Kukla's Korner

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Groundhog Day

For those of us who’ve been laughed at as “conspiracy theorists” and league-critical cynics of a Larry Brooks-like pedigree, Saturday was our Groundhog Day.

As in, we got to peek out of our little bunkers, point at our long shadows, and say, “We told you so.”

We told you that the lockout was about franchise equity, and the concept that a franchise’s bank value would increase exponentially when viewed as an entity with “cost certainty”—theoretically capped costs in terms of salary expenditures, directly tied to league-wide revenues, which effectively renders whether an individual team makes or loses money at the gate, in terms of ticket sales-vs.-expenditures, irrelevant.

We told you that the widespread belief that it was the players who drove the “work stoppage” with their intransigence and out and out disregard for the poor fans and sacred game because of their outright greed—despite the inept leadership of the union by Bob Goodenow—was a lie, that it was in fact the owners who refused the PA’s overtures to play without a CBA, to accept a fixed cap independent of revenues, to accept a December 9th proposal which could have saved the season—a December 9th proposal whose 24% salary roll-backs, restraint upon qualifying offers, introduction of a club option to take players to salary arbitration, and a better revenue-sharing program than that actually agreed upon by the NHL’s Board of Governors formed the “meat” of the eventually-adopted CBA—or to do anything less than intentionally scuttling an entire season so that the PA would be forced to accept a cap with linkage—all while leveraging the league-friendly media, which posted the league’s gospel lock, stop, and barrel to fans who didn’t know any better than to believe Gary Bettman’s ridiculous claims about lower salaries leading to widespread and permanent reductions in ticket prices, and leveraging player agent support and direct player lobbying while helping to engineer the palace coup that installed Ted Saskin as the PA’s executive director…

A Ted Saskin who, we asserted, was not only illegally installed by Trevor Linden and the Executive Committee against the ill-informed PA membership’s wishes, but also all but lived in Gary Bettman’s shirt pocket, enforcing a “partnership” with the NHL that actually entailed agreeing to every concept which the league proposed—all while viciously quashing any inquiries as to how the hell the PA was suddenly told that they not only had a new leader with a ridiculous $2+ million-a-year salary, but also that they’d agreed, sans actual consent, to an economic system that included a 24% salary rollback, a salary cap linked to revenues, and a slate of rule changes which fundamentally changed the way they played the game of hockey.

And a Ted Saskin who, we asserted, waged a Spanish Inquisition-like smear campaign against anyone who would dare question the circumstances that led to the coup resulting in his installation, or why Ted Saskin, Trevor Linden, and Bill Daly must have looked at one another during a marathon bargaining session in which Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow had been asked to leave the room, looked at one another, and realized that the three of them had no one to answer to but themselves as the three men could craft any CBA that they wished to create, sans any oversight whatsoever.

Trent Klatt never played hockey again; Arturs Irbe never played hockey again; Dwayne Roloson and Chris Chelios were rendered as pariahs and treasonous traitors of the first order—images which were readily and happily reinforced by the same media which proudly spread the Gospel of Gary to the uninformed and upset fans looking for someone to blame during a lockout in which each and every party involved was culpable and guilty for what transpired to varying extents—Benedict Arnolds who were only proven correct, and grudgingly acknowledged as such by the media, when the evidence of impropriety was so staggeringly stacked against Linden and Saskin that one could no longer deny the vast and likely pre-lockout, Goodenow-induced conspiracy to control the players and quash any sort of dissent by blatantly and arrogantly (who else names a surveillance program “Operation Big Brother”?) snooping upon not only player emails, but also player-agent emails which fall under the jurisdiction of attorney-client privilege, all after Saskin maliciously used hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend himself against just U.S. Federal lawsuits spearheaded by Klatt, Roloson, and “Crazy Old Man” Chelios, lawsuits which would have held Saskin and Linden accountable in a way that the NHLPA, for the sake of “unity” and the faction that wants to simply “move on” never will…

