By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Sep. 16) – With minimal leverage in their labor quarrel, locked out NHL players are damaging any pretense of solidarity by scrambling for work overseas.
That is the opinion of a senior NHL executive, who claimed if the players had any appreciable confidence in their dispute with owners, they’d hang together for at least a couple of weeks before running amok. Instead, the first crack in their questionable resolve has appeared less than 24 hours after the league’s adopted stance.
“Let ’em go,” howled the executive, instantly recognizable to all hockey fans but requesting – as he must – anonymity. “The players think they are threatening the owners by signing contracts in Europe. In fact, what they’re showing is they don’t have a lot of stomach to remain together in this fight. And that’s what we expected.”
It may be an unduly harsh appraisal of the NHLPA membership, which has been well-prepared and educated by respected leader Donald Fehr. But, the optics of fleeing in all directions after standing together in New York this week aren’t particularly reputable. Perhaps it’s an acknowledgement of the intractable position assumed by Gary Bettman and the owners, who justifiably contend they will dictate this process. Otherwise, it offers the impression of splitting ranks.
QUICK DEPARTURE FOR EUROPE BY SUCH NHL SUPERSTARS AS EVGENI MALKIN – SHOWN ABOVE DURING PITTSBURGH AT LOS ANGELES GAME OF NOV. 5, 2011 – DOESN’T BODE WELL FOR PLAYER SOLIDARITY. HARRY HOW GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM
“Deep down, the players know that if it comes to a stand-off, they cannot outlast the owners,” said the NHL executive. “Taking off to other leagues in Europe and the Nordic countries might make them feel better for awhile. But, it comes across to others as abandoning their position rather quickly.”
When asked – albeit rhetorically – what edge the players might have in this dispute, the executive replied, “None. We took away all of their leverage by canceling the playoffs in 2005. And, we’ll do it again, if we have to.”
What the executive failed to mention is the absurdity of NHL optics leading into the lockout – when owners, basing their position on extravagance, offered up tens of millions to retain their chattels. Craig Leopold, owner of the Minnesota Wild, personified such inanity by signing free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to contracts worth $196-million over 13 years, and then re-joining his colleagues to declare “the system doesn’t work.” Therefore, if the labor dispute were a matter of optics, Leopold and his brethren would be laughed into submission. The fact it is based on cold, hard economics provides the players virtually no chance for a favorable outcome.
Scattering to all parts further decries unanimity. Hanging together as a group – physically and philosophically – through the tenuous early days of the lockout would present a more consolidated front and, perhaps, urge owners back to the table. In any form of waiting game, the 2012-13 season will dissolve before the players’ eyes, fracturing – once again – their conviction.
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