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Comrade I have chosen a side
League or Union? Neither
1/6/05 - by Steve Flores

Early January and we are still without the NHL variety of hockey. I am aware that much of Canada, several parts of the USA and all of Europe have some variety of the sport being played at varying levels. But here in the Bay Area we only have one variety of hockey, which just so happens to be the top notch, big kahuna level of the NHL.

Please don't bombard me with inane ravings about collegiate level games or kiddy hockey as neither is in the same genre. If your son or daughter plays the game that is an awesome thing, however those of us without hockey playing children do not subscribe to that particular brand and we miss the big boys. Even the one's that have gone to mother Russia to ply their trade in the land of former communism. That 'RED' hammer and sickle image seems to have taken hold in the mindsets of the NHL's owners.

After watching, reading, listening and siphoning months of countless banter by the NHL's corporate body, as well as, the player's union representatives I have finally softened my initial stance that both sides were greedy and ignorant. The players made an extremely good faith gesture with their most recent proposal to the league. The proposal carried many 'give backs' such as an across the board 24% salary cut for all currently signed contracts.

Have you ever seen pro athletes pull that move?

I'm betting NOT!

A salary cut folks! A cut in the monies that they were to be paid based on contracts mutually negotiated and signed by these same owners. The owner's response was to reject it and ask that they take a salary cut of 36%.

Must be nice huh?

The owners lure players with outrageously large contract offers. Sign the players then decide to ask them to take a pay cut because the owners aren't able to police themselves along the lines of fiscal responsibility!

Does anyone else see the lunacy in this?

The owners want a salary cap. I for one don't have a problem with that as a future concept. What I do have a problem with is that the owners are not attempting to negotiate towards a cap. They are demanding it. Labor agreements are based on good faith negotiation. Agreed upon labor contracts usually run for 4 or 5 years upon which new negotiation takes place to adjust for items that are not working for one or both parties involved. Unfortunately for the owners they are attempting to shove the cap down the player's throat. The issue should have been broached at prior negotiations in an attempt to show the importance of its possibility. To draw a line in the sand and have no real desire to negotiate is very POLITBURO-like on behalf of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the rest of the league's owners. Last time I checked Moscow is somewhere rather far east of the Hudson River.

Aside from the salary cap issue and the salary cut issue the players also offered up several other concessions that clearly show a desire on their part to negotiate.

Entry-level cutbacks, a change in the salary arbitration system, an idea for revenue sharing (a la the NFL) are all ideas brought forth by the union. They may not be perfect but they are without doubt an attempt at breaking the stalemate. The league responded with an offer that guarantees team players rights for 12 years without the athlete having any recourse in terms of arbitration. They would either take the offer made by a G.M. or watch his career go by the wayside. Again I am sensing some power and control issues here that would make Stalin proud.

The owners responded by saying 'oh u wanna give a 24% cutback? Great but it's not enough. In some cases we want as much as a 35% cutback'. This league offered gesture of separate rollback percentages seems to be a rather ludicrous attempt to break the union. According to many insiders including New York Post columnist Larry Brooks feel that "Bettman's transparent attempt to divide and conquer the union through a salary rollback scheme designed to pit the league's highest-paid players against the most modestly rewarded athletes has started the clock ticking on his tenure as NHL Commissioner".

Brooks went on to state "the NHL's latest proposal, repressive and oppressive to degrees not seen in pro sports' collective bargaining agreements since the decades-old days of the reserve clause, not only will fail to meet Bettman's objective, but it unwittingly will do more to cement union solidarity than anything union chief Bob Goodenow ever could have hoped to achieve". This move is so moronic that it seems to have deepened the players resolve. Mr. Bettman obviously doesn't pay attention to the Stanley Cup playoffs where everyone is careful not to make newsworthy quotes that may result in lighting a fire under an opponent.

Arrogant? Brash? Ignorant? Moronic?

Some people say its cold and calculating on the league's behalf, yet those same people can't seem to explain exactly what those frigid and thoughtful facts would be.

Several of the leagues players and now Wayne Gretzky himself have made statements that the NHL may not only lose this season but also must or all of next season.

Amazing isn't it. The NHL, North America's weakest of the 4 major team sports could become the first to actual cancel an entire season.

Are these players overpaid? This is a relative question but the relative answer is yes, of course they are. We in capitalist countries are so out of whack in terms of our financial priorities that it's sure to be laughed about by future generations of Homo sapiens. Let it be said that pretty much all American athletes are overpaid, yet that fact alone does not mean the owners are right for taking the hard line stance that they have taken.

A nasty rumor has emanated from certain owners as well as some highly placed NHL insiders that the league plans to use replacement players for the 2005-2006 season. Now that would be the ultimate slap at the fans of this incredibly dysfunctional league. Hopefully the Sharks management won't attempt to force this upon one of the best season ticket bases in the league.

Hopefully the real Sharks will be on the ice sometime soon.

Hopefully some semblance of common sense and less political control will result in having the real NHL back in action before next January

Contact Steve at

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