And yet, yesterday, on Hockey Night in Canada’s pre-game show, there were Scotty Morrison and Ron MacLean, ever-so-eager to defend Bettman and Daly’s complicit attempts to help quash the dissident movement at its source, with the help of the many media sycophants who twist every union-friendly story into league propaganda whenever possible, demanding that Rick Westhead to reveal the source for his eye-opening story that detailed how disturbingly close Saskin, Daly, and Bettman really were…

All while giving Bill Daly a pulpit upon which to spread his message that nothing he did was ever improper in any way, shape, or form…

And, when Pierre LeBrun, the league’s media golden boy himself, the man to whom the “thought balloons” of bigger nets, automatic penalties for any blows to the head, intentional or unintentional, potential schedule changes, thoughts about expansion, and/or realignment are leaked, carefully crafted the following remarks about the dissident leader, the man who called Saskin’s relationship with the league—very appropriately—“sick and pathetic”—and accurately assessed the so-called “partnership” for what it really is, saying, “At the end of the day, the owners are going to do what they have to to put money in their own pockets,” Chelios said. “It’s never been a real partnership,” as follows:

Attempts to reach Chelios were not immediately successful Saturday.

Of course not, Golden Boy LeBrun. Chelios happens to be on a trans-continental flight to Los Angeles as the Detroit Red Wings are embarking upon their first West Coast swing of the season, and, instead of subtly suggesting that Chelios “doesn’t want to talk,” you could have simply looked at the schedule and admitted the truth—but that truth is too simple, and less friendly to the Word of Bettman and Daly than taking yet another pot-shot at crotchety Old Man Cheli, just as Stan Fischler did earlier this week, suggesting that the dissidents aren’t simply occupying themselves with the business of finding their next executive director, but are, instead, actively plotting what Grandpa Stan would doubtless describe as nothing less than “another strike”:

This news might get stuck in your craw but it has to be reported nonetheless. Another NHL Work Stoppage could very well happen when it’s time for the NHLPA to renew the current CBA.The angst centers on two critical areas: 1. Choice of the next union boss; 2. Whether the small but vocal Chris Chelios-led militant unionists control the show. No question, there’s real concern that a Bob Goodenow clone will replace the lamented Ted Saskin. If so, it will mean hockey’s World War III. Really, it’s the players’ choice and if they want to kill the goose that laid their golden egg they can do it again, because they did it once before!

We “conspiracy theorists”—those of us who don’t believe the league’s hype, those of us who always cast a wary and critical eye toward both the league and players’ association’s motives, those of us who proudly supported the union during the lockout—until the union was very obviously wrested from its membership by a faction that chose to trade one problem (Goodenow) for another (Saskin)—and those of us who said, while you were laughing at the dissidents, that their assertions, if overly critical, had merit as a union operating with transparency would not only serve its membership better, but would become more accountable in terms of both taking responsibility for their half-stake in the game, and having to understand that their blasé membership, too, must embrace a role they have yet to acknowledge, one of responding to the concerns of the fans that they must represent—we were right, and we will continue to hack and whack through the spin, propaganda, half-truths, and lies uttered by both the NHL, the NHLPA, and the media, which plays both sides while ultimately supporting a league-friendly mandate, because when three parties claim to be representing the truth, or when those three parties disparage one another, the truth—and the blame—always lie somewhere in between those drawn battle lines.

In a league whose governance is determined by a “Good Old Boys’ Club” of dinosaurs called the Board of Governors and their labyrinthine halls of power and persuasion, a petty little man whose best attribute is leveraging owner against owner and media against media while refusing to cloak his resentment for and open hostility toward all parties involved, and a player’s union that has never, ever been an honest one in all its years of existence, change is coming, and the extent to which this change challenges the status quo will be Chris Chelios’s most lasting legacy. It is a war which he is only beginning to wage, and as much as he deserves support and praise, if he slips up, if he loses his will to fight, he must be called on it, because it is accountability, and nothing less, which our game so desperately needs, both on and off the ice, to restore respect between players, and, more importantly, those who run the game and the people who provide their millions and millions—their fans.

Sure, we told you so, but it doesn’t matter one lick if we don’t keep up the fight.

Filed in: NHL Talk, NHL Business of Hockey, NHLPA, George James Malik, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: nhlpa

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

Email Paul anytime at pk@kuklaskorner.com