Roundtable: Matthews, McDavid lead NHL’s hot topics among media members
- With the NHL beginning its 100th season in operation, SI asked nine media members to discuss the league’s biggest topics, including its young stars, players as hockey analysts and potential rule changes.
With the NHL’s regular season beginning last Wednesday, I paneled nine respected NHL media voices for a roundtable discussion on a number of issues:
• David Amber, studio host, “Hockey Night in Canada,” Sportsnet (Canada)
• John Buccigross, “SportsCenter” anchor, college hockey gamecaller and NHL analyst
• Isabelle Khurshudyan, Capitals reporter, Washington Post
• Mike Harrington, Sabres reporter, Buffalo News
• Sean McIndoe, hockey writer, Vice Sports, Sportsnet, and Hockey News
• Tracey Myers, Blackhawks reporter, CSN Chicago
• Aaron Portzline, Blue Jackets reporter, The Columbus Dispatch
• John Shannon, studio analyst, HockeyCentral, Sportsnet (Canada)
• Greg Wyshynski, Yahoo Sports, editor of Puck Daddy blog
Editor’s note: The panel was asked to go as long or as short as they wanted with their answers. They were free to skip any questions. Some of the answers have been edited for clarity.
What will be the most interesting story in the league this season, and why?
Amber: Connor McDavid, period. I have seen him play almost every game and he is ridiculously talented. He has the potential to be among the all-time greats. Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby led the NHL in points in their second year; I’m expecting McDavid to follow suit. He’s a generational talent and if he stays healthy, he will join Crosby as the face of the NHL starting this year.
Buccigross: Connor McDavid, and the impact he makes in Edmonton. I’ve never seen a skater like him. He is the point man on the NHL becoming even more of a young man’s game. The skill that is coming in the next decade is mind-blowing.
Harrington: The rookie season of Auston Matthews/rebirth of the Maple Leafs. That would have been my answer before the kid’s ridiculous four-goal game in the opener. The Leafs have been a joke for many, many years and I drive their fans batty at times on Twitter by calling them the Laffs. (They clearly never read NFL writers who famously referred to the “Iggles” or “Aints.”) But what we’re seeing is they finally have direction and leadership under Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock. And now they’re finally acquiring talent.
People should realize how amazing it is that Matthews was a standout at the World Cup—before he had ever played an NHL game. He’s going to be their franchise for the next 15 years and they’re putting players around him like Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly. It’s the franchise’s 100th year, they had an incredible ceremony to kick it off when they announced they’re finally retiring the numbers of all their honoured (spelling intentional) players, and they get an outdoor game on NBC against Detroit on New Year’s Day. And now they have an American kid from Arizona who played in Switzerland rather than juniors leading the way. NBC adding the home opener Saturday by picking up the Canadian feed is pretty significant. The entire league is better when the Leafs are relevant. It’s like the New York Yankees not having any significance in baseball. You have to have them and we’re finally getting the Leafs back. From my standpoint, it will make for many wild nights in Buffalo the next few years. Their fans come over the border in droves and like to have a ginger ale. Or three.
Khurshudyan: Capitals coach Barry Trotz was an assistant coach with Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey and one of the things he said as he reflected on the experience was that if Team Canada would have played Team North America, Toronto “would’ve been cheering for the kids,” and “Canada would’ve been the bad guys.” The under-23 team of Canadians and Americans were fan favorites because they showed hockey fans how exciting this new generation of players is to watch with their blazing speed and skill. I think the NHL is at a sort of crossroads where the young guns are setting the pace—and the game as a whole is shifting in their favor. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup with a formula of playing fast. More teenagers are making rosters and with how exciting they are to watch, players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are steadily replacing Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are the faces of the league.
McIndoe: Youth. In terms of the elite players at the top of the league, there’s a changing of the guard that’s just getting started and it’s going to be fascinating to see how it plays out. Guys like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin aren’t done by any stretch, but we’re seeing the next wave arrive and it has the potential to be a really entertaining group. Connor McDavid is the obvious one to watch here—he might pass Crosby for consensus best player honors by the end of the season. Auston Matthews is already making NBC change its schedule around based on one game. Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Shayne Gostisbehere, Patrik Laine … you could list of 15 or 20 guys who you’d already want to pay to watch but are still getting better. On top of that, teams are starting to understand that skill players (especially forwards) peak at an earlier age than we used to assume, and they’re realizing the importance of maximizing the value of entry-level contracts in a hard cap league. So young players are getting opportunities that they may have had to wait for even five or six years ago. It adds up to the possibility that we may see new blood taking over the spotlight and the leaderboards in a way we haven’t since at least 2006 at least.
Myers: Other than the Auston-Matthews-rules-the-NHL-world story, I’m interested to see how the new spotters change how the league addresses concussions. I think it’s a great idea. An independent spotter won’t hesitate—or at least he or she shouldn’t—to let teams know players need to be pulled off the ice and checked. We talked to Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville about it recently. As Hitchcock said, so many former players have been so horribly affected by concussion-related issues. If the league can help these guys more now, all the better.
Portzline: The kids. This has been going on for the past few seasons now—a huge influx of young, talented offensive players—but never like the past two years, with Connor McDavid arriving in Edmonton and Auston Matthews in Toronto. These are 100-point potential players. These are players whose offensive skills are impressive enough to reach from their Canadian cities into American markets, which is saying something. NBC has picked up a game already. The NHL desperately needs this.
Shannon: Beyond the approaching NHL Centennial in 2017, the biggest story in the NHL this season will be the explosion of the young superstars throughout the NHL. At the recent World Cup of Hockey, the team compromised of players 23 years of age and younger were the most entertaining team of the whole tournament. It was so intoxicating, I think we will see that influence in the NHL this season. The style of hockey these young guys played energized hockey fans everywhere, and created a realization that the game can be played at a high level of speed with skill to burn. Players like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau, Dylan Larkin, Aaron Ekblad and so many more will change the way the game is played. These are players who don’t remember the “clutch and grab” game that forced the rules changes in 2005. They only know the skill and speed game. Every team has more than one of these great young players. It is a deep and talented pool of youngsters that truly will be the faces of the game. As Sidney Crosby approaches 30, it is a growing group of players 10 year younger who will control this game, this season and for years to come.
