"How can a league that has been so successful the last few years go through this?" asked Lou Angotti, the first captain in the Flyers' history, from his home in Pompano Beach, Fla. "It just doesn't make sense. If it's not broken, don't fix it. There's got to be more to this than we are hearing."
Well, 18 NHL teams are apparently losing money, so the league - which has expanded beyond its means - is trying to appease those owners by cutting costs. Example: The league wants to count some AHL salaries toward a lowered NHL salary cap. In essence, the NHL is trying to put in rules that force owners to control their own spending.
"Hopefully, they can work out a deal where the small markets survive and make hockey stronger," said former Flyer Brian Propp, who is an executive with a company that offers technology consulting and staffing solutions. "That's the only positive I can see from all this."
But before a collective bargaining agreement is in place, there will be more acrimony, more rhetoric, more childish behavior. The NHL's refusal to meet at the bargaining table the last two-plus weeks makes it look as if it is trying to flex its muscles and cause a divide among the players.
Then again, maybe the league has underestimated Donald Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players' Association.
"I have a feeling we won't have a season," said Angotti, who after he retired from hockey owned a Florida nightclub for 15 years and later took financial classes and became a broker. "I don't know Fehr, but I know people who know him personally, and he's a vicious guy who wants to win. Look what happened in baseball" when Fehr was the union leader. "He won't budge and the owners look like they won't budge."
One of the main sticking points in the labor battle is that the owners want to defer some of the players' money through escrow.
"We fought in the early '70s to get guaranteed contracts, and the owners should stand by that," said former Flyers all-star defenseman Bob Dailey, who made $150,000 at the peak of his earnings as a player. "Putting it in escrow isn't the right thing to do.
"I'm heavily involved with labor, so I'm on the players' side," added Dailey, an Elkins Park resident who is a sales executive for a union insurance company.
Dailey said "both sides have legitimate gripes, but I feel more sorry for the people who have jobs as parking attendants or work the concessions. They're all union people, too."
Angotti (top hockey salary: $90,000) and Dailey are concerned that if the lockout lasts the entire season - as it did in 2004-05 - it will take a long time for fans to return to the sport.
"A lot of cities have great fan bases, but you're ticking people off," Dailey said, "How many times can you go to the well?"
After a while, fans "start looking at the bottom line," Angotti said. "They go to work 9 to 5 every day, and they're lucky to get two weeks' vacation and make $40,000, and the players are making millions for six months. After a while, it's only natural that some resentment has to be building up."
Eric Lindros, a former Flyers star who will enter the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame on Thursday, worked as an ombudsman with the NHLPA after he retired as a player. Lindros still has connections throughout the hockey world, and he says the owners have changed the language from the last collective bargaining agreement as it pertains to hockey-related revenue. The owners' leaders disagree.
Former Flyers center Rick MacLeish, a onetime 50-goal scorer, never made more than $250,000 in a season. Today's players average $2.5 million, and MacLeish says there is too much greed among them.
Told it was somewhat surprising he wasn't on the players' side, MacLeish replied: "Why? I'm not a player anymore."
Propp, who didn't get paid when he was a Flyers broadcaster during the 2004-05 lockout, had a different view.
"You have to look at the whole picture," said Propp, a former Flyers all-star who had his biggest payday when he earned $300,000 during a season with Minnesota late in his career. "You only have a certain amount of time to make the money because the average career is only four or five years. I look at guys who played and are my age and they're hobbling around."
Sort of like the sport of hockey these days.
Contact Sam Carchidi at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.