Saskin's problems aren't going away

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

Usually, press releases are sent out to announce that something has changed.

When the National Hockey League Players Association announced yesterday that Ted Saskin has been confirmed as executive director of the organization, it broke with precedent.

There was nothing new in this.

Some teams are still withholding their vote. They never will vote.

Other teams would not give Saskin that kind of margin if their vote, recorded months ago and announced yesterday, were re-solicited today.

It is nothing more than an attempt on Saskin's part to legitimize his status, something he has been doing by travelling around to the teams and visiting each one of them personally.

In some cases, as with the Colorado Avalanche, the visit went smoothly. In the case of the New York Rangers, his reception was tumultuous --not as ugly a scene as the one with the New York Islanders, but unpleasant for Saskin nonetheless.

Ironically, in travelling around attempting to make more friends, Saskin has made more enemies. A significant segment of the NHLPA membership is angry about his using their money on an electioneering campaign.

These meet-the-players trips were a staple of the Bob Goodenow regime, but for the past five years, they were undertaken to prepare the tactics for the upcoming labour negotiations.

The players were asked what stance they supported. They were told what the ramifications would be. They were given answers to any questions they might have concerning the proposed tactics.

But many players feel that at the moment, there is no real need for Saskin to make this tour. He took over the PA after the mutiny and forged an agreement that may represent the most one-sided capitulation since the Treaty of Versailles.

Rightly or wrongly, an increasing segment of the PA membership sees the trip as nothing more than an attempt to justify himself.

But it must be made clear that even if the entire vote were held again today, Saskin would receive a majority.

The prevailing attitude in the PA is that this is the time for hockey, not the time for internal politics. Since nothing can be done to change the collective bargaining agreement at the moment, most players want to devote themselves to the game and wait until the summer to deal with PA issues.

It's not that they necessarily support Saskin. They just don't support an examination into the issue.

But once the season ends, that will change. The annual summer PA meetings -- one in North America and one in Europe -- will receive the highest attendance in their history. They will also feature the most vitriol.

By then, the players will have had a full season of the 24% rollback, followed by the 12% (unless it increases) escrow.

Questions that should have been asked last summer will finally get asked. Who authorized the dissidents to accept a salary cap when the premise for the lockout had been the refusal to do so? Where did the executive committee get the authority to force out Goodenow? Why were the constitutional requirements not followed in the appointment of Saskin? Why did the committee give Saskin, who had no experience in the job, such a lucrative contract?

There may well be good answers to all those questions. If so, the membership will certainly want to hear them. And they may be mollified.

But don't count on it. More likely, there will be a bloodbath of epic proportions and the entire executive committee will be swept out of office.

And Saskin?That remains to be seen. But despite yesterday's announcement, he's still not on solid ground. 


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