By Larry Wigge
On December 2, 2009, I entered St. John's Mercy Hospital, suffering from a stroke that left my left my left side lifeless and in need of repair to my heart valve.
I had spent my last few days at home. Couldn't pick up the phone to call and get help. By that time a stroke had left me helpless. Only a good neighbor saved me from passing.
I recall only a instant those first few days and weeks once the paramedics had cart me off to the hospital. I do remember one of my first days in the hospital vaguely -- hearing a friendly voice sitting beside me. St. Louis Blues President John Davidson, with his cane in hand -- he was to undergo hip surgery.
Davidson said to me, "Don't try to talk. The doctors say you you keep quiet. I just wanted to let you know that you have many friends in hockey thinking about you and praying for a speedy recovery."
The doctors had told my family to prepare for the worst. Anything could happen with my daily seizures and countless trips to the operating room. I'd like to tell you that I saw a bright light, but ...
I can only that I was in a semi-conscience state for more than a month. Don't even remember Christmas of 2009 ... same with Happy New Year. They were just dates on a calendar, flipping away for me.
By mid-January I guess I had survived the worst. I still could not talk and could not walk. Through a series of classes, I began to first learn to use a walker and then a cane. Even though I could barely speak, flashcards were my best friend. Trying to stimulate my mind by using those cards, I could slowly begin to utter the most common words again.
Can you imagine that? An interviewer, a reporter by trade now left to be puzzled at saying words on flashcards. I had long made a living for myself by interviewing Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Denis Potvin ... and now I was silenced, couldn't even put together a sentence.
I still all my friends and acquaintances in hockey. Always and forever.
Though my recovery has often been too slow, I realized how much help it took to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. I've still got aphasia -- a learning disability in my speech and memory -- and my reflexes in my hands and legs is still about 80 percent of where it was.
As John Davidson said to my at the side of my bed in December of 2009, I still had hockey. But wait a minute ...
During my 33 years of covering hockey for The Sporting News and another eight with NHL.com, I had seen and covered it all. Yes, I had gone through the 1994-95 half-season lockout with The Sporting News and the season without hockey in 2004-05 for NHL.com. Covered the game through all the blustery doublespeak. Now, I knew what Charley from Washington D.C. felt like.
Charley was a Capitals fans, even though he couldn't see. He was at every Caps game. Wouldn't miss a minute. I remember interview him for The Sporting News as one of the true fans that hockey lockouts really hurt. He would describe to me with sound on players on the ice, hitting one another. Being in Washington at a Caps game made him feel alive.
Now, I feel the same sense of loss for the game as Charley did.
Just last year, I started a comeback of sorts -- albeit a slow one. I began to write this blog of features on Google. Wasn't making a cent doing them, but it gave me confidence. One of my old friends Ken Hitchcock came to St. Louis. Had a marvelous impact as coach of the Blues.
Everything was optimistic in St. Louis regarding the Blues and Hitchcock. Then ... a lockout.
All that money that was being generated by the NHL and the two sides couldn't come to a conclusion on their Collective Bargaining Agreement for the third time in 19 years. Come on, guys. Can't cooler heads prevail? Can't cooler heads prevail? You guys are thinking hockey is a business. It's a sport for crying out loud and it's threatening to take our passtime away from us for another lengthy period of time.
Think of the fans.
In the past months, the owners have given players like Sidney Crosby, Erik Karlsson, Shane Doan, Shea Weber, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jordan Staal, Scott Hartnell -- heck it seems like every team has overpaid for players to add credence to the owners-crying-poor-mouth. Did you know that Weber ($13 million), Tyler Myers, Parise, Suter (each will receive $10 million) and Brad Richards ($8 million) are among players that will still receive bonuses regardless of the lockout? Who missed that?
Hypocracy. Cynacism. What caused the NHL teams to sign players to more than $100-million worth of contract extensions and the mad rush continued on Saturday morning, when the Boston Bruins announced that popular power forward Milan Lucic, a 61-point player last season, had agreed to a three-year extension, worth $18-million.
But the most curious contract of all had to be the four-year, $21.2-million deal inked by Shane Doan with the Phoenix Coyotes, a team that is still owned by the NHL itself.
"We've shown we're willing to give, but they've got to be willing," said Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby. "It seems like there's a pretty hard line there, and they're not willing to budge."
Is Commissioner Gary Bettman prepared to tell Crosby he can’t play unless he surrenders $25.856 million of the $111.9 million he has coming to him? Weber has $97 million coming to him; Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Ovechkin, Parise and Ryan Suter all have $88 million coming. Does anyone in his right mind believe they’re going to give back nearly a quarter of what they have been promised?
There is good faith and there is legalized extortion. There are problem-solvers and there are shell-game operators.
The biggest sticking point in the negotiations has been the revenue sharing, the owners claim they cannot afford to pay the NHLPA 57 percent of revenues. That is what Bettman and the owners agreed to in the old CBA. Hockey interest has never been higher. Revenues have grown from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion under the expiring contract signed in 2005.
Owners claim that a new six-year agreement should start at 49 percent, dropping to 47 percent by the end of the contract. The NHLPA's counter offer starts at 54.3 per cent share for the players and ends at 52.7 per cent.
How about some give and take? Come to a 50-50 partnership with the players like the NFL and NBA agree to.
That comes from a fan and former reporter. Common sense should rule.