Thursday, July 30, 2015

New inductees unable to avoid talk on lockout

TORONTO—There is something missing from Joe Sakic’s new plaque at the Hockey Hall of Fame and it’s not because the printer made a mistake.
Among the list of his many achievements is no mention of his 21st NHL season—the one that was never played because of the 2004-05 lockout.

With the sport back in another dark period brought on by another labour dispute, Sakic reflected on the year that never was on the day he took his place among hockey’s greats.
“I lost a year of hockey,” Sakic said yesterday prior to the induction ceremony. “It would have been 21 years instead of 20.
“That’s what you lose.”
Fellow inductees Mats Sundin and Adam Oates also were in the NHL when the last lockout hit while Pavel Bure, the fourth member of the class, already was retired.
Sundin never managed to win a Stanley Cup during his career and can’t help but wonder what could have been had the 2004-05 been played.
His Maple Leafs were on a run of six-consecutive playoff appearances before that work stoppage.
“It was awful,” said Sundin. “I think it’s devastating.”
While all four of the inductees seem to have thoroughly enjoyed their induction weekend, the current lockout made it a more subdued affair than usual.
They were to have been honoured at Air Canada Centre prior to a scheduled Leafs-Devils game on Friday night—a missed opportunity in particular for Sundin, the longtime Toronto captain, and Oates, who grew up in the city.
Sundin is back living in his native Sweden now but the impact of another work stoppage hasn’t gone unnoticed even from a distance.
“I think it’s huge,” he said. “The National Hockey League is kind of representing the game of hockey. It’s the biggest representative of the game of hockey in the world.
“When the NHL is not going, people lose focus on hockey.
“For everybody that is involved in the sport, it’s huge to get the guys back playing as soon as possible.”
“It hurts the players, it hurts the owners, it hurts the fans, and it hurts the game,” echoed Sakic.
The two men at the centre of collective bargaining negotiations, commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, both attended last night’s ceremony.
Bettman referred to “difficult times” after paying tribute to the inductees in a speech.
“All of us—fans, teams, players—look forward to the time the game returns,” said Bettman.
The lockout also was a hot topic of discussion on the red carpet as honoured members and others from the hockey world arrived for the ceremony. Hall-of-Famer Mike Gartner, who was active in the NHLPA during his playing days and later worked for the union, expressed concern for the sport.
“I think that one of the main dangers is that the fans and the game is taken for granted, that it’s going to come back to the same health that it was before,” said Gartner.
“When you look at the last time that it happened, coming back to record attendance and record profits and taking a business that went from $2.5-billion to $3.3-billion in revenue, I think that tendency can be—and I don’t think it’s consciously—is to take all that for granted.
“I think that there’s a real danger in it,” he warned. “I sense that there’s more of a danger now than there was in the past.”
Igor Larionov, another Hall-of-Famer who now works as a player agent, called for “common sense.”
“I’m very positive it’s going to be resolved in a matter of weeks, maybe two or three weeks,” said Larionov.
“You’ll see the game back in shape and the players playing.”

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