For the last three months, NHL players have taken aim at Gary Bettman as the root of all lockout evil while dutifully avoiding the opportunity to munch on the hand that fed them their robust contracts.
Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild was one of Bettman's most vocal critics from the start; he finally spread the blame to the owners last week in the Star Tribune:
"You have all these owners signing big deals minutes before the CBA expires and then going the next day, 'We don't want to pay these contracts," Parise said. "Maybe that's how they conduct business. That just doesn't seem right. What if us players signed a deal and said, 'You know what, I actually want 15 percent more?'"
Parise specifically said he wasn't "singling out" Wild owner Craig Leipold, who signed both the former New Jersey Devils captain and former Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter to identical 13-year, $98-million contracts on July 4.
But in an interview with Craig Custance of ESPN.com on Friday, Suter finally had the chutzpah to call out Leipold for potentially negotiating their deals in bad faith — even though the evidence points to something different.
From ESPN.com, Suter said he's wondering if the long-term deals were negotiated in good faith:
"From what's going on right now? Yes. Definitely," Suter told ESPN The Magazine. "I haven't done any interviews. I haven't said anything, but yeah, it's disappointing that the owners, they sign all these guys and some guys were signed within the last week before the CBA was up. Now, they're trying to go back on their word. It's frustrating, disappointing. It doesn't seem like that's the way you operate a relationship or business."
And on Leipold:
"It's disappointing. If you can't afford to (sign contracts) then you shouldn't do it," Suter said. "(Leipold) signed us to contracts. At the time he said everything was fine. Yeah, it's disappointing. A couple months before, everything is fine, and now they want to take money out of our contracts that we already signed."
A few thoughts:
• Suter says, "they want to take money out of our contracts that we already signed." At this point, you can accurately call this statement "debatable."
Yes, the NHL unleashed a 24-percent rollback in its crap-tastic proposal back in the summer, which we'd wager a third of the players think is still on the table (and that's a conservative estimate). But in its latest since-yanked proposal, the NHL offered the "make whole" provision with this declaration:
The NHL is not proposing that current SPCs be reduced, re-written or rolled back. Instead, the NHL's proposal retains all current Players' SPCs at their current face value for the duration of their terms, subject to the operation of the escrow mechanism in the same manner as it has worked under the expired CBA.
So yeah, the NHL does in fact want to take money out of the contracts the players signed through the same escrow system we've had since 2005. Doesn't make it right, but Suter's talking like we're still debating a rollback.
• According to Suter, "at the time" Leipold "said everything was fine" with the contracts that Parise and Suter signed.
This level of mutual trust, with the lockout looming, ran so deep that the players had $25 million — over one quarter of the total value of their deals — placed into bonuses that wouldn't be affected by a potential salary rollback.
In fact, the top 13 signing bonuses in the NHL are for contracts signed in the last year and a half. Why, it's almost like the players knew their owners were feeding them a line of B.S. about contracts being honored at full value!
• That said: Kudos to Suter. Kudos to a guy finally strapping on his stones and calling out his owner for his role in the loophole exploiting, salary inflating management that helped fuel the necessity (such as it is) for the lockout.
Anyone hear Terry Pegula getting slammed? Or Rocky Wirtz? Or Ed Snider? It hasn't happened. But maybe Suter's the tip of the spear that's about to start jabbing owners in their sides as the work stoppage continues, rather than taking lazy pokes at Bettman.