Have a Pleasant Summer, Bill

From William Houston’s last column of the summer:

We sometimes get the impression that the U.S. sports media has no real interest in the NHL — that the sport’s appeal is limited to a very small group of hard core fans.

But consider this story: During the French Open, NBC’s tennis announcer Ted Robinson did some promos for network’s coverage of Stanley Cup final. During the men’s final telecast two weeks ago, Robinson suggested on the air to John McEnroe they visit a Canadian bar he knew in Paris to watch Philadelphia-Chicago Game 5 that night. It started at 2 a.m. local time. It turned out 20 technicians, production staff and on air people showed up at The Great Canadian Pub at Quai des Grands Augustins. They watched the game until it was over at 5 a.m. and then headed to the airport to catch their Monday morning flight home.

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The NHL Awards Shows Marked Improvment, Still Kind of A Flop-Sweat Fest

Celebrity Host, Or a Host at All – One thing we’ve all agreed we were tired of is that Ron MacLean’s hosting gig had become stale. Well, this year’s awkward transitions between Jeremy Roenick (who really disappointed me), “Entourage” star Kevin Connolly, and Vancouver Canucks analyst/occasional crooner Michael Buble (the best of the bunch) was awkward, as was most of the show. Either give the spot back to Ron or get a celebrity. Alan Thicke mentioned hosting a couple shows during the red carpet on NHL.com. Why not Kevin Smith? Denis Leary? Buble again?

All Celebrity Presenters – Hockey players reading teleprompters: Not a good thing. I think we’d all agree that there should be more Tricia Helfer, less Igor Larionov. Though it was touching to see Vladimir Konstantinov again.

Make The Lighting So that attendees Don’t Look Purple – Did you seem some of these guys on TV? Jean Beliveau looked purple when they cut to him in the crowd. Now that VERSUS has perfected the art of not screwing up the broadcast, let’s get some proper color down.

One Chaka Khan is Enough – It’s great that Robin Thicke digs hockey, and that JR digs Chaka Khan, but we need music that represents the spirit of the game a little more next year. We know the league doesn’t like to use bands that make “too much sense”, but we’ll have The Tragically Hip and Barenaked Ladies just fine, thank you.

No More Cutting to Pointless Non-Celebrities – We like Heidi Androl and Carrie Millbank as much as the regular red-blooded American male. But there’s absolutely no point to cutting to them during an award speech. At all.

These were some changes we begged the NHL to make last year.  Five points about the NHL Awards of 2010.

  1. Jay Mohr is Okay, but Let’s Go with a Better Comic: Look, for all the “controversy” Jay Mohr had for hosting this shindig, the guy acquitted himself nicely.  Thought the non-hockey jokes were a little late to the party (Joe Jackson?  Lindsay Lohan?  Really?) and the fact that he started just doing strange impressions out of nowhere to introduce presenters will likely baffle anyone over the age of 40 and under the age of 20 (His Christopher Walken is truly masterful though) the guy did a pretty solid job.  If Reese Waters finds a way to increase his star power, I’d love to see him get a shot, or have Mohr come back another year.
  2. Is Everyone a Comedian? Apparently.  The celebrity presenters were hit (D.B. Sweeney and Jamie Kennedy, John Slattery, Roenick and Olczyk) or miss (Luc Robitaille and Natasha Henstridge, the kid from Air Bud and Whatsherface) with their assigned bits of wit and whimsy.  It is a good idea to have most of the show be kept light and funny, but make sure whoever’s delivering the joke can do it.
  3. Digital Shorts are the Way to Go: After Kevin Smith and Denis Leary brought the funny last year, the NHL tried their own players in a little sketch comedy.  The bit with Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan was truly funny and worthy of SNL.  Getzlaf and Ryan will never win Oscars, but committed to the bit quite well.  I’d love to see one or two more of these next time around, to start and end the show, and see if we can get a celebrity guests.
  4. The Musical Guests Are Still Middle of the Road – They may not be completely irrelevant, but the Goo Goo Dolls are not exactly going to up the NHL’s hipness level, but it is a step ahead of Chaka Khan.  Shinedown maybe an abomination unto the Lord, but they are popular among the idiots who like their lame grunge-pop.  Snoop Dogg may be a few years past his prime, but he’s friggin’ awesome.  However, lets aim a little more on the “hip” side next year.
  5. Making Hockey Players Funny, Or at Least Personable – If there is ever an NHL personal conduct law like in the other leagues, Patrick Kane will probably get a huge fine or suspension, but his little bit with that showgirl was quite funny, and a surprising improvisation from a league of players often seen as humorless.  But a lot of tonight was about the idea that the new NHL player is as engaging and gregarious as any other league.  As Kane, Ryan Miller, Kesler and Ryan showed off, we’re on the right track.  Just like the NHL Awards in 2010.  Looking forward to it next year.