Friday, April 20, 2007

Union Goonery

Earlier this week, The Venerable Off Wing Opinion posted this interesting article about how the current NHL CBA got done and how Bob Goodenow was thrown under the bus.

I think this article deserves some closer attention to understanding what really went on...

The NHLPA’s constitution gives the executive board — made up of 30 club player representatives and a smaller group of players that made up the executive committee — the authority to make virtually all major decisions for the union.

Remember that. It will become important later on.

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios got a call from someone in NHL management, although he would not identify the caller. “They were asking, ‘Could you talk Bob into accepting a cap for you guys?”’ Chelios said. “He said, ‘If we could get a cap, we could get a deal done.’ I said, ‘No way. I am not going to tell Bob how to do his job.’”

Calgary Flames right wing Jarome Iginla told Sun Media in March 2005 that “management was calling players.”...

Pronger said that Mark Sauer, then president of the St. Louis Blues, took him and other Blues players to lunch and tried to persuade them to accept the NHL’s proposal. “They were hard-line in St. Louis,” Pronger said. “He was saying, ‘You need to take this deal and like it.’”

Pronger said he believes that lunch took place earlier than the other calls to players, more like November or December, but said he was not receptive to what he heard. “I wasn’t really paying attention after a while,” he said. “It was a one-way conversation.”

This is interesting because later on we read:

But in the days after Roenick’s interview, there were more news reports that a group of players led by Iginla and Pronger had met with management to talk about a salary cap, going around Goodenow and the union’s public position. “I got linked to this supposed coup of Bob Goodenow,” Pronger said, adding that the reports were false. “There was a lot of inaccurate journalism. I don’t think there was a group. A group of players saying, ‘Bob, you have to go [to a salary cap].’”

Now how does one reconcile the two statements? I added emphasis here because that's the part in dispute though there really isn't any real dispute. Management DID meet with the players about accepting a salary cap. The players involved admit as much and go on further to say that those talks were "one-sided" and didn't get very far.

Here we have something that was spun and people are trying to distort their actions to counter the spin. But the fact remains, management DID meet with the players about accepting a salary cap.

Sneaky on the part of the owners and their spin doctors? You bet. Categorically false? Hardly. The Players got snookered on that one.

Roenick attended a union meeting in Toronto on March 1 to explain why he had said what he said on ESPN.

“The last union meeting in Toronto after I said we should come out with a cap, there was a lot of yelling and screaming,” Roenick said last month. At that March 1, 2005, meeting, there were players on both sides of the cap issue.

“It was not a total united front,” Roenick said.

Good 'ol JR. now this comes as surprise because we were earlier told:

In many ways, though, the NHLPA was stronger than other sports unions going into a work stoppage, because about half of its 750 members were hired to play professional hockey in Europe.

“We had about 400 players (me here, 400 is half of 750? Is there some sort of odd Canadian conversion rate thing going on here? ) playing in Europe who were out of sight, out of mind,” Larmer said. “We had another 150 players who were looking forward to taking a year and a half off.”

Then there was a small but vocal group making lots of calls to the union office. “There were about 50 players who wanted to know what was going on and wanted to speed it up,” Larmer said. (me again, so, 400+150+50= 700. What about the 50 unaccounted players? or is the 750 number flat out wrong because we're talking about only 25 players per team here.)

So 50 players were able to sow that kind of discontent that quickly?

Though remember, those 400 players in Europe were mostly North American. They were playing in a strange land, in a strange culture, for far less $$$$$ than they were making in North America.

Furthermore, those players in Europe were suffering the indignity of having to carry their own equipment bags around. Something not even the robber-baron NHL Owners make them suffer through.

Something tells me that the guys in Europe weren't exactly happy with their circumstances on a number of different levels.

On March 22 the NHLPA’s executive committee held what was supposed to be a secret, four-day meeting in Pebble Beach, Calif., to strategize, but word leaked out.

The Toronto Star, in a story later that year, reported that Goodenow’s fate was sealed at that meeting “when it is believed union president Trevor Linden, in effect, ordered Goodenow to either find a resolution that included a cap or remove himself from the negotiating process.”

An agent told SportsBusiness Journal that Goodenow told the executive committee he wanted to wait the owners out until January 2006, but that the executive committee wasn’t willing to do that. “They reversed Bob,” the agent said.

Which of course is their right. What people keep forgetting is that Goodenow works for the players. If the players were willing to accept a Salary Cap, then it is Goodenow's job to go out and get that deal. Much like the owners could have deep-sixed Bettman at any point in time had they chosen to do so.

Remember that first quote? The executive board and the executive committee have the power to run the union.

The question that still needs to be asked here is very simple, if the players were not willing to accept a deal with a salary cap. Why did the NHLPA membership vote to ratify the deal?

Now how did Goodenow end up on the outside looking in? Well, first of all, the players put him there. Secondly you see all throughout that article how Goodenow is a considered a bully and a strong personality. Goodenow's position against taking a salary cap was well known. If the players (the ones who would be most affected by a salary cap) were willing to accept a cap, why keep as your point man a strong personality adamantly opposed to it?

Quite frankly, it makes no sense.

This article does not clear up or absolve questions surrounding the dismissal of Bob Goodenow. If Goodenow was told he was going to be fired and submitted a resignation before that firing could be properly executed, Goodenow could be as they say "so out of luck." But that's a mess independent of the whole issue surrounding the completion of the CBA. If the players were united in not wanting a salary cap, there's no way it would have been ratified by the players.

Give the owners credit, they broke the back of the union by their resolve to see a cap installed at whatever the cost. Lost in this timeline is the pointing out just over one month after Bettman canceled the 2004-2005 season that the players made the decision to fully accept a salary cap.

What this article also leaves out were the threats made by the owners to cancel the 2005-2006 season sooner than they waited to cancel the 2004-2005 season. That also had to have moved players to "take whatever they could get."

Finally, I have to say that I am glad Goodenow is gone. I am very disappointed that Gary Bettman hasn't suffered the same fate because the two prime faces of the NHL Lockout should have never survived no matter who won. But that's another rant for another day. What does upset me though is that there are players who in lieu of agreeing to a salary cap not only got a salary floor (which no other capped pro sports league has BTW) and a minimum salary of $450,000. Throw in the earlier free agency ages and I fail to see just how bad this deal is for the players. I respect that these guys only have a small window of opportunity to capitalize on their talents. But the revenues of the NHL do not justify their salary demands.



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