SUN Hockey Pool

Broken NHL needs fixing

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

The players' and builders' wings of the Hockey Hall of Fame grew stronger last night, but it's the destructors' wing that needs to be stopped.

Not too long ago, Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy represented an explosive, entertaining sport, while Cliff Fletcher was one of 30 National Hockey League executives poised to see the game blast off in the United States and around the world.

However, their Hall inductions last evening came amid an owners lockout and a game gone stale on and off the ice.

"All I wish for, regardless of how long it takes to settle, is just to get it right," said Bourque, the senior of the three high-scoring defencemen, during yesterday's ring presentation. "They're all saying 'get it fixed' so let's fix it, so we don't have to go through this again in five or 10 years."

Both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and players' association executive director Bob Goodenow were in attendance yesterday, but they might as well be at the North and South Poles. Most give the two warring sides another six weeks before the 2004-05 season is toast, though the exodus of NHLers to Europe this month would suggest they've been told prospects for a new collective bargaining agreement are nil.

"Unfortunately, both sides were so prepared for a lockout that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy," Murphy said. "So there's not a big push from within the players (to start talks). If there is to be a change, it must come from the membership. I know Goodenow and if that were to come up, he'd move (accordingly)."

As the three players were introduced yesterday morning, stories were swapped about their derring-do on the ice, the end-to-end rushes, the speed and the hand-eye co-ordination to control airborne pucks.

WINNING GOAL

"One night we were tied 6-6 with Edmonton with a minute and half to go and we had a power play," said Fletcher, then general manager of the Calgary Flames. "The next thing you know, Paul was standing in our crease getting the winning goal short-handed."

Coffey, now a power-play coach with Fletcher's Phoenix Coyotes, was also involved in a 10-9 Oilers-Maple Leafs game, but doubts we'll ever see such scoring spectacles again.

"There's too much overemphasis, overcalculating and over-criticism on why games are that wide open in the first place," he said with a frown.

"The technical side is important, but needs to be lightened a bit. All I know is that as a fan, I want to be entertained.

"The talent is definitely there, because the players are bigger and stronger. Maybe the beast outgrew its cage. Maybe the ice should be a little bigger. Olympic size is too big, but maybe something in between, so your skill guys, your smooth passers can still find room to move."

Murphy and Fletcher, who were together with the Maple Leafs from 1995 to '97, think the game is cyclical and at present, it's just a case of the checking proponents in charge.

"A lot of times it's dictated by the team leading the pack and winning the Cups," Fletcher said. "During the 1980s, when the Oilers had their dynasty, they dictated how all good teams played. It was all wide open and 'the trap' was something you caught animals in.

"Then New Jersey and Dallas came on and played a more conservative, style. I think if an offensive team wins the Cup soon, more teams will go back."

Murphy believes the influx of Europeans, particularly Russians and Czechs, ensures that skill eventually will rule the day.

"It's much tighter now, but players are faster, stronger and shoot the puck harder," he said. "In Detroit, I was always happy to go out and take the puck from the other team. That's when the game was most fun. Pittsburgh was the same way. We didn't have to concern ourselves a lot with what the opposition was doing. If we had the puck, the other team wouldn't score."


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