Cook: NHL lockout is about cold, hard greed

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Labor wars in sports never make sense. Rich players take on richer owners and the fans lose. There's more than enough money out there to satisfy both sides. They just can't decide on how to divide it.

Shame on them.

Shame on their greed.

The NHL lockout that started Sunday is especially galling. The owners shut down the game in the 2004-05 season and won huge concessions from the players. They got a salary cap and a rollback in salaries. Since then, revenues have soared to a record high. The sport never has had greater popularity.

Now the owners are back looking for more from the players?

I'll admit I know nothing about high finance and never have more than $1.55 in my pocket, but that seems unconscionable.

The owners want more givebacks from the players because they can't control their spending. There have been a number of ridiculous contracts given out during this offseason. You can't blame the players for accepting them, right? The owners shouldn't do the deals if they can't afford to pay them.

It's one thing for a team to re-sign its star players. In June, the Penguins gave Sidney Crosby a 12-year, $104.4 million extension. In July, the Nashville Predators matched a 14-year, $110 million offer by the Philadelphia Flyers to keep Shea Weber. In the past week, the Boston Bruins did new deals with Tyler Seguin (six years, $34.5 million) and Milan Lucic (three years, $18 million). The Phoenix Coyotes re-upped with captain Shane Doan for four years, $21.2 million. The Winnipeg Jets gave Evander Kane a six-year, $31.5 million extension. The Dallas Stars did a five-year, $29.5 million deal with Kari Lehtonen.

It's the contracts given to free agents that make you shake your head. The 13-year, $98 million deals that the Minnesota Wild gave to Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are at the top of that absurd list. What the heck were the Wild owners thinking? We're supposed to feel sorry for them? For any of the owners?

I don't think so.

This lockout is different than the one in 2004. Most teams -- including the Penguins -- were hemorrhaging money then. The NHL needed that salary cap to be a viable league. Certainly, the Penguins wouldn't be here today without it. There was no Crosby in their future at that point. There was no Consol Energy Center on the horizon.

The salary cap gave the Penguins a chance to survive. So did the pingpong ball that luckily bounced their way and gave them the rights to draft Crosby. Suddenly, the new palace that Penguins owner Mario Lemieux said he needed to keep the team here became a reality. There's not a nicer building in the league than the Consol Energy Center.

Now, the Penguins are printing money. They can't be in favor of this lockout. They have to be going along with it because of what NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will tell you is the overall good of the league. They have to be hoping it ends soon ... next week, next month, at least before the Winter Classic Jan. 1 between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Many have suggested the solution to this dispute is the elimination or relocation of struggling franchises. The Coyotes have been mentioned. So have the Florida Panthers. It's a good thing that didn't happen in 2004-05. Pittsburgh wouldn't have a hockey club.

Maybe moving teams is the answer. More likely, the lockout will end because the players cave. They don't have the financial wherewithal to outlast the owners. Players never do.

Some have talked about taking a paycheck overseas. NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins and former Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar have signed to play in Russia. So has New Jersey Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk, who has a 10-year, $100 million contract. Crosby has talked of playing in Europe.

It's hard to fault the players. Playing hockey is what they do. The NHL owners aren't letting them do it in North America. Why not go overseas? If they get hurt, they get hurt. Sure, it would be a crying shame if Crosby, who, you might have heard, has a history of concussions, plays his final game on a slab of ice in, say, Switzerland. But this lockout business is a crying shame, if you ask me.

The best thing that could happen is for Crosby, Malkin and the others to play and get in game-shape so they'll be ready to jump right into the NHL season when the lockout ends.

And it will end.

The owners will win.

I'm sure they'll be so proud of themselves.

roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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