After getting run-around from owners, NHL players would be right to strike

Phil Jackman

March 12, 1992|By Phil Jackman

This will be relatively short and sweet/sour, depending on what side of the issue you're on, if any. It concerns the possibility of a strike in hockey and brevity should always be a prerequisite when dealing with such subjects.

The NHL has gone through nearly 90 percent of a season without a players agreement. And, having turned a deaf earto requests and demands by the players since last September, the owners (( see no reason why the delay can't be strung out until the summer.

The players, seeing a year go by without any progress being made, envision another 12 months going by, then 12 more and so on, just like happens in football.

Besides, the players are due their final regular-season paychecks by the weekend, so it wouldn't be costing them anything calling a work stoppage sometime next week.

The playoffs, which amount to bonus money for players and, probably, the difference between making or losing money for the teams, commence April 8.

As is always the case in these confrontations, the players say the major issues are not money-related. Of course they are, but the lads who adorn the armament each game certainly can't be accused of being greedy.

The owners and commissioner John Ziegler, who is supposed to be the commissioner for all concerned parties, want to paint their employees as money-grubbing ingrates. Clearly, the facts don't bear them out.

Basically, what the players are asking is (1) that an independent, not a league-appointed, arbiter be named to resolve contract disputes; (2) that they have more say in their pension plan; (3) that the age a player can become a free agent be dropped from age 31 to age 28; (4) that they get a greater share of league revenues; and (5) that the amateur draft be downsized.

The only issues where management would appear to have a leg to stand are on Nos. 4 and 5. It is estimated the players already make off with about 60 percent of league revenues and salaries have been jumping ahead impressively the last few years after dragging in the mud for decades. Only six rounds of drafting instead of 12 would mean teams would have to pay more for talent right at the start of a kid's career.

The other issues scream for correction and in each case, arbitration, pension plan and free agency, management has held the upper (medieval) hand for far too long.

Hall of Famer Stan Mikita took a swing through the area promoting the league's 75th anniversary recently and he said, "The threat of a strike has always been there, but not a very serious one.

"There was a time when I was a player rep when we came pretty close, but we backed off because we didn't want to hurt the public.

"I'm all for the players and, despite what the owners say about not having any money, I have a feeling the money is there. The big thing is I just hope the owners are listening to the players. It's frustrating to go into a room and for hours get the run-around."

Considering the last contract was up more than six months ago, it's safe to say the NHL Players Association negotiator has been getting the run-around.

A strike would put a dent in the owners in that they have already incurred most of the expenses leading to the end of the season. And they need playoff revenues, big time.

Wayne Gretzky is wrong when he says, "Obviously, [a strike] is going to hurt the league image. With the economy the way it is, people won't be thrilled about this."

Chances are, oh Great One, they won't even notice. When there's a strike in football or baseball, it takes on the proportions of a national calamity. A hockey strike would probably carry no more importance that a work stoppage by the Amalgamated Camel Drivers of Cairo Local #583.

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