Thursday, November 05, 2009

Gretzky's Tears: Hockey, Canada, and the Day Everything Changed By Stephen Brunt

For Gretzky's Tears: Hockey, Canada, and the Day Everything Changed (A) Stephen Brunt takes a wide brush and paints the personalities that cooked up the NHL's most momentous (and expensive) trade deal. Subtlety isn't necessary: most of these guys were loud-mouthed fat-heads who kept an eye out for the biggest cash cow on the horizon, with a complete disregard for the health of the corporation, never mind the sport. The only quiet ones who kept their cards close to their chests were Wayne and Walter Gretzky, who, in Brunt's account, come to embody the best and the worst of Canadian enterprise. Brunt doesn't just argue that Gretzky's trade to Los Angeles paved the way for Gary Bettman's disastrous expansion of the league, he suggests that Wayne Gretzky's best interests (and no-one guards those interests like father and son) have lead to inevitable catastrophe for the league.

Although I've followed Brunt as a columnist, I hadn't yet read any of his books. As a columnist his prose is measured and to the point; as a book writer, he likes to turn up the heat, and not always to good effect. Also, the concluding chapter outlining the forehead-smacking deal Phoenix made to hire "The Great One" as coach is clearly rushed. The recent Bettman vs. Balsillie dust-up is only touched upon (in interviews Brunt admits he could have devoted an entire book to this), but we don't need a book to tell us who the obvious losers are: the Phoenix tax-payers, the National Hockey League, and the fans. As for Bettman, he may regard the Balsillie shut-out as a personal victory, but with the southern franchises hemorrhaging money faster than the Fed, Bettman's day of reckoning is most certainly coming down the pike.

So, are there any winners? Only one: Wayne Gretzky, by an enormous bank account.

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