No check in the mail, veteran enforcer Rob Ray is suing the NHLPA because he believes he is entitled to receive the union’s lockout stipend, which each current player has been receiving monthly during the work stoppage.
Though Ray spent most of last season in the booth working as a TV broadcaster for the Buffalo Sabres, he signed with the Ottawa Senators in February. Ray appeared in six regular season games with the Senators, recording a goal and 14 penalty minutes, and was still on the active roster when Ottawa was ousted by Toronto in the first round of the playoffs. Ray is now an unrestricted free agent, and playing for the Binghamton Senators of the AHL. Known more for his hard-nose play than offensive prowess, Ray is the Sabres’ all-time penalty minute leader at 3,207 career PIM in 900 games.
When the NHLPA opened its lockout war-chest last month and began sending out stipends of up to $10,000, 15-year NHL veteran Ray didn’t receive a check. And he received conflicting messages from the NHLPA. Ray says that NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow promised him lockout checks when he met with him last spring, recalling the dialogue:
“He looked right at me and said, ‘Razor, even a guy like you that might not ever play the game again, you’re being carried through this whole thing.’ I’m like, ‘Hey, that’s cool.’ And now this is happening.”
Then Ray says that he was notified in early November that an NHLPA committee ruled that he was ineligible for compensation. And Ray believes it was because of the comments he made in October, when he said he would be willing to become a replacement player:
“I’d cross the line in a second. Why wouldn’t I? I know about 10 guys who would be ahead of me and these guys are 10 current NHL players. Everybody just wants to get back to playing.”
Through his comments, Ray joined a group of low-salary players who broke with NHLPA solidarity and expressed their desire to return to NHL play no matter the financial costs. In an NHL whose 2003-2004 average salary was $1.83 million, and where 43.8% of players earned less than $800,000, the NHLPA has a clear rift between defending its few high-salary stars, the Nick Lidstrom’s, and maintaining a union that also stands for the majority of players, the Rob Ray’s of the league. A clear difference between the recent proposals pertained to salary cutbacks spread out over all players (flat 24% by the NHLPA), and cutbacks weighed heavily (up to 35%) on the top-dollar stars (NHL). So while the NHLPA has been defending its Nick Lidstrom’s, its lesser known members have become vocal about defending their rights as well.
For Rob Ray, who made $500,000 in each of his last three seasons ($185,000 is the current minimum wage in the NHL), a missed season could be the difference between living comfortably to having to cut back on daily expenses in order to pay his bills. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel bad for anyone making that much money, but there’s a clear difference between the lockout pains in the Ray and Lidstrom households. And it’s something the NHLPA needs to consider, as it attempts to secure top salaries for the NHL’s stars.
Ray refers to his October statement as a sign of his frustration and wanting to get back to the ice:
“I said, ‘Yeah, I would cross,’ just to let them know that guys want to play and all of this political stuff that’s going on is bothering a lot of people…You know what, I love the game and there’s a million other guys that love the game. And I believe that there’s a lot of guys that would do what they have to do to play the game [i.e. cross the picket lines as replacement players].”
Whether or not you agree with Ray’s lockout politics, you have to admire his passion for the Game and what lengths he would go to returning to NHL play:
“I think the players made a step and the owners made a step, but tiny steps aren’t going to get us anywhere. I just think the game is way too fragile in a lot of places right now. And the chances of really causing some serious damage is huge…It’s crazy to see. You don’t want to see…a game that you love more than just about anything be hurt like that.”
On a side note, if you are interested in searching for player salaries, the USA Today Salary Database is a good place to start.