Players Losing Way More Than Money

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Oct. 4) – It’s comforting to know that locked out players in the National Hockey League have secured “rainy day” funds in the event of a protracted interruption. These funds are being augmented by part-time salaries in Europe and Russia for perhaps one-eighth of the NHLPA membership – those considered name-worthy attractions.

The rest are sitting at home with their fingers crossed.

Early this afternoon, as fully anticipated, the NHL announced it had canceled the first two weeks of the 2012-13 regular season – scheduled to begin one week from tonight. As such, the players will not receive their initial round of salary payment on Oct. 15. 

For all players, there is one element that transcends ability and appeal: time. No individual – from Sidney Crosby to a fourth-line plugger – can accrue “rainy day” weeks, months or years. The sun will continue to rise and fall at the same pace during a labor dispute as it would in a full game-schedule; so, too, will the biological clock of every person accomplished enough to make it in the NHL. That clock will seem to progress at a much-quicker rate than a conventional worker, whose window of opportunity can span half-a-century. The archetypal hockey player will be fortunate to subsist for half-a-decade.

Such is the dilemma encountered by a vast majority of locked-out NHLers. Even the chosen-few that have fled overseas are victims of inevitability.

This is not an indictment of the players’ position; they relinquished an abundance while losing the entire 2004-05 season. Under no equitable circumstance should they be impelled to abdicate more of the economic pie. But, their choice is rather limited. The owners are conducting another “adjournment” simply because they can. Moreover, they are prepared to obliterate the 2012-13 season much earlier than in 2005, when the possibility of an abbreviated schedule existed until mid-February. Arena doors will be permanently shackled on this occasion before Dec. 1.

EVEN SUCH GREAT PLAYERS AS CLAUDE GIROUX OF THE PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – PICTURED ABOVE DURING GAME AT DETROIT ON FEB. 12, 2012 – CANNOT AFFORD TO LOSE PRECIOUS MONTHS OFF THEIR CAREERS. DAVE REGINEK GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

Castigating Gary Bettman by way of social media is undoubtedly cathartic for the 600-odd NHL players languishing in Canada and the United States. A former player with the Maple Leafs told me that he and his buddies posted an image of Bettman on a dart-board at a local establishment and butchered it all to hell in drunken merriment. He informed me – rather dejectedly – that the NHL commissioner was smiling in the photograph even after the assault.

So much for Bettman voodoo.

The time-clock began to tick this afternoon. The body-clock marches on without respect to circumstance. Donald Fehr is completely justified in adopting a rigid stance with NHL owners. Likewise, the owners are entitled to conduct business as they see fit.

In the end, everyone loses… but none more-so than athletes that have dedicated their lives to an improbable goal: qualifying, against prohibitive odds, to play in the world’s best hockey league.

On a personal note, the entire situation saddens me.

I have limitless respect and admiration for those that perform on the NHL stage. At the risk of sounding melancholy, I also prefer to avoid berating the sport that has provided me an opportunity to earn a living.

When a guest on the syndicated ESPN show Pardon The Interruption (with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon) was recently asked about the NHL, he replied: “Dumbest league going.”

That hurt.

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