Sunday, April 22, 2007

The NHL on NBC.

First off, it LOOKS great.

Hockey in HD is such a joy, that I almost don't mind NBC's cowardly and obnoxious editorial angle on the Calgary/Detroit series. Prior to the New Jersey/Tampa Bay broadcast, once again, the nefarious stench of Bettman was most certainly hanging in the air. I'd expect and embrace it from former Red Wing Brett Hull, but this from Ray Ferraro, the NHL color man once known as a little ball of hate*, but now mostly famous for spilling food on his shirt:

"We'll wait to see on suspensions, but the only thing the Calgary Flames did in the third period is embarrass themselves."

And this, from Mr. $20,000 dollars for a inspirational speech/snake-oil salesman Bill Clement:

"If you had a foul taste in your mouth this morning, it might be because you watched the end of the Calgary-Detroit game"

Doesn't that sound a little harsh?

Yes, there were punches getting thrown, and some cheap shots taken by the Flames, but to ignore that there was a strategy behind their actions and simply call them ignorant thugs is to do a disservice to what makes a long playoff hockey series so great.

After Daymond Lankow responded to a hip check with one of the most entertaining uppercuts I've seen in the NHL in years, Detroit didn't rise to the bait. So Jamie McLennan went into the Calgary net to relieve one of the best goaltenders in recent history who (according to the Flames) has been getting run into all series. Already losing 5-1 and about to go down three games to two in a hard fought series against a heavily favored opponent, Mclennan stands up for his teammate and starts swinging his stick. He is trying to light a fire under his team in a losing effort, and sacrifices what little postseason playing time he is likely to receive. He is saying loud and clear that if Detroit wants to beat this team, they aren't going to do so without a couple of lumps to remember them by. You know what that's called?

Taking one for the team.

Was it illegal?


Should he have been thrown out?

Most certainly.

Was it an interesting, creative and aggressive way to up the ante for two upcoming must win games?

Well, according to NBC, it was "embarrassing," "awful," "classless" and "deserves suspensions."

There are plenty of instances in recent years of behavior on NHL rinks that deserves this kind of reaction. The Todd Bertuzzi hit on Steve Moore, the recent Chris Simon cross check on Ryan Hollweg's throat, Marty McSorely cracking Donald Brashear over the head with a stick were all awful and deserved the criticism that they received.

But the end of that Calgary game was simply not a similar situation.

When Clement, Ray Ferraro and Brett Hull all join the chorus of how terrible and shameful and awful the Calgary Flames behaved, it's quite simply poor hockey reporting. There certainly is an argument that can be made for some Calgary players getting suspensions. But what makes me angry is the utter lack of understanding or debate that there were logical, strategic reasons for Calgary to behave this way.

The Stanley Cup is on the line, the Flames have two games to win, and let's be honest- they're not going to be able to win them with Jaime McLennan in net, which makes him expendable. They weren't going to win game five and wanted to send a message. Yes, the Flames wanted to give the Wings some deep bruises, force them away from the front of the net, and fire up their team. They are an 8th seed, playing a very good Detroit team, and were facing two straight elimination games after being beaten soundly in game five.

So what would you have them do? Skate out the tail end of a 5-1 loss like gentleman?

Offer a gentle curtsy to the Detroit Red Wings and wish them well in the next round?

They had good reasons for doing what they did, and the story, if there is one, is how that strategy simply didn't work, thanks to the tremendous discipline and class of the Detroit Red Wings for not rising to Calgary's bait. The Flames had no weapons left. They weren't going to outscore them, so they thought they'd try outfighting them, and getting fired up for game 6. Detroit, realizing they didn't need it, walked away, and were denied the credit they deserve for weathering the storm of an aggressive, violent strategy by the Calgary Flames.

There is a way to respect the game and its traditions, and if the NBC team had explained to it's audience how classy the Wings were, instead of how awful the Flames were, the game would have been done a service.

Instead, once again, they came out in front of America, and spilled food down the front of their shirts.

*CORRECTION: 4/23/07: Oops. I should have known this, but Pat Vebeek was the "little ball of hate." Ferraro was known as the "big ball of hate." I was writing fast, and F'd it up. Thanks to Dougie for the catch.


Dear Lord Stanley said...

Never commented before, and I have to say your blog is generally one of excellence.

