Dowbiggin writes an exceptionally readable, free flowing account of the business side of the National Hockey League, setting the stage for Bob Goodenow's meteoric rise (and that of the NHL players' compensation in the 90's and early 2000's) before the 2005 lockout resulted in his dismissal as head of the NHLPA.
The book starts out during the frantic free agent season of 2002, when good players like Bill Guerin and Bobby Holik got insane $9 million per year deals from the Dallas Stars and New York Rangers. It's an eye-opening 24-hour tour seen through the eyes of a player agent, whose No. 1 priority is getting maximum compensation for his client, in this case- Holik.
From there, Dowbiggin takes you back in time and deftly navigates from the seeds of discontent amongst the NHLPA sown during the Alan Eagleson/John Zeigler era of the NHL- yet does well in not getting bogged down in the details and minutiae, but instead providing enough hard analysis and historical data to chart the upward swing of player salaries which occurred as expansion ran rampant in the final decade of the 20th century. It's all here- from the early years of Ted Lindsay's aborted attempts to begin a union in the 1950s, to the rise of Eagleson, the shot heard round the world in the trade of Wayne Gretzky to L.A. in 1988, the near removal of Eagleson in 1989, the Scott Stevens, Brendan Shanahan and Adam Graves free agent signings which permanently altered the NHL's free agency landscape in 1990 and 1991.
It is then that he takes you on a wild ride with Eagleson's ouster and Goodenow's fast track in bringing the NHLPA from professional serfs to the league's ultimate power players, wildly escalating the marketplace year after year, while team owners continued to pay today's salaries with tomorrow's dollars, desperate to win, yet saddling themselves with aging, albatross players and contracts as established by the 1995 CBA.
I also like the fact that Dowbiggin's sources are some of the smartest and most articulate, from former players like goaltender Mike Liut (now a player agent but who in 1987 was the NHL's highest-paid goalie with an underwhelming $400,000 per year salary)to present and former coaches, managers and player agents like former Bruin Mike Gillis, whose shoddy treatment at the hands of the Eagle may have been the spark that began the quiet revolution against the NHL's owners who held all the power and kept player salaries down in comparsion to the other major sports for decades.
All of it is here, the factors which led to the explosion of the market and ultimately, the actions taken by the NHL owners to try and take the power back and the inevitable fracturing of the NHLPA, as the players by and large were not prepared to wage the scorched earth war Goodenow wanted.
If you are an NHL fan, this is a must read. It really spells out the dysfunction of so many of the league's powerbrokers and how it all came to a head in 2005, with the needless cancellation of the entire season. Sadly, if you're following recent events of the new CBA signed in July '05, history could be preparing to repeat itself.
The NHL barely survived its latest work stoppage. It won't live through another.
Read this cautionary and absolutely fascinating tale- it's well worth the time.