I like Mike Milbury a lot. Not for most of his views, mind you, but for his willingness to stand up and be publicly identified as a to-the-last-breath member of an NHL lobby of militaristic war generals.
He and his compadres are 100 percent wrong in that regard. But give him credit for not qualifying his bloodlust with politically-driven platitudes that mask his true feelings. By his own admission, he is perfectly OK with players suffering injuries that may not only cripple or end their on-ice careers, but damage the quality of their post-hockey days as well.
Raised in and protected by the warm, cozy bubble of the professional hockey business, it is easy for hockey insiders to counter arguments against improved player safety measures with rote rhetoric such as “people die every day,” the way Milbury did Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada’s Hotstove segment.
I wonder whether he or anyone who feels as he does would jut out their chest and speak so boldly if they were standing in front of Don Sanderson’s father – or Adam Deadmarsh, or Keith Primeau, or an ever-increasing list of players who’ve been traumatized and victimized by a sporting culture that’s run off the rails.
But that’s probably something ex-players holding the reins of NHL power never envision having to do – and something the hockey industry never forces them to do.
When you fancy yourself an NHL war general – when you see yourself as having been savvy enough to fight in hockey’s trenches while escaping with all or most of your faculties – it becomes far more difficult to be moved, let alone outraged, by catastrophe that strikes any foot soldier who fell after you.
And therein lies the central reason why nobody should hold out much faith that NHL GMs will agree to any serious inquiry into the epidemic of injuries to their players. Asking them to regulate their industry is as ludicrous as asking any other line of work to do the same.
That’s why most civilized countries – not including Canada, unfortunately – set up institutional watchdogs to ensure their airline industry isn’t also in charge of enforcing adequate safety levels.
That’s why many people are skeptical of police forces policing themselves.
But in the hockey war-general bubble – in a sport whose gatekeepers have little faith in the essence of the game as the main selling point of its business operations – the message that most often resonates with those in power is best summarized by a line from P.T. Barnum.
“If you want to draw a crowd, start a fight,” the famous circus magnate said.
You know what else Barnum said, don’t you? About suckers and birthing and consistent time intervals?
Well, that also applies to advocates of the NHL’s over-the-top, utterly destructive status quo. But only because the hockey establishment is on the frontlines each and every day, acting as midwives with a sadistic streak.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.