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Leadership on thin ice again

Another union scandal may cost Saskin his job

TED SASKIN Deflects blame

As unions go, you can't find a better bunch of corporate clowns than the NHL leadership -- you remember, the Just Say No Players Association. They are the guys who went into the 2004-05 lockout without a Plan B, only to see their approach lead to a season surrendered to obstinacy, stupidity, and to be kind, abject mule-headedness.

The latest embarrassment has the union's current boss, Ted Saskin, heaving his former boss, Bob Goodenow, under the Zamboni, following allegations that union bigwigs ordered the opening of player e-mail during the lockout. Initial reports alleged that Saskin was the guy overseeing the cyber-snooping but he responded late last week by saying that the espionage was ordered by Goodenow.

To play the part of Sunday morning attorney here, what Saskin said wasn't necessarily an admission of union guilt, but hey, close enough, right? Now we await the shaking-down of his hard drive and the emptying of his suitcase of excuses.

Could be that Goodenow ordered it, but it never happened, or that he ordered it and someone else did the actual hacking. Could be, as he contends, he knew nothing about it.

Could be that Saskin, despite being Goodenow's top lieutenant, never knew about it. However, if the current boss says the old boss ordered it, then the current boss is guilty of going along with it, or guilty of being so clueless that he didn't know the practice was put in place.

Whatever the scenario, Saskin is either challenged to tell the truth, a co-conspirator, or a dunce. For now, he remains in charge of a group that stands to make in excess of $1.4 billion next season.

Goodenow responded to the allegation through his attorney, and denied he did anything of the sort. Today, the embattled Saskin, who was elevated to the top job upon Goodenow's forced resignation (and multimillion-dollar payout), is expected to hold a conference call with the players' executive committee and player representatives, to sift through the latest catastrophe that threatens to snap the poles of the PA's circus tent.

Really, when are these guys going to shut down the Toronto office and move to where they belong: Washington, in a couple of eerily quiet and slightly dusty Watergate offices?

Note to NHL players: Uh, boys, wake it up!

No doubt that advice sounds familiar. It's the same thing we said in the midst of, and wake of, the travesty that was the locked-out season. It's what we were saying in the midst of Alan Eagleson's reign of terror, one that ultimately delivered the disgraced union boss to an Ontario slammer (thanks to the doggedness of Russ Conway, ex- of the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune).

On the whole, it's impossible to find a better bunch of pro athletes than those who fill the 30 NHL dressing rooms. But it has become all too clear throughout the decades that their union leadership has taken their faith (and naiveté) as a weakness, and exploited it.

Eagleson was convicted. The less-conniving Goodenow was crippled by his obstinacy and lust for power. In the end, he was broken and booted. And here stands Saskin, widely perceived as the moderate who facilitated the detente that led to the lockout's end, now on the verge of being sacked.

If it's proven even one e-mail account was compromised on his watch, and either Saskin or Goodenow directed it, approved it, or simply abided by it, then Saskin will have to go.

No doubt ageless Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios, who has continually said Saskin's ascension to the top job was bogus and illegal, will inject some of his trademark nastiness into the brew now. As a player rep, he is expected to take part in today's conference call. Remember, Chelios is the guy who, during the 1994-95 lockout, openly threatened the NHL commissioner, saying, "If I was Gary Bettman, I'd be worried about my family, about my well-being right now."

Chelios has been brighter than to spew that kind of moronic rhetoric Saskin's way, at least in public. But make no mistake, Chelios has had him in the crosshairs since the day Goodenow was turfed. Slowly, but surely, Chelios has been getting more players and agents on his side.

Stay tuned. Just as the CBA came together quickly in the end, soon followed by the deporting of Goodenow, the end could be swift for Saskin. Like tomorrow, if not tonight. It would take only a simple majority (16 of 30 votes) to can him.

If it happens, the players then have to reach into that $100 million-plus war chest, left over from the lockout gone bad, and buy some common sense. It will be time to flush out the entire leadership, then hire a small panel of corporate job hunters who can identify two or three worthy candidates to take over the union. Someone the players can trust. Someone with no ties to hockey.

