Players will wield their power ... and soon

Updated: November 1, 2004, 5:48 PM ET
By John Buccigross | Special to ESPN.com

Bob Goodenow is losing his grip on his union.

While we've mostly heard lower-salaried players publicly state that they'd accept some form of salary cap, privately, some higher-salaried veterans are also losing confidence in their poker-faced union head.

During the last week, I learned that one future Hall of Famer believes that he and some fellow players could get a deal done themselves. That the issues and math is rather elementary and with a good hard week of arrogant-free give and take, a deal could be made rather easily. This is a well-connected player who likely, um, shares these feelings with other NHL players.

The NHLPA and its 30 player representatives will meet with Goodenow on Tuesday to ask questions about what to do next. Publicly, they will say they are unified and will never accept a hard salary cap. But behind the closed doors, questions will inevitably be asked by those who have the courage to ask them.

LOCKOUT LIP
"NHL players are coming to Europe in droves and are bumping off, one by one, players who actually need the money. ...

"I am left to wonder if any of the NHL players understand the repercussions of their actions. When the topic of NHL replacement players comes up, it is met with anger and resistance. Do NHL players not realize that this is exactly what they are doing by taking jobs in Europe? They are scabs over here, replacement players, basically rented to put fans in the seats. ...

"Other than to stay in shape, they will be playing for little money and will be destroying the job security of others."

-- Corey Hirsch in a published e-mail exchange with Chris Stevenson of the Ottawa Sun
Why haven't there been any talks?
Do you really think Bill Daly and Ted Saskin were within cross-checking distance of each other and DIDN'T talk about the CBA? Goodenow will sell this right off the bat in an attempt to appease and immediately quell and control his base. Goodenow is much like a presidential candidate in this process. His base is his most precious commodity; without it, a candidate has no chance. Goodenow's base is the guy in that $2.5-4.5 million a year range. He doesn't really care about Chris Clark of the Calgary Flames and doesn't have much need for Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Brian Leetch. Clark doesn't make the average and Leetch is on his way out the door soon. Those guys don't matter when figuring Goodenow's longevity as a millionaire union head.

What really is the evil of a salary cap?
Nearly every NHL player, except perhaps the ones getting postgame "massages" in Europe, saw this quote from Miami Dolphins fullback Rob Konrad in the South Florida Sun- Sentinel: "After studying it the last couple years, I think [the salary cap's] a good system and I like what we've done ... So I think the cap is fair as long as it's regulated and as long as it's moved percentage wise with the revenues that are coming in."

Konrad has a business degree from Syracuse University, owns a brokerage company, and manages the money of a number of NHL players, including some Florida Panthers. So, if he said this publicly, you can imagine what he is saying privately, especially to his clients.

What are we gaining while we lose money?
Every two weeks, a guy making $2 million is losing an $80,000 a paycheck, that's AFTER taxes and that's $80,000 he'll never see again. That total is now at $240,000. And since we know there are no games in November, that puts them down $400,000. Players sense the owners have the upper hand right now and have won the PR war. There is nothing an NHL player can say that one fan can empathize with. That is the reality. And the lack of concern for the fans by the players has sealed that fate. Words will not win fans back, actions will. Players realize this. Their morale is shrinking as they realize they are obliterating a way of life like few others in the world. Meanwhile, a few good men are in Europe living a life not to far from the life they are sacrificing. The whole "crusade" is becoming pathetic and downright laughable. Players realize this. They will NOT sacrifice a season or a season and a half while Joe Thornton and Rick Nash get grapes fed to them by Miss Switzerland after a 12-9 win over the Kloten Flyers.

It's not all about the money, is it?
The Boston Red Sox' World Series run MUST have had an effect on NHL players. THAT is why they play the games -- the passion, togetherness and fun. While a small percentage of athletes are driven by money and glory, nearly every athlete is driven by what they saw in the Red Sox' locker room. A tight group of teammates bonded forever by rising to the challenge and making history. The Red Sox checked their egos at the door and became a unit. THAT's how you do extraordinary things -- on the field or off. There has to be some assimilation, some sacrifice and some humility. Now, that special bond and connection will likely be torn asunder by agents and the MLBPA. I mean, Jason Varitek, do you stay in Boston for $8 million a year or go to some foreign clubhouse for 20 percent more? I've said it before, it's like the guy who LOVES living in San Diego and being a golf pro. He's successful and popular. But a golf course in a rainy and cold climate offers him $120,000, or 20 percent more than he's making, with no promise of success or happiness. It's maddening that athletes let other people control their happiness. This is the real evil of agents. Find out your market value? Fine. But make a decision based on happiness and contentment.

It's time for the NHL player to take control of their lives. They need to realize the window of their wonderful life begins to close the minute it opens. Every day is precious, and while it's OK to fight for an injustice, it's also not OK to fight a losing battle. It hurts EVERYONE. That's what's happening here. Times are different. The world is shaky. There is still economic uncertainty. The United States has uniformed citizens dying almost daily. When Trevor Linden talks, NO ONE IS LISTENING. An unfair advantage for the billionaire owner? Perhaps. But that is the playing field right now.

Again, I have no problem with every NHL player being a millionaire; I have a problem with it making them arrogant and self-important. Leave those qualities for Bill Wirtz. We root for these players because we LIKE them. We spend our hard-earned money on them -- tickets, hockey cards, video games, etc. -- because we IDENTIFY with them. We scream our lungs out at the rink, because we want to HELP them and be part of something. We do all of this because we could see HANGING out with them and being their neighbors. NHL players are losing that quality.

