SUN Hockey Pool

Time to go for the throat

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Players' Association boss Bob Goodenow are playing with dynamite as they resume negotiations over the fate of the 2004-2005 season. Anybody need a match?

Blow it up, boys, the season, the game, the whole enchilada. Then make sure the door doesn't hit you on the ass on the way out.

One year without the NHL? Not enough.

We need a two- or three-year lockout that would inflict incalculable damage to the sport.

We need hockey catapulted into obscurity and God bless them, Gary and Bob are just the men to do it.

Look, I love NHL hockey and very much like the people who play it. It takes more than skill to play this game, it takes real nobility, forged in the cold over countless days and nights. When played with purpose and passion, as it often is, NHL hockey can be an exquisite, exhilarating spectacle.

And I'm sorry, genuinely sorry, for the people who face hardship or even economic devastation because the players and owners can't figure out how to co-exist in a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Everyone has been hurt by the lockout: Food servers, cooks, managers, clerks, ushers, ticket-takers, minor officials, vendors, program writers, scouts. I don't blame them for not buying what I'm selling here. Most of the people in my business won't either.

But nothing, save for a good and thorough bloodletting, will rid the game of its problems, only one of which is financial.

The NHL season is at least 20 games too long.

There are eight too many teams and five too many players per club.

The game is often unwatchable and intolerably, numbingly, violent.

While we're at it, the playing surface is too small, players are disconnected from the realities of fans' lives, ticket prices are too high and the ice stinks.

A new Collective Bargaining Agreement can't fix those things. No CBA can fix those things.

Nor will a solution be found in a league born out of an impasse in which the same owners might pay a little less money to the same players.

No, what we need is a purge, a scaling down of the hockey business into what it once was, a modest little attraction popular in Canada and in longstanding American markets.

The notion of the NHL as a big-four sport, as the ultimate league in the world brought the game to the brink of ruin.

Grossly and corpulently obese, distended into fatal markets, poisoned by the unconscionable largesse of people like New York Islanders general manager Mike Milbury and New York Rangers GM Glen Sather, the NHL is threatening to blow itself up. But look at the list of potential casualties: Roster sizes, franchise value, player salaries, corporate ownership.

Players and owners have only to keep their hands on each other's throats for 18 more months. That doesn't seem too much to ask.

Will some of the best players stay in Europe and eschew a reconstituted NHL where the average salary is say -- $500,000 and the top guy gets a million bucks? Absolutely.

Will more local players, smaller players, faster players, more versatile players fill out the uniforms? Yep.

What are you willing to endure to rid the NHL (or whatever it will someday call itself) of the Carolina Hurricanes, Alexei Yashin, the Columbus Blue Jackets and maybe even Keith Tkachuk?

So long commissioner Bettman. Someone would have to take the fall for what would surely be the most devastating work stoppage in the history of professional sport.

Adieu, Mr. Goodenow. No amount of backroom politicking would save the head of the players' union from the same fate.

And so, as they meet today in Toronto, we offer this advice to both men: Go for the throat.

Be assured, the few of us here when the game comes back look forward to warmly greeting your successors. 


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