But I have to take the bait on this one, even if Detroit won't.

Repeatedly slashing an opposing player with a goalie stick is not an effective way to fire up your team---or, it if is, it just makes you look terrible in the process. McLennan was shameful. Why resort to stick work when legal hitting and a couple of fights will do the trick? And why wait to try to spark your team when you're already losing by a ton of goals? McLennan's bullshit came way too late in the game to spark anything of value. And Iginla's cheap butt-ending tricks didn't work either.

Calgary got out-played and out-classed, and instead of turning up their own skills and intensity, resorted to hacking at the Wings with their sticks. How bush league can you be?

I shook my head at most of what Hull and Chicken Parm said today on TV, but I agreed with them that Calgary looked like a bunch of ECHL-ers, or worse.

We'll just have to respectfully disagree. Hopefully it won't result in you taking a stick to my gut!

Ritch said...

Well, It's hard to argue that the Flames responded with class, and your point that JM's hyjinx came too late in the game is well taken.

My gripe is not with your argument, which is valid, it's that mine (also valid) was was not presented on NBC.

If the Flames had been down five-one and were about to be eliminated, I'd be singing along with everybody. There is no reason to behave that way.

But the Flames had one game left, and as we all know now, Franzen wasn't so injured that he couldn't pot the gamewinner in double OT last night. Additionally, perhaps as a result of his stick swinging, the Flames got an advantageous goalie interference penalty in game six, a call they weren't getting before.

The main problem I have is, the second hockey gets a national audience in this county, the voices of the game choose to spend their time apologising for it rather than celebrating what makes it great.

If they had pointed out that Calgary's strategy was flawed and Detroit's discipline is something to be admired, I would have been all for it.

But to react as though what happened in the waning moments of game five was nothing but a disgusting embarrassment, is- well, nothing but a disgusting embarrassment.

Alec said...

Can I throw a little gas on this fire for a second?

I think what calgary did was fine- and justified.

Yes- McLennen lost it and was way out of line. No argument there- but what he did was what Kipprusof knew he couldn't do. Kiprusof is probably buying McLennen a Rolex today.

However- Brent Lebda's "Hip-check" on Daymond Langkow was the kind of hit that ends careers (See Ulfy vs. Neely on that one). Langkow was kind for not giving him three or four more haymakers, breaking his jaw and nocking out a few teeth. Langkow held back after the first punch- big time.

That kind of hit- with a 5-1 lead is- in my mind just as bad as McLennen's t-ball hit to franzen's guts. At the last minute Lebda ducked and went for the knees- That's really cheap.

Langkow is one of Calgary's go-to guys and makes players like Iginla and Tanguay better.

And who the fuck is Brent Lebda anyways?

Iginla's response was not that bad- giving a hard elbow and cross check on a top defenseman (who is pretty old) is something Ray Bourque, Paul Coffee, Rob Blake and any of numerous #1 or #2 defensemen league wide expect to deal with in the playoffs.

The wings- held their cool, but they were certainly not innocent or the victims in that scuffle. Every time calgary pushed the wings pushed right back.

What NBC screwed up is what they always screw up-

They make hockey about individual players. All of these games are about team work- team play and standing up for the guy next to you. No one guy can win a stanley cup- you have to play as a team and you have to fight as a team. The bruins could learn a thing or two from watching this series.

Canucks-Dallas game 7 tongiht.

Charles said...

The only thing I disagree with is the idea that a suspension wasn't warranted. McLennan absolutely was going to get a long rest after he sucker-slashed Franzen.

Just think. If McLennan had been able to play out the game, Kiprusoff may have had the energy to make the save in 2OT. I like to think that, anyway.

Just glad my guys didn't blow up in Round 1 again.

joe said...

the only thing to add is this...

The Mclennan slash was out of line, uncalled for and way over the top. The Flames had already made their case about goaltender interference(see the penalty called on Maltby earlier in the game). The slash was dangerous and over the top. If he wanted to send a message he could have put his shoulder into him. That kind of stick work should be punished severely.

Overall, the NBC reaction to the violence was negative, and I agree that they should have spun it in the direction that you say. However, that particular play was terrible and their reaction was on track. There is no room for play like that. And at the end of the day it feels pretty similar to what McSorley did.

Dear Lord Stanley said...

"to what McSorley did"

and Chris Simon, and Bertuzzi...