Thursday, November 22, 2012

Seeds of Dissent: Hamrlik Speaks Out Against NHLPA

Roman Hamrlik Capitals
The first real ripple of dissent has ripped through the NHLPA.

In an interview with the Czech newspaper Daily Sport, Washington defenceman Roman Hamrlik blasted NHLPA head Donald Fehr.

"I am disgusted," Hamrlik told Daily Sport (translated by TV Nova's Roman Jedlicka). "We have to push Fehr to the wall to get the deal. Time is against us. We lost (one-quarter) of the season, it is $425 million. Who will give it back to us, Mr. Fehr?"

Hamrlik is no stranger to lockouts. He is one of 14 players to go through three, so you can excuse him for being frustrated. But he isn't receiving much sympathy from  another lockout veteran, Erik Cole.

"If that's his opinion, then he should just stay over there (in the Czech Republic)," Cole told the Montreal Gazette. "For him to come out and say this, it's the most selfish thing I've heard during the lockout. Without a doubt. It's just disappointing. You'd think the veteran guys are the guys who'd take more pride in what other veteran guys sacrificed in the last lockout, how we all benefited from that as a group. Some guys never played again."

But it is exactly because of his status as a lockout veteran that makes Hamrlik seem qualified to speak out and press the union to make a deal now. In his Daily Sport interview he said he was hoping the players would have learned a "lesson from 2004" when they refused an early offer from the league and ultimately "came to an even worse deal" to end the last lockout.

That is the crux of Hamrlik's argument: The longer the union waits, the worse it is going to be for the players. According to Gary Bettman, this is true. Twice now Bettman has said the NHL's offer is as good as it's going to get. Although curiously, in both cases it was not the league's best offer, so it isn't true now, and it certainly wasn't true during the last lockout.

The Toronto Star's Kevin McGran calculated that the players would have earned $7.5 billion over the last eight years if they accepted the early season-saving offer in 2004. Instead, they have earned $11.11 billion by taking the "even worse" offer in 2005, a figure that includes the lockout year they didn't earn a penny. So by holding out, the players actually made $3.61 billion more than they would have if they caved to the league early. That's more than two seasons worth of the players' revenue share. It pays to hold firm.

This is why the NHLPA has someone like Donald Fehr leading the union. They need someone to take a long-term view that takes into consideration the players as a whole, rather than just certain individuals.

Hamrlik, who has made close to $57 million throughout his career, is taking a selfish point of view. He knows his time left in the league is short. His deal expires after this season and the market for soon-to-be 39-year-old defencemen is scant. In essence, Hamrlik isn't speaking out to get what's better for the players, he's speaking out to get what's better for himself.

You can't blame Hamrlik for wanting to get back on the ice. There were players who didn't play another game after the last lockout and there will be players that won't play another game after this lockout. But billions of dollars are at stake for the NHLPA, so the union isn't going to cave at the first sign of dissent just because a couple million dollars are at stake for one player.

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