Yesterday’s post on which players people liked best, different measures of best, and why was one I’d been meaning to do for long time. This is another one near to that cold place in the center of my chest most people keep a heart. The NHL, of all professional sports has the worst marketing. It’s not even close. I don’t like baseball, basketball lost any appeal it had when Charles Barkley retired, and football is a clear second favorite in pro sports. All of them, do the job of appealing to their audience better.
Forget who’s sponsoring what, forget the quality of broadcasters. Those two things are only slightly controllable. What can be controlled is how and which players are promoted. The never-a-negative-comment by the league about top players, even when they deserve it. Is silly. Sports, like any competitive business, certainly any entertainment has audience divides. If I’m watching football on Sunday and it’s not my local team playing I will be far more engaged in a game if I have someone to love and hate. Watching Ocho Cinco embarrass the Colts defense would be fantastic because Peyton Manning is a git, and Chad Johnson is one of the most engaging figures in sports today. Yes, there is certainly a case for loving or hating both players. But the NHL doesn’t get that. You’ll never turn on the NHL Network and see a half hour piece on dirty plays by Sidney Crosby. He’s been the anointed one since before he laced up the skates for the first time. Great, spiffy, but even Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky failed to gain universal appeal, and the media of their day would talk about it.
What set this off? A lot of things, of which Crosby is honestly the least. He’s immensely talented and whatever people feel about him he’s going to have appeal to many just based on that fact. What gets me is the NHL ignoring the players who have long NHL careers but aren’t in the top ten percent of some offensive stat.
Is a tweet I sent the other day, everyone else was talking about the combine, or if Burrows has had his rabies shot. It was a throwaway tweet while looking up former Bruins players. I expected maybe a replay from one of the local fans who saw him play in Boston, or possibly one of other markets he’s played in. The conversation it spurred was with an Edmonton Oilers fan. This is pretty amazing considering that for all the teams Metropolit has played for only one of them was a western conference team, and that was just for twenty games.
The Glen Metropolit’s, the Mike Greer’s, the P.J. Axelssons and their counterparts across the league play an important part in the game. They may never set a scoring record, but they are players people identify with. Often players like this will have long stretches in one city where they are greatly appreciated by the fans and yet, have you tried walking into the proshop for your local team and buying a jersey for anyone but the ‘top’ players? I’ve been into Bruins proshop and the list of jerseys available reads like the top payroll, plus Tyler Seguin. Yes, all these players are worth admiring, does it mean the NHL is making the most of its chances, no.
Given all the NHL teams that are starving for revenue, including the Manitoba-team-to-be-renamed-later, adding the extra 5-7% in jersey sales that aught to be easy money for adding more of the guys to the jersey wall should be a no brainier. Even the most hardcore of fans might buy two jerseys for one star. The ones with a little more money will have multiple jerseys. If the local proshop has six or seven different players, one is usually the goalie, generally the most overlooked position outside of Montreal, and three others are the top scorers, what happens to revenue when those players get injured long term and their popularity dips? What happens when they retire, get traded or their contract expires and they sign elsewhere? Joel Ward’s jersey probably isn’t going to top Shea Weber’s in sales in any given year they both play for the same team, but how much interest did Ward generate during the playoffs.
Yes, you can wait six or eight weeks to special order a jersey. But does anyone with the power to change that realize how insane that is? We don’t live in a society in which what is often an impulse purchase can wait a month and a half to two months, plus delays.
Since the dawn of sports “the best player” has been debated back and forth endlessly. In boxing the Muhammad Ali vs George Foreman vs Mike Tyson vs Evander Hayfield debate will probably end shortly after the heat death of the universe. In baseball, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Cy Young, Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken are names that will forever be bounced around clubhouses and little league fields. Will anyone ever learn anything about the NBA and not have their current idol compared to Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Wilt Chamberlain? The NHL has it’s own list of deified players and the debates are just as raucous, as any other sport.
One of the reasons the debate over Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe or Wayne Gretzky as the greatest player of all time will probably never end is that it is a question with multiple layers. Who is more entertaining? Who is more skilled? Those are just two of its parts, but if you compare the styles of say Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin you get divided on this question from the word go. Both are dominant at their position, but is either truly the top of the charts in both categories? Neither holds a major single season record. Then if you compare them by to other active players you’re getting a different mix. Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks, Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins and Henrik Lundquist of the New York Rangers all play the same position. It’s hard to argue they all play it in the same style. Of the three, Lundquist is the youngest (by days) but has played the most NHL games. Hiller has phenomenal numbers in one Stanley Cup Playoff run, and Tim Thomas set a NHL record this past season and owns a Vezina trophy.
