Whom do we like in this year's Stanley Cup finals? Glad you asked. Just in time for the playoffs, which begin in three weeks, the NHL players have authorized a strike. For their part the owners have reportedly threatened to stock their teams with scabs from the minor leagues if the players walk out. So we're taking the Phoenix Road-runners over the Binghamton Rangers in six games.
Strike? The NHL Players' Association? Isn't this the historically apathetic, just-happy-to-be-here bunch that has never filed an antitrust suit, much less gone on strike, in its 25-year existence? The very same. Suddenly, however, the NHLPA has stopped behaving like management's patsy and started behaving like a labor union with teeth.
The negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expired on Sept. 15 have been more businesslike than bitter. But that will change if the players, who already have been paid in full for the regular season, walk out before or during the playoffs, as they have threatened to do. By striking then, the players risk losing only their meager playoff shares, which range from $3,000 a man for first-round losers to $25,000 for members of the Stanley Cup winner. The owners, on the other hand, hope to break even during the regular season and make the big money during the playoffs. Hence, the players are well positioned for a strike. At week's end, talks between the two sides were intensifying, but no progress had been made.
What firebrand has infused the players' association with such solidarity? Who has become the burr in the backside of NHL president John Ziegler?
That man is Bob Goodenow, who is sharp enough to have graduated from Harvard and tough enough to have played in the International Hockey League. Goodenow, a 39-year-old labor lawyer, brings plenty of both qualities to his role as the NHLPA's new executive director. After earning a degree in economics and government at Harvard in 1974, Goodenow tried out for, and was cut by, the Washington Capitals. These days at least a few owners must be wishing that Goodenow had enjoyed a long NHL career. Had he done so, Goodenow probably wouldn't be in the position he's in today.
Before replacing Alan Eagleson as NHLPA executive director on Jan. 1, Goodenow spent a little more than a year as the union's deputy director. During that time he inundated the players with information, conducting seminars all over the league on the key issues that are now keeping the players from coming to terms with the owners on a new collective bargaining agreement. They are:
?Free agency: NHL rules severely restrict player movement. The owners maintain that true free agency would be financially ruinous for them.
?Arbitration: Disputes are resolved by league-appointed arbitrators. Call them crazy, but the players would prefer independent arbitrators.
?The entry draft: The players want it reduced from 12 rounds to six in order to give incoming players market salary and more freedom of opportunity.
In pursuing these objectives the players have shown the determination and zeal of the newly empowered. "We've never been this well informed," says Boston Bruin center Dave Poulin, a 10-year NHL veteran. Does he find the prospect of a strike scary? "What's scary," says Poulin, "is that we've never done it before."