Poile sees no coincidence in sports' strife

NEW YORK — NEW YORK -- Ever since the NBA agreed to a salary cap in 1983 and went on to grand success, owners in every other major team sport have eyed the concept with longing.

Now, circumstances have brought Major League Baseball and the NHL to the same point at the same time. And at least one person says that may have been the plan.


"I think, in some demented fashion, Bob Goodenow and Donald Fehr want to bring pro sports to their knees," Washington Capitals general manager David Poile said when he heard that the players had rejected two of the owners' proposals Wednesday.

"If baseball had a deal today, we'd have a deal today. I don't think it's a coincidence that their tactics are so similar."


Yesterday, during a break from working on a new proposal, Goodenow, the NHL Players Association's executive director, said there "are common threads" in all sports, but added there are big differences between the baseball and hockey situations.

"But as far as being demented, unlike baseball, the players offered to play this year without a strike while continuing to work on a deal," said Goodenow, who flew back to Toronto later in the afternoon. "The players are locked out. I think it's the owners' approach to locking the players out that is demented.

"As far as Donald Fehr and I working in concert, the two situations are quite different, and the idea is totally untrue."

Mark Belanger, special assistant to Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Fehr, agreed.

"I'm sure they [Fehr and Goodenow] have talked, but no way are they coordinating plans," Belanger said.

"Circumstances have brought all these sports to this point at the same time. But if we were looking for theories, we could suggest -- but we're not -- that maybe the owners designed it this way. It's the owners who are all looking for a salary cap. Where did that come from?"

Goodenow said there are no strategies being created between the two leaders. He agreed that there are "certain issues that overlap," like free agency.

"We observe what other sports unions are doing in the same way NHL owners look at salary caps in other sports," he said. "In a sense, sports is sports. There are certain threads, but each sport is separate and distinct with its own set of defining particulars."


The NHL and the players association don't have a deal and seem to be even farther from having one than they were four days ago.

Both sides are trying to reach an accord before the Oct. 15 deadline imposed by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who "deferred" acting on the union's proposal for a no-strike/no-lockout agreement that would have started the season on time, Oct. 1.

Yesterday, Bettman said he is still hopeful of making a deal before the deadline. But the two sides met for nearly 14 hours Tuesday and Wednesday without success.

On Wednesday, the NHLPA rejected two proposals by the owners, and, though the union agreed to return to the table with its own proposal, possibly by today or tomorrow, two owners ripped Goodenow as an "unintelligent leader" and as "an enemy" of the negotiation process.

Much of the frustration seemed based on the union's rejection of the owners' last proposal, which ownership said was a variation on the same proposal the NHLPA had offered more than two weeks ago.

The NHLPA's plan called for a 5.5 percent tax on players' salaries and gate receipts of the 16 teams with the highest revenue to create a $100 million pool to be dispersed to needy teams at Bettman's discretion.


The union said its plan addressed the owners' stated concerns for helping their small-market teams.

The owners' latest offer included a tax, like that suggested by the players, on every dollar of all payrolls, not just on payrolls above the average, as the owners previously had proposed. The tax rate would increase as the payroll increased, but the tax was described by NHLPA president Mike Gartner to be about 125 percent and as such is "so onerous that they act as a ceiling on player salaries."

The owners also agreed to tax every dollar of gate revenue.

All that tax money would be redistributed to low-revenue teams, from nine to 11 of the 26 franchises. The league calculated that 22 of the 26 teams would pay less tax than they would under the players' plan. Only the Rangers, Detroit, Pittsburgh and St. Louis would pay more.

NHL executive vice president Brian Burke also said the league guaranteed that if the total league payroll fell below the current amount, the NHL would make up the rest and give it to the union for distribution.

"The league basically guaranteed they wouldn't lose any money," said Burke.


But Goodenow said the problem is still the same basic one it always has been: "revenue reallocation, its objectives and its effects."

And, as for the perception that ownership had made giant concessions to reach a deal, Goodenow said that is not the case.

"Up through [Wednesday], their proposals included a payroll tax portion," Goodenow said. "[Wednesday,] they included a 3 percent [tax] on the gate -- we said it should be 50 percent. They've rejected our initial proposal. They rejected our promise not to strike in order to get the season started. Now, they move a little bit and expect us to say yes. We said no."

Yesterday, Goodenow was able to laugh at the owners' personal attacks on him.

"It's all part of the negotiating tactics," he said. "They presented a very positive face on Tuesday, then made a 180-degree turn and were totally negative the next day because we said no to their proposal.

"It's so contrived. They look and sound very serious, but it's part of the theater. You don't get the part unless you're very good actors."


There is no doubt, however, that NHL general managers and owners aren't just acting when they say they are worried. They believe they need a control on salaries every bit as much as the union believes they don't.

"I don't know what's so bad about us admitting we need help in controlling ourselves," said Poile. "We're not doing a good job. We need a partnership with the players. We need to get back to that day two years ago when we settled our last labor negotiations with a handshake promising to form a partnership. What ever happened to the partnership?"