Time now for the players to get what they deserve, a leadership that answers only to one voice -- the call to act, in every sense and manner, in their best interests. With no other agendas. With no grudges or spite. And certainly without cracking their e-mail accounts.

It could be that the alleged practice is legal, because the host of the e-mail system is the Players Association itself. But ethical? Or what players understood to be acceptable? If that gets trotted out as the excuse, there is a 45-year-old defenseman in Detroit just waiting to deliver the two-hander of his life.

Doing Eagleson's bidding

Amid the Players Association's ongoing problems, a treasure chest of Alan Eagleson goods, including a Bobby Orr No. 4 sweater, remains up for bid on the Internet, via The Eagle, now 73, still lives in Ontario, and placed 98 items up for bid Feb. 24.

As of Friday, Orr's black sweater, which the site claims he wore during the 1972 Cup finals, had been bid up to $74,002.40. Bidding ends March 27.

Some of the money, Eagleson told the Montreal Gazette last month, will be earmarked for charity. Otherwise, the disgraced former executive director of the PA can choose to do with the cash as he pleases (he's been known to be resourceful in such situations). It's highly doubtful that he would dish it to Orr, with whom he reportedly hasn't spoken in years.

Sue Foster worked with the late Carl Brewer and helped the ex-Maple Leafs defenseman prove that Eagleson illegally chiseled money off of the players as head of the PA.

"It reinforces what Carl always said about Eagleson," she told the Toronto Star. "He has no shame."

The collection includes a gold puck, originally given to Orr by one-time Bruins owner Weston Adams, that Orr later gave to Eagleson, back in the days when Eagleson represented Orr in contract negotiations. It was Eagleson who didn't tell Orr, then a free agent, that the Bruins offered the legendary defenseman a piece of ownership in the club in hopes of keeping him from leaving Boston. Unaware of the offer, Orr signed with Chicago in 1976 and played his final 26 NHL games in a Blackhawk sweater.

The starting bid for the gold puck: $15,000. As of Friday, there were no bidders.

"Money," added Foster, "is more important than humanity to Alan."

It was ugly -- so take a good look

Sure enough, like sportswriters drawn to an open bar, television news flocked to the videotape of Islanders forward Chris Simon delivering his two-hander to the face of Ranger Ryan Hollweg Thursday night.

Locally, Channel 7 played the ugly clip around 6:54 a.m. as it was wrapping up its Friday eye-opener, and the "Today" show followed with it again about 20 minutes later.

A double shot of the good ol' ugly NHL, which hadn't had this kind of mainstream coverage since March 2004 when Todd Bertuzzi, then with Vancouver, clobbered Colorado forward Steve Moore from behind, leaving Moore with a broken neck.

Look, there is no defending what Simon did. By early afternoon Friday, the league suspended him indefinitely, pending a hearing. The big lug should be tagged with at least a 10-game suspension for what was a gutless and dangerous use of his stick.

No doubt the clip was sensational. In a society that can't wait for the next gory thing to play across the screen, it was must-see TV. But come June, when gory gives way to glory in the form of one team prancing around the ice with the Stanley Cup, will the NBC affiliate roll that celebratory clip twice over the course of 20 minutes?


An increase in the crease
Tuukka Rask, projected as the next big thing in the Boston net, moved one step toward seeing his season end when his Finnish club, Ilves Tampere, lost its opening game in the playoffs, 3-2, to Lukko Friday. If Tampere loses the best-of-three round, Rask is done for the season, and the Bruins are free to sign him. Reached Friday at his Chicago office, Rask's agent, Bill Zito, said he was confident that a deal would be hammered out quickly -- thus preventing the elite prospect from re entering the draft in June. The issue then becomes what the Bruins do with Zito's other netminding clients, Tim Thomas and Hannu Toivonen (now in Providence). "Not for me to answer," said Zito. "I have to treat each separately, and operate in the individual's best interests." In the short term, the most likely scenario has the Bruins dealing Toivonen on or before the June draft.

