumstance should have been an asset. Goodenow could go into the negotiations without encumbrances, free to follow whatever course of actions his players wanted, knowing that his own future did not depend on the result because he was going to leave anyway.

That's one of the reasons that he made sure that he was following the players' wishes. That's why he held meeting with every team every year.

He made it abundantly clear that to get their way, they would have to be prepared to stay out more than a season, and perhaps two. They swore to him they'd do it.

Then, in mid-stream, they changed horses. The high-salaried players, coveting their missing millions, started the collapse and the others quickly followed suit.

NHL players are fine people, full of decent qualities. But they're no longer what they used to be, and they're no longer playing under a deal which makes Bob Goodenow comfortable. So he moved on.


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