Wyshynski: The next generation of superstar talent bubbling under the surface of established playoff teams, waiting to see if one of them can be jostled from their thrones. The problem for Connor McDavid (Edmonton), Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary), Patrik Laine (Winnipeg) and Max Domi (Arizona) is that they’re stuck in the Western Conference, where you could all but cement at least six teams into the playoffs, and then pencil in the other two. They also share a problem with Auston Matthews (Toronto) and Jack Eichel (Buffalo, currently injured) in the Eastern Conference, in that their teams could be rather terrible by season’s end. An ancillary part of this story is something P.K. Subban mentioned in a quote recently, which is the marketing of star players vs. the marketing of teams or gameplay in the NHL. Subban believes that a star-centric marketing plan for the NHL ultimately grows the game. While I agree that the league needs to reach beyond the Crosby/Ovechkin construct to build new stars, I still think that’s a hell of a challenge in a sport where your biggest names are on the ice for about 22–25 minutes per game and less than a minute per shift, and where it’s ultimately defensive systems that bring success on the biggest stage, the playoffs. Still, Auston Matthews’s four goals in his debut game forced NBCSN to immediately add a Leafs game to its schedule, so there’s that.
Who is the best interview in the league and why?
Amber: Hard to name just one. Erik Karlsson is a very engaging and interesting guy who is not afraid to speak his mind. Lightning coach Jon Cooper is one of my favorites. Smart, candid and funny. Cory Schneider, P.K. Subban, Roberto Luongo all very thoughtful and charismatic.
Buccigross: P.K. Subban is the interview star of the NHL. No one can match his charisma. He will be a Hall of Fame TV analyst. Winnipeg Jets rookie Patrik Laine is friendly and fearless answering question. Brutally honest for now. Mike Babcock is also very good. Every interview feels like he is auditioning for a self help book or a speaking engagement.
Harrington: I always like talking to Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos. He’s honest, engaging, will talk about himself, his team, the state of the league. He really gets it. He never shied away from his contract issue last year. During the 2015 Stanley Cup final, while Chicago didn’t always make its stars available on non-game days, Tampa and Stamkos understood the stage. He talked pretty much every day. Stamkos will talk to anyone and star players in other sports (hello, baseball) simply don’t. Again, picking one guy is tough. Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews are like Stamkos too and former Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, now in Vancouver, was always a fascinating character as well. Some days he would be furious about his play or his team and that made his insight even more interesting. He was also incredibly passionate about the sport as a whole and would talk on any subject. There’s just so many good ones. P.K. Subban in Nashville. Joe Thornton and Brent Burns in San Jose, the comedy hour of Jaromir Jagr in Florida, David Backes in Boston. The big names are so good with the media in this sport.
Khurshudyan: I’m fortunate to cover a Capitals team that has a reputation around the NHL media circuit as being one of the best locker rooms to interview. It’s not uncommon for Trotz to give a five-minute answer that includes three anecdotes, basically a reporter’s dream. In Washington’s room, defenseman Karl Alzner is always pleasant when you approach him for an interview. He’s someone who tries to give you an interesting answer that you haven’t heard before and is also great at explaining nuances of the game. Justin Williams has the credentials of a three-time Stanley Cup champion and 16-year veteran, so when you combine that with him being a very blunt and descriptive quote, he’s one of the best in the league. I haven’t gotten too many opportunities to interview players outside of Washington’s room, but San Jose’s Brent Burns probably isn’t appreciated enough as a good interview because there isn’t as much national NHL coverage of the California teams outside of the postseason.
McIndoe: I don’t end up doing a ton of interviews, so others will be able to give a better answer to this question than I will. But I’ve always enjoyed [Lightning coach] Jon Cooper, especially during his playoff press conferences. I’m sure he views the press as a burden he’d rather not deal with just like everyone else, but he seems to have decided to at least have some fun with it.
Myers: Biased answer coming: I get spoiled having Jonathan Toews as an interview all the time. The Blackhawks’ captain has always been thoughtful in all of his answers. Considering how vanilla this league is getting by the day, you appreciate a good, meaty quote that much more. Guys like David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Brian Campbell are right up there, too.
Portzline: Give me Jaromir Jagr. The guy is amazing and he gets it. There are few straight answers and no clichés. When he gets a serious question he gives a very honest, insightful answer. His words carry weight.
Shannon: For me, the best interview in the league is John Tavares of the New York Islanders. No one understands how role and team spokesmen better that Tavares. He is always pleasant, approachable and says something well beyond that classic sports clichés.
Wyshynski: I love talking hockey with Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Fascinating guy, for a superstar. Can breakdown everything from off-season training to his opponents to the emotional components of the game, especially during his injury comebacks and his contract drama. He gets what it is we’re looking for.
Honorable Mention: Jaromir Jagr, who has become this strange self-deprecating Jedi in his later years.
Who is the toughest interview in the league and why?
Amber: Five years ago I would have said John Tortorella who was behaving like a petulant, know-it-all near the end of his reign in new York. But I think he has realized the media aren’t evil. As for players, Ryan Kesler seems to genuinely dislike doing interviews. Phil Kessel has improved but was a real challenge to say anything for several years.
Buccigross: No one comes to mind.
Harrington: Baseball writers are celebrating every team having finally having an interpreter this year because so many of us rue not learning passable Spanish. In hockey, I wish I knew Russian. The young kids like Vladimir Tarasenko in St. Louis or Artemi Panarin in Chicago would probably love some American reporters knowing some. And my sense is that older guys who speak more than reasonable English like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin have never totally gotten comfortable with the North American media. That’s especially true for Malkin. As for coaches, I have no idea how Kings beat writers deal with Darryl Sutter’s grunts and mumbling every day. A little information, a little insight would be nice.
