Final four product of lockout

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:54 AM ET

If there were any lingering doubts about the unqualified success of last year's NHL lockout, they've been quashed by a simple glance at the final four teams still questing after Lord Stanley's mug.

When Gary Bettman and the NHL owners dug in and wiped out an entire season of hockey at great risk to the game itself, it was hoped a new league would emerge with all teams on a level playing field both in the financial boardroom and on the ice.

In Canada, where it was obvious our national passion was dying a painful death as beloved franchises packed up and flew south and Canadian teams were becoming pure fodder in a deep pocket-driven league, the lockout seemed like the right thing to do.

Few people could have believed it would work so well, so quickly.

The small-market Edmonton Oilers, who spent years dumping high-priced talent just to stay alive and maybe squeak into the playoffs every few years, were buyers of playoff stars like Mike Peca, Chris Pronger, Sergei Samsonov and Dwayne Roloson and have as good a chance as anybody of winning the Stanley Cup this year.

The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, a team even Disney couldn't love, are right there too.

How about the Buffalo Sabres? Bankrupt and on the verge of folding a few years back, they look like good bets to find the Holy Grail, but only if they can get past a Carolina Hurricanes team that has brought hockey fever to NASCAR country.

All four teams are doing it with speed, skill and tremendous heart, three attributes that make hockey the greatest game in the world.

When the playoffs started, it was clear that any of the 16 teams had a chance to win it all and the proof is in the final four. Anybody who predicted such conference final matchups should head directly to Vegas.

Gone are the days when Detroit and Colorado dominated with their big payrolls. Every team now has the same opportunity to build through the draft, minor-league development and free agency. Bad management is a team's greatest enemy. Just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Hockey players fought the salary cap tooth and nail for a good year, but when they look back most will remember that the dreaded lockout not only saved hockey, it made it fun again for everybody.

PAINFUL MEMORIES: As much as you want to cheer for the lone Canadian team still in the playoffs, watching Edmonton succeed dredges up some pretty lousy memories around these parts. It conjures up the old jealous feelings Winnipeg hockey fans felt 20 years ago when the Oilers were a Stanley Cup dynasty and Edmonton was earning the sickening City of Champions nickname. Fortunately, as the fans hanging from power lines on the Whyte Mile proved the other night, it's still a city of chumps too ... Gotta admit, the Oilers are pretty fun to watch, but we're pulling for a Buffalo-Anaheim final so either Teemu Selanne or Teppo Numminen will get to drink from the Cup for the first time ... It was another heart-breaking finish for the Ottawa Senators, but the good news is, after his effort on the overtime goal by Jason Pominville, Daniel Alfredsson is now qualified to get a summer job as a pylon ... It's been so long since Barry Bonds hit a home run, people are starting to wonder if Albert Pujols will pass the Babe first.

BONG HIT: Hard to believe so many people got their knickers in a knot about the Sun's "Blue Bonger" headline, trumpeting the signing of former NFL running back Onterrio Smith by the Blue Bombers. Nobody was condemning the guy because he's had a passion for pot in the past, just having a little fun with a player who has been the butt of more jokes than Michael Jackson in recent years. Remember that whole Whizzinator incident? That drew the attention of everyone from Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jon Stewart to CNN and Sports Illustrated. Smith's name appeared in the Quick Hits section of this page no less than nine times before he was ever even mentioned as a potential Bomber. His story is pretty funny and no doubt the indignant locals would be having a good laugh if he had signed with any other team in the CFL. Besides, we're pretty sure Mr. Smith can take a joke by now.


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