That was the magic and attraction of the Red Sox. Starting with Varitek and right on down the line, these were guys you could see hanging out with. Fun, tough, young, and likeable. HOCKEY PLAYERS! Imagine that, baseball players becoming more fun and more down to earth than hockey players! But, guess what? It's happened. NHLers may have held the title in the 1980s or early '90s, but the days of the hockey player being the outright coolest and easiest athlete to deal with is WAYYY overrated. The NHL is now sprinkled with spoiled, lazy, millionaire 20ish year olds. They are like the boring, uninteresting people on "Friends." Empty, poseurs, without heart. The average NHL player is realizing this because, above all, they are blessed with good instincts. They may not know the idiosyncrasies and details of collective bargaining, but they realize when things are slipping away. And things are slipping away.

I've always been convinced this season would not be canceled. Now, I'm even more certain. The players will see to that. And that will make them more likable right off the bat.

Let's go boys, save the season. We're counting on you. We know you have it in you.

Morning John,
If the lockout continues, I'd like to see a Great 8 interview with regular people who have been really been hurt by it:

Vendors
NHL employees
Car valets
Bar owners
Zamboni drivers
Ice girls

Please don't make me watch the NBA. Stop the lockout!

Bill
Ramsey, N.J.

That's a great idea, Bill. I'll get in my car and track down these people in person immediately. I'll start with the Ice Girls. Meanwhile, check out ESPN.com's "Lives of the Lockout" series.


John,
I read your email about Kerry Fraser having seven children and my dad and I wanted to know one simple thing: Of the nine people living under that roof, is the number of out of place hairs greater than or less than 20? Peace out, brother.

Steve
Cincinnati, Ohio

Before heading out to school, Kerry's posse has their hair sprayed with WD-40, dipped in caramel and finished with a four cans of Aqua Net. A Fraser is always prepared for schoolyard chicanery.


John,
I fully understand the players were locked out by the owners. But explain to me how they can justify signing with a European or AHL team and still be following Bob Goodenow's directive for union solidarity? In my eyes, they've crossed the picket line.

Bill
Cleveland, Ohio


Hi Bucci,
Not to be the pessimist of the column, but if they can't settle this work stoppage how will they decide the order of the next draft?

Thanks,
Jeff

The two options would be to keep the same order as the 2004 draft or hold the draft lottery again to see what order the draft would be.


John,
What do you think are the chances of the Colorado Avalanche re-signing Paul Kariya when the strike is over?

Nick Brownlee

I think the Avs will go in a different direction. I think Vancouver is the perfect place and team for Kariya to sign with.


John,
I agree with the owners' arguments on arbitration. Why be forced to pay a player based on what some other idiotic owner has decided to overpay for theirs? But to claim hockey has no control over its costs is absurd. You determine your budget ... hey, budget? Teams have budgets? Wow! Your budget is figured based on projected revenues from prior years. THAT'S each team's salary cap. Each has its own. We can't spend any more than this and still be a viable business entity. Why is this so hard to understand? I know arbitration throws a monkey wrench into the equation, but geez ... this isn't Calculus 3 here!

Mike
Nashville, Tenn.

The only issue there, Mike, is the projected revenues of the Rangers and the projected revenues of the Predators could be $40 million apart. If you're going to go with 30 teams, you need some sort of league-wide linkage between salaries and revenue with revenue sharing.


John,
The notion that the NHLPA is bargaining on behalf of all of its members is like saying the Screen Actor's Guild has Tom Hanks' best interests at heart when its negotiates the minimum terms for day players. Tom Hanks does not need SAG; SAG needs Tom Hanks. Likewise, Joe Sakic, Jeremy Roenick, et al. do not need the NHLPA, the NHLPA needs them to use their leverage to protect the Mike Cammalleri's of the league. Unfortunately, the Cammalleris are going to be the ones out of jobs when Goodenow's positions kill 4-6 franchises.

Kyle Kelley


John,
Some of the players say the right things, but none of them have shown me that they are as concerned about us, the fans, as they are asking us to be about them. And yet, you are asking us to give them our sympathy? Sorry, not going to happen.

Dennis Keithly
Dallas

That's a fair point, Dennis. The NHL player is losing his long-standing ranking as the most down-to-earth athlete.


John,
I miss NHL 2Night. I miss your big head. I even miss Melrose's pimp suits. Sigh ...

Jeff Berry
Hays, Kan.

As many of you know, NHL 2Night has been canceled. My big head can be seen on SportsCenter, ESPNews, and at a Hartford, Conn., car wash as a rotating car dryer. Melrose's pimp suits have been temporarily retired in the rafters of the ESPN makeup room right next to Ray Ferraro's toupee.


Joe Thornton
Thornton
Mark Bellhorn
Bellhorn
John,
I hope you picked up on the fact that Mark Bellhorn and Joe Thornton look very similar. Thank God the Sox made me forget about the lack of hockey for a couple of weeks.

Chas Dorman
Boston

I think the Red Sox had a lot of hockey player in them and that was the key to their success. Bellhorn, Nixon, Varitek, Schilling, Damon, Mientkiewicz, Ortiz, Roberts, Pedro and the rest. They were united, tough, everyday guys who in nearly EVERY sound bite, said how happy they were for the FANS. Imagine that, athletes thinking about the fans before themselves.

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.

John Buccigross | email

SportsCenter anchor
John Buccigross joined ESPN as an anchor in October 1996. He currently can be seen as an anchor on "SportsCenter." Buccigross frequently contributes to ESPN.com during the season.