TORONTO (AP) - There is something missing from Joe Sakic’s new plaque at the Hockey Hall of Fame _ and it’s not because the printer made a mistake.
Among the list of his many achievements is no mention of his 21st NHL season, the one that was never played because of the 2004-05 lockout. With the sport back in another dark period brought on by another labor dispute, Sakic reflected on the year that never was on the day he took his place among hockey’s greats.
“I lost a year of hockey,” Sakic said Monday prior to the induction ceremony. “It would have been 21 years instead of 20. That’s what you lose.”
Sundin never managed to win a Stanley Cup during his career and can’t help but wonder what could have been had the 2004-05 season been played. His Maple Leafs were on a run of six consecutive playoff appearances before that work stoppage.
“It was awful,” said Sundin. “I think it’s devastating.”
While all four of the inductees seem to have thoroughly enjoyed their induction weekend, the current lockout made it a more subdued affair than usual. They were to have been honored at Air Canada Centre prior to a scheduled Maple Leafs-Devils game Friday _ a missed opportunity in particular for Sundin, the longtime Leafs captain, and Oates, who grew up in Toronto.
Sundin is back living in his native Sweden now but the impact of another work stoppage hasn’t gone unnoticed even from a distance.
“I think it’s huge,” he said. “The National Hockey League is kind of representing the game of hockey. It’s the biggest representative of the game of hockey in the world. When the NHL is not going, people lose focus on hockey.
“For everybody that is involved in the sport, it’s huge to get the guys back playing as soon as possible.”
Added Sakic: “It hurts the players, it hurts the owners, it hurts the fans and it hurts the game.”
The two men at the center of collective bargaining negotiations, commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, both attended Monday night’s ceremony. Bettman referred to “difficult times” after paying tribute to the inductees in a speech.
“All of us _ fans, teams, players _ look forward to the time the game returns,” said Bettman.
The lockout was also a hot topic of discussion on the red carpet as members of the hockey world arrived for the ceremony. Hall of Famer Mike Gartner, who was active in the NHLPA during his playing days and later worked for the union, expressed concern for the sport.
“I think that one of the main dangers is that the fans and the game is taken for granted, that it’s going to come back to the same health that it was before,” said Gartner. “When you look at the last time that it happened, coming back to record attendance and record profits and taking a business that went from $2.5-billion to $3.3-billion in revenue, I think that tendency can be _ and I don’t think it’s consciously _ is to take all that for granted.