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Look What You’ve Done, Gary

If you follow the pulse of NHL chatter on Twitter, you “learn” a lot of “things” about the wonderful Commissioner of the NHL. For example, did you know:

  • That Gary Bettman hates Canada with the burning rage of the dual Tatooine suns?
  • That Gary Bettman is pulling strings – as I type this – to ensure that the Penguins, Capitals, Coyotes, and Red Wings, are all going to win the Cup this year?
  • That Gary Bettman has Sidney Crosby pyjamas, a Sidney Crosby poster above his bed, and a picture of Sidney Crosby in a heart-shaped locket around his neck?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, and as much of a lie telling doofus as Gary Bettman is, clearly much of the hate is off-the-wall. He’s brought it on himself, but sometimes we get a little ahead of ourselves.

But the League’s top executive, and his team of cronies (hi, Colin! hi, Bill!) has really done it this time. For years fans have been waiting for the NHL to do something about the growing number of head shots and concussions, to little or no avail. Many assumed that if Sidney Crosby were to ever go down with a head injury, the league’s head office inhabitants would turn themselves inside-out in order to implement some sort of rule to curb headshots. They can’t lose the poster-child, can they? Surely the NHL’s offices would collapse like Barad-Dur if the Golden Boy were to miss extended action, right?

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Lo, and behold that time is upon us.

As you know by now, Sidney Crosby was clobbered by David Steckel and Victor Hedman in consecutive games shortly after the calendar rolled over to 2011, and has yet to return to action. In fact, he has yet to resume light exercise. Whispers are now gaining steam, leading Globe and Mail columnist (and my favorite sports journalist / sports writer) Stephen Brunt to reveal on the Team 990’s airwaves that he has heard that Crosby may not be back at all this year.

Perfect. The NHL’s best player, the face of the league and the spearhead of many marketing efforts *may* miss the playoffs (and scuttle Bettman’s chances to further line the rafters at the Pens’ shiny new arena with Cup banners). Oops!

I’m not saying that any kind of legislation or rule would have protected the league’s top player, who was in the midst of one of the best seasons we’ve seen in a while, from injury. What I am saying is that now the discussion has just became a lot more complicated for Gary and his band of merry incompetents. Complicated, not because the solutions are difficult to pin down and implement (they are complex) but because he’s brought a mess to his doorstep that was entirely avoidable by merely taking their collective heads out of the sand. It’s better to do something than to do nothing. The blindside hit rule (rule 48) is a nice start, but it’s only that – a start. That the refs still can’t consistently enforce that rule points to the fact that the league really isn’t all that focused on making things better. The way the NHL has approached this issue, they’ve made it sound like curbing head shots is akin to achieving time travel. Maybe Emmett “Doc” Brown is available for consultation? My money is on the NHL cleverly ambushing him on October 21, 2015, since they’ll know exactly where he will be.

For argument’s sake, if they decide to crack down and institute real measures (rules, consequences, assessments, treatments) to get rid of head shots and lessen the severity of concussions, people that despise Crosby and Bettman (there are plenty in both camps) will say it was only done to protect the “Chosen One”. Bruins fans in particular may bristle at this after one of their stars, Marc Savard was decimated by Matt Cooke. If the boneheads continue to drag their heels (as well as their knuckles), they’ll be accused of not caring about the stars, the fans, the product, or the game. His continued reluctance to apply common sense in the face of a terrible rash of recent head injuries has now landed him squarely between a rock and a hard place. Maybe Gary can have a sit-down with a really brave guy who knows a thing or two about just that.

If I were Bettman, I’d rather suffer the consequences of being labeled as the former instead of the latter. He’s gone way beyond the point of getting credit for being “proactive” on the issue.

Your move, Gary.

