Lazy Toronto Sports Media’s New Leafs Narrative

On a cold November night, a lone person is seen walking into a graveyard in Southern Ontario. Under one arm, Geiger counter; under the other, a Ouija board. They stop at a grave site and lay the board down, setting the Geiger on the headstone. When they get a reading from the counter, they ask; “As a former champion, what do you think the Maple Leafs need to win the Stanley Cup??”

I would not be surprised if one of the Toronto media scribes goes this route on their parade of asking that question to former Cup champions. It happened with Alex Ovechkin, it happened with Drew Doughty, it’s happened with Eddie Shack and odds are it’ll happen to anyone who’s name has been etched on the silver trophy. My biggest surprise is that Doughty didn’t rebuke what he said despite the fact there was a recording of him– but that’s another piece for another time.

The fact that the narrative now when it comes to the Leafs is asking former champions what needs to be done and mimic them rather than actually addressing the problems on their own is a bit odd. As my co-host Jonny P said this week, at this point just plan the parade now and maybe they’ll luck out and win the thing. What works for one team or one player doesn’t necessarily work for the rest of the NHL, especially not the Leafs who have plenty of dynamic players who may or may not be gelling as much as people had hoped or thought.

Let’s not forget the idea of people already are calling for a “Come to Jesus” kind of talk to happen with Auston Matthews. There’s always a constant panic in Leafs land when this team who was supposed to be destined for greatness (in their minds) isn’t taking the league by storm and steamrolling over everyone. They see the shiny things that are up front, but completely disregard their lack of defense– even with Tyson Barrie back there– and then have to wonder what the problem is when they haven’t won the Presidents Trophy by late-January.

But if you fire Mike Babcock, that’ll fix everything and make things better…except it won’t. Would it help a little?? Perhaps, but what’s the replacement for him and will they be any better with their scheme in order to make the defense better??

I digress– the point is that the new narrative set out that scribes are talking to other players about what needs to be fixed with the team they cover is not only lazy, but unnecessary for the task at hand. You get into a player scrum or request to talk to a player for purpose, more often than not, when you’re writing about a topic. Sometimes you’re in a scrum for a tidbit that drops and make a story out of that– sure– but to ask them about the team their facing and what they need to do to win a championship like that player gives a good goddamn about any other team winning a championship.

However, it’s instant click-bait material and something that the rest of the Toronto media will eat up like Tiny Tim with the gruel because they need the hot takes to fill the hours of radio and TV they use to cover the Leafs to appease that fan-base.

Hell, maybe it’s time to talk about how the Bruins are being so dominant that the Leafs could actually make it past the first round because they won’t be in a position to face Boston right off the bat. Maybe actually press GM Kyle Dubas about Babcock’s future and what’s needed on the blue line to make the team more viable as a contender when push comes to shove. Maybe actually go against the MLSE overloads and have an opinion that doesn’t go with the grain and actually has some kind of meaning to it.

…nah, that’s too much work and would take too much character from Toronto writers to do. Yeah, just ask other– more successful– players about how to fix the Leafs and see how that works out in the long-run.

Ever on the Cutting Edge, NHL on NBC to Start Podcasting

Look, I know what you’re thinking– you love Wednesday Night Hockey and their personalities, but it’s only on TV and streaming and it’s only a couple hours. Well, ladies and gentlemen– you’re in luck. NBC announced Tuesday that they’re going to be starting a podcast with their NHL on NBC personalities called “Our Line Starts.” You can even hear a preview of Keith Jones talking into a plastic cup.

I know, right?? Just want you wanted!!

Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick will host and they’ll have a typical interview and analyst situation that all castrated corporate podcasts have and all the people think it’s great because it’s got big names…

I’m just glad NBC finally got on the podcast train for hockey. I was worried that they’d wait a couple more years after the ship had been sailing off the coast. It’s amazing to me that in a world of independent and team-based podcasts that NBC things– yeah, this is what we need to get into now to get more ears on us and not rip us a new one for being a generic studio/broadcast.

Now, I could be a shill about this and say that a podcast I do should have more eyes and ears to it, but we’ve done it for 18 years and I hold out no hope for us to make it big– so fuck it, let’s run down the exclusive broadcaster of the NHL in the United States. Plus, I already called the NHL cowards and dared them to hire our show to show they weren’t cowards…so there’s that.

There’s so many hockey podcasts out there that are going to be better than listening to the NBC podcast, so just listen to them. I don’t need to tell you what they are because you’re already listening to them. The fact NBC is getting into this pool after it’s been almost drained shows that they’re so far disconnected from the social platform that this is going to be nothing more than a train-wreck that is popular because it’s coming from the NHL’s official broadcaster and will be listened to by people who are either too timid to listen to independent podcasts and like to yell into the void of social media thinking that their opinion is being hear by famous folks when they’re actually clout-chasing…or I could be wrong and the dynamic of Jones and Roenick could be good and it’s a boon for NBC; I’ve been wrong before. However, people dislike the NBC format on TV, I don’t know how many of them will be tuning into the podcast version.

My point is that the fact that this will have more downloads than other podcasts that are better and more informative is disheartening to me. It’s just a version of the “boys on the back of the bus” with some high profile guests sprinkled in to give a more laid-back vibe…or every other hockey podcast out there, but with bigger name guest. It’s a damn shame, too. NBC could have done something big with actually getting independents on to promote their wears, show their knowledge, and maybe grow the sport and podcasts the natural way…but that’s not NBC’s modus operandi.

And listen– as I “jokingly” said in the clip above– hire Face Off Hockey Show for multi-millions and we’ll sell-out faster than the Reel Big Fish song of the same name. Hell, NBC could have hired us to do this same thing while also promoting all their other shows and give Eddie Olczyk his own horse-betting segment. But we’re still for hire…

NHL Branded Podcasts Are Exactly What You Would Expect

cut.jpg

Logo via NHL.com

This past week, the NHL got into the late-2000s by releasing their own branded podcasts, one of which is called the NHL Executive Suite. Every other week, Deb Placey will talk to hockey executives about, according to the release, “how each guest broke into the game, why they pursued their careers, how they see the future of the sport and much more.” Their first podcast was with Hall of Famer Gary Bettman, the NHL Commissioner (f-f-f-f-for life).

In between having a ton of podcasts and avoiding writing on this blog apparently, I gave this a listen. Now, this won’t be a complete deconstruction of the podcast and nit-picking from my 17 years of experience, because I don’t think it needs deconstruction for what it actually is and who it’s put out by. Plus, if I were any better at doing podcasts, I’d be in a spot on the NHL Productions Radio spot.

No, this is more about the concept of the project with who is putting this out.

If it were anyone but the NHL, the podcasts would actually have things people want to hear and not fluff pieces about these executives that are going on. I can’t blame Deb Placey, she’s great in directing the conversation, getting the topics that they want to put across, and pretty much following through the whole thesis of what they want this podcast to be about. Placey is fantastic as a host and her history with the NHL and knowing how to deal with executives from her time with Gary Bettman and his radio show is perfect in knowing how the league wants this all to play out.

My problem with something like this is that these are people that other podcasts would love to have on and not have the sugar-coated questions. There is a lot to the onion of any of these executive’s stories, but they’re so guarded in where they are working that these stories are not something that will come out on podcasts as long as they’re employed. This is a podcast where I would rather have nothing at all than to have something like this that only scratches a surface that will never be fully scratched because hockey people are that way.

Earlier in the month, the NHL released their Fantasy on Ice podcast– again, years after they should have had one. However, with all the new sponsorship deals they have with MGM and Fan Duel and Yahoo– why not have a fantasy hockey podcast licensed by the NHL?? It’s a simple thing that should have been done years ago, but now that other places have something like that– the NHL is trying to finally make a splash and hope that people go with the NHL brand over other places.

