SUN Hockey Pool

Saskin winning 'em over

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:48 PM ET

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- This has been a good week for Ted Saskin.

For the past few months, the executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association has been described as embattled so often that he was becoming known as E. Ted Saskin.

But if he survives the turmoil that has surrounded his succession and goes on to lead the PA for a number of years, this week will be the one that is remembered as the turning point.

He started off by going face to face with some of his opponents in Chicago and handling himself well.

Granted, the dissidents have done themselves no favors by allowing their group to be influenced by some of the more lunatic elements of the hockey-agent business.

That gave Saskin a head start because he has picked up some of the middle ground. There are some agents who are opposed to him, but they're not sufficiently opposed that they would allow their names to be associated with some of the people who are influencing the other side.

The bottom line is that Saskin faced a situation that was fraught with danger and not only emerged unscathed but actually increased his support.

But his biggest gains came when he showed up at the annual board of governors meeting and revelled in the good news concerning the game's finances.

For those who want to believe the fantasy of the much-ballyhooed "partnership" between the owners and the players, this was a crucial moment.

There is no partnership. The owners capitalized on some of the more spineless elements of the NHLPA and forged a deal that is so one-sided it should be called the Moebus Agreement.

But from the point of view of Saskin's acceptance by his constituents, it is important to perpetuate that myth, and the announcement of an increased salary cap for next season does just that.

There was much talk at the governors' meeting of the manner in which the league's strong showing had surprised a lot of observers.

As NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, "There had been a lot of speculation publicly by some people, and I'm not sure what they were basing it on. We knew pretty early on that things were looking strong. This strong is terrific for the game."

To be specific, league-wide revenues are going to be above $2 billion US and may even be in the $2.1 billion range. For this reason, the salary cap will go up and the escrow percentage will go down.

But let's be clear about one thing. This is still less than the league earned in the 2003-04 season. Using the accounting methods now in place, revenues in that instance were approximately $2.2 billion.

Despite all the glowing rhetoric and the positive spin, the league is not making as much money as it did before the owners' lockout.

But most of Saskin's constituents want to look on the bright side. After all, most of them are Canadians and therefore accustomed to having the people in power bribe them with their own money. To them, having their escrow payments reduced from 12% to 1.9% is a positive move, even though they still have to dig into their paychecks to subsidize the owners.

But after this week, Saskin can continue his tour of the league and point out that he has increased support from the more respected agents.

He can also say that the escrow hit, which man players had feared would not be reduced, will be sharply lowered and may disappear altogether.

As a result, he is on much firmer footing than he has been since his appointment. He had a very good week.


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