Lockout reminds Lowe of Gretzky deal
LaForge & Lowe
2/16/2005 7:43:02 PM
EDMONTON (CP) - The death of the 2004-05 NHL season hit Edmonton Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe like the gut-wrenching blow he felt the day Wayne Gretzky was traded from the club.
"I believe I have the same sort of numb empty feeling, I have to say, but this one didn't surprise me as much," he told reporters at Rexall Place on Wednesday as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman dropped the curtain on the season. "I felt that I could see it coming."
While nobody anticipated the Aug. 9, 1988 deal that sent Gretzky to Los Angeles, there had been signs this NHL season was doomed.
Lowe said that despite all that, he remained hopeful as late as Tuesday night that there would be a deal.
"My six-year-old asked me: `When are the Oilers going to play again?' I said: `I don't know.' I was hoping that would change (Wednesday) morning."
Oilers president Patrick LaForge said he was kept in the loop as Bettman made a last-ditch effort to save the season and remains onside with the decision to pull the plug.
He apologized to Oilers fans, but said he was confident they understand that the future of the franchise is at stake.
"We're here because the business is sick," he explained. "Our fans and sponsors have maxed out and the system is insatiable. It continues to swallow up all our good efforts . . . and we can't fill the black hole."
LaForge said the future of the five-time champion club hinges on a deal that helps small-market teams like Edmonton compete with larger, richer markets.
Since an ownership group of 38 community-minded business people took over the team from bankrupt Peter Pocklington in 1998, the Oilers have struggled to break even, he said.
"We've traded, in many cases, our best players and downgraded in talent," LaForge said. "We've squeezed every nickel. We've consistently paid 75 cents out of every dollar on player salaries."
The Oilers had expected to lose about $11 million this year if the team didn't play, but LaForge said that figure may drop to $9 million as a result of the strong fan support for their Road Runners farm club. The Oilers moved the AHL team from Toronto to Edmonton last fall.
Although the club has had to cut staff from about 95 to 60 people, LaForge said the Oilers don't anticipate making any more layoffs.
Oilers veteran play-by-play broadcaster Rod Phillips said it's tough seeing the sad faces in the Oilers office, but he has faith that things will eventually turn around.
"It is going to be an obviously tough year, but hopefully when they come back in the fall, all the wrongs will have been righted economically," he said.
Edmonton lawyer Elvis Iginla, father of Calgary Flames star Jarome Iginla, said this will be the first year he can ever remember when his son didn't play hockey.
"I think it is a very sad day for hockey. Really, really sad. In a situation like this nobody wins - not the fans, not the owners, not the players - and I think it is really, really unfortunate."
Legendary NHL goalie Glenn Hall, who lives just outside Edmonton, said he can't understand the thinking behind the impasse.
"There has got to be smarter people on both sides," said Hall, now 73. "I have lost all respect. I don't care if they ever play again, I really don't."<
The league's decision adds weight to the argument by the Free Stanley Campaign that the trustees of the trophy should award it, following a playoff, to the best team in Canada.
Campaign organizer Tom Thurston said that was the intention of Lord Stanley when he donated to trophy to the Dominions of Canada.
"It was awarded every year except for 1919 and that was due to influenza," said Thurston, an Edmonton historian. "It would be a sad day if in 2005 if it was noted that the Cup was not awarded . . . because of an outbreak of affluenza.
"I think there is a better option. I think we can find for this year the future of the Stanley Cup exists in its storied past."
Organizers of the campaign are asking hockey fans on their website (www.freestanley.com) to write to the Cup's trustees to urge them to return to the original challenge cup format for this season.
News of the season's demise was met with contempt and indifference by two teams literally playing hockey around the clock on a makeshift outdoor rink south of Edmonton.
Brent Saik and friends have been playing pickup shinny for five days straight and hope to play for five more to set a world record for the longest game and to raise funds for cancer research.
"To be honest I don't really care," said player Dana Reynolds, a 31-year-old optometrist, when told of the shutdown after he just finished his two-hour shift on the ice.
"One of the guys was talking about millionaires arguing with billionaires and we've got guys here who are trying to raise a few hundred thousand dollars (playing) for nothing."