Four Things I Liked (and Four More I Didn’t) From NBC and VERSUS’ Coverage of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final
June 20, 2011 3 Comments
Twitter has allowed us the chance to see the unfiltered opinions of everyone on the planet, and it is probably going to be what ends up destroying society. You knew that already, but here’s the thing: it makes it even more difficult to do a website that relies on some opinion once and a while when everything you see is opinion due to the very necessary evil of having Twitter as both a device for promotion or interaction.
So, chances are, if I know you on Twitter, I already know what you think of the production NBC and VERSUS did on the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the first as a pair of networks working under the same umbrella. Meaning that the same three people worked a hockey telecast for the entire seven-game series for the first time since 2004 and only the second time since 1994. Meaning that VERSUS was used even more as a support mechanism for what NBC was doing. Meaning that Darren Pang and Mike Milbury and Keith Jones could show up on both networks throughout the night.
Is it good that I get to hear all this opinion on what is ultimately something that should be secondary to the game? Not at all. That said, here are my thoughts on what the NBC Sports Group did both right and wrong with the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
1. Mike Emrick
I say it often, but Emrick has become the dean of hockey announcers now that Bob Cole has faded into old age stereotypes. Despite losing a tad of his own fastball (I’m fairly certain Brad and Andrew Ference are not related), Doc remains hockey’s best off-ice ambassador. He’s the only announcer who can completely lose it at any moment, and still retain dignity and class and gravitas while doing it (I’m looking at you, Gus Johnson). The final half-minute or so was terrific and stirring as usual, after a year in 2010 where none of the championship calls ended up looking good in retrospect. Emrick is probably the most-liked major network announcer (can you imagine fans pouring out the love for Buck or Costas or Nantz?) and for good reason: it’s because he’s better than everyone else, but still maintains the immense likability, personality and charm that makes this sport so terrific.
Also, in a hilarious turn of events, Doc was featured on Jimmy Kimmel Live’s weekly recurring segment, “This Week in Unnecessary Censorship.”
2. Liam McHugh
Of NBC’s three hosts over seven games (McHugh, Bill Patrick and Dan Patrick) McHugh was best at remaining on point, on key and supporting his analysts. Look, the fact is, when Dan Patrick is at a desk it’s most likely he’s the most recognizable figure to the casual sports fan, so he’ll tend to overplay things. McHugh manages to retain his lively personality from hosting the at times fun, but at times unwatchable The Daily Line, without making things about himself, as studio hosts are won to do. His rise at VERSUS has been the biggest surprise of the NHL TV season, and I hope he sticks around now that there’s a lot more hockey to be done at the network.
On another note: NBC needs to have a permanent hockey host, whether it is McHugh or somebody else. When he was with Milbury, or Milbury and McGuire, the discussion got quieter and 400,000% more intelligent. It was like going from Tucker Max to Malcolm Gladwell. He seemed to fit well with that team, so I hope they keep him around. Regardless, I certainly hope NBC doesn’t leave Milbury and McGuire to themselves again.
3. Let’s See That Pretty Face
During NBC’s broadcast of Game 2, they had the line of the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows introduce themselves. I’m not sure if it was to get viewers better acquainted with the Vancouver Canucks, to make Burrows a little less of a villain (or perhaps more of one) after the Game 1 biting incident, or just to try something out, but I liked it. I think NBC should expand upon it: next season, do what the NFL does. Have each team playing’s top line, top defense pair, and starting goaltender introduce themselves on camera. We’re always complaining about how we don’t get the players out there and how they’re unrecognizable … well this is the perfect way to solve that problem. Let people connect with the players on a visual level.
4. The amount of coverage
Hockey coverage on television was not in a good place in 2006, and that was especially true during the Stanley Cup Final. OLN did okay with Games 1 & 2, airing pre-game and post-game, but then disappeared for the series. There was no NHL Network, so when NBC went on and off the air, it was surrounded by nothing. It was hard to get into it when it was just a game telecast.
Flash forward to 2011, Games 3-7: I can tune into NHL Live at 4:00 p.m. ET and go straight through on NHL Network’s On the Fly (which was awesome during the Final) until 7:30 p.m. ET, and then follow either On the Fly or VERSUS’ Hockey Central up until game time. Following the final whistle, I can go over to VERSUS for Hockey Central until at least 11:30 p.m. ET, and On the Fly until about Midnight, and after Game 7, I could’ve sworn I was seeing new material until at least 2:00 a.m. ET. That’s 8-10 hours of hockey.