As the Hamster Wheel Turns

I feel like I’ve wasted my time talking about this, and I probably have. But that’s alright…that’s what blogs are for, right?
The NHL continues to drag its feet on the head shots issue, seemingly biding their time until they can pass the buck to the next generation of decision makers, today Marc Savard called it quits for whatever remains of the Bruins season. Meanwhile. the face of the league, Sidney Crosby continues to miss action with post-concussion symptoms. He’s missed over a dozen games, including the all-star festivities, and shows no signs of returning to action any time soon. Today an article was published on NHL.com about Pat Lafontaine and his take on post-concussion syndrome.
Here’s what stood out to me: “Once you get to a certain point with head injuries, there’s no turning back.”
While certainly not news, it carries a lot of weight when a prolific player who’s been through it, and had to cut short a hall of fame career weighs in on this issue.
It’s been well over a year since I ranted on these topics on this site, and on nhldigest.com. Frankly, I could simply switch the date to today, change a couple names, and presto – a new post! What I’m getting at is that nothing has changed. There are still dinosaurs out there carrying the torch for the “keep your head up / that’s hockey” culture, all the while completely ignoring or dismissing the fact that the players are so much bigger, stronger, faster and armored than ever before. Simply “keeping” your head up isn’t enough of a preventative measure for today’s NHL. I realize that this sounds like I’m advocating hitless hockey, and exonerating players who skate with their heads down. That’s not true at all. I never want to see hitting removed from hockey, but I do want to see players have to use their heads on the ice in a way that they haven’t had to before. While muscle groups in the legs, back and upper body can be strengthened, toned and bulked up for peak athletic performance, the brain is the brain and will always be a mushy, delicate organ. There are no bicep curls or squats for the brain. Hockey is the fastest game in the world, and the most important part of one’s body is gently encased in a skull, targeted by a bunch of heat-seeking missles. No helmet or mouthguard will help protect this fragile organ from high-speed colissions.
The game of hockey is in a completely new era. Comparisons to past eras are less and less relevant by the day, and those entrenched in the old view of the sport (i.e. “keep your head up or you deserve to get hit”) are the ones propping up the sloths who find any and all reasons to not enact change. Call it cowardice, call it being careful not to completely alter tradition, call it whatever you want. But when somebody gets killed on the ice, or is drooling in a wheelchair from his head injuries, I’d like to see those same people get in line with Mike Milbury who once said “‘People die every day. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t play the game.” What an enlightened view. Do all the dinosaurs share that view?
People innovate and change every day. Popular social media sites like twitter and facebook are constantly going through cosmetic and function changes. Often, these changes are met with anger (not only because of apparent security or privacy concerns) but because the status quo has been upended. Sorry folks, that’s called change. That’s called innovation…sometimes its hard to adapt to. Look at how technology has altered the media landscape. How the iPad is making print irrelevant. Instead of crying about it, the print industry needs to adapt and find ways to make what they do better. Similarly, the NHL needs to address the head problem now. Enough with reports and stats. No more pixie dust by telling us that the majority of concussions are caused by things other than direct contact to the head. Stop telling us that you need to take your time and be prudent when talking about making changes to a “fundamental” part of the game. You’ve taken enough time already. Too much time. We’ve seen enough of this crap over the past several years to know that there’s a problem. A serious problem. Just like a mother knows when their child is sick just by looking at them, fans with their eyes wide open know that there’s something sick with the culture of today’s game. The same culture that Don Cherry continues to build his empire with.
Rule 48 was recently fast-tracked in to the game. Wonderful. I’m sure the league’s General Managers all gave themselves a nice pat on the back for their accomplishment. Without going so far to say that it was all for naught, predictably, the league’s officials can’t interpret its own rule properly, as evidenced this weekend with Brian Boyle of the Rangers delivering a blind-side elbow to the head of Habs defenseman Jaroslav Spacek. An unsuspecting player was drilled with an elbow while the official stood there and did nothing. The NHL’s entire approach – from philosophy, to on-ice officiating, to doling out justice is a total joke. Who’s going to protect these dumbells from themselves? While they dawdle and play both sides of the fence, trying to maintain a half-pregnant approach, more and more stars are accumulating head injuries. Conspiracy theorists thought that if Crosby were to ever go down with an injury, they’d act swiftly and absolutely. Lo and behold, in what may be a case of reverse psychology, they’ve done nothing at all.
So while Mike Milbury makes a mockery of the seriousness of the situation by calling Pierre McGuire a “soccer mom” on NBC’s weekly NHL broadcast, Sidney Crosby – a guy NBC loves to showcase, sits and waits for his symptoms to disappear, and a player with a sad history of head trouble may have played his last hockey game.
A serious, no-nonsense stance is long overdue from the NHL. Somebody needs to protect the players from themselves, if they aren’t in favour of a ban of hits to the head. Somebody needs to show some courage and backbone in making the game safer for players who, like Bam-Bam don’t seem to realize their own strength. Any chatter about “respect for each other” is clearly just a smokescreen meant to put a damp blanket on the discussion.
If you’re a league executive, you have a responsibility to keep the players on the ice. But I guess it’s hard to act on head shots when yours is buried in the sand.

How Montreal’s Media Will Fail

In Montreal where the Canadiens reign supreme, I’m sure we can all understand that it’s nearly impossible to satisfy an insatiable appetite for all things bleu-blanc-rouge, especially in a year like this where the Habs have been very silent. Anything rates as big news these days, as we recently witnessed with the Cedrick Desjarding trade (a.k.a. – what news?) With deadlines and word counts to meet, people who get paid to write and talk about the Habs need to find something to say, and find an angle to come from. That’s perfectly normal; we all have criteria we must meet. One of the things I’m not okay with, and what seems to be happening more and more in 2010 is the amount of inane, predictable questions being posed to players, coaches and management. These silly questions are contributing to a ton of uninteresting, irrelevant content. It should come as no surprise then, that part of the reason why mainstream media is on the decline, while blogs, twitter and facebook are skyrocketing is that these latter channels are producing more interesting content that the creators can share with others.

