What next for the National Hockey League Players Association?
By Mark Weisenmiller

Ted Saskin is currently the Executive Director of the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) and before getting the position, he was formerly NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow's right-hand man. Goodenow took over after a critical event in the NHL's history: Alan Eagleson, the previous NHLPA chief, had been found guilty on three counts of fraud in Canada and three counts of mail fraud in the United States . To replace the vibrant personality (and convict) Eagleson, the players chose the no-nonsense Goodenow. He had played hockey while attending Harvard University and was thus thought by the NHL players to know the essentials of contract negotiating as well as the environment of a typical hockey team's dressing room. Goodenow took over the NHLPA post in 1991 and officially resigned the position on July 28, 2005 .

When he stepped down from the post, at a Toronto press conference, conventional wisdom among those in the hockey world was that, in his labor battles with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman about the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), Goodenow had muffed the situation. In February of this year, there was anticipation among people who worked for both men's offices that an agreement on a new CBA was close. Yet the deal fell through and now, as summer draws to a close and reporters can get some retrospect on the situation, it seems that this February deal-to-be was a mere "smoke-screen" attempt to generate media coverage and press copy.

Otherwise, why weren't the details of the February CBA hammered out and agreed upon by Bettman and Goodenow? After all, Goodenow is a graduate of Harvard and Bettman is a graduate of Cornell University — two internationally respected places of higher learning, neither of which is known for graduating idiots — and both men must have been weary of the entire labor negotiating process back in February.

The answer to that question may be simple. There are 30 NHL teams, of which only six are based in Canada . Therefore, attorneys who work for the NHLPA and the NHL must THOROUGHLY know various aspects of the labor laws of two countries. This can not be an easy task, as laws in this field often are amended or changed.

By no unit of measurement can Bob Goodenow's helm as the NHLPA Executive Director be considered a complete failure. This may be a surprising claim for two reasons: his backing away from items that he vowed to fight for when the lock-out began and Goodenow's participation in the famous April Fool's Day strike of 1992 (which began on April first and ended 10 days later).

Yet look what the man accomplished for the union for which he worked. When Goodenow took over the NHLPA, the average salary for an NHL player was about $270,000; even with the salary cap of the new CBA, that figure is now well over one million dollars (American). Goodenow got for his employers (i.e., NHL players) the rights for trading card revenues (which is big money). He earned, for the players, an increase in pay from money made during the annual play-off season. He also created agent certification and merchandise licensing for the NHLPA.

Yet negotiating with the strong-willed Goodenow must have been frustrating, if we are to believe the writing of Ken Dryden, in the 20th anniversary edition of his book " The Game" (1994). Here is how Dryden (who was Vice-President of the Toronto Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment organization when he wrote the below) described Goodenow:

" (Alan) Eagleson was replaced by Bob Goodenow, a Detroit-born, former Harvard hockey player as stolid and systematic as Eagleson was flamboyant. And while as a dealmaker, Eagleson's instinct was to always say ' yes,' Goodenow's is always to say ' no.' It is to fold his arms, shake his head, and wait. And wait. That style, Goodenow's determination to build a real organization of the NHLPA, and the inability of the League's owners to wait in return, has resulted in huge gains by the players in the last ten years. Some of those gains have come out of the owner's pockets. But most have come from money that hadn't been there previously."

We quote at such length to give the reader an example of what Bettman must have been dealing with before, during, and after the lock-out.

What players in the NHL must now collectively decide upon, now that Goodenow is gone, is to set for the NHLPA two or three immediate goals — to be agreed upon in sessions of meetings — to make the players be respected in Bettman's office. Saskin has been with the union for the last 15 years and it was he (not Goodenow, as is commonly assumed) who was the NHLPA's chief negotiator regarding the new CBA. Goodenow and the union reached an agreement to buy out the final two years of his contract, so it would be foolish to suggest that he is completely disaffiliated with Saskin.

So NHLPA President Trevor Linden and Vice-Presidents Bob Boughner, Vincent Damphousse, Daniel Alfredsson, Bill Guerin, Trent Klatt, and Arthur Irbe must sit down with Saskin and ask him such questions as "What will you do differently from Goodenow, in regards to running the NHLPA ? " and "How can we avoid the same situation (i.e., a lock-out) after the new CBA expires in the future?" It would be interesting to hear Saskin's answers to those questions.


Mark Weisenmiller is a Florida Correspondent for Global Radio News

Your No. 1 Source for Southern Hockey