Sittler assists owners

Former Toronto Maple Leaf star and union representative Darryl Sittler believes a salary cap will...

Former Toronto Maple Leaf star and union representative Darryl Sittler believes a salary cap will help the NHL. (Toronto Sun File Photo/Rob Lamberti)

JON COOK -- SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 3:15 PM ET

TORONTO -- The irony is not lost on Darryl Sittler.

The NHL Hall of Famer and former union vice president knows his support of a salary cap will be viewed as heresy by the NHL Players Association, but like most fans, Sittler just can't identify with the greediness of today's hockey players.

"I never ever felt that because you play for three, five or 10 years, that the game owes you for the rest of your life," said Sittler, who just yesterday marked the 29th anniversary of his NHL record 10-point game against the Bruins on Feb. 7, 1976. "It's not like anybody is starving in this business."

With all his well-documented financial battles with tightwad Maple Leafs' owner Harold Ballard, Sittler is the last person you'd expect to be championing the cause of the league against its players. Especially since he believes the owners got themselves into this mess in the first place.

"But realizing that they want to try to maintain 30 teams and build a stronger league, they believe that it's important to have some cost certainties in there," said Sittler, who famously defied Leafs' management by cutting the C from his jersey to protest the trading of linemate Lanny McDonald in 1979. "It's hard as a player to buy it, but at the same time if somebody's guaranteeing a salary cap of $42-45 million there's still lots of money to split up amongst the guys to make a good living at something they love doing."

Sittler has since mended his fences with the club he broke into the league with and played for from 1970-82. He currently works for the club's marketing and public relations departments and has a front-row seat to the fans' displeasure with the current lockout.

"Hopefully they'll come to some sort of an agreement where everybody can get back to playing," said Sittler, who could possibly lose his job if the season is cancelled. "If things keep going and there's no income coming in for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, they'll do something to alleviate the salary burden that they have in all the employees down here. Hopefully that won't happen."

If that does happen, Sittler won't have to worry about keeping busy. The 54-year-old is highly involved in cancer and heart disease prevention, travelling across Canada to give lectures.

They're subjects that are close to Sittler, as his wife Wendy died from colorectal cancer three years ago and heart problems previously claimed the lives of both his father and grandmother. A few years back his older brother Ken suffered a heart attack.

"If you can be proactive in some of these things in your life, it reduces the risk of something happening," said Sittler, who stays fit and takes the cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor. "I obviously talked to doctors before that and they say it's certainly something you should do, so I do it. The other part with that is exercise, proper diet and keeping your weight down."

Sittler said he's never suffered from high cholesterol, but it's better to be safe than sorry. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among Canadians, yet a study by the Heart and Stroke Foundation shows that nearly 60 per cent of those at risk are misinformed about how to protect themselves.

"From a personal standpoint you have an opportunity to create an awareness for people," said Sittler, who will speak tonight at the Toronto Reference Library (7:30-8:30 EST). "Sometimes people just need the message in front of them or something to twig them to say 'Maybe this does make sense, maybe I'll go to my doctor and get a checkup.'"

Whether it's improving your health or improving the NHL, Sittler believes it's all a matter of choice. Hockey players choose to make a career in the sport and play in the NHL and those athletes shouldn't then turn around and complain that they are hard done by, especially when the average player makes more than a million dollars a year.

"You don't want to feel like you've been taken advantage of at all, but I don't think that's the case here with the players and seeing how things have gone over the last 10 years," said Sittler, who points out it's not like it was before the NHLPA came along. "In the '40s and '50s and maybe in the '60s, before the WHA came along, players felt they were taken advantage of and underpaid, but at the same time they still had the choice to either play or go on and do something else and it's no different now."


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