When Oilers GM Kevin Lowe finally answered some of Brian Burke’s pointed criticisms of him with a few nasty shots of his own late last week, the garden-variety tsk-tsking and haughty pleas for proper decorum were quick to follow.
“Where has all the civility gone?” was the general theme emanating from the Miss Manners representatives, some of whom were so appalled by the escalating war of words, they demanded NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to step in and put an immediate halt to the public feud between Lowe and his counterpart in Anaheim.
Bettman reportedly did just that Monday, telling the two GMs to simmer down during a conference call.
I would’ve loved nothing more than to see Bettman add more fuel to the fire and give Lowe and Burke (a) full license to draw caricatures of each other in public, (b) two of those giant cotton swab devices they use on American Gladiators, and (c) a dump truck’s worth of salt for each other’s wounds.
It doesn’t matter whether you believe Burke’s notion that Lowe single-handedly drove up player costs with his lucrative offers to other teams’ restricted free agents, or Lowe’s assertion that Burke is “an absolute media junkie” who deserves little credit for building the Ducks into a Stanley Cup champion.
What matters here is people are talking about hockey in July – and, most importantly, the next time the Ducks and Oilers play, there will be a huge buildup of hype and anticipation regarding what the next chapter of the dueling GMs will read like.
In case you’ve completely lost the plot, hype and anticipation is what the NHL needs most these days. With the competition committee and changes to the game, the league has gone a ways toward improving its steak; now they need to improve the sizzle that has to go along with it.
You don’t do that by issuing a gag order. You can’t capture the attention of casual fans and newbies by playing nicey-nice and treating any organically grown drama as if it were a benign tumor to be lanced and forgotten about.
Anyone who has followed the rise of NASCAR and the Ultimate Fighting Championship group knows the promotion of personalities – especially when those personalities clash – is a major reason for their ascendance in the era of sports-as-entertainment.
Despite that fact, the NHL carries on as it always has – i.e. utterly terrified one of its employees will say something unconventional and/or challenging to a particular paradigm. And that’s a big part of the reason why hockey is often treated as the vanilla ice cream of the Baskin Robbins sporting world.
No guts, no glory, as they say. So here’s hoping the league doesn’t completely disembowel two men whose mutual distaste for one another ought to be underscored and not undermined in the name of congeniality.
Adam Proteau is The Hockey News’ online columnist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays, and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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