Television is all about building block programming, and getting a chunk of viewers to stay with something for hours and hours. It’s why college football and basketball rule Saturdays and the NFL rules Sundays during the fall and winter: you tune in at Noon, and you can watch live programming until around midnight that day. It encourages and rewards you for staying tuned 12 hours straight. The NHL and their TV partners have finally made it so that hockey fans can put the same experience around their league’s biggest event, and it’s a very good thing.
1. Lack of Interviews
I could be wrong on this account, but on NBC’s coverage of Game 7, after the Bruins had won I don’t think I saw more than four interviews with people from around that franchise. There should be a lot more. Every key player on the team should have a microphone in their face. Send Dan Patrick or Darren Pang down to ice level to get everyone. I wanted to see (and this includes some I did) Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Claude Julien, Brad Marchand, Mark Recchi, Peter Chiarelli, Cam Neely, Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, and perhaps even Jeremy Jacobs, and I don’t think lone man on the ice Pierre McGuire got half.
The Stanley Cup is the coolest, most iconic image associated with hockey, and especially associated with the NHL. There is no player that draws fans to this game more than the promise of the Stanley Cup being presented does. Connect more of the athletes with that moment, so that everybody around this country knows who the key players in winning sports’ most difficult professional tournament were.
I think inside the glass is the greatest innovation in televising hockey since I was born, but it does not provide you with the amount of interviews you want. Have one or two reporters on site to check out the atmosphere around the game. It was really cool when we got to see Darren Pang interview Wayne Gretzky during Game 6. Sure, it can be annoying, but heck, let’s show people how much of a draw the Stanley Cup Final is. Get someone to put mics in the faces of Denis Leary and Michael J. Fox (who attended at least one game together) and let them trash talk. Talk to Michael Buble, the multi-platinum crooner who cancelled a concert in Connecticut so he could fly cross-continent to watch Game 7, and again, have more access to players. I was not thrilled that people like Bob Harwood (who finished up the year on NHL Network) were let go when NBC’s folks took over VERSUS. I think the networks should find a way to let ice-level reporters and inside the glass co-exist.
3. The “analysts as coaches” thing.
Are we really back to this, guys? This sounds a lot like the notes networks give, but I find it just plain weird and off-putting when NBC has the studio analysts (in this case, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones) “play pretend” as the coaches of both teams. The two analysts seemed confused by the gimmick and how far they should take it, and I’m sure everyone in the audience couldn’t say anything but “… what on earth is this?” I don’t think it adds anything that you couldn’t get from just straight analysis (does anyone buy that either of these guys know what the coach would or should say to his players?) and it just plain comes off as odd.
4. The Green Men
Now, I like The Green Men. They completely cop to the fact that they are unoriginal (the whole gag of spandex, uni-colored suits is stolen from FX sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and just doing it for the love of the team and a bit of attention. How is it that NBC managed to ignore them during the entire seven-game series? The Green Men were flown out to Boston for Games 2, 3 and 6, so they were at all of them. Yet, NBC found a way to almost entirely block them out.
Love them or hate them, isn’t there a story to be made there? For a network that’s biggest angle on the Canucks seemed to be “Hey, guys! Remember Ryan Kesler from the Olympics? America, booyah!” wouldn’t focusing on just what sort of wacky person follows the Canucks do wonders to make the team more recognizable? I can picture my barber going “oh yeah, well Vancouver has those guys in the green suits? ain’t that somethin’ else?” I think we could’ve used a little more of a display of just how crazy hockey fans in Canada were than just the simple, incorrect platitude that all of Canada was rooting for a Cup.
So it would seem that this stuff evens out. I’d still give NBC and VERSUS a beyond-passing grade for their coverage of the Stanley Cup Final. None of the things that annoyed me had anything to do with their ability to cover the actual game on the ice from all the angles. It was all superfluous. On the other hand, the things I did like were things that I had to see during game action, for the most part.
The added coverage and sheer number of people working the event helped too. Though I’d love to see VERSUS do a half-hour NHL Overtime show every night during the Final, off days included, I thought on game days NBC, VERSUS and NHL Network shone like gold to bring hockey fans a cornucopia of pleasure for the eyes. They can tap into it even more, but with 10 years up ahead on these networks, it is hard not to feel like they are well on their way in the right direction. Whenever you see that NBC commercial about them televising hockey’s biggest moments for the next 10 years – another awesome bit of business during the Final – you totally believe them.