Manny Legace is happy to be back playing hockey. He wants to make that perfectly clear. But the Blues goalie also hasn't forgotten the hard lessons learned by the NHL Players' Association during the lockout.
And though he isn't the type of guy to say Â“I told you so,Â” he is exactly the type of guy who remains unafraid to speak his mind.
Take, for instance, his take on the lockout's clear-cut victors.
Â“(The) owners were all probably laughing at us,Â” said Legace, who was cut loose Â– unfairly, in my opinion Â– by the Red Wings last summer before signing with St. Louis. Â“They knew we were going to crack. They knew they were eventually going to get their way, and they did. And once they had us bent over, man, they really bent us over.
Â“Don't get me wrong Â– (NHLPA boss) Ted (Saskin) and the (executive committee) did as well as they could do. But when Mark Cuban comes out and says, Â‘I want to buy an NHL team because the owners have it good there,' that should tell you right there what kind of deal the owners got.Â”
One of the most outspoken critics of the union during the lockout, Legace has been proven correct to question its strategies.
Â“(Players) realize what I was saying (about the lockout) was true, even though they didn't want to hear it,Â” he said. Â“I just spoke my mind. It's my fault I do. I'm the same way when I playÂ…if I play like crap, I'll tell you.Â”
At the start of the lockout, Legace stood firmly behind the NHLPA and then-union head Bob Goodenow. But that soon changed.
Â“First of all, I was one of the guys willing to say, Â‘I don't understand why we're doing it, but if the guys want to do this, I back it 100 per cent,' Â” Legace said. Â“I completely supported the union. I was willing to sit down for two years, three even. I really didn't care.
Â“I also said there could be a way to make a salary cap work, as nearly every sport had one. Why should hockey be different, especially with it not being as big as it used to be? But every meeting we had was all about preparing to be locked out. There was never a situation where (Goodenow) came to us and said, Â‘Maybe we could go and suggest a $65- or $55-million cap.' It was all about never accepting a cap.Â”
Although Legace respects what Goodenow did for NHL players in the 1990s, he got a first-hand look at the negotiator's dark side.
Â“The night I said what I said, Bob was at the game,Â” he said. Â“It came out in the papers the next day and Bob must have found out about it at the airport. He leaves the airport, travels back to our dressing room and starts screaming at me in front of everybody.
Â“He absolutely goes up one side of me and down the other, telling me how I'm not backing the guys, how I'm showing weakness. I said, Â‘Bob, I am backing the guys. Did you read the whole article? All I did was voice my opinion. Nobody has to listen to it, but I can say it.'
Â“And I told him, Â‘I don't understand why you're getting mad at me for that. If I call you and talk to you on the phone, you'll hang up and say, Â‘This guy is nuts.'
Â“That's what (Goodenow) does. He's not going to listen to me, a little fat backup goalie. But reporters asked me what I thought would be best. I was honestÂ…I said I didn't want to lose a year. I'd just made the NHL. Why would I want to lose a year's salary?Â”
Most frustrating to Legace was the cone of silence around the players during labor negotiations.
Â“The (union) cut us off from everything,Â” he said. Â“That's what I didn't like. Guys had no idea what was going on. You call the PA and they'd say, Â‘Don't worry about it, don't worry about it, there's too many leaks.'Â…You couldn't get information, they weren't posting anything for guys anymore, everyone was in the dark.
Â“And I called the (players) who called me out (for his comments). I told them, Â‘This is the way guys feel.' They said, Â‘You're right, you're right, but you don't know what's going on.' I said to the guy, Â‘You're right, I don't know what's going on. You guys cut me off from The Source (the union's secure online forum) and no one from the PA will call me back, so what am I supposed to do?'
Â“For a guy who was supposed to be on the inside, I knew of nothing that was going on. And I was one of the player reps!Â”
Legace believes the union's strategy in the fight was flawed from the start.
Â“It just seemed like nobody wanted to concede the owners don't make their livelihood off of hockey,Â” he said. Â“Do you think (Wings owner) Mr. (Mike) Illitch is living or dying depending on how the hockey team makes out? He's made billions in baseball and restaurants. What does he care?Â”
Not surprisingly, Legace is interested in a post-playing career where his opinion matters Â– a lot.
Â“I think reffing would be a lot of fun,Â” he said with a chuckle. Â“You still get to travel, hang out with the guys. And it would be fun to get back at some of those guys: Â‘Scored on me, did you? Get in the (penalty) box!' Â”
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