Monday night is supposed to be an unfettered celebration ofeverything that is right and good about the NHL.
Pavel Bure, Adam Oates, Mats Sundin and Joe Sakic are allset to be inducted together into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. It should bean evening of pageantry and wonder with the NHL fraternity of greatnessgathering to give each of these favorite sons a welcoming embrace. Normallyits a notable event amid the NHL regular season when hockey fans turn back theclock to remember some of their favorite players something that allows themto feel like little kids once again.
But instead Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr have sent all thosekids to the corner for a time out with no hint of when the punishmentwill end.
The entire hockey world will cast its lonely eyestoward the Monday night Hockey Hall of Fame induction as a puck oasis in thelockout desert. If things had gone a little differently this year, your humblehockey reporter would have been chatting with Patrice Bergeron about idolizingSakic as a youngster who grew up worshiping the Quebec Nordiques. Instead theBs center is in Switzerland wondering when hell next be able to pull on aBruins sweater as hockey writers in North America churn outunflattering blow-by-blows on the NHL lockout.
Hockey Hall of Fame Day has turned into one of the few feel gooddays in whats become a barren hockey wasteland over the last nine weeks. Itserves as one of the only surviving reminders of why people love the game somuch. So thats why both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec DirectorDonald Fehr need to take a knee and sit out the ceremonies on Monday night.
Im certainly not the first to say it, and I wont be thelast either. But it will stink to high heaven if Bettman and Fehr show up inToronto with their Alfred E. Neuman What, Me Worry? expressions that all iswell.
Symbolically the two high-powered hockey executives shouldopt to instead sit together working to find common ground on player contractrights -- or locking down a make-whole provision that works for both theleague and the players. Its a much better message to those that love the gamethan infuriating images of Bettman and Fehr sipping champagne and munching horsdoeuvres on Yonge Street while the NHL burns to the ground.
If they show up they might as get out the fiddle and startplaying to add a soundtrack to their NHL arson job. Its a privilege to attenda Hall of Fame ceremony honoring the games elite athletes, and its somethingneither Bettman nor Fehr deserve given the state theyve left the game.
Above and beyond the mere perception of choosing an NHLevent over an ongoing negotiation that needs to be settled, both Bettman andFehr should step away rather than become the ill-advised cloud over the event.Whether purposeful or inadvertent, the mere presence of the commissioner andthe NHLPA Grand Poobah at the HHOF induction ceremony would take away deservedattention from the nominees.
Imagine toiling your entire career to achieve a certainpinnacle of greatness rewarded with a night honoring your dedicated body ofwork, and instead every topic of conversation reverted back to the toxic messyour workplace had become after you left.
Who needs that?
Bettman and Fehr are smart, proud men with high intellectand healthy egos, but theres also an underlying level of decency andprofessional decorum common to both individuals. No matter what theirbackground is in hockey, they are now NHL gate-keepers and need to toe thatline with proper respect and deference to Sakic, Sundin, Bure and Oates.
They should know better than to attend a night honoring thegame when neither of them can get it back on track right now. Video images ofBettman handing Bure the 1996 Conn Smythe Trophy were aired at Air CanadaCentre over the weekend at an Old Timers Game, and heavy boos rained down fromthe normally bloodless Toronto crowd. That tells you how ugly it could get if Bettmanbecomes a part of the proceedings. It would be an effective tool to show theleague just how uniformly angry the hockey world is at both theleague and the players union, but it would arrive at the expense of four classyHall of Famers.
That should be a league concern: Theres no place for booingand vitriol hurled toward the NHL commissioner as a message of lockoutdisapproval on a night about the honorees. For one night, the NHL should beable to exhale and take a step away from the lockout stench, and that wontbe possible if Bettman and Fehr bring the stink of stalled negotiations withthem.
Perhaps the best thing Bettman and Fehr could do is hole upin a restaurant around the corner from the Hockey Hall of Fame, and work onbridging their differences while keeping an interested eye on the televisedinductions. It would give both men an idea of what they should be aiming forand more importantly what everybody is missing as more games slip rightthrough their executive fingers.