The NHL Is Its Own Worst Enemy

(Photo courtesy of NBC Sports)

There is a reason the NHL is seen as a third tier sport by most sport fans in this country.

To the vast majority, the NHL is just boxing on ice. It’s a sport designated for neanderthals. In order to play you are required to be missing teeth and brain cells.

When hockey is discussed on networks outside of NBC Sports, or any other NHL affiliate, the topics being discussed are usually fights and mullets. Game-day clips are followed by punchlines. The sooner they can get back to NBA dunk highlights, the better.

As a fan of the sport, and someone who knows just how great the game is, it kills me to know that the NHL is doing this to itself.

Lately the league has been doing a lot of things right when it comes to promoting the game. The Winter Classic sits atop that list. However, it seems with every step forward, they take two steps back.

The issue here isn’t if fighting should be banned. It isn’t their stance on head shots. It isn’t market share.

The problem the NHL has right now are the people who are supposedly tasked with promoting and representing the game on television. More specifically, people like Mike Milbury.

This is a guy who is a national analyst for NHL broadcasts. Broadcasts that are meant to capture the attention of new fans and anyone else who may be interested in the sport.

What do these viewers get when they listen to Milbury? Viewers who may be uneducated about the game and are looking to learn something.

Do they learn something about why the game is great? Does Milbury promote the stars of league and their talents? Does he praise the speed and skill it takes to the play the sport at its highest level? Does he explain the dangers of the sport and what the league is doing to minimize them?

Anyone who has ever actually listed to Milbury knows the answer to those questions.

What does he do instead? He makes jokes out of concussions and promotes violence. He praises guys who take cheap shots and then he flings dirt at the league’s stars.

Remember, this guy is a national representative of the NHL. His job is to promote the sport. Instead he just amplifies its stereotypes and gives ammunition to the game’s detractors.

Take his recent comments on Philadelphia’s WIP radio discussing the recent game between the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Milbury ripped Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, calling him “Little goody two-shoes” and adding, “Crosby gets cross-checked, big whoop. He said after he came back from his 35th concussion, ‘I’m not going to get into scrums.’ He couldn’t help himself because there’s a little punk in Crosby. He’s not the perfect gentleman. He’s not the sweet kid you see in interviews with his hat pulled down over his eyes. Screw him, hit him.”

Mind you, the cross check Milbury is referring to happened well after the whistle and was a pure cheap shot from behind. Otherwise known as a dirty shot.

Milbury also went on to accuse Penguins coach Dan Bylsma of wearing “a skirt” because he didn’t confront Flyers coach Peter Laviolette between the benches. “I thought Dan Bylsma should have taken off his skirt and gone over there.”

Great analysis of the game there. Where does he get such deep insight from?

Is that what the league wants? Its coaches jumping benches and fighting. Bylsma should have been praised for showing his restraint and control. Instead he was mocked because Milbury thinks the right thing to do is to reduce yourself to violence.

Remember, this is a guy hired by NBC and approved by the NHL to represent the league and promote hockey. If the NHL wants to promote hockey by making jokes about its star players getting concussed and that its coaches should fight more often, then Milbury is doing a great job.

Or maybe they should find a guy who knows the right things to say. Who can relay the same messages the NHL is. That concussions are a serious issue. That the sport isn’t all about violence. That the good ole’-boy mentality isn’t always the best one to have in today’s NHL.

Imagine the NFL allowing a broadcaster to make jokes out of Peyton Manning’s neck injuries, or the MLB being okay when one of their national broadcasters says that managers need to clear their benches more or calling Albert Pujols a “punk”.

The NHL needs to make better decisions when choosing their representatives. Maybe allowing a guy who was charged with assaulting a 12-year-old boy during a youth hockey game doesn’t have the best character and isn’t the best choice to represent you. Perhaps he doesn’t have the best mind-set.

If the NHL wants to grow the game on television, then it needs to start with those who will be in front of the camera. They need someone who talks hockey and can relay the messages of the league. Someone who can illustrate why the game is great and why is it loved by so many.

They don’t need a guy who praises unnecessary violence and cheap shots. They don’t need a guy who makes jokes out of injuries. And they really don’t need a guy who takes more from the sport than he gives.

Milbury has failed as a coach. He has failed as a GM. Now he has completely failed as a broadcaster.