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There is a winner in lockout - the owners

February 17, 2005|by DAN KAUFFMAN

From the perspective of hockey fans who only care that they will not get to see any NHL action this season, there were no winners Wednesday when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the cancellation.

But from a business perspective, there was a blowout winner - the owners. They won by something on the order of a 16-0 hockey score.

Think about it. The owners long ago said they would not allow another game to be played without cost certainty - that is, a direct link between revenues and player salaries, which basically translates into a salary cap. Without one, the owners have maintained they cannot keep their franchises operating profitably. They were prepared years ago to endure the loss of an entire season and, should it come to it, more than one.

The players' union, meanwhile, insisted it would never agree to any deal involving a salary cap or a luxury tax, which it feels is the same thing as a salary cap. Almost 400 players went elsewhere, primarily overseas, to play and earn a wage. They were supposedly dug in for the long haul, too.

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And then the union caved on the salary cap, offering up a $52 million ceiling, then a $49 million cap at the last hour - and in the process threw its entire leverage right out the window.

Game, set, match, owners.

It's going to be awfully difficult for the union to do any more hard-nosed bargaining from this point on when their major philosophical arguing point - no salary cap, no way, no how - no longer has legs. That's what the players themselves were adamant about, that they were going to fight this fight for as long as they had to in order to avoid a cap, and now their union leadership has swept the rug right out from under their feet.

The players feel the way they should feel, that if their leadership was going to cave on the salary cap all along, why not do it in September and get a deal done? Now they've lost an entire season for no real reason. They can't get what they want - they'll never play in a salary cap-less NHL again.

When the owners made their last offer at a $42.5 million cap Tuesday night, they meant it. And when the union came nowhere close to accepting, the owners showed it was no bluff. They did what they long ago resolved to do and called it a season.

The owners have the puck, and will not allow it to drop until they get what they want. The players have to give in, or they won't play NHL hockey anytime soon. Wednesday made that clear as ice.




Dan Kauffman is a staff writer for The Morning Herald. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7520, or by e-mail at kauffman@herald-mail.com.

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