Players' stance sacrificing millions

Updated: January 10, 2005, 12:25 PM ET
By Mike Brophy | The Hockey News

I have made no bones about the fact I am 100 percent behind the players in this lockout and I blame the owners and commissioner Gary Bettman for the awful situation the NHL is in today.

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It is through bad business decisions - the league expanding to 30 teams under Bettman, in some cases to non-hockey markets simply to rake in expansion fees, and owners signing players to ridiculous contracts - that the NHL finds itself in a mess that threatens to wipe out all of this season. And that's not the worst of it. According to The Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky, part or all of next season could be lost as well.

Now if I'm a player, I am asking myself some very serious questions. Namely, how exactly is this thing going end? Do players stand any chance at winning? And are players going to sit out 1½ or two years only to have Bettman hand them a non-negotiated deal worse than the one they could have accepted and been a part of much earlier?

The possibility of that happening grows more likely with each passing day. And if the players continue to sit back idly waiting for the owners to cave, they could be playing a game of chicken they have no hope of winning.

The players have vowed unanimity and insist they will sit out for as long as it takes to negotiate a deal with no salary cap and one that ensures they will continue to play on guaranteed contracts.

But with the possibility of losing two years of salary and then losing the war anyway, it makes one wonder why they aren't trying to negotiate something - anything - while they still can.

What should scare players more than anything is the owners' resolve. To not acknowledge it could prove foolhardy.

In the 1994-95 lockout that lasted 103 days, there was always an underlying feeling the owners would ultimately collapse and that's exactly what happened. The league had new teams and new owners and could not afford to shut down for the entire season. That is no longer the case. These are Bettman's owners and he has vowed to get them cost certainty.

Bettman may not have convinced all the players yet, but he has me believing he'll go to the wall on this one.

Some players are starting to believe they are fighting a war they cannot win. As one told me, "We can dig in all we want, but at the end of the day it's the owners' league and they can do what they damn well please. They're the ones paying the bills."

The owners had it good for a lot of years while the players have had the scales tipped in their favor for the past decade. None of that matters now. The only thing that matters is the future.

If there is no NHL hockey for a year or two, what was once a $2 billion-plus industry could be whittled down to under $1 billion. A smaller pie means smaller slices for everyone involved.

The NHL Players' Association is banking on either the NHL not being able to secure its impasse in court or, if an impasse is declared, no players crossing a picket line and going back to work. It sounds good on paper, but it is also very, very risky. All it will take is one high-profile player announcing he has had enough and he's going back to work. Then, stand back and watch the floodgates open wide.

Just one player saying, "[Forget] the cause; this is the last chance in my life to make big money. I'm going back to work," and the players will have stayed out for what?

For nothing.

Having spoken with a number of players, I get a sense some are starting to soften on the "no cap" stance, and as long as guaranteed contracts can be negotiated they are ready to end the fight.

That said, they are afraid to stand up and say so for fear of being vilified by other players. And if the majority of players feels this way, it would be a shame to see the season - and numerous careers - go down the drain.

I know I haven't changed my feeling about how the NHL got into such a sorry state. But if I were going to lose millions in salary and potentially the war, too, I would certainly consider changing my stance.

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