Get your blackjack off my table Get your coat out of my rack We don't need you 'round here jerk-off Chuck, I want you off my back 'Cause we've almost made it We've almost made it We've almost made it to the top
Randy Newman's sour little ditty, Little Criminals, could have been the official theme of the NHL labor negotiations. Now that the league has both skates in the grave and its gloves firmly on the shovel, it is sadly symbolic that Louis Sutter was laid to rest yesterday. His six progeny -- Brian, Darryl, Duane, Brent, and twins Rich and Ron were, as the clan's biggest admirer Don Cherry gushed, "a throwback to the players of old. They are not afraid to play with pain."
Indeed. This red-blooded mix of Slapshot and Caddyshack has leant more than a dash of grit, spunk, fire, talent and personality to the league for almost 30 years and is one more reason to mourn the earthly remains of the NHL. Papa Sutter's passing last Thursday inspired reader Meg Taylor of New York City to wax righteous wroth:
"It took the disconnected, unqualified and clueless Gary Bettman until Monday to move the NHL's death knell press conference to Wednesday," she wrote. "I heard it would be Tuesday, and thought, 'You're not really going to announce the cancellation of the season when they're having the Sutter funeral, right?' Excuse me, Mr. Basketball, but in this sport, we have a little respect for history, not to mention the coaches and such who are involved personally in this event. But no, they said Tuesday until someone apparently smacked Gary about the square head."
The trenchant Ms. Taylor added the following grim prediction: "This lockout is going until January next year when the owners will overthrow the little lawn gnome, work out a deal and play a half a season like in '95."
All I can say is I've never seen a worse display of bad faith bargaining and disingenuous dithering. No matter how much either side conceded, Bettman and his squinty-eyed, toothpick-chewing henchmen were intent on turning the NHL into a designer label version of the minor leagues where a fair patch of readers say they are enjoying hockey at reasonable prices. So, I wonder exactly what it is that makes Mr. Bettman think that disgusted, alienated fans will want to pay NHL dollars for AHL-quality next season. Meanwhile, Europe will become to hockey what it is to soccer: the place for the elite. The NHL will be reduced to an icy version of Major League Soccer.
Then there is the matter of the next generation of disgusted fans. I recently gave a talk at my son's school and 98 percent of the little buggers in his fourth-grade class were unaware that there has been no season. Bettman and Co. better hold off on the cheap sunglasses. The future don't look so bright.