For my money I’d rather watch Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames play for three minutes than watch Denis Wideman of the Washington Capitals play for ten. While the talent divide there is higher than in the other comparisons, there are people who adore each player. Comparing defensemen with different styles is probably even more futile than debating centers vs wingers. Dustin Byfugelien of the Atlanta Thrashers score more goals than any other defenseman, Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers had more blocked shots than anyone, Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins had more shootout goals than any other defenseman, and Brent Burns of the Minnesota Wild averaged more shifts per game than any other blueliner. None of them were nominated for the Norris Trophy. Instead the nominations when to Zdeno Chara of Boston, perennial nominee Nik Lidstrom, and the often overlooked Nashville Predators Captain Shea Weber.
On the ice, even the rawest pinkhat couldn’t mistake Chara and Lidstrom, and getting Byfuelien confused with either Weber or Letang would probably require more alcohol than any establishment is going to sell you. Yet all across the nation Burns to Weber each of these guys makes a case to be, and is the favorite of fans all over the map. I’ve seen both Byfugelien (Thrashers) and Lidstrom jerseys on the streets of Boston, not with the regularity of the local captains, but there. Watching hockey in any given major market means you will see the jerseys from all over the NHL in the stands, and that’s the way it should be.
This being the Eastern Conference Finals, we’ll be taking the drinking game to a new level, have your stomach pumps on standby.
Take One Drink When:
The layoff between games is mentioned.
That either or both teams swept last round.
Each time Jeremy Roenick says “wow” more than twice in the answer to any question.
Take Two Drinks When:
The word “concussion” is uttered.
Jeremy Roenick talks about someone in the series he played with or against.
Someone mentions how long its been since Tyler Seguin played.
Someone mentions Simon Gagne as a “Bruins Killer”.
Take Three Drinks When:
If Emerick goes more than five minute of game time without using the words: knife, stab, slice.
The special teams graphic is displayed at any time other than when there is special teams play.
Take Four Drinks When:
The age of Tim Thomas, Martin St Louis, Dwayne Rolison or Mark Recchi are mentioned.
Someone mentions how many games someone has missed because of a concussion.
Someone compares Tyler Seguin to Phil Kessel
The trade of any of the guys acquired around the deadline is mentioned as a big reason for the teams success.
Take Five Drinks When
A pink hat who has watched the first two rounds asks about a shootout when a game goes to overtime.
A hockey player makes a ridiculous tweet, who isn’t @BizNasty2point0.
There is a “history will be made ad” made between one game and the next.
Skip a drink if:
It takes you more than ten minutes to explain icing, offsides or puck over the boards delay of game even to the dumbest pink hat you know.
You fail to cringed when someone asks you how many more rounds before the Stanley Cup Finals.
You don’t have the urge to cross check someone who spends an entire powerplay screaming “shoot” at the tv.
You start to think the Versus/NBC broadcast is doing a good job showing scuffles and replays.
It hasn’t been a question to this point in my lifetime. I doubt it will be a question any point in my lifetime. The National Hockey League puts on the best postseason of any professional sports league. Every year the the playoffs unfold with new drama, fresh intrigue, and unrivaled majesty. Here’s some of what is making this year special.
10: No clear home ice advantage. The teams that win this year are winning because they walk in the door, smash their opponents in the face shut up the crowd and play their asses off.
9: No Crosby, no crash. Despite Sidney Crosby not playing, there has been no dramatic crash in TV ratings despite the gloom and doom of the most melodramatic.
8: Smashville soaring into the second round. For the first time in franchise history the Nashville Predators are playing in May. Barry Trotz, Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne and the whole crew have come to win.
7: Sergei Kostitsyn as part of the Nashville Predators has come into his own as a reliable player on and off the ice.
6: Old is the new young. For the last few years we’ve seen teams ride very young goaltenders to success. This year the 37 year old Tim Thomas and the 41 year old Dwayne Roloson are leading the charge for both their teams.
5: Vincent Lecavalier is returning to form. For the first time in half a decade he’s back in the playoffs and over a point per game.
4: Calder trophy snub and skating Swiss Army knife Brad Marchand has a better points per game percentage than Alex Ovechkin or Pavel Datsyuk.
