On-Ice Violence Overshadowing NHL Playoffs; Do Ratings Indicate Fans Want More?Published April 19, 2012
OVERSHADOWING THE PLAY: ESPN's Michelle Beadle said as "great as these playoffs have been ... I think the suspensions are the bigger story right now.” Beadle: "All anyone’s talking about are hits and suspensions" (“SportsNation,” ESPN2, 4/18). In Toronto, Damien Cox wrote, "On a night when we should have been discussing Nashville's second straight win in Detroit, Florida's comeback against the Devils or 39-year-old Ray Whitney's brillance in a 3-2 overtime win for Phoenix over the Blackhawks, once again a controversial hit and injury took centre stage" (THESTAR.com, 4/18). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote under the header, "Mayhem Has Become Story Of Playoffs." Burnside: "The outcry around the league over player behavior and the league’s ineffectiveness at changing behavior is at a fever pitch. The mayhem has become the story of the playoffs, blotting out terrific stories like the Florida Panthers’ come-from-behind win in Game 3 and the youthful Flyers’ domination" of the Penguins (ESPN.com, 4/17). NBC's Jeremy Roenick said, "Our game is going negative in the playoffs with some of the stupid stuff that’s going on. Playoffs are for great, hard-hitting, fun hockey, and some of the stuff that’s been going on has got to stop” (“The Dan Patrick Show,” 4/18).
HAS VIOLENCE BROUGHT MORE VIEWERS? In DC, Tarik El-Bashir notes the Flyers-Penguins series has "put the NHL in a familiar quandry." League officials have said that they "want to reduce violence in the game," but violence also "drives television ratings" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/19). The Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs said, "There's been a ton of focus in this extracurricular stuff in the playoffs so far, but I think it's increased fan interest." The Chicago Tribune's Vaughn McClure: "I'm not a hockey guy, but I want to see fights. I think that's what makes hockey, hockey. I know it can be excessive and draw out a game. ... But guys are going to fight. That's part of it." Biggs: "The NHL needs this to raise fan interest in the post-season." CSN Chicago's Dave Kaplan noted that ratings are up almost 50% and asked, "Do they really want this stuff to go away?" (Chicago Tribune Live," Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 4/17). ESPN's Colin Cowherd facetiously said he would "much rather be talking about the neutral zone trap” and the “delayed icing." Cowherd: "That sells tickets to the masses” ("SportsNation," ESPN2, 4/18). USA TODAY's Kevin Allen notes over the first five days of the postseason, NBC is "claiming a 35% increase in viewers (from 13.3 million to 17.9 million)." Player agent Allen Walsh said, "There is a certain element of the fan base which shares their passion for hockey with their passion for WWE and UFC. With that backdrop, where does player safety come into the equation?" (USA TODAY, 4/19).
THE PRICE OF DOING BUSINESS? In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont writes there is “blood on the NHL’s hands, and that appears to be very good business, at least for the moment.” If the “demented wonderland of UFC and MMA is what the NHL aspires to, then it’s on the right track.” Dupont: "While it is undeniable that a certain segment of the viewing audience relishes the carnage -- the way a fragment of NASCAR fandom delights in deadly pileups -- it covers the NHL with a patina of amateurishness and lawlessness that should concern everyone in the game (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/19). In Winnipeg, Paul Friesen wrote, "Whatever progress the NHL had made in protecting players from unnecessary cheap shots this season has been pulverized in the first week of the playoffs." Friesen: "TV ratings are through the roof, you say? Of course they are. They'd be even higher for a public hanging. Does that mean we should have one?" Friesen added, "By allowing the violence to escalate, the NHL is fashioning its own noose, inserting the game’s head and leading it onto the trap door, where inevitably the catch will someday fail and we’ll have a real tragedy on our hands" (WINNIPEG SUN, 4/18). Columnist Kevin Blackistone said the NHL has to “clean up” the violence in the game “unless it is comfortable with its own fan base and remaining a niche sport." If Bettman thinks “he can sell” fighting in hockey “to advertisers, then you know what, continue on down this road” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 4/16).
IT STARTS AT THE TOP: The GLOBE & MAIL's Jeff Blair wrote, "For a league that likes to sell itself as a straight-ahead, straight-up bunch of good guys with a common touch who’d play the game for nothing but a cold beer and the odd hot puck-bunny, the NHL is remarkable for its ability to make up grey areas at every turn." The NHL is "played and run by excuse-makers, in part because it is an intellectually inbred league where agents and general managers go fishing together and where unwritten rules support bizarre, cultish off-ice behaviour." It is "time to look outside the existing puckhead gene pool to find a chief disciplinarian." Blair wrote, "It's easy to get rid of fighting if you really want to; fight and you’re gone for the remainder of the game. ... But absent the inability to grasp that easy answer, the least the NHL can do is give the inmates a new warden. How about a panel of individuals with no NHL affiliation past or present, and if that means lawyers or retired judges and a doctor, well, that’s fine" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/17). The TORONTO STAR's Cox writes, “Simply put, it is anarchy out there on the NHL rink.” The league has been “unable to use new rules and a new sheriff -- Brendan Shanahan -- to stem the flow of ugly incidents.” Cox: “Naturally, the NHL’s reaction, as it always is when it feels under attack, is to circle the wagons and pretend absolutely nothing is amiss. … What’s needed, folks, is an overhaul of the entire disciplinary machinery of the NHL, which is basically operating the same way it was a half-century ago.” The transition from Colin Campbell to Shanahan as NHL VP/Player Safety & Hockey Operations has “demonstrated vividly that it’s not going to work, whoever holds the post” (TORONTO STAR, 4/19). In Vancouver, Cam Cole writes too many of the people "who set the agenda in the NHL don't want things to change.” The “permissiveness of the on-ice officials, it turns out, is no accident.” They are “not blind out there, they are just following orders.” The game has “devolved to a point where everyone is free to join in the fun -- young and old, small and large, goon and star -- and every group has been well represented” (VANCOUVER SUN, 4/19). In Columbus, Michael Arace writes, "Shanahan has made a muddle of justice and sullied the league's image. 'NHL' is a punch line once again" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 4/19).
TALKING POINT DURING CBA NEGOTIATIONS: SI.com's Allan Muir wrote there will be "plenty to talk about" during the NHL's upcoming CBA negotiations. If NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr has "any real interest in his post beyond proving he can outduel Gary Bettman at high noon, he needs to place a very high priority on the issue that the league has all but abdicated. Player safety." The union needs to "negotiate for a more active role in the disciplinary process." Muir: "Not just a seat at the table, but perhaps two on a three-man committee that metes out the sort of justice that leaves no room for interpretation: clean up your act, or shop your limited skills elsewhere." Maybe it is "something bolder, like reducing rosters by one in exchange for other concessions." But before Fehr "even sits down with the league, the players have to be on the same page." They have to "truly understand what's at stake," and Fehr is the "only one who can get them in a room [to] make that happen" (SI.com, 4/18).
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