Saskin in crosshairs

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

For months now, whenever mention was made of the controversy surrounding Ted Saskin's stewardship of the National Hockey League Players' Association, the response always was the same.

"It's not about Saskin," the players said.

"It's about the process."

Not anymore.

Now it's about Saskin.

The NHLPA office, once a well-run, highly efficient clearing house for player concerns, is in a shambles with internecine squabbles breaking out everywhere between the pro-Saskin and anti-Saskin forces.

And the latter group is the larger.

Steve Larmer, once one of the most highly regarded staffers in that office, said on the weekend what many people have known for a long time: The union is back where it was before Bob Goodenow came in as executive director.

Don't underestimate the impact of Larmer's open letter explaining his decision. If there is anyone in the entire NHL who doesn't respect and admire Larmer, that person has kept his identity well hidden.

Saskin has tried to revitalize his support from the players but has failed miserably.

He sent out ballots to all teams so that his controversial -- not to mention unconstitutional -- elevation to the status of executive director could be reconfirmed.

But no result of that re-election has been announced for the simple reason that some teams, including the Maple Leafs, have refused to vote.

Saskin also tried to calm the waters by visiting some teams. But in one case, it got so ugly that he was forced to leave and had a water bottle thrown at him during his departure.

The Leafs, in keeping with their stance on the affair, have told him they have no intention of meeting with him.

Their view, and the view of many teams, is that the matter can wait. It can wait until the governmental agencies that oversee labour organizations take a stance. It can wait until the courts get involved.

It can wait until summer when the NHLPA annual meeting can right any perceived wrongs.

"We just want to play hockey," most of the players are saying. "Right now, that's our only concern."

Of course, that's the attitude that got them into this mess.

They pledged overwhelmingly to stay out "as long as it takes" in their labour battle, then ran away from the fight after a few months saying, "We just want to play hockey."

They sat back and either ignored, or shrugged off, a mutiny at the top and allowed a small group within their organization to reverse the battle plan they all had so heartily endorsed.

They settled at the time of year which gave them the least possible leverage, and they gave their approval to a collective bargaining agreement that to this day has not been finalized -- even though commissioner Gary Bettman insisted again and again that there would be no hockey until the entire agreement was complete.

They took a 24% salary rollback followed by a 12% "escrow" rollback.

They sat still and said, "We just want to play hockey."

The prime mover behind all this largesse was Ted Saskin.

He's the guy who said for months that the figures the NHL was putting forth could not be believed.

Then, after the mutiny, he accepted a deal based upon those very NHL figures and forged a "partnership" with the people who had produced them.

Little wonder, then, that a sizable segment of the NHLPA's members are upset with Saskin.

So they should be.

They should be just as upset with their members who staged the mutiny. And their members who backed it.

But Saskin is the guy at the top, the guy with the highest profile.

There is great unrest in the union and Saskin is the one in the crosshairs.


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