Khurshudyan: I haven’t personally had many experiences with Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, but he seems to be the most Bill Belichick-esque. Jon Rosen even compiled the best Sutter quotes from 2016.
McIndoe: Pretty much any coach after a playoff game other than Cooper. The coach’s postgame press conference has evolved over the years into this art form of not saying anything. They give one-sentence answers, they never say anything specific, and as soon as there’s the slightest pause they say “thanks everyone” and bolt. And worst of all, they pretend not to understand simple questions. You ask them what they thought of their first line, and they’ll act confused about which line you mean. I absolutely understand why they do it—as soon as they say anything interesting, we immediately turn it into a fake controversy and hang them with it. But it gets frustrating after you’ve seen the whole act play out a few dozen times. (With the exception of Darryl Sutter, who has that weird anti-charisma that lets him somehow pull it off.)
Myers: It’s tricky interviewing some of the younger guys in the league. I’m guessing part of it is these kids—sorry, I have most of them by 20 years so they’re kids to me—want to be sure to say the right thing all the time, but that usually means a cliché-filled interview. Of course, interviewing any player after an elimination-game loss. I remember talking to Chris Campoli after the Blackhawks lost to the Canucks in 2010. He made the bad pass that led to the Canucks’ winning goal and you could see the devastation in his face. But he was there nevertheless, standing up and facing the media.
Portzline: I don’t really have a good answer here. I mean, Gary Bettman is typically very “available” when you need to speak with him. He’ll sit in on podcasts, get right back to you on inquiries, etc. That’s an impressive trait for any major-league commissioner. But he’s an elite-level politician, able to avoid questions he’d rather not answer with a litany of shaped statistics, well-crafted answers and the like. I think the guy takes way too much criticism, given the way he’s helped grow the sport and increased franchise values—his real job, let’s be honest—but he doesn’t always help himself when giving interviews.
Shannon: There isn’t one player that stands out as the toughest interview. However, more than 35% of players come from Europe and English is not their first language. The early years of interviews can be make or break, as far as creating a positive relationship. What you don’t want or need is a young European player that says something that is very blunt or by contrast boring and have the media hang on every word. “Lost in Translation” is slogan that every player, media member or fan should appreciate and invoke a great deal more when these young guys talk. For example, for many years, Jaromir Jagr was not comfortable in English, and didn’t give many interviews in spite of being one of game’s best players. Pavel Datsyuk was the same way. The NHL has a lot of quality European young stars, and while we expect them to do many interviews in English, they often opt out of doing any interviews, and do much of their talking on the 200x85.
Wyshynski: Any young North American-born rookie sensation, because they’ve had the candor beaten out of them by years spent inside a “logo on the front, not the name on the back” culture. The European kids are better quotes.
Regarding media accessibility, which clubs/organizations are the easiest for you to work with, and which teams are the toughest, and why?
Amber: Most of the teams understand the media is a good pipeline to their fans, so gaining access isn’t usually an issue. The Senators are a class organization and from their top stars to fourth liners, they have always provided me with great access to do my job. The Stars also do an exceptional job taking care of the media. There are challenges with some of the bigger markets. Most notably, the Leafs keep their young players at arms length because of the volume of media requests they receive. You won’t be seeing a lot of sit-down interviews with Auston Matthews his season.
Buccigross: That’s not really applicable to me.
Harrington: It would be hard for me to single out teams because being a hockey reporter can be a breeze in terms of cooperation. I’ve covered baseball for 20 years as well, including 17 World Series, and it’s nothing but hassle upon hassle in many places. The biggest issues in hockey are traversing the hideous catwalk to get to the press box atop the Saddledome in Calgary and teams like the Rangers and Washington doing morning skates in the suburbs instead of the main arena, thus making it impossible for a visiting writer to get much of anything from them early on game day. In other words, it’s nothing like baseball or the NFL.
Khurshudyan: As a Capitals beat reporter, I don’t work with other teams’ PR staffs too often, and it’s just my second year covering hockey. So take this answer with a grain of salt: Before this, I covered college sports, where access was always pretty limited, so I was struck by how much Washington’s PR staff was willing to help me on features and grant me one-on-one time or unique access with players and coaches. The Capitals genuinely their team to be featured in the newspaper and for fans to get to know it better through beat reporters’ coverage. The Stars’ PR staff has a great reputation around the league. The hospitality is excellent when you cover a game there, and the one time I asked if I could talk to a player for a feature story I was working on, they had him call me within 24 hours. I was so impressed.
McIndoe: I’m still relatively new to this, and I don’t do a ton of travel, so I don’t really have any horror stories. My experience has been that the various PR teams are generally helpful, and they’re always very nice when they find me lost and wandering around the bowels of an arena an hour before puck drop because I forgot which of the abandoned maintenance elevators is the one that goes to the press box. This happens to me at literally every game I cover, by the way.
Myers: I’ll be honest, it’s been the rare case when I haven’t gotten someone I’ve requested. Since I work mainly with one team I’m guessing the national writers have a better idea of who is good/bad across the board in the league. As far as opposing teams with whom I’ve made requests, Dallas, Calgary and Arizona have been among the most cooperative.
Portzline: I’ll recuse myself from anything involving the Blue Jackets, because that’s the team I cover on a regular basis and the relationship is fine. Dealing with clubs around the league? I’ve always found the Stars to be exceptionally helpful. The theory is that the Stars are in a highly competitive market—the Cowboys run the town—so they’ll bend over backward to help the media generate headlines. Maybe that’s so, or maybe they’re just highly professional. I choose to believe the latter. Anaheim has always been good, too. Colorado historically has had a reputation for being difficult, but this is tough for a local print guy to answer given the changes to the business over the last several years. Space limitations have cut into national coverage, so there’s not a ton of interaction between local writers and PR folks outside their market.
