No Gretzky? Shame on NHL

Steve Simmons, Sun Media columnist

, Last Updated: 12:18 AM ET

If Wayne Gretzky, the single greatest attraction in hockey history, chooses to pass on tomorrow night’s Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony, what an embarrassment that will be for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his fellow owners.

And what an indictment of the damage remaining from the attempt to salvage the Phoenix Coyotes.

The very fact that the NHL has cut a deal to buy the Coyotes, which has basically excluded Gretzky and the money owed him, may save them a few million dollars in the process but won’t be worth the alienation created with the most important player the game has known. The relationship between Gretzky and the league is the worst it has ever been no matter what rhetoric is spread.

Of all that Bettman has bungled over the years, this may be his largest gaffe from a public relations point of view. Hockey is a hard enough sell in the United States and selling out Gretzky will end up costing them more in the long run than it would have cost them to pay The Great One what he was owed.

This and that

The minute by- minute Phil Kessel updates, what he ate for lunch, how many shots on goal he had at practice, how many towels he uses, are a little much and a whole lot over the top. One word to remember people: Perspective .... Who kidnapped Luke Schenn’s feet and replaced them with Brad Marsh’s ... Can’t wait for the NFC playoffs this year, with New Orleans, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Dallas likely contenders and who knows who else: It’s not like Montreal and nobody else in the CFL East ...

With his next shutout, the forever kicked around Chris Osgood will have 51, which would tie him with passed over Hall of Famer, Rogie Vachon, and borderline hall of famer, Curtis Joseph ... What a terrible hockey market Long Island is. The Islanders are actually winning games, John Tavares is contributing and the Isles still aren’t drawing ... About Stephen Reaves, Argos quarterback of the future. Never mind ... The big game in the U.S. these days: Trying to determine where LeBron James will sign next season. Chris Bosh is all but a bit player in all that high pitched speculation.

Hear and there

A baseball voice thinking out loud claims the New York Yankees will part with both World Series MVP Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon and heavily pursue pitcher John Lackey and outfielder Matt Holiday. I can’t help but think that Lackey and manager Joe Girardi would mean instant conflict ... Will World Series rings be devalued now that Eric Hinske is about to have two? ... The big change in the Blue Jays front office is the work ethic and vitality of new GM Alex Anthopoulos. Veterans in the office are amazed by the new change of pace ... Little known coach Dan Bylsma doesn’t get enough credit for all he has done with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Bylsma’s road record since taking over late last season is a crazy 15-3-3 heading into Saturday’s games ... If Michael Liambis chooses to appeal his lifetime suspension from the Ontario Hockey League it won’t be with the benefit of the Erie Otters. The team has decided they won’t appeal. There is, for the record, some interest in Liambis from some minor pro leagues in the U.S. ... How much is the NHL responsible for the injury to young Ben Fanelli? The league removed obstruction to open up the game and add speed to hockey and now defencemen often are targets for hard-charging forecheckers being urged to pursue their checks. It’s something worth revisiting again.

Scene and heard

A Friday to remember: Leafs win, Raptors win, Toronto wins Pan Am Games bid. Do you get the feeling that after that huge Toronto Nationals outdoor lacrosse championship, this city is on a roll? ... There’s nothing like a city striving to get what Winnipeg has already had twice (Pan Ams). What’s next, pursuit of the Manitoba Moose? ... Dear John Mitchell. Please shoot. You can do it. No need to count steamboats from the time the puck is on your stick to the time you let it go ... Anthony Calvillo, the slam dunk most outstanding player in the CFL, has been the Alouettes MOP seven different times, which ties him with some guy named Jackie Parker for the most times being named MOP of any one team. Russ Jackson, for the record, was Ottawa’s MOP on six occasions ... Argos coach Bart Andrus may look like Norm Rumack but he coaches like Kay Stephenson ... Never wondered why The Score fired Gabe Morencey. Wondered why they hired him in the first place ... This may be the best bye-week in NFL history: Buffalo, Cleveland, Oakland and St. Louis all have the day off ... Word around Quebec is that Laval’s football team is over the salary cap.

And another thing

A quick personal look at the hockey Hall of Fame Class of ’09: To truly appreciate how gifted Steve Yzerman was, you had to see him in the early years, with those terrible Red Wings teams that he personally carried into the playoffs. One year he was 62-points better than the second leading scorer on the Wings ... Brian Leetch: The least appreciated great defenceman in NHL history. In the Cup final of 1994, he beat Vancouver basically by himself ... Brett Hull was the most instinctive scorer of his generation. He was an absolute natural for finding open ice and taking advantage of it ... Luc Robitaille was the best bad skater in history. He was Hull-lite, gifted around the net and ridiculously consistent ... Sometimes good things happen to good people, like St. Louis president John Davidson being honoured in the broadcast wing of the Hall of Fame. Big John was one of the top three colour men I’ve ever heard and an even better guy ... No matter what you might think, I can now say it officially. I’m a Twit, having joined this Twitter stuff (twitter.com/sysimms). My apologies in advance to those I may insult ... Happy Birthday to Johnny Bower (85), Bobby Bowden (80), Ed Kranepool (65), Keith Jones (41) and Rickie Lee Jones (55) ... And hey, whatever became of Jimmy Carson?

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos