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.



9 thoughts on “The NHL Is Its Own Worst Enemy”

  1. Your comments concerning Milbury’s old school mentality is just another sorry addition to what keeps Hockey from suceeding. It permeates down from the the top level NHL executives to the referees and finally to it’s mouthpieces. The big picture is the stars and what we need to do to protect them. would rather see goons skating in the games rather than Crosby, Malkin or Stamkos?
    Money talks and bull…. walks. The grace and precision of the game sells tickets. Not cheap violence. Violence can be taken care of by letting the goons fight each other between periods. Get the WCW to help promote it.

    Obviously I am being facetious. The gentlemen, and I use that word loosely, who suggests letting other sports fans become viewers would lower the collective IQ of hockey fans has to be kidding. that sound you hear is fanslike him who promote violence in the sport, is the collective IQ dropping. Fighting does have it’s role in hockey. It is the random violence and head hunting that does not. The NHL needs to take a hard look at itself (from the top, to it’s referees, and then to it’s broadcasters) if it expects to grow into a first tier sport.

    Michael, continue on your path. You truly have insight and are a gifted writer.

  2. Very, very impressive article, you really get it and if the NHL were as informed it would be in a much better place. You have made me a reader of your articles now thanks to your fresh understanding of the game and just simply saying the right things, things that need to be said. If some people can’t understand what it means when someone fails at every juncture of their lives then they never will because they don’t want to.

    I’ve been a hockey fan for over 50 years and a season ticket holder for 22 straight seasons. There’s no better game on the planet for me and I’ve spent well over $100K 0n season tickets alone not to mention everything else. Yet I’m being ripped off and now sell over half of my regular season tickets easily with the new and wonderful ticket exchange option at my Sharks web site. No doubt this option came about because of anything but season ticket holders’ demands. 

    You see I got a wonderful 60″ wall mounted plasma with surround and we really enjoy watching hockey on TV and get NHL Center Ice. Not trying to brag, honestly, but most of the regular season games just aren’t worth the price of admission which is very expensive. NHL season ticket holders pay a greater % of the total costs than any other major sport because NHL marketing hasn’t brought in the dough to offset those costs. It all comes down to $. I was fortunate to have dinner with several top level ABC sports executives and told them all I thought they were missing out on the most exciting sport, the NHL. They seemed to all laugh in unison! Remember this was just after ESPN dropped the NHL rejecting it’s $600 million offer after having been paid $3oo million on the previous contract. 

    So I just pick out every game we want to go to during the regular season, sell the rest for a premium and attend every play-off game but that’s when they really get you because if you go all the way to the finals, the ticket price goes up 260% in 2012. 

    The good-ole-boy NHL brass is also to blame for the embarrassing level of officiating and scheduling. Sure wish they’d clean up their act and they’ll not be doing it by the likes of Mike Milbury. They must listen more to people like Michael Viola and the others that put this article together. Congrats!

  3. With so many awesome storylines to write about (playoff races, Stamkos, the Rangers resurgence, etc…), this crybaby writer — who thinks he knows more than the commissioner about running the business of the NHL — has to complian on how the league does not operate in the EXACT manner he wishes. 

    This season is probably the most successful in league history, even with two Original Six Superpowers occupying the cellar.  Dropping this level of negativity on a gem of a season is ridiculous.

  4. The  “35th concussion” comment went a little too far but the rest of it is just his normal BS! The comments will probably make him a star, look what it did for Don Cherry!!!

  5. Agree with him or not, Milbury represents an old school mentality of game that still persists today.  There’s an element of toughness, bravado and gamesmanship in the game that his comments speak to.  We shouldn’t need to strip away all this type of color and raw commentary in order to sugarcoat everything for public consumption.  You saw the guys on the ice, and the bench, probably saying the same kinds of things Milbury said, so why not convey that on the broadcast?  I’m fine with it and appreciate his candor.

  6.  You are missing a big point here. The NHL would be crazy to hire PR flaks to “promote” the game. That’s what we get from politicians and soap salesmen. Let a guy say what he thinks. He’s talking to the fans, and they are legion around the world. Soccer to me is a three tier sport and all the suave selling in the world is not going to get me to watch a game. Yet billions would disagree. That’s their privilege and mine too.

  7. Going a little overboard here. First of all, the NFL is by far the most popular sport. And your average NFL fan is a knuckle dragging troglodyte…….just go to any NFL game and behold the drunken idiocy in the stands. Far more vile and offensive than any hockey fight. It’s the same as watching the game at the local dive bar with 100 or more tanked idiots and blowhards. There is more violence in the stands of an NFL game than on the ice at any NHL game. 

    I wonder how many people who bemoan hockey’s fight culture out of one side of their mouths, turn around and cheer on a UFC match out of the other. I’d imagine the %-age is pretty high. 

    The NBA? These people can have it. Dunks are for the lowest common denominator. 

    Fight culture and violence aren’t keeping the NHL down. It is simply not a culturally American game and never will be. It will always be for the niche fan……and I love it. I don’t want mass acceptance for hockey in this country. I don’t want those NBA/NFL fans coming to the games and dragging down the collective IQ. 

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