Shannon: Following the lockout of the 2004–05 season, the NHL did a much better job of creating consistency among the clubs who needed all the media help they could get after losing a whole season. The days of not having an open and cooperative relationships had to disappear if the game were to grow. Some teams have done better than others; some came to the dance late. A team’s ability to work depends completely on the desire of the general manager to see the big picture. This is a league and its member clubs that have become true content generators through websites, regional TV networks and the NHL Network. They have learned quickly how to create a positive media environment. There are plenty of teams that are easy to work with—Rangers, Philadelphia, Carolina, Buffalo, Calgary, Los Angeles all understand how it works. Comparing this league to the league I began covering 40 years ago, there truly are no bad teams concerning accessibility and cooperation. And remember, hockey players are still the most approachable pro athletes in the four North American team sports.
Wyshynski: It’s incredible that having “blogger” near your byline remains an obstacle to access in 2016. Insane, actually, but here we are. The NHL’s been rather good with credentialing digital media sites and alternative media members, especially for things like the NHL draft. But teams continue to be myopic about access, even for someone like me, working for Yahoo Sports since 2008.
Last season, I wanted to cover a home game for a Canadian team. I submitted a credential request. I waited several days, and heard back from the director of media relations: He wasn’t sure about letting me into the press box. Some of that was due to our caustic coverage of what had been several losing seasons, but some of that was also because I didn’t work for a traditional print or television outlet. He was worried about my professionalism in covering the game. So he requested we have a phone call, which we did around 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning. It went on for an hour, where I attempted to calm his fears by reminding him that this salacious, irresponsible muckraker had been credentialed for the last half-dozen Stanley Cup Finals and had previously worked with him while credentialed to cover the Winter Olympics. Twice. (Eventually, I was approved.) It’s not like that with every team. The Stars and Coyotes are among the easiest to work with for alternative media. But honestly it comes down to which teams need the coverage, and typically their place in the standings.
It’s the centennial anniversary of the league. What do you think the NHL will look like in 50 years?
Amber: In 50 years I expect we’ll see a female head coach lead her team to a Stanley Cup championship. We will have a camera inside the puck for amazing virtual reality television. And Jaromir Jagr will have a long grey mullet but will still lead his team in points.
Buccigross: The NHL will be small, fast, and athletic. If the league is smart it will be more diverse and possibly be even more athletic as football participation numbers continue to dwindle. I think the endboards could possibly be padded like NASCAR walls. If the speed and skill does not result in more goals (I think it will) then I hope the net is made a little bigger. I’ve been calling for a bigger net for 15 years. With fighting on its way out, fans need to be on their feet more screaming during the regular season. It’s doesn’t matter in the playoffs, as the drama and tension is the selling point. But 0–0 ties in the regular season are completely unacceptable. I thought maybe the league needed to ponder going 4-on-4 full time at some point and I would still keep an open mind. The most exciting part of the World Cup of Hockey was Nathan MacKinnon’s overtime 3-on-3 goal. The 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 makes it a complete skillfest. You don’t want a roller hockey game out there but capturing that kind of hockey more would be nice.
Harrington: I want to see the next generation of arenas go to the international ice sheet. The NHL missed a huge opportunity to do that in the arena building boom of the 90s and now it’s all gone, with a game played by bigger and bigger men still on the 200x85-ft sheet. But I was interested to see the new arena opening next year in Detroit has some portability to convert to the bigger ice. For current places now, it’s obviously a revenue thing of ice-level seats. In 50 years, maybe they’ll finally get there. Might even take longer.
Khurshudyan: The only thing I can say confidently is that fighting won’t be part of the game anymore. Last year marked the fewest number of fights per game in the regular season, according to hockeyfights.com, and new rules in the American Hockey League are starting to limit fighting at the development-league level. As the game moves toward speed and skill and needing to have scoring throughout the lineup, there seems to be fewer jobs available for the enforcer types, so they’re steadily being phased out.
McIndoe: We’ll have teams in Europe. We won’t have fighting. There will be very little hitting, at least as we’ve always known it. Every player will wear throat protection, and we’ll shake our heads about when they didn't the same we do for the helmet-less era today. And scoring will be much higher, because new leadership will have realized that offense sells in pro sports and will have made radical changes to the rules to make sure we get some. I wouldn’t be shocked if that included bigger nets, a bigger ice surface, smaller rosters and the end of 5-on-5 play. Also, the Oilers rebuild will be ready to bear fruit any day now.
Myers: Well, considering the rate at which we’re going, I’m guessing the league is going to be incredibly fast. I dream of the NHL becoming more like Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey: blazing fast and wildly entertaining. Current defensive-minded coaches may not dream that, but we’re not asking them. Outside of that, 50 years from now, I hope the salary cap is nowhere to be found.
Portzline: Fighting will no longer be part of the game. It will be long gone. In fact, we’ll look back in horror and disbelief that it ever was part of the game. To be clear, I’m not one of those banging the drum to get rid of it, but you can see where this is going. Bare-knuckle boxing ended around 1867. Yeah, two years after the Civil War. The fact that it still goes on in the sporting world—but only by men wearing skates on ice—is quite something.
Shannon: Fifty years from now? Oh my. I suspect there will be a 36 team league. Add Quebec City, Seattle, Portland, Kansas City and finally a second team in Toronto. Would not be surprised to see smaller rosters, contracts that can go no longer than five years. We will be witnessing the explosion of interest in the game in China, 42 years after the Beijing Winter Olympics of 2022, and probably the first full generation of Chinese born hockey players in the NHL. It will create a business model for hockey that Yao Ming did for basketball. Relations between the NHL and the KHL will improve, and allow for a best-of-seven series between the two championship teams in the month of July ... yup July.
Wyshynski: Underwater hockey, obviously. And the NHL will be affected more by the oceans claiming the coastal cities because it’s such a northeastern sport. But seriously, the NHL will still be a viable brand, and a global one—innovations in travel turn the league into an international one. At least until a tragic transporter mishap disintegrates the Tallahassee Canadiens.
In no particular order, who are some current players who would be successful as radio or television analysts after their career ends and why?
