SUN Hockey Pool

These suits don't fit

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:58 AM ET

Not even Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux could save the NHL from itself. After being pushed and prodded by players and owners to join the bargaining talks, Gretzky and Lemieux put their reputations on the line amid much optimism the season could be saved after being officially cancelled last Wednesday.

But there was no overtime winner for the dynamic duo this time.

Even their presence had no effect on the gap between the two sides, but it does beg some questions. Why did it take intervention by two hockey icons to get discussions going again? And, once this matter is settled -- whenever that happens -- is there any chance NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union boss Bob Goodenow will survive in their roles?

People have been begging Gretzky and Lemieux to get involved since discussion about a lockout started two years ago. Both said the matter was "too complicated" for them and that there were "more intelligent" people paid to make these kinds of decisions.

That's the crux of the problem: The supposedly intelligent people only care about balancing books to make sure both sides get their fair share and don't seem to give a damn about the hit the game is taking.

"You know why it helps to have Gretzky and Lemieux involved in these talks? Because they're hockey people and they're not lawyers," Greg Millen, a Hockey Night in Canada analyst and former NHL goalie, said yesterday.

"If this process ever happens again, and we can only hope we don't see it again in our lifetime, let's make sure that the lawyers are not the principals in all of it. You need to have people who have a feel and a passion for the game involved in these types of things.

'CARETAKER'

"Yes, you need the lawyers to dot the 'Is' and cross the 'Ts' at the end, but having a degree in law doesn't make you qualified to be part of the process. You need to have a masters degree in hockey to be a caretaker of the game. That's what Gretzky and Lemieux bring to the table."

Still, even two guys who care deeply about the game couldn't help the NHL and the union bridge the gap.

This negotiation process has gone on far too long. It has been boring, sickening and turned a lot of people off the game they once loved because fans can't relate to the numbers being thrown around by both sides.

Part of the reason a deal hasn't been completed yet is the sour relationship between Bettman and Goodenow. They have argued tooth and nail over every issue for the last 10 years and neither wants to give an inch.

"They can talk about it not being personal, but all you have to do is look at what's happened and it makes you think: 'Aw, c'mon.' These two guys don't like each other," said an NHL executive.

Bettman is having his strings pulled by eight owners determined to bring the players to their knees, while there's talk that if Goodenow ends up out of the NHLPA, he'll be hired by Major League Baseball union head Donald Fehr.

Hockey is lucky it has Gretzky and Lemieux as part of the game. Don't think for a second they're not heartbroken a settlement wasn't reached because they've both spent a lot of time on the phone trying to broker a deal.

Once this is finally completed and hockey is back on the ice, it might serve the game well if both Bettman and Goodenow did the proper thing and moved on to greener pastures.

GAME COMES FIRST

"You've got to have people who care about the game involved with the game," said Millen.

The reality is it took an appearance by two NHL Hall of Famers at the bargaining table to try to bring sanity to the process. Judging by their performance in these CBA talks, neither Bettman or Goodenow has a chance of getting into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builders category anytime soon and probably never will.

It's just too bad that even the best shots from a pair of legends couldn't save the day.

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


Videos

Photos