Over the past week, there has been news coverage on NHL Alumni taking part in the Winter Classic Alumni Game. The most recent event involving former players of the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.
As the press clippings reveal, the Alumni received very little in way of financial compensation for their participation. A figure of $200.00 was quoted in one piece for certain players, plus travel and accommodation for those who incurred such expenses. In cases where players didn't bring hockey sticks, they were being sold in the dressing room at $50.00 a pop.
Looking at the other side of the ledger, the numbers are much brighter. Since the National Hockey League doesn't release for public consumption the exact final figures relating to the Alumni match, one can only surmise the gate receipts were huge. One number being bantered about is 4 million-dollars. Then, there are parking and concessions to factor into the equation.
The pay-off for Alumni lacing them up one more time? A lousy couple-of-hundred dollars, a plane ride and hotel room.
In the next round of CBA negotiations, it is vital the NHLPA takes steps to rectify this injustice and seek a fair cut from the pot. Sure, most of those taking part are not in dire-straights when it comes to the bottom-line. However, there are others in the membership who are hurting and could do with a boost in their pension cheques.
Another generation of Alumni who can no longer take to the ice are being ignored. In particular, those who skated in the Original Six era. There is absolutely no reason why they cannot, in more substantial numbers, be involved in events surrounding the Winter Classic weekend.
How about a massive Alumni luncheon or dinner, featuring NHL players from each of the previous decades? If fans will flock in enormous amounts to a football stadium for an Alumni encounter, imagine the results if they had the opportunity to sit-down a break bread with one of their heroes. Such a gathering would allow the spotlight to also focus on hockey's rich history. It wouldn't be limited to the Alumni representing the two teams playing on New Year's Day. Hand-in-hand with this would be merchandise sales and autograph sessions.
No matter how you dress-it-up, Alumni Games are nothing more than Oldtimers Games. Same game, different name. And who originated the concept of Oldtimers Games? Well, in the early 1950s players from prior generations came up with the idea to aid community needs.
Two teams, Red and White, would be composed of a starting line-up sure to dazzle anyone venturing out for a night of fun and hockey. In goal, Phil Stein could go up against Roy Worters in the opposing net. On defence, the crowd could watch Flash Hollett, Cy Wentworth, Dit Clapper and Lionel Conacher defend within their respective bluelines. Up front, they could cheer Nels Stewart, Billy Taylor, Lorne Duguid, Busher Jackson, Roy Conacher and Charlie Conacher, as they buzzed around the opposition goal. When the starters required a rest, 8 alternates of similar stature were more than ready to hop over the boards and join the action.
In the late 1950s and 60s, the banner was lifted by individuals like Sid Smith, Wally Stanowski, Bob Goldham, Ivan Irwin, Bob Beckett, Danny Lewicki and Murray Henderson to mention a few. The Conacher family tradition continued with Pete Conacher, Charlie's son, hitting the ice. Eventually, most of the Original Six clubs would form an Oldtimers squad and once again thrill their followers.
Certainly, local Alumni Games should benefit charities and other associations who need assistance. However, the NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game is a unique situation. Since it takes place on the national stage, would it not be a terrific chance for Alumni to reap the rewards for building-up the Alumni/Oldtimers event to the current status it now enjoys?
Why not distribute the profits from the Alumni Game and other related functions into the pension pool. The additional cash being earmarked towards maintaining or increasing the dollar amount of the pension for guys who gave-up their weekends to travel and raise money in small towns.
The players who toiled in the Golden Age of the game. Yet, who couldn't survive only on their hockey salary and were forced to work summers to provide for their families. If they were lucky. It was a time when those pulling an Original Six sweater over their heads were reluctant to disclose injuries suffered on the ice. Any hint of weakness could result in a one-way ticket to the minors and reduced pay. A physical impairment hampering their ability to engage in fruitful employment during the off-season. Injuries could linger and remain for a lifetime. Their quality of life suffering long after leaving the pro scene. Despite these circumstances, they didn't hesitate to hit the road and confront wicked winter conditions as they made their way to the next town and the next game. How could they not - people with greater and more stressing needs required their help.
Gains made from recent legal victories cannot be allowed to become stagnant. The efforts of Carl Brewer and Sue Foster, along with a host of former players, should continue in the next CBA battle.
The heart and soul of the Original Six era, they gave back to the game. Now, it is time for the current generation and the National Hockey League to give back, not only to the game, but to those who gave birth to the NHLPA and laid the groundwork for the success enjoyed by both sides.
Adding insult to injury is an ugly legacy.