Amber: Joe Thornton and Roberto Luongo—both loved, funny, smart and future Hall of Famers. Either would be a slam dunk. Henrik Lundqvist will have many, many job offers once he retires. He’d be a prefect analyst. Shane Doan, P.K. Subban, David Backes, Scott Hartnell, Mike Camelleri, all would be great if they could handle the pay cut.
Buccigross: P.K. Subban. He has a quick tongue and a quick mind and is the ultimate extrovert in a sport full of public introverts. Brian Boyle has an excellent personality. David Backes of the Bruins could be good as well if he has the desire. At ESPN, the people who have the best chance to be good analysts have to do two things: 1) Make the pivot from player to becoming a media member and 2) Watch all the games. You can tell the analysts who don’t watch the games.
Harrington: Steven Stamkos. But the guy with future TV star plastered all over him is P.K. Subban. He has light-up-the-room personality, enthusiasm, a great voice. His philanthropy is widely known throughout the game and makes him a fabulous representative of the modern player. I’d like to see him on the air right now while he’s still a player during the Stanley Cup playoffs the way Fox has used Alex Rodriguez. Although that might be tough this year because I think Nashville can make a deep, deep run. Goalies always make good TV people so Roberto Luongo might be a good choice. And I think David Backes in Boston could be a standout with a mike as well.
Khurshudyan: The first person who comes to mind is P.K. Subban, as he definitely has the notoriety and the personality for it. New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider did some TV work for NBC Sports during the first round of the playoffs, and he was great at it.
McIndoe: The obvious answer is P.K. Subban, who is already better on TV than most of us. Other names that come to mind include Jarome Iginla, Henrik Lundqvist and Patrice Bergeron. And maybe Joe Thornton, if they can get him to shave.
Myers: I would pay to hear Kris Versteeg do color commentary. Or Brent Burns. Or Versteeg and Burns together, although I’m not sure any of us could handle all of that. But it’d be worth a shot.
Brent Burns—comedic timing
P.K. Subban—magnetic personality
Ron Hainsey—very smart, opinionated
Mark Letestu—wicked smart, very poised
Marc Methot—great talker, loves cameras
Scottie Upshall—third- and fourth liners are the best at this
Joffrey Lupul—really good talker, thinker
T.J. Oshie—good talker
How is Mike Commodore not on TV somewhere? Michael Peca should be a national guy.
Shannon: P.K. Subban will be a great TV announcer. Maybe the next Don Cherry. He is well spoken, not afraid to take a stand, and understands the game. He’s a natural entertainer. During the last work stoppage, P.K. joined our Sportsnet group for a few weeks of coverage. He was outstanding! It’s no wonder that fans in Montreal love him so and in a very short period of time, the fans in Nashville will adopt him as their own. When I ran “Hockey Night in Canada,” I always had an affinity for goaltenders (John Davidson, Glenn Healy, Kelly Hrudey, Greg Millen) and its no different now. Calgary’s Brian Elliott will be an outstanding analyst. He’s well-spoken, and has great vision for the game. He also has the ability to put it to simple terminology, any hockey fan will understand. But a bigger question soon will be, why would they? There isn’t the money in the TV side of this game that there is as a player so most retired guys aren’t motived to work as hard as you have to work to do the job well. There is so much money in the game now, there’s no reason to get a real job after retirement.
Wyshynski: The list begins (and potentially ends) with P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators, who could be the straight-shooting entertainer that’s been missing on NHL television. But I’d also offer up Mike Cammalleri of the New Jersey Devils, who can really break down the game with insight and in layman’s terms; and Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who has opinions on roughly everything in hockey and a brilliantly dry sense of humor.
What rule—in game or of the greater league—would you get rid of and why?
Amber: Anything that encourages more scoring. Here are two ideas. First, allow power plays to go the full two minutes even if teams scores. Also, in overtime, after five minutes of 3-on-3, add another five minutes 2-on-2 if needed. This would effectively end the need for shootouts. Think about the possibilities 2-on-2? Would be amazing.
Buccigross: I would allow hand passes. They allow kicked passes. I would make the net bigger by an inch—all those shots off the posts are now goals. The goal should be 8–10 goals per game. Competitive offense sells. I would allow a Larry Bird type rule to keep some of these great teams together longer. Other than that, I think the game is great as long as regular season goals are being scored.
Harrington: I call them toenail challenges. They gotta go. Using instant replay to bring back goals for offside is the worst use of technology in any sport anywhere. Because now, with every single goal in every game, you have to wonder if the play is going to be challenged for some offside by a couple inches that happened 10, 15 or 20 seconds before the goal was scored and had absolutely nothing to do with the play at all. Gary Bettman is adamant it’s a good thing and it’s staying. Fine then. Put a time limit on it. If the puck enters the zone and it’s an offside and a goal is scored within, say, 5–7 seconds of the infraction, that would be fine. Wipe it out. But if a player is offside by a inch or two—by the length of his toenail I like to say—or his skate is in the air or whatever stupid addendum there is and a goal is scored after that span, it should stand. The offside has zero to do with it. People will say “but wait, the puck wouldn’t be in the zone.” How about the defensive team doing something to get it out after 10–15 seconds?
It’s awful, a ruinous rule that will impact a Stanley Cup being awarded someday. The get-it-right crowd needs to zip it. We’re ruining hockey, just like baseball has ruined sliding into second base, and fixed something that wasn’t broken. So Montreal lost a playoff game two years ago because an obvious offside was missed in overtime against Tampa Bay and we decided to go ruin the sport? Guarantee we would not have gone and done that if it happened against, say, Florida or Columbus or Colorado or other non-marquee teams like that. And under my version, the goal against the Habs would have been called back too.
Khurshudyan: This isn’t really getting rid of anything, but I’d love it if the NHL had a league-wide standard for reporting injuries. Teams treat injuries like state secrets, typically referring to them as “upper-body” or “lower-body.” A system like what the NFL has would be great, but I’d even settle for teams having to tell you what body part is actually injured. Coaches and front office types will tell you that hiding specifics is to protect players from having their injury targeted during a game, but players around the league talk, so I find it hard to believe that an opposing team doesn’t know exactly what someone’s “lower-body” injury is. The secrecy also enables players to play through more than they probably should, which isn’t good for anyone.
