Former RPI standout Oates thanks parents, coaches upon entering NHL Hall of Fame
TORONTO 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."
Fellow inductees Mats Sundin and former RPI standout Adam Oates were also in the NHL when the last lockout hit, while Pavel Bure, the fourth member of the class, was already retired.
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.
Oates, current head coach of the Washington Capitals of the NHL, played 19 seasons league for the Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Edmonton Oilers. Known as a top playmaker, his 1,079 assists was the fifth highest total in NHL history at the time of his 2004 retirement.
Oates played under coach Mike Addesa at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, helping the team to the national Division I championship in 1985.
“My wife Donna. I love you very much. We met near the end of my career; I wish we could’ve met a little bit sooner. You could’ve seen me when I was a little bit better,” said an emotional Oates at the ceremony Monday. “Mom and Dad, I don’t know how you took me to all those games. You supported me, you encouraged me, helped me through the tough times and gave me the chance to live my dream. I know it’s not the easiest thing for our family, but I love you very much. Thank you. I’d never be here without you.”
Oates thanked youth coach Mike Renzetti, junior coach Ken Gibb, coach Addesa and skating coach Paul Vincent.
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.
"I think that there's a real danger in it. I sense that there's more of a danger now than there was in the past."
Igor Larionov, another Hall of Famer who now works as a player agent, called for "common sense."
"I'm very positive it's going to be resolved in a matter of weeks, maybe two or three weeks," said Larionov. "You'll see the game back in shape and the players playing."
All four members of this year's Hall of Fame class were affected by a labor disruption during their careers — Bure was playing for the Vancouver Canucks during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season — and it's reasonable to expect that trend will continue for some time after four work stoppages in the last 20 years.