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NHL lockout: In hockey fight, players are right

Hawks captaJonathan Toews (left) is arranging skates for his teammates during lockout. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Hawks captain Jonathan Toews (left) is arranging skates for his teammates during the lockout. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 18, 2012 6:25AM



I’m certain some players didn’t fully grasp all the information provided by the NHL Players’ Association leading up to the lockout.

And I’m pretty sure all the statistics, percentages and contracts discussed during their summer meetings have caused some to doze off or daydream. And I’m convinced some players never made it past the first few pages of the NHLPA folders they’ve been handed.

That said, I believe they all grasp what’s at stake for them.

Even the biggest daydreamers know that players made huge financial concessions during the 2004-05 lockout that resulted in the salary cap, and now they’re being told to do it again by their employers despite playing in a time marked by growth and record-breaking revenues.

It’s those reasons that make it so easy to side with them during the NHL’s third lockout since 1994. If you were employed by a company that was extremely profitable, experiencing unprecedented growth and handing out huge contracts, would you willingly agree to a significant pay cut?

Didn’t think so.

Of course, the lockout is more complicated than that. There are considerable philosophical differences, and rival economists are being employed. Egos and arrogance on both sides also hinder things.

But I don’t think the lockout gets past the most basic level for most players. To them, it’s, “We gave up a lot last time around. We won’t do it again.”

A lot of people and fans can side with that. Not every player is a multimillionaire. Many are three- or four-year grunts who don’t make all that much and whose careers don’t last all that long.

As a result, players are motivated, unified and ready for a fight. The owners’ opening proposal that called for a 24 percent pay cut and new restrictions on contracts, free agency and arbitration only emboldened them.

The players believe their revenue-sharing proposals would help stabilize the league, while NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said little on the subject.

“The goal here is to find something that’s fair and reasonable and something we can install for years to come where we’re not going to have these problems down the road,” Jonathan Toews, who is arranging skates for his teammates during the lockout, said in a video statement released by the NHLPA.

“The system that was supposedly broken was designed by the NHL owners and the league itself. We did our part in ’04-05.”

Players have done well in the salary-cap world.

Front-loaded, long-term deals have circumvented the cap while providing players with guaranteed income.

But it’s still the owners who offer and agree to those deals.

Bettman said the owners feel like they’re paying too much, but they continue to do it. Even the NHL-run Phoenix Coyotes just signed Shane Doan, 35, to a four-year, $21.2 million contract. According to Capgeek.com, in the week leading up to the lockout, more than $219 million was spent on 18 players.

Whatever happened to honoring contracts?

Fans eventually will spew more venom at individual owners, who are forbidden to speak to the media during collective bargaining, for the lockout.

Beloved Hawks owner Rocky Wirtz won’t be exempt, especially with ticket prices always rising. But some of it will be unwarranted.

How many other owners would be willing to eat the contracts of overpaid underperformers Cristobal Huet and Rostislav Olesz so their general manager has more money to hopefully improve the team?

If this lockout is an indication, probably none.

On Sunday, the Hawks, as expected, postponed Saturday’s annual training-camp festival.

Purchased tickets will be honored when it’s rescheduled. But there’s no telling when that will be because there’s no telling when the next formal negotiations will be.

The Hawks also sent an email to season-ticket holders detailing their options for the lockout.

“Refunds for any cancelled games will include an additional 2 percent interest,” it said.

With that in mind, fans should know that the longer the players’ solidarity remains intact, the longer the lockout will be. It happened in 2004-05.

They believe in their fight, and who can fault them?



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