Friday, June 24, 2005

Jagr Out Of Line With NHLPA?

With the sides amassing an amazing 75 hours of talks over five days of negotiations in Toronto this week, it is believed that we will have new CBA agreed in principle next week or the first week in July. Words of optimism from Bill Daly:
"It was a very long week but I think both sides are working really hard to resolve and move the process forward. We continued to make progress this week but there are still some issues that we need to talk about. We've made significant progress on most of the critical areas but that's all contingent on everything being resolved."
The collective guess of the hockey community is that a salary cap system is already hashed out, and the major roadblocks that remain are salary arbitration, player rights, what to do with old contracts (Yashin deals) and a surge in free agency, and whether to participate in the Turin Olympics. I've been waiting for players to start making peace with the process, and hopefully more come out than Jeremy Roenick, Jaromir Jagr, and player/owner Mario Lemieux. Quotes follow. Roenick:
"What we could've got in February is probably 10 times better than what we're going to get now. A lot of us knew that, but we did what we did and that's what you've got to live with. It's too bad that we've had a year off. For a lot of us, especially guys like myself, it's going to be a hard year to come back from. It is what it is. We've got to live with it, get the game back on the ice. But we could've had a better deal back in February."
"We started the fight because we didn't agree with the introduction of salary caps. Now, we'll be happy to get them. We didn't expect the owners to be so tough and persistent. It was a risk that didn't pay off."
"They should have taken the deal back in February. The cap was at $42.5 million, that was the offer from the owners, now it looks like it's going to be a lot less than that."
Now obviously it's no surprise that Lemieux is saying those things in the interest of his dual role as player/owner of the Penguins. Even Roenick mouthing off isn't very notable considering he's been pretty outspoken during the lockout, occasionally taking statements back after the NHLPA sends men with bats to meet him at his front door. But for Jaromir Jagr to say that is a huge turn of events. This is the man who made $11 million during the 2003-2004 season, tied with Peter Forsberg as the highest paid player. Jagr has followed the money a lot during his career, including during the lockout when he decided to play for oil-rich Russian Super League team Avangard Omsk, rather than play for a native Czech club. And he's already signed to return there if NHL play doesn't resume as planned. I find it amazing that players like Jagr didn't realize the conclusion of this lockout was many paths leading to one CBA, the NHL's version. Either that or they kept their lips sealed because the NHLPA was censuring any player comments not in line with Goodenow. But for Jagr to give us that statement now is basically a PR stunt. He's trying to save face and be one of the first player's to apologize or express their anger that a deal wasn't reached when it should've been. Because it's frankly an obvious statement to make. The NHLPA's "sticking by principle even if wrecking the Game" attitude made this lockout for the worse. The NHLPA was either grossly misinformed or very idealistic or both if they thought waiting five months (after February deadline talks) was going to make the NHL budge more towards their cap number at $49 million. No chance. The NHL's best offer was at $42 million, and even then NHL owners said they would be in the red and struggling. You can question the Levitt Report and NHL accounting all you want, but I don't think anyone should question that the NHL owners honestly felt that the system was slanted towards the players and the owners just weren't going to make concessions on this issue. Even if the owners were all ignorant in this belief, they were not budging on the cap numbers enough for the NHLPA to "win." And that's where Goodenow misled his player clients. I find it admirable to stick by principles and the NHLPA's principles were that a cap was not an option in their vision of the league. Fine. But when you're in the passenger seat of a truck, and Bettman and the owners are crazy-eyed in the driver seat racing towards the edge of a cliff, I don't think sticking by principle is much consolation for the potential destruction of a league, loss of a season, and career suicide for a number of NHL veterans. And a black eye for the Game. It's kind of like defensive driving. When you see a wreckless driver, you give them the space to avoid an accident. Even if that accident had been their fault, it's no consolation knowing you're "right" when you're at the side of the road filling out a police report. Sometimes you have to give in. Especially for the health of the Game. Unless you want that accident. Unless it's worth the chance of you "winning" even if the Game loses. That attitude really bothers me the most. In that truck over the cliff, the NHLPA can say they were not of fault for the situation, that it was Gary and his buddies. But is it worth it? The NHLPA may say in the end they were fighting in the interest of the fans so the NHL wouldn't turn into a socialist league, but I don't buy it. That's saving face. It was all about giving money back now and in the future. The 24% rollbacks offered by the PA were one-time only, and the league likely would've found itself with the same inflated salaries in five years. Yes, that is due to a spiderweb of problems in the NHL economic system, but my only acceptance of the cap system comes from knowing it may get a majority of struggling teams out of the red despite the owner's economic disabilities. I know the owners have been wrong with the economics. It only took a few of them to have the situation snowball. But I didn't see very much willingness for the players to resolve the problem. They said, why don't the owners share their revenues? Well, how do you share collective debt in the majority of the league. There just isn't enough profit-making to make a difference for all the teams in the red. Making 75% of a business' revenue is not the standard for most employees I know. Maybe I'm being too hard on the players and their leadership. But maybe that reflects how I hold them to a higher standard. Bettman and his gang are businessmen, the majority of them don't know the Game and many don't even love it. But I really thought the players would avert disaster because they understood the importance. Maybe the owners really aren't as crazy-eyed/ignorant as I think and it was a conspiracy to break the PA. But I have a hard time believing most owners are that smart in tactics and then in the red because they enjoy losing hundreds of milions of dollars over the course of their ownership, as the St Louis owners did and are now selling. It could also be possible that the NHLPA is a crazy-eyed bunch just like the NHL leadership, but this rant in the NHLPA's direction is a testament to my belief that they know what's up. And it's criticism in believing they are able to do the right thing.
Guy Lafleur: "The players took advantage of the situation in 1994. They won the lottery for 10 years in a row. I have nothing against the guys who have taken advantage of the system for 10 years, I'm very happy for them. But it makes no sense. These guys have to be realistic. I know it's going to be tough for them to leave this money behind, but they were lucky to have it for 10 years. From the beginning, the owners said they were going for a salary cap and they stuck to their plan. That's why there's no hockey today."
I plead naivety on behalf of the owners. And I ask the players to consider an economic system that may be a lighter load on the intellect of the owners, at least for the time being. This CBA should be corrective, not permanent precedent. If the owners are meaning for this to stay, I'm inching back to the fence between us. --Credit to HockeyBird for inspiring this unedited rant. I read Jim's take on the recent quotes and got in the mood to rant. If I started to edit it down and make it into essay form, it wouldn't be a rant anymore. And frankly, the NHL doesn't deserve any more time than I've already given them tonight!


