Monday, September 03, 2007

The NHLPA meetings
Mathieu Schneider: Onto the front line

It's hard to believe Mathieu Schneider enters the 2007-08 season as the 11th oldest player in the NHL.

For one, he's in excellent condition and coming off, arguably, his two best seasons in the league at 38. He also signed the most lucrative contract of his career this summer ($11.25-million over two years) with the Anaheim Ducks, something he noted on Friday as a sign the league's new collective bargaining agreement wasn't quite the landslide victory for ownership it was at one point made out to be.

"One of the things I think we’ve seen is that it’s not that bad for everyone now," he said.

Schneider said his first experience with the NHLPA was back in the early '90s when teammate Ryan Walter "dragged him by the scruff of the neck" to a meeting as a youngster, and that at that point, he had no idea about the union.

But he really became involved during the lockout. There was, after all, the story that came out about his efforts to establish some business connections for the players while they weren't playing hockey, a way for the group to make some off-ice revenue by way of a talent agency. Bob Goodenow was all for the idea, and even met with ICM in Los Angeles, but when he and Schneider called Trevor Linden with the details, their calls were never returned.

"That is when I realized they were starting to push Bob out."

Schneider took on a post as one of the five interim executive committee members last season and was one of the decision makers who helped bring Ted Saskin's ouster to a vote. On Friday, Schneider was front and centre, speaking with the media for a half hour about anything and everything.

"I was very pleased to hear the quality of people that have been responding; the sheer number is overwhelming," he said of the search for Saskin's replacement. "I think there are over 100 candidates, [search committee head and former NHLer] Dave [Poulin] said, that have expressed sincere interest in the position, and to me, that says an awful lot about, not only our union and the way players are perceived, but the potential for where the game can go. I think one thing I’ve always said is that, in order to have a strong game, you need to have a strong union.

"Leaving here today, I’ve never been more proud to be part of the Players’ Association than I am right now."

That said, Schneider was asked about his feelings on the low turnout to the meetings.

"We all know there’s always a certain group of players who just don’t want to get involved; that’s in all sports, not just in hockey."

Was that general player apathy part of what led to the takeover by Saskin, then?

"Without a doubt," Schneider said. "I think that was one of the major reasons we ended up with the CBA that we did. That goes back to Bob’s era; Bob has to shoulder some of that responsibility as well. That’s one of the things that we realized coming out of this, and I think that is being addressed. Trent Klatt, I think, has been vindicated in that, all that he ever asked for was for them to slow down and go through the proper process, and essentially it’s taken two years to get there.

"I never would have imagined that it would have gotten to this point here, six to eight months ago. I think we’re going to come out of this as united and strong as we’ve ever been."

Schneider had some interesting comments on what was needed in a new executive director, saying he didn't feel someone like Goodenow was the ideal candidate. He emphasized that avoiding a lockout in the future was one of the paramount concerns going forward.

"I think the other thing we need to learn is that we need to be able to solve this without a work stoppage. If there’s one thing that we’ve all learned from this is that no one benefits from a work stoppage, and we need to bring in someone who’s able to negotiate a fair deal with Gary [Bettman], with the league, and not miss a day. I believe that’s totally doable. We’ve seen it in other sports, it’s totally doable. I’m excited about it.

"We need, I think, a change in attitude, not necessarily a new leader. We need a true partnership, which I don’t think has quite happened yet. We’re in a world here where none of us have been before, and we’re learning as we go.

"I think the fact that as a union we’ve gone through the last two years of turmoil, I don’t think has aided us at all in terms of becoming partners with the league — in fact it’s hurt us, if anything."

But back to the apathy — how did things unravel so quickly? How was the PA led astray and put in that sort of turmoil during the lockout? And why wasn't the interest there?

"What happened was, we got fat; everybody was making a ton of money and forgot the reason that was happening, so essentially, what you had — and the thing about Bob that I never had any doubts about: He had the players’ interests at heart.

"But when you compare Bob to Eagleson, or what was happening with Ted, Bob always fought for the player first, and I think there was a sense that wasn’t happening with Ted and that certainly wasn’t happening with Eagleson."

Schneider said he hadn't talked with his teammates on the Ducks yet, but that he didn't plan on taking on player rep duties with his new team. Much like Chris Chelios, he hoped to see the role go to a youngster on the team, someone who could help reshape the union for years to come.

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At 7:56 a.m., September 03, 2007, Blogger PB said...

Hi James -

This stuff is extremely fascinating. Union apathy just doesn't happen in sports, but in business as well - in every organization, really.

The NHLPA is/was like a television mini-series... :-)

Earlier this season, I thought Chelios was just starting trouble and it turns out that he knew something was wrong.

At 1:23 p.m., September 03, 2007, Blogger Shane Giroux said...

Yep, and good on Chelios for pushing through. Seemed he had a fair bit of resistance at the start but he kept plugging away.

I know I thought "Geez, just let it be" when I first heard of his issues. I just wanted hockey to be played with nothing distracting in the background :)

At 11:43 p.m., September 03, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems like its a perennial problem with the NHLPA, as even Schnieder himself alluded: the union needs to get younger players to buy in and take an interest to get long term continuity but younger players are the ones that are least interested in doing it. Unless you go with a mandatory procedure of appointing young members I don't think the PA should fight this trend but rather make it easier for the older players to contribute while still doing all the other off ice things that older players naturally need to accomplish. I wonder if you really need 'playing' team reps? isn't this a perfect job for somebody just recently retired?


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