McIndoe: The loser point. It’s completely ridiculous that this league still rewards teams for losing. The rule made a small amount of success when it was introduced in 1999, because the league felt they needed to discourage teams from playing for the tie in overtime. But since ties were eliminated with the introduction of the shootout, that reason doesn’t exist anymore. Yet we’re still stuck with this thing. The league tries to justify it by claiming that the loser point makes playoff races closer, but that’s simply not true. All it really accomplishes is artificially inflating the standings and making everyone’s record look better. Which, of course, is the whole point of the rule. GMs love it, because every year roughly 80% of the league gets to be over .500 in terms of points percentage. That’s completely absurd and makes a mockery of the integrity of the standings, but if you can tell your owner that you had a winning record even though you lost 45 games then you might get to keep your job. It’s a confidence scam, nothing more, and it’s embarrassing that we still have it.
Even worse, the practical effect of the rule is that teams are encouraged to play for a tie in regulation. Which they do, especially as the season goes on. In every other sport, the end of a deadlocked game is edge-of-your-seat time, but in the NHL it’s when everyone shuts down and tries to run out of the clock so that the magic bonus point fairy will arrive. At some point, years down the road, we’re going to get rid of this thing. And then future generations will look back at the record books and wonder why the standings were all screwed up for decades and everyone was just OK with it.
Myers: Get rid of the shootout. Just play 3-on-3 until someone wins. Even if that takes 20 minutes, I’d rather watch that than nine rounds of players shooting into a goaltender’s leg pads.
Portzline: I’m ready to put the red line back in, but I’m in the minority here, I’m sure. I don’t think it’s had the desired effect, and too many games are bogged down by long passes that are off-mark and don’t lead to anything. It’s ping-pong.
Shannon: I would remove the trapezoid behind the net, and allow goaltenders to play the puck everywhere behind the goal line. It will help protect attacking players crashing into the offensive zone, and reward goaltenders who can play the puck. Last I checked, they have a stick to use, too. I might also put the center red line back and equalize the three zones to 60 feet each. The current small neutral zone allows for a ton more chances for passive defense. My gut says those changes would help open the game up a lot more.
Wyshynski: That pucks that are “kicked into” the net aren’t counted as goals. The standard is that goals aren’t counted if there’s a "distinct kicking motion,” and any hockey fan will tell you no one knows what the hell that means. You can deflect the puck, you can nudge the puck, you can do a lot with the puck off your skate and the goal will count. So dump the rule, because hey, it’s not like we can’t use the goals. I mean, how else are we getting on “SportsCenter?” A fight? We don’t even have those anymore.
What is a story in the NHL that is being under-covered and why is it being under-covered?
Amber: Tough question. I have heard some rumblings from people inside the game that there is recreational drug use by some players. It doesn’t get a lot of media attention I think because the league and NHLPA handles the issue in-house with the goal of rehabilitating players without releasing their names. I think that’s fair as long as the issue is being addressed.
Buccigross: The league is very white and it makes me uncomfortable at times. The NHL has many forward-thinking people in its administrative offices and the league is in a constant grind in trying to grow revenues. But I think more needs to be done. I need to think about this more and deeply before saying too much but it has been on my mind for awhile. The NHL and its players have been very thoughtful and forward in the You Can Play project. The league and its players are part of an extremely thoughtful and charitable league that is international and generally worldly. And the league is involved in wonderful programs like Hockey in Harlem. But I believe race is the final frontier for the NHL. I think it needs to be reemphasized because it’s right, and because it makes good business sense. Perhaps because the league is still so young in warm weather climate cities, we need another 50–100 years of natural and organic growth through diversity. However, I wonder if there is an opportunity to open hockey academies in American cities and subsidize teams through grants, investments and aggressively attack this.
Harrington: I think the shrinking of goalie equipment is something that’s not getting the play it should but it’s hard for the local beat writers to really get a grip on it. It’s a time-consuming tale. You don’t have a lot of contact with equipment manufacturers, which is true in any sport. There’s probably a lot of proprietary information going on there with them. Players are fighting amongst themselves for goalies to dial things back and some goalies themselves want a more level playing field. The guys who want changes talk about it freely while the ones who want to keep cheating stay quiet. The process is taking forever, too. Scoring is up so far, which is good. If it goes back down, maybe this story will jump out more and get tackled. But it’s complicated. When you’re jumping on that flight to Edmonton or Denver or Philly or Tampa and criss-crossing two countries, you don’t often have time to deep dive into issues.
Khurshudyan: Considering Gary Bettman’s recent denial of any proven link between head trauma and the brain damage condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), I’m surprised the ongoing class action lawsuit against the NHL from former players hasn’t gotten more coverage. Considering that the NHL’s biggest star—Sidney Crosby—has dealt with concussions throughout his career, the issue of head injuries as a whole does not seem to get the attention in professional hockey that it does in the NFL. The incident with Dennis Wideman, who hit a linesman during a game and then was later ruled to have been in a “concussed state” at the time, got a lot of attention and spurned new NHL protocol with concussion spotters. But the coverage seemed to drop back off after that.
McIndoe: In general terms, we still don’t do a very good job of covering Xs and Os. Sometimes you’ll hear us talk about a coach implementing a new system, or we’ll criticize a guy for being out of position. But that’s as far as it goes; we don’t take the next step of explaining where he was supposed to be or how the system is different from the old one. When I read about other sports, I’ll see guys like ESPN’s Bill Barnwell or Zach Lowe break down what happened on a specific play or sequence, but that’s very rare in hockey coverage. You might see a vague mention of specific game plan elements, but it’s usually just being passed down directly from a coach or player without much explanation for what they mean.