3: While there was just one sweep in the opening round this year we’re on the door step of three sweeps in the second round. Most surprising is that the Presidents trophy winning Vancouver Canucks did not get the first round sweep, nor will they get one in the second round.
2: The emergence of Joe Thornton as a viable postseason stud. He hasn’t scored the most points or had any big fights, he’s just been clutch.
1: Patrice Bergeron has led the charge for the Boston Bruins outscoring nearly everyone, owning a huge +/-, torn a swath through the faceoff circle and no one has noticed. As of right now, only one man has more post season points.
It’s that time again, the most important post of any series, particularly two cities so in love with the suds.
Take One Drink:
If either teams power play is mentioned.
If “The Pronger effect” is mentioned.
Mark Recchi throws a bigger check than the two hundred pound defenseman running at him.
Danny Carcillo and or Brad Marchand are seen chirping after a whistle or from the bench.
Take Two Drinks
Each time last years series is mentioned.
Anyone on either fourth line finishes a game with more than 9 minutes.
One or more commentators mentions cheesesteak or chowder.
Take Three Drinks
Every time someone mentions award nomination.
When the clip of Lucic checking van Reimsdyk through the glass is shown.
The Richards on Krejci hit is shown.
A coach or player says “we just need to be better in our own end” after a bad period or game.
Take Four Drinks
When the starting goaltender for Philadephia is not announced before game time.
A pinkhat asks about the shootout.
A lineup change on the fourth line is talked about for more than thirty seconds.
There is a “History” ad for the last game shown before the start of the current one.
Skip your next drink:
If you find yourself getting hopeful that either team might have a great chance on a powerplay.
You find yourself unable to scream coherently at a pinkhat.
You start explaining a simple rule like “icing” and take longer than two minutes.
Honestly, I don’t want to, I’m not really looking forward to putting away my jerseys, but it may become reality. It isn’t a statement about the player who’s jersey I was wearing yesterday, or even the play of the team as a whole. My problem is two fold and at least one of them is an issue we all face to one degree or another.
I’ve noticed the last three or four times I’ve gone out in a Bruins jersey that I just can’t get anything done. Yesteday while helping an elderly relation run errands I couldn’t get anywhere without someone stopping me. This person regularly takes forty plus minutes to buy just enough to squeak through the express lane. I was slowing her down. Well, the people who stopped in front of me for some impromptu puck talk did. Off the top of my head I’d say in once grocery store in one of the North Shore’s medium sized towns I was stopped by no less than six or seven people. Two of them seemed ready to talk until game time today. One or two just wanted to hear what I thought of the last game or the next.
We had to stop at another small store on the way home. Yep. Same story. What should have been a five minute excursion turned into fifteen. The elder I was escorting said they were going to to get a Bruins jersey just so people would talk to her. I have less than zero idea why people would stop me to talk to. It’s not like I wear a big sign that says: I’m bored, say something tweetable. I’m certainly not anyones idea of good looking and being about as far from a morning person as can be got, it wasn’t the ear to ear grin I was wearing at times I consider perfectly reasonable to be considering my breakfast options in the early double digit hours of the day.
Take 1 drink if/when:
PK Subban and or Brad Marchand are locked up with someone and jawing after a whistle.
The word “rivalry” is used by any announcer or commentator.
A comparison is made between the teams speed.
Composure is used to describe any player, line or team.
Dryden, Moog, Roy, Halak or any other goalie not on either roster is mentioned.
Take 2 drinks if/when:
Mention is made of the Chara-Pacioretty incident
The words “Original Six” are used.
Any player scores a hat trick.
The word “clutch” is used twice in the same breath by anyone.
Someone snarks about the shootout if a game goes to overtime.
A pink hat around you asks a question confirming their status.
If another pink hat responds and gets the answer wrong.
Take 3 drinks if/when:
An announcer says a team came out flat.
Milan Lucic is suspended for a game for hitting someone.
Sidney Crosby is mentioned in anyway not relating to something he has done during a post season game this season.
Any amplifier such as: storied, historic, bitter or intense is used with the word “rivalry”.
Skip your next drink if:
You think you here any player in their second season or later respond to the media in anyway that doesn’t sound scripted or cliched.
You think you here anyone refer to the incident between Carey Price and Tim Thomas as a serious fight.
You find yourself agreeing with a pink hat.
You start to believe the series will be easy for either team.