Great divide is widening

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:07 AM ET

Back in the early part of the year, when the members of the National Hockey League Players' Association were starting the crumble that would eventually become a full-scale landslide, one of their number predicted trouble.

"The big dogs are taking charge," he said, "because they know that the big dogs can always get to the food bowl. Wait until the smaller dogs figure out what's happening."

Now, with the season about a month away, the smaller dogs are indeed figuring it out. They are beginning to realize that their leadership signed an agreement that, as one put it, "is sickening."

They're just starting to understand the provisions of the deal, especially the controversial escrow clause, which requires the players to subsidize the owners.

The unanimity that had served the PA so well for more than a decade has vanished, and now, there is serious division. On Wednesday night, against the wishes of a sizable segment, some members of the executive ran roughshod over the PA's own constitution to support the executive director of their choice.

The speculation is that internal dissension will follow, lawsuits are not out of the question and that, throughout it all, the owners will laugh all the way to the bank as the players receive less and less for their services over the course of the collective bargaining agreement.

On Wednesday, the PA voted on a conference call to confirm the appointment of Ted Saskin as executive director. But the PA's constitution says: "The executive director shall be nominated by the executive board and elected by secret ballot ..."

When Saskin's predecessor, Bob Goodenow, got the job, it marked the culmination of a four-month process that included comprehensive background checks and extensive interviews. There were eight other candidates and, over the months, that number gradually was winnowed down.

This time, Saskin was appointed within moments of Goodenow's resignation, much the same way as Fletcher Christian took over from William Bligh.

For the most part, the complaints of the dissident group are not a reflection of their feelings about Saskin. He has served the PA well ever since being one of Goodenow's first hires. But an organization of the magnitude of the NHLPA, which has a major controlling effect on billions of salary dollars, should not be run like a portable hotdog stand.

The Philadelphia Flyers' player representative, Robert Esche, excused the circumventing of due process in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"We didn't have time to call a meeting of the board," he said. "The purpose of the conference call was to vote Ted in."

That is a blatantly self-serving statement. Right after Goodenow's resignation in July, there was a similar conference call, but it degenerated into such a serious confrontation that it had to be terminated.

There had been plenty of time since then to call a meeting of the board, but Esche and others of his mindset knew that they could better further their cause by another conference call, rather than a face-to-face meeting.

PA president Trevor Linden told his constituents that he considered the conference-call process to be "easier."

No doubt it is. Car theft is easier than getting approval for financing. But that doesn't make it right.

At the moment, the union remains severely divided. There are those who support the deal that Linden got when he changed horses in midstream and took a tack contrary to the one his constituents approved as justification for the lockout. There are also those who are strongly opposed to that deal saying, with a considerable degree of accuracy, that they threw away all the gains that were made during the Goodenow era.

Bitterness abounds. And it will get worse.

$750: That is the amount the Detroit Tigers paid, 100 years ago, to the South Atlantic League's Augusta Tourists for Ty Cobb. The controversial Cobb, known as perhaps the most ferocious player in baseball lore, retired 24 seasons later with a career .367 batting average and 4,191 hits.


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