SUN Hockey Pool

He shoots, he snores

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:10 AM ET

Wake me when it's over. Between now and whenever, I don't want to hear about salary caps, debate the relative merits of payroll taxes, discuss forensic accounting or begin to understand why the Maple Leafs, or anyone else for that matter, would choose to pay Wade Belak $1 million a season.

I adore hockey and, even in its tattered state, the National Hockey League, but this selfish, short-sighted, dismiss-your-audience game of Russian roulette with only one bullet disgusts me to such an extent that the very thought of breaking down the elements of this debate doesn't seem worth the effort.

There is no right here, only wrong. The victims are not the overpaid players and the stupid owners -- which they have to be for having put themselves in this very position with their ability to control their own budgets -- they are those who have already lost jobs, who won't have employment because there is no hockey, who will lose benefits because the game is shutting down.

If you want to feel sorry for someone or something other than your Saturday nights lost. Feel sorry for them.

For everyone else, try scorn. Lots of it. There's enough to go around. And that's about the right emotion for the moment. The month. A year about to be lost.

This is the kind of schoolyard fight you would see as a kid and hope both sides would end up beating the crap out of each other. There is no side to cheer for. I hear Gary Bettman and within seconds his words all sound like blah blah blah. I hear Bob Goodenow and within seconds I tune out, the way I did in high school chemistry: Someone is talking, you just don't hear anything.

DON'T CARE WHO WINS

Like most people, I don't care who wins or loses -- there is enough to go around -- I just want hockey. As the T-shirt reads, the rest is just details.

That should be the prevailing attitude, especially here in Toronto, where the Maple Leafs have money under a system that Bettman calls broken.

So now we wait. This city, this country, so many cities, lose a piece of their recreational puzzle. So many public trusts -- and that's what sporting franchises inevitably are -- disappear that it's hard to know whom to trust anymore. So much of our time spent watching, talking about the Maple Leafs. Who they are and what they do and what they need and what they should do. Why they never win.

Sometimes, the hockey culture of this city is so out-of-control and so consuming you wish you could turn the sound down. That, at least, has been our option.

Now the dials are gone and so is the sound, and life for a while will be different. Maybe worse. Hard to think it will be better. Not when you steal somebody's passion, somebody's diversion, somebody's heart.

In the meantime, one piece of advice. Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear from anyone involved in the negotiations. That means Bettman and Bill Daly from the owner's side, in the one corner. And in the other corner, Goodenow and Ted Saskin.

A tag-team match with no time limit and no disqualifications. Winner doesn't take all. The players may be locked out, but it's the fans who are shut out.

They matter. They matter to me. There is no game without them. That, no one seems to care about.

Over time, Bettman and Daly will speak and Saskin and Goodenow will speak and each of them will sound logical and convincing. They will use charts and graphics and television appearances to spin their sorry stories. They will answer all questions. They will paddle hard but understand this: They don't give a damn what you or I think. They don't give a damn that we might be ticket buyers or jersey buyers or maybe just television watchers.

We pay all of their salaries but never have a say.

The consumer, in this case, isn't always right but certainly has been deemed insignificant.

So what comes first, Ed Belfour's 40th birthday or his next NHL game?

His birthday is in April. He will be short about $8 million by then. The betting is, it won't be much of a party. 


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