At 6/25/2005 10:08:00 AM, Blogger The Puck Stops Here said...

The players speaking out who are "out of line with the NHLPA" are the older guys like Jagr and Roenick. These guys have lost money by losing last season. The younger guys who will replace them probably have lost money when they agree to the new CBA. They are not speaking out. Of course its harder to project who those guys (tomorrow's stars) are. Even if you can project them, they are likely young kids who are not brazen enough to speak out in the media.

At 6/25/2005 11:19:00 AM, Blogger Brian List said...

The sad thing is that Goodenow made the younger players believe it was worth waiting five months (after February) to see how the NHL might break once ESPN pulled out and advertisers fell through. But thinking the NHL would break is assuming that they don't 100% back the cause and the accounting facts behind them, and Bettman surely has enough votes of confidence that the NHL was never going to break. Maybe they are votes of insanity, but nonetheless the NHL was never going to give in.

Roenick's outspokedness is on par with things Brett Hull might say - those guys are down to Earth and I doubt money is that influential for them to trump pride. Jagr, possibly the money is at play. But I think all players should be speaking out and angry (even privately) because if they had accepted the deal back in February we would've had hockey and the Cup wouldn't have layed dormant and they wouldn't have lost as much money...they were in denial or totally uninformed to make that decision.

At 6/25/2005 03:52:00 PM, Blogger Matt Saler said...

Good point, Puck. I wonder if that will cause problems when the CBA goes to the players for ratification. The older players may support it in order to get back to making money but what if the younger player protest it because of the money they will "lose" (based on what they might have earned in the future under the old CBA)? Not a very pleasant scenario to think about.


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