As for why, I think the simple answer is that hockey is just a very tough game to analyze that way, and most of us aren’t good at it. Hockey is fast, it’s free-flowing, and a lot of the key moments arrive in small details that are easy to miss when they happen. And even when everything a team wants to do is executed perfectly, there’s so much luck involved that the outcome might not match what should have happened. I’ve been watching this sport obsessively for three decades, and I still don’t know it well enough to really explain what all 10 skaters are doing on a given shift. And that makes it tempting to skip over the tough stuff and turn the whole thing into a morality play about heart and compete levels and who wants it more. But that’s not what it is, and I do think that it’s an area where we need to do better. Fans deserve that. We’re in an era where the game is over-coached and team systems dominate individual creativity. We have to be able to figure out a way to tell that story without just hand-waving away the details.
Myers: Not sure there is an under-covered story anymore. I think concussion-related stories may have fallen in this category in the past but they’re coming to the forefront now, and rightfully so.
Portzline: Concussions. The NFL has taken the brunt of this because they’re the biggest game in the country. They deserve all the negative attention they’ve received, if not more. But the NHL has largely gone unnoticed, outside of a few national types that are tracking this and writing it.
Shannon: To me it’s the amount of influence the equipment manufacturers have in trying to streamline goaltenders’ equipment. For years, the manufacturers have changed the quality and size of equipment to the detriment goal scoring, and as far as skaters’ equipment, they have increased the price of equipment, not just in the NHL but throughout every level of the game. The league has tried in the last decade or so to monitor and take control of the process, to little success. The manufacturers have far too much power.
Wyshynski: If we’re talking about the traditional media, then the answer is “every story” because the NHL gets less coverage than college football uniform changes.
If we’re talking within the hockey media, then it’s the care and support given to players after they retire from the NHL. Daniel Carcillo has been at the forefront of this issue in a series of articles on The Players’ Tribune, but I don’t think the NHL and the NHLPA have really been pressed on it. Especially when the concussion lawsuit the league is facing is more about financial support for players struggling after their careers ended than any material negligence from the league on concussions during their playing days. The concussion lawsuit has gotten coverage—mostly from non-rightsholders, to the surprise of no one—but this aspect of it, much less so.
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. Sports TV ratings reported ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” were down 21% in viewership versus 2015 since Labor Day. Given this is the most respected and watched show of the sports debate genre (though the show is more about chemistry, and in most cases, intelligence, than debate), those who traffic in sports opinion should pay close attention. The genre might have hit its apex as far as ratings.
1b. Through five weeks of the NFL season, “Fox NFL Kickoff” (11–12 a.m. ET) had averaged 1.2 million viewers during its second season, up 21% from 987,000 viewers during the same point last season, according to Sports Business Daily assistant managing editor Austin Karp. That’s interesting on two levels. First, adding a second pregame show on big Fox has proven to be a smart and profitable move for the network. Second, ESPN’s “NFL Countdown” is down 10% in 2016, and undoubtedly Fox’s show has taken some viewers away from ESPN during the 11-noon hour.
1c. Karp said “Fox NFL Sunday” had averaged 4.6 million viewers through Week 5, down slightly from 4.8 million viewers last year.
1d. College football overnight ratings:
Ohio State-Wisconsin (ABC): 5.6
Alabama-Tennessee: 4.1 (CBS)
Clemson-N.C. State (ABC): 3.3
Nebraska-Indiana: 2.4 (ABC)
FS1’s aired Game 1 of the Cubs-Dodgers NLCS against Ohio State-Wisconsin. The MLB game drew a 3.9 overnight and 5.9 million viewers.
1e. NBCSN’s NHL season opener—Chicago vs. St. Louis—drew 905,000 viewers. It was the fifth most-watched regular season game ever on that network.
1f. Per Karp of Sports Business Daily: ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 308,000 viewers for the World Cup of Hockey, a disappointing number given the network’s hype and marketing push for the tournament. For a comparison, the NHL regular season on NBCSN for the 2015–16 season averaged 378,000 viewers.
1g. Karp said an average of 1.13 million Canadians watched World Cup of Hockey games on Sportsnet. The best audience was the Canada-Russia semifinal on Sept. 24, which drew 3.09 million viewers.
1h. Sportsnet’s NHL insiders offered predictions for the upcoming season.
1i. NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reported on Sunday that Colin Kaepernick’s locker room stance has drawn him closer to his teammates. That’s an interesting report because it would contradict a narrative posited by some sports TV bloviators that Kaepernick had become a distraction.
“Before all this, and even when Colin Kaepernick was thriving as a starter a couple years back, he was not the most well-liked guy in the locker room,” Rapoport said. “At the least, he really was alone a lot of the time and really didn’t interact with his teammates and wasn’t seen smiling and was just a little bit different. It seems when he took his social stance it really ignited the conversation in the 49ers locker room. They took to him and it sort of created a new openness for the quarterback and for his teammates. He really is one of the guys now it seems.”
2. Fox Sports MLB director Matt Gangl has spent two decades directing baseball, including the last 17 years with the Brewers and Twins via his job as the senior show director for Fox Sports North and Fox Sports Wisconsin. For the last three MLB seasons, Gangl has directed the No. 2 baseball team on Fox’s MLB coverage as a contracted freelancer.
Last week, Gangl had the unique experience of directing three different postseason games in three different cities over the course of a 56-hour span. His itinerary included Game 2 of Dodgers-Nationals in Washington D.C. (Oct. 9, 1 p.m. ET), Game 3 (Oct. 10, 9 p.m. ET) of Cubs-Giants in San Francisco, and Game 4 (Oct. 11, 5 p.m.) of Dodgers-Nationals series in L.A.
“It was like nothing I have ever experienced,” Gangl said. “A unique challenge, both mentally and physically. I have worked many days in a row before—20 day-long stretches of regular season baseball games and I’ve bounced around from basketball to baseball to hockey in the same week—but I’ve never had back-to-back-to-back games like this.”
Gangl said he had to immerse himself quickly in the Cubs-Giants series, and did so by reading everything he could on both teams in an abbreviated time frame, as well as watching clips of each team. I’ve long been interested in how sports TV directors approach their craft so I asked Gangl to describe his philosophy when it comes to directing MLB games.
