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Screen Shots: Troubled times

The latest bolt of bad news in the NHLPA's annus horribilis - Latin for “the year in which we took it in the goolies on a regular basis” - brings to mind three things: fish, a barrel, and bullets.

That said, we're long past the point where criticizing the players' union makes for good-natured kidding and satire. This is a sad situation getting sadder by the second - and it's a situation, despite players' myriad of riches and rewards, they simply don't deserve.

Sure, it once was fun pointing out the deficits of logic in some of their strategies (i.e. “We don't believe the owners are losing money, but here's a proposed salary cut of 24 per cent as our first counter-offer anyway,”), and the wacky way in which they were a union less than intrigued with traditional union interests (i.e. minimizing job losses, maximizing employee safety).

However, Steve Larmer's noisy, nervy resignation from the NHLPA isn't tickling anyone's funny bone. His Dear John letter wasn't only a sign all is not golf trips and tumblers of rum at union headquarters; it was also a harbinger of the hostility that's bound to build in the coming months.

It wasn't as if the allegations of wrongdoing that led to Larmer's self-removal are new. In fact, it has been common knowledge for months the process that led to Ted Saskin replacing The Artist Formerly Known As Bob Goodenow did not follow the union's constitution.

But when Larmer invoked the name of Alan Eagleson, the disgraced former union head who is to NHLers as poverty is to Paris Hilton, he underscored the rancor that has permeated the organization.

Is invoking the name of Eagleson fair? To some, including many of the 30 or so NHLers who have filed complaints about the process with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board and Department of Labor, it's entirely appropriate. To others, it's more than a little over-the-top. After all, no money is being pilfered from the players, and no one-man-controls-all fiefdoms are being constructed.

But that's the kind of accusation you open yourself up to when you don't follow the rules. In a lot of ways, it's like vacationing at a resort in an impoverished country: everybody knows that if you wander away from the area where armed guards offer protection, you're on your own.

In this case, the NHLPA's guidelines are what offer its leaders protection. And because they've strayed from that safety net, they've opened themselves up to all the criticism and given all the splinter groups - the players who still think they should be sitting out, not playing, waiting for a better labor deal; the guys who thought Goodenow was wrong in his no-cap stance in the first place; and the guys who just want some semblance of procedure adhered to - a very viable reason to rant.

In that sense, Saskin and NHLPA president Trevor Linden have only themselves to blame.

Because of their stubborn unwillingness to admit what almost everyone else admits - imagine that: NHLPA executives refusing to recognize the reality of a situation - players who pride themselves on sticking together are now on drastically different teams.

That's what's so frustrating for so many people. Saskin could end all the grousing by stepping aside and going about the hiring process the proper way.

In the end, he could easily wind up playing the role he does now. As Toronto's Eric Lindros said after Larmer's letter was made public, “I'm not saying Ted was not the right guy to lead the Players' Association, but I don't think the rules and guidelines of our organization were followed.”

Rather than working towards transparency and due process, Saskin is allowing the current situation to fester and creating an environment where players are baring their fangs at each other, when the truth of the matter is they need solidarity more than ever.

The more he strives for acceptance, the deeper he drives the wedge into his constituency. And the thicker this quagmire becomes, the more the lawyers get their tentacles into the mix, the more troubled an already troubled organization will, too.


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