Society at large never seems to learn jack-bupkis from its past, but that’s no reason to pass on a four-part serial of revisionist NHL history over the last 365 days. (Disclaimer: dates, details, and some sentences may not be entirely accurate.)
January-March: The Coldest Of Winters
Jan. 6: In its Jan. 10 edition, Business Week magazine names NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman one of the worst managers of the year, calling the Bettman-orchestrated lockout a Â“crisis that should never have happened.Â”
After hearing Bettman made a splash with a major U.S. publication, NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow orders No. 2 man Ted Saskin to commence work on a plan Â– a plan that will result in Goodenow himself knocking Bettman out of the mag’s list in its 2006 edition. Â“No problem,Â” says Saskin, who then repeats himself under his breath for maximum dramatic effect.
Jan. 7: Publicity surrounds troubled former NHLer Theo Fleury as he encounters resistance for his intentions to play for an Alberta senior mens’ league team, and grows frustrated with the situation.
“I can’t figure out what’s so fascinating about Theo Fleury,” he told Calgary Herald reporter George Johnson. “Anybody else joins a senior team – and there are thousands of ’em out there – and it’s no big deal. Just a guy going out to play, right? Happens all the time. But if it’s me, it gets plastered all over the papers and on TV.”
Fleury (who eventually got to play for the team), begins daydreaming of a different place to live and play hockey, one free from the temptations of drink and drug, a town known for its serenity and longstanding history of peace. Then he sees a tattoo of a leprechaun on the butt cheek of a stripper who’s giving him a lap dance, and he has a Â“betterÂ” idea.
Jan. 14: According to Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, Goodenow posts a players-only audio message on the NHLPA’s ultra-secure website. In it, he reportedly advises them to immediately seize any and all job opportunities playing in Europe Â– not only for what’s left of the 2003-04, season, but for 2005-06 as well.
But after a tense conference call involving the 30 team reps, Goodenow’s follow-up message, one that features two more exceptional PR suggestions Â– telling large gatherings of children Â“the real dealÂ” about Santa Claus, and using panda bears to club baby seals to death Â– is not posted.
Feb. 1: Bettman celebrates his 12th anniversary as commissioner, further cementing the date as one of the luckiest on the calendar.
Indeed, when you hire somebody on the same day Pauly Shore was born and Richard Nixon first announced his campaign for U.S. President, you should always expect something special down the line. Maybe Nancy Reagan and her posse of astrologers were on to something after all.
Feb. 16: The season is officially cancelled, and hardcore hockey fans discover what the end of the world feels like. Everybody else burps, scratches and continues on with their day.
Feb. 19: Feeling as if they haven’t tortured their fans enough, the league and players gather together in a last-ditch effort to save the season. Non-heroically, they don’t.
But they do manage to drag the good names of Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky into the mud with them. Asked for comment, NHL negotiating team bigwig and Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs says: Â“Icons, schmicons. I mean, before these two guys were owners, they were players. In my books, that’s a tough stigma to shake off. Now where’s my diamond-encrusted helicopter?Â”
Feb. 28: Flyers GM Bob Clarke lashes out at Goodenow, saying the union boss cares little for the futures of small-market Canadian teams.
Â“Someone has to grab Goodenow by the throat and tell him: `Look after the Canadian cities, the majority of the players still come from Canada’,Â” Clarke said. Â“He’s done nothing but take from the game.Â”
Â“Nonsense,Â” replies Goodenow, fiddling with a toothpick made from the boards of Winnipeg Arena while booking a trip to see Quebec City’s NHL museum.
March 1: After a Board of Governors meeting, Flyers owner Ed Snider tries to avert the increasingly nasty rhetoric between owners and players.
Â“”I don’t need aggravation from Bob Goodenow,Â” Snider said, shooting down rumors he would join Bettman’s negotiating team. Â“I might jump over the table and choke him to death.”
Apparently, meeting your challenges head-on Â– and strangling the life from them Â– gets you a long way in Philadelphia.
March 1: Two Boston-area companies make a $3.5 billion bid to buy the entire NHL, including its teams, players, players’ families, and all of their known friends and associates.
Bettman laughs off the suggestion, correctly noting that, Â“while $3.5 billion may certainly sound enticing to the ham-n’-eggers we depend on for our ticket-sales revenue, it fails to provide owners with what they really want: a system that safeguards against any dumb decision they’ll ever make in this industry again. If somebody offers us that kind of license to print money, we’re happy to listen.Â”
March 8: In an interview with a Philadelphia newspaper, Flyers bench boss Ken Hitchcock promised he would adopt a new, offense-first coaching philosophy when the NHL returned.
“All accountability was on the defensive side of the puck,Â” Hitchcock said, no doubt lamenting his previous devotion to a defense-oriented style. Â“There was no discussion or limited discussion on what you wanted from your player with the puck. I thought about it, and then it hit me. We have stopped making offensive players accountable in every level of hockey. We’re not doing enough in our own zone.”
Following the interview, Philly police quickly issue an all-points-bulletin for Hitchcock’s nose, which was last seen stretching into New Jersey.
March 8: TSN’s Bob McKenzie leaks word of six potential solutions to the lockout proposed to the owners by Bettman, including:
1. Make a deal with the players.
2. Off with their heads.
6. That’s pretty much it.
March 10: The chairman of a U.S. House subcommittee says all of the country’s pro sports leagues, including the NHL, should adopt a strict and uniform policy on drug-testing players for performance-enhancing substances.
Bettman balks at the thought, saying, Â“The National Hockey League’s drug-testing program is fine as-is. Our players do not use performance-enhancing drugs, and I challenge any chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency to ludicrously and without a sliver of evidence suggest otherwise.Â”
March 21: Former Canadiens enforcer Dave Morissette becomes the first NHLer to admit to steroid use. Dick Pound senses a pattern developingÂ…
March 24: The NHLPA’s executive committee demonstrates its unwavering commitment to irony by waiting to consider the concept of linkage until their three-day golf trip/strategy session at Pebble Beach. And thus, the longest bogey of Goodenow’s professional career has its genesis.
Click HERE to read Part 2 of Screen Shots: Year in Review.
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