All the exes coach in Texas
Craig Janney, the mentor behind the bench for the Lubbock Cotton Kings, isn't alone as an ex-Bruin coaching in the Lone Star State. Fellow Black-and-Gold alum Brent Hughes, who will turn 41 next month, is back as coach in Austin after a three-year hiatus away from the Ice Bats bench. The Ice Bats today face the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees.

From ice to court
Steve Moore, the former Harvard forward (Class of '01), has a pending $18 million civil suit against Todd Bertuzzi, who was swapped from Florida to Detroit at the trade deadline. On Thursday, the three-year anniversary of the smackdown, Moore told Canadian Press that he continues to struggle with post-concussion syndrome. "From going to living out your dream . . . to not doing anything close to that and just trying to get healthy again," said Moore, "that's a pretty difficult shift in reality." Provided the parties don't settle, it could be next year before the case is presented to a Toronto judge and jury.

Their shot was blocked
Longtime Boston-based agent Neil Abbott figures restrictions in the new CBA played a key part in the Oilers' inability to get Ryan Smyth signed before the Feb. 27 trade deadline, with the veteran winger ultimately dished that day to the Islanders. "From everything I've read -- and I can only go by that -- they weren't very far off with the money," said Abbott, noting that another $200,000 per year reportedly could have finalized a five-year pact to keep Smyth in Edmonton. "Well, in the old CBA, I have to believe that deal gets done in a second between [Oiler GM] Kevin Lowe and [agent] Don Meehan. Are you kidding me? A couple of sensible, attainable bonuses and, boom, done deal. But now? Uh-uh. Other than entry-level players, and guys 35 and older, the CBA says no bonuses. Seems to me they've got to take another look at that, along with the fact that clubs can't trade a guy and keep some of that player's money on their books. I mean, if they have the cap room, what's wrong with that?" In theory, there is nothing wrong with it, but the rigid CBA doesn't allow such sharing, and all too often limits player movement and opportunity.

Flightless Penguins?
Late in the week, all grew quiet around the Igloo regarding the possibility that the Penguins might bolt Pittsburgh for Kansas City or Las Vegas. In fact, all parties agreed to shut up until they meet again on Wednesday, after a spokesperson for Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell reported "significant progress" in talks aimed at keeping the Penguins in place. The bet here: The sides announce a downtown rink deal in 7-10 days, followed soon after by the team announcing a committed buyer.

Loose pucks
A Boston-based source interested in buying an NHL franchise said Friday that he believes the Nashville Predators could be purchased for $175 million. "That's great," he said. "But it's also about $100 million overpriced, if your idea of owning a team is also to make a profit." . . . After today's matinee in Detroit, the Bruins are off for three days -- their longest break since the All-Star hiatus in late January. Other than a two-day break following the visit here by the Rangers Saturday, they'll play every other night until season's end. They're paying now, and quite dearly, for the three four-day breaks they had in the opening month of the season . . . Ex-Boston College netminder Scott Clemmensen recently penned a column for The Hockey News, carrying the headline: "I don't feel like I'm in the NHL." Truth is, as Marty Brodeur's backup, he is a well-compensated ($450,000) spectator. Clemm the Pen: "In fact, there really is no such thing as a goalie prospect [in New Jersey]. There hasn't been since Marty has been here. There's no need to have another goalie." All of which is why Clemmensen, who will turn 30 this summer, will test the market in July as an unrestricted free agent . . . Bruins backup Joey MacDonald, swapped here from Detroit, remembered showing up in his first Wings camp still using an equipment bag that he toted in his junior hockey days with Peterborough (OHL). "Steve Yzerman saw my stuff," recalled MacDonald, "and he kind of got excited, because he played in Peterborough, too. He said, 'Hey, you played in Peterborough? You and I are going to get along great.' I'll never forget that. Here I am, just a kid, and here's Steve Yzerman, one of the great players of all time, just treating me like one of the guys, you know? All class, just like you hear."

Kevin Paul Dupont's e-mail address is; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.