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Hockey players don't always fight. Sometimes they negotiate,
meekly. Consider their new five-year collective-bargaining agreement
with NHL owners, approved by a player vote two weeks ago. In any
other pro sport, union and management would have traded contract
demands like roundhouse punches until one of the combatants hit the
canvas. But the NHL Players Association, never too demanding, went
right into a clinch. After some early talk of holding out for broader
free-agent rights -- ''There is a greater chance than ever before
that there will be a strike,'' NHLPA executive director Alan
Eagleson had said ominously -- the players settled for little more
than an improved pension plan and came to terms almost two months in
advance of a strike deadline. It was extraordinary: When push came to
shove, nobody pushed and nobody shoved. ''Have you ever played
hearts?'' asks player agent Art Kaminsky. ''It's called a
The proceedings certainly seemed to be friendly. Eagleson, who has
more than once been accused of being too cozy with team owners, said
he was happy to avert a strike because, you know, the owners are
having such a hard time making money. When was the last time you
heard the head of a players union say that? In fact, perhaps the
biggest concession the players got was the elimination of proposed
mandatory drug testing -- testing that Eagleson himself had
advocated. (''I guess so,'' Eagleson told The Boston Globe earlier
this year when asked if drug testing wasn't a possible violation of
players' civil rights. ''So is the law on seat belts, but I put mine
on anyway.'')
You would think it might bother NHL players that they are so
limited in their movement. Because of a pricey compensation system
that usually extracts cash and high draft choices from teams that
sign away free agents, very few free agents have gone to different
teams in recent years. But to the players, apparently, it's nothing
to fight about.