- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

There are signs, small but there nonetheless, that there is growing discontent within the ranks of the locked-out members of the NHL Players Association.

Possibly with that in mind, Bob Goodenow, the executive director of the NHLPA, has summoned the player representatives from each team to a meeting today in Toronto supposedly to update them on where the 48-day-old labor dispute stands.

The union told the reps the meeting was open to all members, but it was uncertain last night whether all of the teams would be represented. Some of the reps are playing in Europe during the lockout and will not be able to attend.

The Washington Capitals are another story. They have not had a player rep since Ken Klee moved to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the start of the 2003-04 season. The union yesterday insisted the Caps would be represented but later said the player scheduled to be at the meeting canceled at the last minute. That was center Jeff Halpern, who has turned down the player rep role and is playing in Switzerland.

The meeting comes at around the same time Goodenow met with the membership 10 years ago, the last time the NHL owners locked out the players in a labor dispute. That disruption lasted 103 days and cut the season to 48 games.

A small but growing number of players are complaining nothing has happened since NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the start of the lockout Sept. 15. There have been no negotiations or meetings since Sept. 9.

The league is insisting on a salary cap, but no matter how the NHL tries to disguise the terminology, the union bolts when the subject comes up. The NHLPA has offered a luxury tax alternative, a subject that draws a similar response from management.

What those disgruntled players are suggesting is that maybe the salary cap isn’t all that bad a suggestion.

When the ranks showed similar signs of breaking a decade ago, it was the same type of players who were asking the questions: the role players, the third- and fourth-line forwards, the defensemen who shuffled between the NHL and the minors. In other words, the players who made fractions of what the stars made.

“I went through the whole thing in 1994 when I was making $300,000,” Ottawa enforcer Rob Ray, one of the players speaking out, told the Canadian Press. “They got a deal done, and I thought I was going to cash in. Well, I went from making $300,000 to $350,000. Big deal. Really, it’s the role players on the team who are going to get [shafted] in all of this.”

Ray made $500,000 last season.

Even more criticism is coming from players in Europe who lost jobs when locked out NHL players flocked across the Atlantic. As of yesterday, 241 NHL players, 35 percent of the league, were playing somewhere in Europe, including seven Caps.

“They are scabs over here, replacement players, basically rented to put fans in the seats,” said goalie Corey Hirsch, a former Cap who moved to Switzerland some time ago for a steady spot but is now jobless.

The same criticism is starting to be heard from displaced former minor league players. The Caps, for instance, have about 10 players at their American Hockey League affiliate in Portland, Maine, who normally would be in Washington. Those are 10 jobs that would have gone to others further down in the system, such as in Charleston, S.C., where the Caps have a farm team.

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