“First and foremost is simply cover the game,” he said. “Make sure the viewers get to experience every moment within the game, give the viewer the big picture, what’s the defensive alignment, who’s on deck, who’s in the bullpen, where are the runners on base and set up the scenarios that are happening within the game. You want to bring the viewer closer to the game with cameras on the field, whether it’s bringing the pitcher out to the mound, walking a batter up to the plate, or the best which is being on the field with the home run hitter as he rounds third base and goes into the dugout. [You want to] capture the drama, emotion on the field, in the dugouts, from fans in the stands, to the most important dramatic moments—the battle/conflict between pitcher and batter. I’ve always thought baseball was a beautiful game to watch. As a director, I try to capture images and moments that convey that beauty to our viewers.”
2a. Sports Media Watch said FS1 averaged 3.7 million viewers for its nine NLDS telecasts, which was up 32% from its ALDS coverage last year (2.8M) and up 18% from its NLDS coverage in 2014 (3.1M).
2b. The Cubs-Giants Game 4 drew 6,368,000 viewers on Oct. 11, the most watched telecast in FS1 history.
2c. FS1 said its MLB postgame show immediately following the Cubs’ win over the Giants was the most-watched postgame show on FS1 in 2016 with 1,874,000 viewers.
3. Episode 82 of the “Sports Illustrated Media Podcast” features Turner Sports reporter and NBA.com columnist David Aldridge.
In this episode, Aldridge discusses competing against NBA insiders such as Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc Stein; transitioning from print journalism to television; how he interacts with tough interviews such as Gregg Popovich; why Charles Barkley has had longevity in broadcasting, the most interesting people to talk to in the NBA; how his relationship with Tony Kornheiser started and why it continues today; whether the Cavs and Warriors will meet again in the NBA finals; why the NBA has been a progressive league when it comes to people of color covering it and much more.
3a. Episode 81 of the “Sports Illustrated Media Podcast” featured Clinton Yates, a senior writer for The Undefeated.
In this episode, Yates discusses the journalism ethos of The Undefeated, an ESPN-housed site on the intersection of sports, race and culture; why he left the Washington Post to take a job at the site; what it was like to work at the Post as a young writer; why readers should invest in The Undefeated given ESPN shelved Grantland after a couple of years; why Michael Wilbon is a mentor for Yates; the success and failure of opinion-based sports shows on television; whether readers are interested in the intersection of sports and politics; working for the late George Michael at WRC-4 in Washington, D.C.; surviving a near-death car accident at 19 and much more.
4. Sports pieces of note:
• ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz wrote a terrific piece on openly gay NBA referee Bill Kennedy.
• Last week saw the launch of SI True Crime, devoted to in-depth, enhanced storytelling on sports crime and punishment. This first piece is from Richard O’Brien, on the Will Smith murder case.
• Former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bill Lyon writes movingly about his battle with Alzheimer’s: The first of 4 parts.
• Via New York Times reporter Marc Tracy: Houston’s coach pecks away at football’s macho culture, a kiss at a time.
• SI’s S.L. Price on the impact of Jose Fernandez’s death.
• From Vice Sports: Cory Lidle’s widow on his plane crash, and how she carries on.
• Via Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde: The story behind what made American swimmer Cody Miller the happiest bronze medalist in Rio.
Non sports pieces of note:
• A janitor felt invisible to Georgetown students—until one changed his life.
• Curtis Sittenfeld, writing for the The New Yorker, pens a lovely tribute to a friend who has cancer.
• From The New York Times editor Michael Luo: “I wrote an open letter to the woman who told my family to go back to China.”
• Via Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept: On WikiLeaks, Journalism, and Privacy: Reporting on the Podesta Archive is an easy call.
• Via The Washington Post: I’m one of the Central Park Five. Donald Trump won’t leave me alone.
• From The Guardian: Is China’s gaokao the world’s toughest school exam?
• From Pulitzer Prize winner Eli Saslow: The white flight of Derek Black.
• From The Guardian: How the business of bottled water went mad.
5. SI’s Jonathan Jones recently spoke to ESPN’s Randy Moss about broadcasting.
5a. Here’s an overview of ESPN’s college basketball schedule.
5b. The Sporting News’s Michael McCarthy first reported that NBA insider Chris Broussard will be moving from ESPN to FS1. Broussard spent 12 years at ESPN and confirmed the news on Friday. Given FS1 has very little NBA presence outside of its debate shows, it will be interesting to see Broussard’s role. Broussard did appear often on ESPN2’s “First Take,” which is where he interacted with Fox Sports Networks president Jamie Horowitz.
5c. SI’s Jon Wertheim has joined Showtime’s “60 Minutes Sports” as a full-time correspondent. Wertheim also conducted an interesting interview for his Beyond The Baseline podcast with Cari Champion, now an ESPN SportsCenter anchor and a former Tennis Channel staffer.
5d. Sports TV ratings reported that that “Fox Sports Live with Jay and Dan” (Onrait and O’Toole) drew 493,000 viewers following a Giants-Cubs game last week, one of the highest viewership totals for that show in 2016. People know I think those guys have gotten a raw deal on marketing so glad to see viewers got exposed to what they are doing today.
5e. ESPN announced its Division I ice hockey schedule.
5f. Boston Globe sports media writer Chad Finn reported on Jemele Hill and Michael Smith’s move to the “SportsCenter” desk.
5g. Eric Mirlis, who worked as a coordinating producer at FS1 in that network’s news department before they gutted news personnel, has a new book out featuring 65 sports broadcasters discussing the top sports moments they’ve seen in person while working or as a fan. Among the broadcasters profiled are Marv Albert (who also wrote the Foreword), Joe Buck, Bob Costas, Mike Greenberg, Jim Nantz and Bob Ryan. The book can be purchased here.
5f. The Undefeated is partnering with Morgan State University for research that will focus on the image of black female athletes and the path of black coaches to the NFL.