Listen, it’s okay that these exist, but for the NHL to be producing them lets you know that it’ll be as milquetoast as you think it’ll be for a league putting out content like this. In fact, I’m surprised the NHL did this because they are probably the league that most protects their brand against people who aren’t going with the company line.

(Don’t believe me– just ask me about my interact with a recently retired NHL executive at the Dallas Draft and why it’s harder than hell to get the Face Off Hockey Show in with credentials to NHL events.)

These programs– as well as the ones on NHL Network and NHL Network Radio– are going to protect the league in any way they can. Sure, there might be some discussion to the contrary about different things, but with these hosts contracted by the league to do a service– they won’t go against the grain and risk a job because they know spots at The Athletic are filling up to capacity and the bubble may burst soon. It’s a cozy job, it’s an easy job, it’s something people would enjoy if they want to just see the money roll in.

But what fun is that when you’re just hearing the company line. There’s plenty of great stories out there that many won’t tell because they’re too close to the game, but the guys outside of the game will talk your ear off about them. It’s my hope that one day there’s going to be a wrestling-style “shoot” interview with some players or executives and it’d be a great time….but some hockey players aren’t that way and it’d never have the full effect, though it could be a great money maker.

So– here’s to the NHL for finally getting onto the podcast life years too late from when they should have. It’s great to have another hockey podcast– despite it being a color-by-number interview segment that rarely touches on the things people want it to touch on.

Hurricanes Having Fun Shows Brian Burke is Don Cherry’s Heir Apparent

d15ecc5b-a311-425b-b68d-c63442b44102-GTY_1048501148.jpg

The Carolina Hurricanes are having fun winning and showing that it’s okay to keep loose in the the beginning part of the season, which is especially good for a team with some much supposed turmoil over the summer. Whether it’s skating into the glass, sliding into canoes, or doing the floss dance— the Hurricanes are getting their team talked about for the right reasons.

Of course, with the fun they are having– it just makes the critics come out in force and unsurprisingly it’s coming from Canada– a place the only likes fun in hockey on their own terms. Sure– it’s not all the Canadian pundits, but the ones who hate on the celebrations are the ones who are the loudest about it.

Cue Brian Burke on Hockey Night in Canada

Now, listen– I don’t expect the older generation of hockey people to understand what this generation does– but to be worried about it catching on for some reason is beyond me. Burke is that hard-line old school guy who still believes the old rules are the best. That’s on him to change…but I doubt he won’t for his own persona.

If Burke has brought up the point for potential injury, which when you look at all those camera cords on the ice and guys sliding wrong/slamming into the glass wrong to mess up their body– it’s a miracle they hadn’t done that already. But if Burke brought up that point…maybe there’s a bit of merit to it. We’ve seen placekickers celebrate an extra-point and really tear up their knee.

All this really does for Burke is when Don Cherry doesn’t get renewed or goes away– Brian Burke will be the guy to make Ron MacLean go nuts.

That all said, for a market who has a solid amount of hardcore fans– the biggest issues is getting the casual fan. In an area that is now starting to get consumed in the end of NCAA football and the start of NCAA basketball, they need to do something to get some headlines and separate themselves from the rest of the crowd.

You could drone on about Sebastian Aho starting the season on a huge hot streak and breaking team records or how “outcast” Dougie Hamilton really finding his way with this team or how this team still has a lot of room to grow considering Victor Rask is out and Andrei Svechnikov is still getting accustomed to the NHL game. Those are things that are all well and good.

But for the casual fans looking for new entertainment, there’s nothing better than getting something viral or fun to catch their attention and make them spend their dollars with the Hurricanes. That’s why having fun is crucial on the business side of things. The playing side of things will come and if these guys keep having fun, wins will come because winning is fun. As much as they are a division rival to my Capitals, a team like this could become endearing to many, even the most bitter of rival team.