What the Lockout Deprives Us Of

Brooks Laich brilliantly said a lockout happens “when adults get in the way of a kids game.”

This weekend the NHL will enter the third lockout in as many opportunities since Mr. Bettman became commissioner. A sterling record. He and the adults (owners) he represents are trying to sell us on the notion that a lockout is necessary for what they are missing – revenue.

Without going into the merits of that argument or who is at fault, it seems only fair to remind Mr. Bettman what the fans are missing.

Gretzky “The Great One”

Many seasons ago Wayne Gretzky appeared on an episode of Sports Unfiltered with Dennis Miller. Miller at this point had lost his fastball, but was still serviceable, especially if you had a taste for his ascerbic, high-minded style. Unfortunately, it was not soon after this episode that he would start drinking the kool-aide.

At times Miller looked desperate to prove he was as cool as the “Great One,” which is impossible unless you are as comfortable in your own skin as Gretzky is in his. To be fair, I can’t image being able to muster up more than some drool and an awkward, one-sided embrace in the same situation. My father-in-law looks like Gretzky and even that makes me giddy.

But Gretzky just sat there with a smile expressing his modesty and embarrassment. The popular kid you like. He was more than happy to share a few stories, express some gnuine excitement about his young Phoenix team, and make life, like everything else he does, look easy.

He almost makes you forget, but never for too long. Inevitably, the absolute greatness of Gretzky will be revealed just like an opposing goalie inevitably knew he was about to be scored on when Gretzky had the puck behind the net (a location that would become known as “Gretzky’s office”). Miller started rattling off some of Gretzky’s records when he paused and said:

“You know what, he holds the record for holding the most records.” 

And there it is. The definitive qualification for ultimate supremacy.The exact number of records Gretzky holds is somewhere around 60. SIXTY! That includes total points, goals, single season point totals, playoff points, Conn Smythe trophies, babies saved from burning buildings, quarterback rating, quarterly sales, and on base percentage. We will never see that again – at least in our lifetime. It was the perfect storm of man, team, and time.

Crosby or the next- “next one”

Sidney Crosby is going to be one of the great ones and I’m rooting for him, because he gets what it is to be blessed with amazing talent, work to perfect it as best you can, and be humble with the spoils it provides you. However, he is not going to be the greatest one. He could be the best of his era and steal some records, but as of yet it doesn’t appear that the intangibles are lining up for him to supplant Gretzky.

Sidney Crosby Penguins
Sidney Crosby is perhaps the biggest star affected by post-lockout concussions (Icon SMI)

Should that change, and even if it doesn’t, count me as a Crosby fan. I will be rooting for him, as I did for Gretzky. Admittedly, there is something to be said for rooting for the underdog, as we are prone to do. Success is so much more enjoyable when it comes against the odds and at the expense of Goliath, as opposed to accomplishing the expected when anything less is considered a failure. Right, Yankees fans?

However, when absolute greatness comes along like it did with Gretzky and how it could with Crosby, you root for it because this is stuff you will tell your grandchildren about and you know it as it occurs.

Granted, Crosby has a serious question mark on his career right now and who knows, maybe an entire season off will actually be a good thing for him. Regardless, I hope he can continue his track to be an all-time great. If not, he has certainly blessed us already with a career’s worth of unforgettable entries into hockey’s history books. But the emergence of the next-next one could also be in the offing this season. The 2012 NHL Draft certainly had some candidates and though we may not have known it at the time we may have watched the next great player be given his opportunity.

Alex Galchenyuk (Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

Alas, that promise will have to wait.

The point

Watching that interview with Gretzky brought me back to my childhood when everything would stop because HE was playing on TV. It was an event. You just knew that at any moment something special could happen that only one person in the world could accomplish. Even with those expectations he would still produce the previously unseen and otherwise impossible.

Miller ended the interview by reminiscing about a goal Gretzky scored against the Blues and goaltender Mike Liut (a mainstay and great goalie for years in Hartford). Gretzky was in his office and out of options. He couldn’t go left, he couldn’t go right, and he couldn’t go through the net – if you could he would have found a way. So he flipped the puck off the back of Liut and into the back of the net.

Gretzky simply said he got lucky. Miller knew better and asked him how long it took to decide if he should bank the puck off the L, the I, the U, or the T in Liut.

A joke? Yes.

Was he that good? Absolutely. I mean, he holds the record for holding the most records.

It may no longer be Gretzky out there, but that is what we are being deprived of and so much more by a group of owners who believe they own the game, not just a team.