There’s been a lot written recently about how the mainstream media hasn’t wrapped their heads around social media, and twitter in particular. Two articles that stand out are by @All_Habs (found here), and by @theactivestick (found here). If you haven’t read them already, I highly recommend both articles. The general crux is that mainstream media is still struggling to adapt to a new landscape in which everyone has an equal voice, and where the media is increasingly incapable (or unwilling?) of bringing much added value to a conversation. Also of note is how mainstream media continues their disrespect bloggers. This is also predictable. Bloggers and other content producers in social media are now threatening their livelihoods, where once upon a time in the old days (like 3 years ago), they ruled the roost. The rules have permanently and forever changed, and traditional media stubbornly tries its best to resist or bend social media’s rules to their own benefit, not the community’s. The growing blogosphere, twitterverse and other social media channels are giving fans ways in which to connect with one another moreso than ever before, and it’s only in its infancy. Spending time in each of these channels, I can safely say that I often find myself getting FAR more value from the quality bloggers out there than from media who are becoming increasingly dull, predictable, or, on the flip side, bombastic, flippant and arrogant. I’m so excited for where the future of blogging and social media will take fans and media alike. Will everyone play nice?

I’m not saying that all members of the media are evil (nor do the two articles highlighted above). Far from it. As mentioned in the All Habs and The Active Stick articles, there are many members of the media who DO get it, and more and more are getting on board all the time. The ones that understand social media will thrive. The ones that don’t will lose their relevance (Hello, @damospin). The ones that get it will gather a loyal following. The ones that don’t will be left behind. The ones that interact with fans, and play by the rules of the community they’re in, will win. The ones that surround themselves with their old boys club and pretend that it’s still the one-way broadcast world they’re used to, will lose. The ones that bring value will be thanked with an enthusiastic and engaged following. The ones that openly beg for more followers…well…please be more interesting. It’s not any more difficult or challenging than that. Begging and petitioning for followers is cheap, and lazy.

So where am I going with this, and how does any of this apply to Montreal?

I’m jumping the gun and gazing in to my crystal ball, but sooner than later, Jacques Martin is going to announce who the Canadiens next captain will be. The front runners right now are Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges. I think most agree that either would be an excellent choice, including their teammates. Other candidates in the mix include Michael Cammalleri, Andrei Markov, and to a lesser degree, Tomas Plekanec, Scott Gomez, Hal Gill, and even P.K. Subban.  Regardless of who is selected, it won’t stop some members of the media, looking for sound bites, desperate for something, from shoving a microphone in to the faces of all involved and asking ridiculous questions like:

  1. “Were you expecting to be named captain?”
  2. “Are you upset that you weren’t named captain?”
  3. “Do you think X should have been selected instead of X?”
  4. “Should the captain start taking French lessons?”
  5. “Will not being named captain affect your upcoming contract status?”
  6. “What does it mean to you to be captain?”
  7. “How will being named captain change the way you play?”
  8. “What do you think of X being named captain?”

Let’s make it easy for those question askers right now by answering the questions for them:

  1. “No, there’s plenty of leadership here and it’s tough to settle on one guy”
  2. “It would have been an honour, but I’m happy for X. He’s a great guy and deserving of his nomination”
  3. “No, there’s plenty of leadership here and it’s tough to settle on one guy”
  4. “I don’t know…that’s a tough one. There’s so many responsibilities and commitments as a player, but if there’s time then it can’t hurt”
  5. “No”
  6. “This is a storied franchise with a rich history and to be included with the names that have come before me is a huge honour and a dream come true”
  7. “Not at all. The player I was is what made me captain, and I don’t think I’ll change the way I play one bit”
  8. “He’s a great guy, a professional and a leader, he deserves the ‘C'”

There. That wasn’t hard, was it? Now that we have that out of the way, perhaps the media can think of some better questions to ask that actually bring some value to the fans.

Most, if not all of those questions are 100% predictable. The answers may vary a little, but not much. We know this because we’ve been subjected to the “lather, rinse, repeat” drill forever, or so it seems. None of those questions are going to reveal anything insightful. Nothing written based on these responses will be interesting. None of those questions are intended to do anything but hopefully elicit a response that will fan the flames of potential discord amongst the team, and among the fans. The players are well coached (in the PR sense, not in the on-ice sense, that’s another story!) and are unlikely to give the media anything to run with.

The two points I’m getting at with this post is that the media needs to find ways to keep up with the surging wealth of quality content out there that is being produced by those who have nothing but passion driving them. Take a look at @wyshynsky’s great idea of “Mount Puckmore of all 30 NHL teams”. What a great way to get fans OF EVERY TEAM involved in an interesting topic. If mainstream media want to continue to be a part of the discussion, they’ll need to better use their priveleged access to generate better, more interesting stories and discussions. Even more important, they’ll need to learn to step out of their walled gardens and purge themselves of their “we talk, you listen” mentality.

What’s your take?

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