EVERY TIME I consider quitting the sports commentary business - a notion forwarded by many, many readers many, many times - the National Hockey League comes along with one of its delightfully cockamamie we-might-lose-an-entire-season labor negotiations.
(To be honest, the only time I give my undivided attention to the NHL is when it's having employer-employee issues. As it turns out, the NHL goes into labor turmoil about as often as an Antonio Cromartie girlfriend goes into labor.)
It appears the regular season might be delayed. This is a blessing in disguise, because nobody - nobody - ever wants the NHL season to open Oct. 11.
I feel badly for the union. The league is attempting to cut back the players' share of revenues, abolish players' rights to salary arbitration and limit free agency.
It is as if management is trying to turn back the clock. But it's one thing to turn back the clock, and it's a whole another thing to buy a case of sundials on eBay.
This is the thing about management:
The league reported record revenues of $3.3 billion last season, then turns around and tells its workers to take a pay cut. I don't want to go all Eugene V. Debs on you, but it makes one a bit suspicious about the cash-strapped captains of industry running the joint.
(Of course, this raises the age-old question: How do you fairly divide three billion large? Of course, the answer: If you've got the key to the safe deposit box, don't make a copy for the other guy.)
As usual, the players don't seem to have a lot of bargaining chips or sway on matters. Okay, let's be more blunt. I have two words for NHL players: NO LEVERAGE. The NHL owners are willing to lock 'em out and lose the games.
(Now, if canines went on strike just before the Westminster Dog Show, then you've got a problem. What, you think you can find replacement Lhasa Apsos or scab Pomeranians in a jiffy?)
At least the NHL Players Association, I guess, is in a better position than the NFL Referees Association. I've got three words for the refs: ABSOLUTELY NO LEVERAGE. The only chance those fellas have is to catch Roger Goodell in bed with a Taliban mistress.
Talks between NHL owners and players began in June, to no avail. Here is a transcript of the negotiations' first morning session at NHL headquarters in New York:
NHL: We're going to cut your pay.
NHLPA: No, you're not.
NHL: Yes, we are.
NHLPA: No way, Jose.
Men at door [holding bag]: The donuts are here.
NHL: All right, we'll recess until 1 p.m.
Here is a transcript of the first afternoon session:
NHL: Okay, where were we? That's right - you people are taking a pay cut.
NHLPA: No, we won't.
[Disruption at door. Donald Fehr bursts in, with a really nice briefcase.]
Fehr: Here's our final offer.
NHL: We will adjourn for the week. Good day, gentlemen.
I'm sorry, how is it possible that Donald Fehr is the NHL Players Association executive director? How much sports labor strife can one man subsidize in a single lifetime? Is there no new sports-labor blood out there? My goodness, even Jimmy Hoffa moved on from the Teamsters.
Granted, the NHL and Fehr are meant for each other. The league canceled its entire 2004-05 season, and this is the third work stoppage during Gary Bettman's tenure as commissioner; Fehr orchestrated a players strike that ended the 1994 MLB season with no World Series.
I'm pro-labor, but if Donald Fehr walks into my union meeting, I send him out to Blockbuster for a digitized version of "Norma Rae" and close shop before he returns.
Anyway, if all else fails, there is a proposal to put Fehr, Bettman and 15 rabid weasels into a room until an agreement is reached.
My money's on the weasels just walking out.
Ask The Slouch
Q. Do you agree that new stadiums are looming monuments to mediocrity of ignorant politicians, pandering to the whims of wealthy capitalists, who in turn are merely providing employment to needy athletes, all on the taxpayers' dime? (Monty McIntyre; Ravenswood)
A. If you run for office, I'll be your personal super PAC.
Q. Given the current popularity of unsightly beards MLB pitchers are wearing, how long would Mrs. Slouch (Toni) tolerate you adorning such facial hair? (Ed Shade; Hurricane)
A. She doesn't mind what I look like, as long as I'm carrying a loaf of really, really good bread under each throwing arm.
Q. With football, hockey, baseball and basketball making changes to reduce player concussions, when will boxing and poker do something? (Scott Klein; Columbia, Md.)
A. The World Poker Tour is considering replacing hoodies with helmets.
Q. With so many close plays and bad calls at first base, can't MLB solve this problem by moving the base to 91 feet? (Lenny Freed; Lyndhurst, Ohio)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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