Sports Hockey

NHL players take moral high ground in labour dispute 0

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
NHL players are presenting a united front behind executive director Donald Fehr. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP)

NHL players are presenting a united front behind executive director Donald Fehr. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP)

CALGARY - 

Even in the weeks leading up to the NHL lockout which took effect Saturday night, the general consensus around the hockey world was positive.

Oh sure, most everybody agreed there would be a stoppage of some sort, but most felt it wouldn’t be as long as the 2004-05 shutdown which wiped out a whole season, including the playoffs.

The prevailing thought of this lockout was it would last a month or two.

Who knows, maybe those oft-said projections will still come true. After all, we’re only a couple days into this spat because two sides can’t figure out how to share a US$3.3-billion trough.

But there appears to be a main difference between the players’ mindset from 2004 compared to right now.

Those players locked out today believe they are morally in the right about the economics of their argument with the owners. Any fan clamouring for hockey, and those whose livelihood is dependant on the NHL being in action, may be concerned.

“We’re not just going to be — I don’t want to use the wrong words here — bullied or pushed around,” said Flames defenceman Mark Giordano. “We know the ins and outs of it — Don (Fehr, the NHLPA’s executive director) has done a great job of explaining things to us — and believe we can help make it work.”

That attitude is a long ways off from what we saw back in September 2004.

When going into that Armageddon, the players knew they would give something back.

As much as they didn’t fully believe the league’s claims about the league being in dire straits, the players knew the NHL needed drastic changes because of the financial imbalance between the clubs.

“We know we have to give something back,” one player said to me during the 2003-04 season. “We just don’t know how much we have to give.”

Eventually, we all found out what that amount was: 24% of contracts in place.

On top of that, as much as the players said they wouldn’t accept a salary cap, there were those going into the shutdown knowing it was a distinct possibility.

Some brought up the fact there needed to be a Plan B, and the fact that wasn’t in place when it became obvious a salary cap linked to revenue was going to be part of the new CBA, caused disharmony.

This time, though, they don’t believe they owe the NHL some big pay back. After all, the league received one, seven years ago, and has bragged about how it’s grown since.

Even if players know they must reduce their percentage of the revenues, they don’t believe such a wild swing is needed. Certainly, they were angered the league originally proposed players go from 57% last season to 43% immediately.

(Let’s face it, that opening proposal hardly started negotiations on the right foot. Sure, the NHLPA dragged its collective feet getting to the bargaining table, but two wrongs aren’t making any rights.)

The league has moved from its original stance, but the players don’t believe they should bear such a brunt while the league brags about its finances.

“Imagine someone hires you out of college to do a job for $39,000 a year, give them an incentive-based contract to reach up to $70,000 in how many years and you do everything to do it,” said Flames defenceman Chris Butler. “Then, you tell them you want to go back to square one again.”

There you have it. The players are unified not just about the dollars being thrown around.

“The owners just want to basically take money away from the players. They want to cut our salaries,” said Flames NHLPA rep Matt Stajan. “Our proposal is more about helping the franchises that need help. The players will do their part and give a little bit back, but it can’t just be the players. It’s gotta be everybody in this together.”

Added Giordano: “We’re all about making concessions, as far as helping the game, growing the game and making revenues better, but we’re not going to give in to a situation where it’s a matter of seeing how much we’re willing to give up and go from there. Our proposal, we thought, was a good one. We believed in the system (proposed) and the game could continue to grow, but there hasn’t been an agreement.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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