By Matt Popchock
It may have undermined our airwaves recently, but the biggest Penguins news of the past week was not Arron Asham's controversial fight with Jay Beagle.
I really don't understand the outcry. This wasn't like the massacre on Long Island back in February. This was a hockey fight between two consenting pugilists--a fight the injured Beagle initiated when he was harassing Kris Letang.
Asham has apologized. He owes nothing to the Washington Capitals, nor to the NHL. Alex Ovechkin, a player who has not been above taking runs at others, and has gotten off easy because of the name on the back of his jersey, had no business calling out Asham afterward.
All of us, including Asham, feel bad for what happened to Beagle, and although I enjoy a good fight as much as the average hockey fan, including the one in question, I would be equally amenable to the NHL eliminating it altogether. However, the political and economic reality is, it won't happen anytime in the foreseeable future.
Eliminating stupidity is a far more realistic proposition for the league. It should start within the television networks that cover it.
The Asham taunt and subsequent Asham apology has overshadowed the most important thing to come from CONSOL Energy Center in recent memory: Sidney Crosby's clearance for full-fledged contact.
Just don't tell that to Jeremy Roenick.
The erstwhile All-Star and current studio analyst ranted against Crosby and the Penguins on Versus last week, saying he was "sick and tired of listening to [him] saying, 'nothing's new yet'" and also frustrated with the media for regularly asking Sid about his health not long before he donned a black helmet for the first time.
Does he really think the media likes doing that, even though the media is, austensibly, just giving the public what it demands? Furthermore, does he really think Crosby likes his present condition, and having to answer questions regarding it?
Penguins radio color commentator Phil Bourque raised the same rhetorical questions on a competing radio station last week, calling Roenick "a donkey" and saying he was "embarrassed [Roenick] is an American."
Wow...perhaps The Ol' 2-9er came down a tad harshly on JR there?
On the other hand...
*This is the same guy who spent the day after Game 1 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals walking around Pittsburgh, inexplicably, with a cast on his arm. As ROOT Sports Penguins color analyst and former Penguin Bob Errey later said, neither he nor his teammates at the time could figure out why.
*This is the same guy who led his U.S. Olympic hockey team to a stunning dead-last finish in the 32-team pool at the 1998 Nagano (Japan) games, and also subsequently led a well-publicized destruction of the team's hotel.
*This is the same guy who, during the latter stages of the 2004-05 NHL lockout, showed up for a press conference at The Mario Lemieux Invitational--a charity golf tournament--three sheets to the wind and told disgruntled hockey fans to "kiss [his] ass," calling them "jealous," not to mention a certain eight-letter word for fertilizer.
Gee, aren't you glad the good folks at Comcast pick such great ambassadors to the game to spearhead their hockey coverage?
Strange as it may sound, the person I feel the worst for in all this is Eddie Olczyk, a friend of our CBS Pittsburgh family and Roenick's in-studio cohort on Versus.
Yes, Olczyk was a terrible coach who simply didn't know how to manage a lineup, but in the dual role of color commentator and studio analyst, I'm willing to listen to what he has to say. Case in point: he uttered the best off-the-cuff remark I've heard all month on Versus' "NHL Overtime"--that Roenick "needs to take a class in listening."
Having said that, sitting at the same desk as that loudmouth has made them both look like lemmings on multiple occasions.
If the NHL wants to be taken as seriously as the other mainstream sports in this country, it needs to put people in charge of promoting and educating us on the sport whom we can take seriously.
Olczyk played the game at a respectable level for many years, and for several teams, including the 1993-94 Rangers squad that ended their 54-year Cup drought. He is widely regarded as one of the most cordial men still associated with the NHL.
That's the kind of guy I want in studio, or in the arena for a national game telecast. If I were a programming director, however, Roenick would be one of the first to get a pink slip from me. I just can't respect his opinions, knowing what I already know.
Mike Milbury, also of the NBC/Versus family, would be the next to go. Before he got this newfound national exposure, his legacy in professional hockey was defined by leaving the ice during a fight-filled game and trying to beat a fan with his own shoe, and later, when coaching that same team, the Boston Bruins, calling Bob Johnson "a professor of goonism" during the 1991 Wales Conference Finals.
Okay, that incompetence did help the Penguins win that series, and eventually, the Stanley Cup, so I guess we do kind of owe him one. But as is the case with Roenick, his notorious background belies any "expert" analysis he could provide.
Heck, why not stick both of them on a certain four-letter network? They'd fit right in with what passes for an "expert" in Bristol these days.
Say what you will about our other national media, but NBC and Versus, on the whole, have done more justice to the NHL since those entities merged than ESPN has for roughly an entire decade.
If the NHL really wanted to enhance its coverage, it doesn't necessarily need to reunite with that network. It needs to keep the pressure on Comcast to make sure Versus is accessible in more homes across America, and it needs to be more mindful of which hockey minds are seen in those homes.
One of the smartest moves that network could make would be to reach out to recently retired Detroit forward and future Hall-of-Famer Mike Modano, and try to persuade him to become an analyst and/or color commentator. Who wouldn't appreciate insight from another Stanley Cup champion, like Olczyk, and arguably the best American-born skater to play the game? He may not have a lick of broadcasting experience, but it's still hard to imagine him doing much worse than Roenick.
But most importantly, the international media needs to distance itself from Roenick and any other broadcaster who overtly places style ahead of substance (Don Cherry, anyone?). Such personalities are flat wrong for the current generation of fans the NHL tries so hard to lure from their closets.
As a well-known talk show host for another Pittsburgh station demonstrated long ago, if you routinely condescend to your audience, guess what type of fan will comprise your audience?
By the way, in the time it has taken me to begin writing this, fall asleep on my couch, and finish writing this, Sidney Crosby's status has not changed.
Got that, Jeremy?
Keep listening to SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan, and be sure to revisit 937thefan.com, including Casey Shea's "Shea-ved Ice" blog, for more wall-to-wall Penguins coverage!
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)
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