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For the Players, Goodenow Is a Resolute Hockey Man


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For the Players, Goodenow Is a Resolute Hockey Man



Published: February 12, 2005

TORONTO, Feb. 11 - Bob Goodenow, the executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association, disagreed when it was suggested Friday that he and Commissioner Gary Bettman might be playing a dangerous game of chicken, in which daredevil drivers steer cars toward each other at high speeds.

If neither driver swerves, each would end up suffering.

"I don't believe it's a game of chicken," Goodenow said. "Both sides know what's at stake and what's going on here."

What is going on is the possibility that the N.H.L. will be the first North American sports league to lose an entire season because of a labor dispute.

Unless collective bargaining resumes in the next few days, Bettman is expected to cancel the season early next week. The aftermath could leave a much different business and great bitterness.

"I don't think anyone can really quantify what the effects of all this will be," Goodenow said. "We're obviously going into uncharted waters, unfortunately. It certainly won't be good to start with. But maybe it will be a catharsis of sorts. Maybe out of something bad comes something good."

Since Bettman shut down the league Sept. 16, at the start of training camp, the issue has been the same: the owners want a salary cap and a fixed relationship between revenue and payroll. The players say they will not accept a cap but have offered a 24 percent salary rollback among other concessions to help owners curtail spending.

Goodenow stressed, as Bettman often has, that this is not a personality conflict between two strong-willed lawyers with Ivy League backgrounds.

"It's an ongoing business thing between the players and the league and the history of the league and the relationships between the 700 players and the 30 team owners," Goodenow said. "Unfortunately, both sides are stuck. There isn't a way. But we'll have to try to find it."

Goodenow's introduction to hockey's off-ice power plays came early. After playing hockey at the junior level, at Harvard and for a minor league team, Goodenow went to law school at the University of Detroit and worked as a clerk for a lawyer in suburban Detroit in 1978.

One of the clients was Dale McCourt, who played five seasons with the Red Wings. McCourt fought back when an arbitrator assigned him to the Los Angeles Kings as compensation when Detroit signed goalie Rogie Vachon as a free agent.

Goodenow helped research the federal case, which was headed for the United States Supreme Court before it was settled out of court. McCourt remained a Red Wing and Goodenow was impressed.

"It sure gave me a tremendous insight about how the dynamics of the legal system could be applied to sport in a dramatic and exciting way," Goodenow said. "To experience that as a young law student was very intriguing and exhilarating."

Goodenow, 52, grew up in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, home of the Ford Motor Company, in an era when that area was more influenced by unions than it is now. The local labor icons were Walter Reuther, who was president of the United Auto Workers, and Jimmy Hoffa, who was president of the Teamsters union.

Goodenow's grandfather was a union bricklayer, but his father was a manager for a pharmaceutical company who bargained against a Teamsters local. Before Goodenow became a player agent, he worked for a fire-equipment company near Pittsburgh and successfully resisted an organizing drive by the Teamsters.

Mark Howe, a boyhood friend who later became one of his clients, said Goodenow's background was one of the reasons he replaced Alan Eagleson as executive director of the union in 1992.

Goodenow's adversary, Bettman, also 52, studied labor relations at Cornell and law at New York University. He became commissioner in 1993 after working under David Stern at the National Basketball Association. One of Bettman's N.B.A. duties was to oversee the league's salary cap.

Goodenow has red hair and the sturdy build of a former athlete. When he played alongside Howe on a team called the Junior Wings, his left orbital bone was crushed by a cross-check, requiring surgery. Five of his upper teeth are false.

Goodenow was a captain at Harvard and tried out for the Washington Capitals expansion team in 1975. While growing up, he watched "Hockey Night in Canada" on television, attended games at Olympia Stadium in Detroit and idolized Howe's father, Gordie.

"My first hero was Gordie Howe," Goodenow said. "I was fortunate to get to know him as a young boy. He made a lasting impression on me, the way he handled himself, the things he would say, his general demeanor and outlook."

Goodenow also has bonds with less-celebrated hockey figures. Goodenow's son, Joe, was a youth-league teammate of Mike Danton, who pleaded guilty in July to charges of conspiring to kill his agent and former coach, David Frost.

Danton played for the St. Louis Blues last season and Goodenow dined with Frost and Danton after a game just a few nights before Danton's arrest in April. Goodenow, who is perceptive and can read subtle cues in group discussions, said he never had an inkling of the hostility between Danton and Frost.

He said they discussed mostly hockey that night. "We talked about the penalty kill and the game," Goodenow said, shrugging and shaking his head. Calling Danton by his former name, Goodenow said, "I like Mike Jefferson," but abruptly said he did not wish to discuss the subject further.

He was more effusive regarding Bettman, the hockey culture and other people's perceptions of him. When Goodenow led a 10-day strike in 1992, just before the Stanley Cup playoffs were to begin, it was reported that the players - who had been working under terms of an expired collective-bargaining agreement - were wavering in their support of the walkout. Instead, Goodenow won concessions from the league, and John Ziegler, N.H.L. president, resigned.

In 1994, when Bettman ordered a lockout that lasted 103 days, it was widely perceived that Goodenow had been defeated because he had made so many concessions. Now, even Bettman concedes that the union got the better of that deal; the average salary has grown to $1.83 million last season from $558,00 in 1993-94, Bettman's first season.

"People know me," Goodenow said. "They shouldn't underestimate me or overestimate me."

Goodenow was asked about the perception by some in hockey that Bettman has never grasped the mentality of hockey players and underestimates their determination when confronted.

Earlier this week, Bettman expressed puzzlement over the union's rejection of a "philosophical concept" of a salary cap. "You've got to respect it," Bettman said of the union position.

Goodenow said that he did not think Bettman underestimated the culture of hockey and that he tried hard to appreciate it.

"I think Gary tries to understand the players," Goodenow said. "There are some things there that he might be able to have a little better focus on. But I'm sure he would say the same thing about me."

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