2005-02-25 / Sports

A Week of Celebration Turns To A Week of Despair

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

By Joe McDonald
Sports Columnist

This should have been a week of celebration and refection for the sport of hockey. Instead all the sport has to offer now is despair and disarray.

On the week leading up to the 25th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice,” the NHL not only canceled the season - a forgone conclusion - but also toyed with the fans emotions by reportedly coming to an agreement over the weekend; only to have talks break off Saturday night.

It was the type of emotional roller coaster that was not right for the fans, reporters, workers or anyone else affiliated with the game.

It was like being dumped by a boyfriend or girlfriend, having him or her call back the next day to make up and then getting dumped again the day after.

It felt bad the first time, but even worse the second time.

Right before commissioner Gary Bettman canceled the season, the Players Association finally gave in and said they would accept a salary cap as long as it wasn‘t tied to revenue. This was the first big step to ending a lockout. But instead of working towards an agreement, the both sides could not come to a number.

Heck, they couldn’t even be in the same room as negotiations came over the fax line.

So, Bettman did what most expected him to do and canned the 2004-2005 season last Wednesday. He apologized to the fans and promised hockey in some form the next season.

At that point, songs were sung to the death of the NHL and at when it seemed the darkest, a white knight rode in to save the day. Two actually.

NHL legends and members of management, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, stepped in and started sitting across the table with the Players Association. Since there were reports about dissention in the ranks of the NHLPA, maybe something could get done.

As these meetings went on there were reports of progress and a $45 million cap in place. TSN.ca - the ESPN of Canada - even reported on Friday night that both sides reached a tentative agreement and the owners and the players would be meeting to dot the ‘I’s’ and cross the ‘T’s’.

But hockey would be back and that what everyone cared about.

During that same Friday evening, the Islanders hosted the first hockey game in the area since last May, when their farm team, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, played one of their home games at the Nassau Coliseum. As the reports started coming in, the capacity crowd and those of us in the press box had smiles as wide as a child’s on Christmas. Not only did everyone get to see hockey; the primary tenants in Uniondale would be back playing in three weeks.

The lockout was forgotten; the anger subsided; and everyone breathed a sigh of relief because the NHL was coming back with a 28 game season.

Then the rug was pulled out from the celebration. As ESPN and various other news outlets were reporting an ‘imminent deal,’ both sides met for six hours and came out with nothing.

At 3:30 Saturday afternoon, hockey officially died.

Afterwards the commissioner came out and said that no deal was even close and the owners never offered the reported $45 million dollar cap. If that’s the case, then why did every major hockey writer in the country have that as the story? Bettman has gone on record as saying it was a “set-up” by the PA, but that is hard to believe.

How could all those writers get incorrect information from a cracked union and why didn’t anyone contact the owners?

One could argue, Bettman canceling the season was a necessary and forgivable act and one could argue, the fans would have come back from that act.

That wasn’t good enough for the NHL and players association.

By staging that act and embarrassing the two icons, the NHL has successfully alienated a large portion of its fan base. Not only have they slapped their fans around, the NHL kicked them and threw salt in their wounds.

So instead of seeing Mike Eruzione in Boston, Craig Patrick in Pittsburgh, Mike Ramsey in Minnesota and Ken Morrow here on Long Island, being carted out for celebrations, there is silence.

And, among the fans, there is despair.

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