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Players to pay for lost year



Published: Fri, July 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The National Hockey League officially reached a settlement with its players on Wednesday, a thunderbolt on the summer scene that trailed in sporting public passion only Jack Nicklaus' farewell at the British Open, Michelle Wie's battle with the boys, Lance Armstrong's historic exertion in France, the start of the second half of the baseball season, Jason Gore's presence at Troy Burne and youth soccer.

The reappearance of the invisible league does not figure to include many sightings of Bob Goodenow, the humiliated union leader who was so full of bravado in the early days of this squareoff with management.

Last December, when the first of numerous "last chance" negotiating sessions was being held, Goodenow said: "Will there be a deal? Will there be a season? Will we be here next season? That's up to the league."

There was no season because Goodenow turned down a chance in February to put his players back to work under a salary cap of $42.5 million.

They will be back for next season -- starting with training camps in September -- with a salary cap of $39 million (including benefits).

Major pay cutsfor all players

The players with still-existing contracts are taking a 24 percent reduction in salaries, plus they have to put another 15 percent into an escrow account in case players' costs exceed 54 percent of league revenues.

You know management will cook the books to make sure that happens, so the players also can kiss that money goodbye, making it a total pay cut of 39 percent.

No wonder Goodenow has been harder to find than Tom DeLay in recent weeks. He has gone from haughty to gutless. He led the players into the slaughterhouse, and he has yet to accept responsibility.

Maybe next week when details of the deal are announced officially ... maybe then Goodenow will have the good taste to beg publicly for his rank-and-file's forgiveness.

Goodenow nothighly regarded

One guy who is not going to bet on that is Frank Caputo, a retired union worker from Carnegie, Pa. Two decades ago, Goodenow was the boss of Firefighter Sales and Service in Sharpsburg, Pa. Caputo was the representative for two dozen union members -- and ran into a stone wall with Goodenow.

Caputo expressed his disregard for Goodenow during an interview with the Star Tribune last September. On Wednesday, he was contacted for a reaction to the news that Goodenow's union had accepted its defeat.

"I was gone today and didn't hear," he said. "Is it over? Did Goodenow have to take that lousy deal?"

Informed that the answer was yes, Caputo said: "It couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Sooner or later, Goodenow was going to meet his Waterloo.

"I've said for years: He's an opportunist. With us, he had a bunch of little guys who didn't have any money, who couldn't hold out, and he took full advantage. When things are going his way, he's a tough guy.

"Isn't it amazing, now that he's taken an awful beating, he seems to have such a low profile?

"I feel bad for the guys he misled -- but probably not as bad as I should feel. I was on a radio show in Pittsburgh with [ex-player] Larry Murphy and he said, 'The players believe in Bob.'

"I said, 'OK, Larry, but when he bites the dust, he's going to take people down with him.' And I was sure that was going to happen. Goodenow had entirely too much arrogance not to bite the dust some day."

Owners didlocking out

The owners did the locking out, and now it's the players who will pay.

Cities like Minneapolis will continue to have big crowds for a while, because the attraction is more the glitz of a new arena than low-scoring hockey. There will be extra sections of empty seats elsewhere in the NHL, and so what? For management, this simply will require less creative accounting to keep the players escrowed 15 percent.

Think about it: NHL teams now have the right to operate with a salary cap as low as $21 million, minus 15 percent, minus benefits.

Bob Goodenow entered these negotiations with his usual arrogance. He came away with a union membership working in what's now, financially, a glorified minor league.

XPatrick Reusse writes for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Write him at preusse@startribune.com.




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