I’ve played hockey my entire life, so I’m clearly biased. But when you combine ice skating, stick handling, passing, shooting and yes, body-checking, in one sport, you’ve got it all. Until they start playing lacrosse in the water, or golf on skis, hockey will remain the hardest sport to play, and the most impressive to see played well. There’s nothing like it.
So, for Detroit Red Wings fans, the NHL lockout was a nightmare.
This started the way all these things do: The players thought the owners made too much money, and the owners thought the players made too much money. And, of course, both sides were dead right.
So the questions became trickier: if both sides are obscenely greedy, who’s greedier – and therefore should be slightly less greedy? It’s the kind of question that can really keep you up nights.
That’s why every so-called “labor dispute” in professional sports is enough to make you throw up. But this one made you want to throw up.
On one side, you had NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, a small, whiny person widely considered the worst commissioner in sports today, and maybe ever. He was the mastermind behind the lockouts that killed the first half of the 1994-95 season and the entire 2004-05 season. Along the way, he managed to get his sport kicked off ESPN. I think it’s now on the same channel that sells realistic jewelry. I don’t know. I’ve never found it.
Bettman is so bad, when he takes the ice to give away the Stanley Cup, fans from both teams come together to boo him. Give hockey fans credit: They know a crappy commissioner when they see one.
To make the situation worse, the players union hired Donald Fehr, a self-righteous, humorless man who has never been captured smiling on camera. You might recall him as the baseball union leader who helped cancel the 1994 World Series.
Hmmm. 1994. 1994. Where did I just hear that? Oh, that’s right: the exact
same fall Fehr was keeping his baseball players out of the October Classic, Bettman was keeping the hockey players off the ice. Coincidence? I think not!
So fate had an idea: Put these two together at the same negotiating table, and see what happens! Well, you can guess what happened: a game of chicken between two self-destructive morons. These boneheads did nothing but bloviate for months, while the arenas, the parking lots, the restaurants and the bars sat empty.
As my friend Ryan White once said, when these teams ask taxpayers for a new pleasure dome, they say, “Hey, we’re a big part of your community, like family!” But the second the owners order a lockout, it’s, “Hey, this is a business. Keep your nose out, and your fingers off our brand new stadium.”
Many assumed the NHL was about to kill another season, until the game was saved by an unlikely hero: Federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh, who spent last week literally walking back and forth between the two camps’ headquarters in New York, then made them all sit in one room for 16 hours, until they finally struck a deal at 5 a.m. Sunday morning.
Dump on the Feds all you want; if it were not for Mr. Beckenbaugh, there would be no hockey this year – and, for thousands of people, no jobs.
So they’ll shorten the season from 82 games to 48. And here’s the kicker: that’s how many games they should play in the first place.
And all of it only goes to prove my theory: hockey is the greatest sport, run by the dumbest people.
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Radio stuff: On Friday mornings, these commentaries run at 8:50 on Michigan Radio (91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit, Flint, 104.1 Grand Rapids), and a few minutes later, I join Sam Webb and Ira Weintraub LIVE from 9:05 to 9:25 on WTKA.com, 1050 AM. And on Sunday mornings, from the start of football season to the end of March Madness, I co-host “Off the Field” with the legendary Jamie Morris on WTKA from 10-11 a.m. And yes, there will be a quiz, so “stop what you’re doing, and listen!”
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