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Muckler has no grounds to complain about new NHL

Ottawa isn't just Canada's capital. It's Canada's capital of complaints, the place where the country's lobbyists, legalists, and lobbyists-for-legalists, surround the national parliament to detail (a) the myriad manners by which the people they represent have been slighted; and (b) the costly balms they want applied to soothe their clients' painful rashes.

No shock, then, to hear Senators GM John Muckler complaining about the toll Gary Bettman's prized collective-bargaining agreement has taken on his team. And that's not to fault Muckler in particular; he and the Sens have simply taken on the persona of their home base, the way all pro sports franchises tend to.

The True North's five other NHL teams provide more proof. The Canucks can play a style as beautiful as their city's luminous landscapes, but the laid-back, que sera mantra of far-left coasters has crept into the hockey team's locker room on more than one occasion; indeed, it was what many believed to be behind the late-season swoon that landed Vancouver out of the playoffs last year.

Though their fans are loathe to lump the two anywhere near each other, the Flames and Oilers both possess similar, rough-around-the-edges, no-guff-please-we're-Albertans characteristics. Farther east, the Maple Leafs' unique combination of arrogance and elitist entitlement mirrors the city the rest of Canada despises with a degree of passion that has made billionaires out of the fine folks at Harlequin.

Reflecting the philosophy of the community is nothing new to the Canadiens. That franchise has performed a difficult juggling act virtually each year of its existence, one hand tossing into the air an unspoken predilection for players of French-Canadian heritage, the other straining to grab hold of a competitive balance.

But back to Muckler, a much-respected veteran of the league's GM wars. Surely, he should have by now come to grips with the inherent cruelties of modern sports, shouldn't he? Shouldn't he understand no professional league has invented an all-appeasing salary system. That Gilda Radner was right -- it's always something.

You'd think so, but you'd think wrong.

"You don't get the compensation that you deserve compared to the old system, but this is a new system." Muckler grumbled after dealing high-scoring winger Martin Havlat and Bryan Smolinski to Chicago in what amounted to a salary dump. A few days earlier, Muckler watched defensive lynchpin Zdeno Chara leave Ottawa for the relative riches provided by the Boston Bruins, riches the Sens could not match under cap rules.

Compared to the old system? Beg pardon, John? Under the old system, you also very likely would have lost the services of Wade Redden, Jason Spezza and, eventually, Dany Heatley, when franchises with deeper pockets swooped in and outbid you on free-agent deals. And even if Sens owner Eugene Melnyk spent the money to retain them, all he'd have done was continue the escalations of salaries, a process largely responsible for sending the league into its barely-averted death spiral.

Lay off the pining for the old system, John. Unless you're a player, a player agent, or the spouse of a player or player agent, very little of the previous CBA is preferable to the current version.

And what's with all this "deserve" talk? Deserve? As Clint Eastwood's William Nunny character said in the still-awesome Unforgiven: "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it."

In this case, it's got to do with the NHL's team owners, and their unshakeable urge to tie down the players to one number: 54 percent of league revenues. If the owners were so devoted to keeping young players their team developed, they could have bartered for the luxury in labor talks. They didn't, which tells you all you need to know about their ultimate focus.

But it seems as if the owners didn't cream the players' union enough for Muckler's liking. Perhaps forcing the players into indentured servitude, as was the case in the NHL's formative years, is what he has in mind. Perhaps he wants GMs to add "arbitrator of player contracts" to their job descriptions. We'll never know until Muckler reveals his blueprint for building the perfect financial beast, and there'll be no breath-holding advised while we wait for that press conference.

Besides, how many of us get what we "deserve"? Sure, it'd be super-duper-neato to wake up each morning beside an always-agreeable multi-billionaire who's holding two plane tickets to anywhere cell phones won't work. Alas, that's not how most of our cookies crumble. Most of us simply deal with the meal life's lunch-lady plops on our plate by sorting through the gristle and bone to find a few good chews.

A similar challenge now faces GMs and coaches throughout the league. They've got to blend both big-ticket and bargain-basement ingredients in hope of creating an award-winning meal. If their failure results in the stinking up of the kitchen, it's back to the cutting board to start anew. And no recipe is guaranteed of success anymore, not in a league where you can miss the playoffs one season and play deep into May the next.

"If you're not successful, I guess it becomes a lot easier because you become a buyer," Muckler said. "If you're successful, you become a seller."

Easier? Beg pardon, John? Nobody's got it easier these days, not when the margin for error is precisely the same as it is in 29 other markets. And trying to solicit sympathy for your small-market team only makes you seem like one of those paid-for-swayed Ottawa lobbyist types who insist babies politely hand over the candy, thereby sparing him the indignity of stealing the sugar himself.

Adam Proteau's Screen Shots appears every Monday only on thehockeynews.com. Want to take a shot at Adam Proteau? You can reach him at aproteau@thehockeynews.com.

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