SUN Hockey Pool

Lowe says he's 'numb'

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

It was a black day in hockey history. But it was not such a dark day in the heartland of hockey.

In Edmonton, out of the darkness you could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Yesterday everybody was required to have the proper expression on their face and the words to match as Gary Bettman made the final and official announcement that hockey had become the first major pro sport not to have a season from start to finish.

The NHL commissioner said that it is "a sad and regrettable day that all of us wish could have been avoided."

A few minutes later the NHL commissioner said "if you want to know how I feel, I'll summarize it in one word - terrible.

"The shame of this is our fans deserve better, the people who earn their livelihoods from this game deserve better ..."

In Edmonton, when Bettman was done with his televised press conference from New York, Oilers CEO Pat LaForge and GM Kevin Lowe entered the room where the local media had gathered.

LaForge began by saying "sorry to our fans and customers."

Lowe called it "a very sad day."

Asked if it compared to the day Peter Pocklington sold Wayne Gretzky, Lowe said, "I have the same sort of numb, empty feeling. But I have to say this one didn't surprise me as much. I felt I could see this coming."

QUESTION FROM A KID

That said, Lowe continued ...

"My six-year-old asked me 'When are the Oilers going to play again?' I said 'I don't know.' She looked at me like I should know."

Yes, sad day in hockey history. Only a flu epidemic in 1919 resulted in the Stanley Cup not being awarded. But the 'War of 2004' did what the First World War and the Second World War couldn't - it wiped out the entire season.

But in Edmonton, in the heartland of hockey, this is what had been predicted and projected for the better part of four years.

Behind the sombre expressions, in Rexall Place there was something which was a long way from sadness. It didn't fit with the time and place. It should have been a national day of mourning. Except, here, there's another side to the coin.

"We were promised by the commissioner that it would get fixed when the current collective bargaining agreement opened," said LaForge of his 28 owners and Bettman.

TOOK IT TO THE LIMIT

"Our owners here believed him. He took it to the limit in the last few hours. But what happened proved he's committed to this market. We're going to get a model that fits the Oilers. We see the foundation of a new agreement there eventually."

Lowe said there are a lot of players today wondering what the heck hit them.

"I don't think players ever understood the seriousness and the need. I believe they're devastated," added the general manager, who went on to "urge our fans not to blame the players."

One thing was obvious yesterday. Everybody was doing the replacement-player dance.

"Whatever needs to be done to get the NHL brand back and up and running I'm in favour of," is how Lowe put it. "Players don't grow up saying they want to play for a million dollars. They grow up saying they want to play in the NHL."

I don't think it's going to come to that. I think in the next few weeks you're going to find players questioning why they went through this season to get to this point. They wasted a year of salary and for what?

SOLVING IT

The players themselves, long before we get to summer, I believe, are going to be the ones who will now solve this.

Hockey players are the most honest athletes in the world. They know when they've won or lost. And they've lost big-time in this whole deal. I believe the players - not the players association - will now make sure they get NHL hockey back on the ice for the start of next season.

In the meantime, I agree with Philadelphia Flyers head coach and Edmonton native Ken Hitchcock.

The space where the names of the winners of the Stanley Cup are normally engraved should be left blank.

The next winners of the Cup should not be put next to the names of the Tampa Bay Lightning players of last season.

That space should be there to remind everyone of the 2004-05 season which wasn't.

In the meantime, let's recognize the millions of Canadian hockey fans who had long ago dialed out all of this until this day, saying "Just tell me when it's either off or on.'

Game off! Move on.


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