MONTREAL - The NHL wants to send a Montreal restaurant owner to the penalty box over a sign in support of his beloved Canadiens.
The league is demanding $89,000 from Fadl Issa for putting up a sign in one of his downtown restaurants showing a Middle Eastern man in a red-and-white Canadiens jersey slicing up shawarma.
The poster in one of the franchise's restaurants near the Bell Centre also had the logo "Go Habs Go," emblazoned near the fez-wearing character with a large handlebar moustache.
A lawyer representing the NHL took a dim view of the tribute and sent Issa a letter in December, warning him that he was violating copyrights.
Issa swears the NHL will not get one thin dime out of him: "I took the banner out and definitely we're not going to pay the $89,000."
Issa painted over the Canadiens logo after receiving the first letter but another letter followed in January, saying that the "Go Habs Go" slogan is also a trademark.
"After we took out 'Go Habs Go' we received a letter asking us for $89,000 for damages," Issa said in a telephone interview.
"The ideas (for the sign) came from my children because we are supporting the Canadiens. They said, 'Dad, why don't you do some publicity for the Canadiens to win?'
"That's what we did and unfortunately we came up with big problems."
NHL lawyer Francois Larose was out of the country on Monday and could not be immediately reached for comment.
Issa said he didn't get much sympathy when he discussed the matter with Larose.
He says he tried pleading that he had seen plenty of merchants with Canadiens signs and the "Go Habs Go" slogan—but that Larose was unswayed by his argument.
He says that, at first, he thought it was a joke when someone told him he would be charged $1,000 per day until he removed the sign.
Shortly afterward, Issa got the letter demanding the $89,000.
"I said, 'Wow, to do publicity for the Canadiens costs you $89,000.' That's crazy, that's unbelievable.
"We cannot afford this kind of money and we're not going to pay it."
Issa hasn't been in touch with Larose since the last letter.
The incident hasn't soured him on supporting the Habs. He says he was told by reporters who spoke to officials of the hockey team that the Habs were unaware of the incident.
"We are Canadian, we should support the Canadiens, it's simple as that," Issa said in a telephone interview. "We are in Montreal, we should support the Montreal (team).
"We are proud of supporting our own people, the Canadiens. If we don't support it, who's going to support it?"
Issa was getting support of his own on websites telling his story.
Some people said they didn't understand why the NHL would want to get embroiled in what would likely be a public-relations nightmare that would only make it look greedy.
"Go Lawyers Go," harumphed Don James Anderson on the CBC's website.
Another man took a pragmatic view.
"They should walk through Vancouver," wrote Daryl Lamb. "They could sue enough people to make the Thrashers profitable!"