So forget the stupid introductory first post we've all come to expect out of people starting a new blogging adventure. Funk that I say. Let's get right to it here:
First point of order:
How Did This Guy Ever Get a Job?
To those of you who perhaps may be located here in the Northeast and watching the Buffalo Sabres run to the playoffs on MSG and have had the pleasure of getting to know Rick Jeanerette, and for me it's been a long process in getting used to hearing him call a game, we now find ourselves being held hostage by the ever hard to find Versus Network.
Given that Versus is in the position of having to pluck guys out of their regular play-by-play duties covering other teams and then propping them in front of the microphones to cover their "national" broadcasts you'd think they would have a treasure trove of great hockey voices to pick from.
Unfortunately for us here in the United States, Canada is holding many of those voices hostage on CBC and TSN including my guilty pleasure voice of the Vancouver Canucks Jim Hughson. That said, there are still some incredible people working in the NHL doing play-by-play duties for their teams. Let's just run down a few that aren't hired out by Versus, shall we? Warning: Some of these guys might be ruthless homers, so try to put that aside.
- J.P. Dellacamera - Don't know the name? That's too bad, because his voice is electric and you may likely know him better from his work with ESPN (and perhaps this is the hangup with him) when calling World Cup Soccer matches. He's energetic, emphatic and most importantly not a blowhard. Perhaps Versus also felt odd about asking for two analysts from the same team to do games as his color analyst for Thrashers games is Darren Eliot, and given who he's assigned to work with...well, let's just say he's got the whole show on his shoulders.
- Michael Haynes - While the folks in Denver, Colorado may have been spoiled mightily with their product on the ice, the fans who have gotten to follow along with the team from home via radio and now TV have gotten spoiled themselves. Michael Haynes may not be a name you're familiar with at all, or one you might get confused with a former Patriots and Raiders hall of fame defensive back, but Haynes has been a stand out performer first in radio for the Avalanche and now as their TV play-by-play man. Haynes too is also supported by an outstanding color man in Peter McNab. While all Haynes knows as a hockey broadcaster is the Avalanche, that makes him perfect for Denver and it remains to be seen (maybe?) what he could do with a national broadcast. At the very least, he can't be any worse than Jack Edwards who's made a habit of making an ass out of himself as a ruthless Bruins shill and bonehead with USA Soccer play-by-play duties in 2002.
- Jeff Rimer - Now here's a name I guarantee you don't recognize unless you're in Ohio or an old venerable hockey veteran. Rimer's background in hockey is extensive having jumped from expansion team to expansion team after getting his first NHL stint with the Washington Capitals. He then went on to working with the Florida Panthers during their...uh, glory years and now with the Blue Jackets in Columbus. A smart, passionate and knowledgeable guy he too is not a blowhard.
What's my point here? My point is that Versus has ostensibly blown it. While they've done well in hiring Mike Emrick to be their top play-by-play man and have a staff full of guys who have done well in some of their other, "lesser" broadcasts (John Ahlers from Anaheim, John Forslund from Carolina, Rick Peckham from Tampa Bay and most notably, their #3 guy Dave Strader formerly of ESPN and currently with the Florida Panthers) when it comes to this time of year, you only need your two best guys.
This is, after all, only the Conference Finals and your network has virtual exclusivity (since NBC is slated to only have a pair of Game 5 broadcasts which, I'd assume, Mike Emrick will get to do both should both series go five games - getting from Buffalo to Detroit isn't very hard).
Please tell me, why in God's name, do you allow a ruthless shill who broadcasts a game with a thesaurus of hockey clichés sitting open in front of him anywhere near the booth for the time of year when most people will be watching or attempting to watch your barely seen network? Why do you have Joe Beninati, a virtual lifer with the Washington Capitals (while I don't hate the Caps, they're not exactly one of the NHL's glory teams here) as your #2 play-by-play guy?
I'm not asking for them to dust off Fred Cusick and let him do it again, although that's not really a bad idea. But you have to do better than Joe Beninati that if you're going to be a big time player in sports broadcasting. You have to!
And you wonder why even the most ardent of hockey fans, NHL fans in particular, get so frustrated with Versus, the NHL and most pointedly Commissioner Gary Bettman. After all, this is his brainchild - the NHL as he envisions it (for the time being - at least until people get fed up again).
Speaking of that... that leads us to Point of Order #2:
Apparently the NHL got the memo that fans wanted the game to feel more like the way it did in the 1980s. Of course, it all depends on how you want to translate that. What the fans wanted was wide-open, high-flying, high scoring hockey.
What the league has decided to do is to treat the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference like the National League and American League of Major League Baseball in the 80s.
It's amazing to see the difference in rule interpretations so far throughout the playoffs and leads me to believe that referees are chameleons on ice and creatures of habit. In the East, the hooks and holds and interference calls have been getting made with semi-regularity. There are some glaring omissions from that, but I'll let that sit for another time. The Western Conference playoffs, however, have been an unmitigated nightmare to watch. While the style of play that is prevalent in the West is more about defending rather than going for the throat at all costs, that shouldn't mean that the officials let things go in favor of having the game move along at a more swift pace.
No, no, no, no...what do we call doing that kids? We call that the NHL Dark Ages (1995-2003). When you're calling a game as if you're Schultz from Hogan's Heroes and you don't see anything, that's just bogus. I could care less what Jacques Lemaire, Randy Carlyle, Dave Tippett and Alain Vigneault might think about this and how you can't punish everything that happens on the ice. I declare shenanigans.
How about this instead: Play offense, don't trap obnoxiously, and ask your GM to assemble some quality scoring forwards for you - more than one line's worth. I'm looking at you Anaheim - having a line and a half of scoring talent shouldn't allow you to make it this far in the playoffs in the "New NHL." You'll hear the same people making the same excuses and taking up the flag for these teams saying, "Well they just play great defense and if you don't like that, just score more!"
The people you'll hear making statements like this are the hometown broadcasters for those teams and people who cover things nationally that will always want to put the best face forward for the NHL. I call these fans and analysts the Know-Nothings since they're willing to look past glaring errors and bad play to either make sure they keep their job or its just what they've unfortunately been exposed to for so long that they don't know any better.
While that alone is sad, it's to be expected these days since hockey on TV on a national scale is hard to find and regional broadcasts tend to not want to upset the apple cart (eg: Chico Resch on FSNY for the Devils) it doesn't excuse why calling the rules as they were written is a bad thing. Remember, the way the rules were interpreted during the Dark Ages weren't written any different than they were before that or are now. All the NHL did was to "re-emphasize" the rule book and spice things up with a couple of glossy additions.
Let's see how things shake loose in Game 2 tonight with Detroit and Anaheim. My prediction: The rules continue to be shoddily interpreted and Western Conference hockey continues to be played as if they're batting with a lineup that has the pitcher holding down the ninth spot in the order.