HBO has selected the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings as the featured teams for its 24/7 documentary next season. A large reason for the appearance of a Canadian team on the U.S.-based show, says John Collins, chief operating officer of the NHL, is the ratings success of last year’s Stanley Cup Final between Boston and Vancouver.
“The historical view had been you need two big U.S. markets in any of these games to pop a number,” says Collins. “In this case the best hockey won out. It was so compelling people forgot about their own teams and joined in. It opens up an opportunity to do more with NBC and HBO to make them less reliant on U.S match-ups. It also allows us to go back to our Canadian partners and go ‘See? It can work’. It led directly to scheduling Toronto and Detroit for the Winter Classic in 2013.”
The appearance of the Maple Leafs on 24/7 is a no-brainer for ratings as Leaf Nation would tune in to see Brian Burke mow his lawn. But let’s be honest, the best Canadian team for TV purposes would be the Vancouver Canucks (the most hated team in the NHL for many) against Detroit or Chicago or Boston. Postseason fame is what fuels interest, and Toronto hasn’t seen a playoff game since Paul Martin was Prime Minister. Vancouver, meanwhile, has played a number of bitterly contested series since 2009.
Maybe the Leafs pick up Roberto Luongo or someone else vaguely interesting this summer. Maybe Brian Burke loses it (again). Otherwise it’s a snooze for all but the most hopelessly smitten Buds fans. What’s the headline? What Red Bull hat does Dion Phaneuf wear today? Imagine instead the bile when Alex Burrows, Maxim Lapierre or Ryan Kesler appear at the United Center in Chicago or the TD Centre in Boston. Better TV by a mile.
Honour Crimes: In his essay in last Friday's Globe and Mail, Ken Dryden talked about when respect governed NHL players’ treatment of each other on the ice. Dryden cited an incident in which Detroit legend Gordie Howe warned Johnny Bower of Toronto “Look out, John, I’m behind you” as he approached the future Hall of Fame goalie from behind.
Many have criticized Brendan Shanahan, the NHL vice-president of player safety, for allowing too much cavalier behaviour by unrepentant players this season. It might surprise some that Shanahan cites the same standard of civility when making his own judgments. In an interview with Usual Suspects, Shanahan described the “live and let live” standard he used as a player - and which he applies in his current post.
Talking about a controversial hit earlier this season when Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg hit Columbus’ Nikita Nikitin from behind (and was ejected from the game as a result), Shanahan relied on his own experience as a player going into the corner against a vulnerable defenceman.
“This is one of those things where you had to play it to feel it to get it,” Shanahan told us in his New York City office. “Those plays don’t happen all the time. To me, when I went in the corner (as a player) and put my hand on the guy’s back it was my way of saying ‘I’m here’. Sometimes with a guy who’d played with you you’d do that and yell ‘Heads Up! Coming through’.
“Because Nikitin got hurt there was an immediate uproar. But when I looked at the video I said I think (Zetterberg) has got his hand on his back, but Nikitin blows a wheel. It looks like he was pushed, but to their credit, the Columbus player and GM said (Nikitin) didn’t get pushed, he fell, So the major penalty (assessed to Zetterberg) was rescinded. That’s an example where what looks like a shove is a different thing.
“By the way, I asked Columbus after that if they’d have said the same thing in playoffs, and they said no. So I had an idea of what was ahead in this job (as the playoffs approached).”
Oake Follow Up: We received a lot of feedback from our interview with CBC’s Scott Oake and his family over the death of their son Bruce to a drug overdoes in March of 2011. Some wanted more information about the event in Winnipeg on June 14/15 in which Darcy Oake, Bruce’s brother, will perform his acclaimed illusionist show at the Manitoba Theatre Centre. Here’s more.
“Life’s not a Hollywood movie,” says Darcy. “What we’re hoping by opening a facility here is to make it into something positive. Be positive and spread the message. There’s such a stigma about drug abuse. Nobody wants to talk about it. People look at you with those sad pity eyes and no one knows what to say, and you’re at the point where you’re consoling other people when you’re trying to deal with it on your own. I don’t want his addiction to define Bruce.”
Scott Oake says the idea of the piece is to raise parents’ awareness of the signs. “To the families, be aware. Recognize the signs. Don’t kid yourself. If you have concerns, check them out. When Bruce started fooling around with crystal meth he’d come to the cottage and sleep the whole weekend. We’d wonder if that’s just being a young guy. Looking back, he was going hard on [the drug]and was catching upon his sleep when he came off it. When we came to the realization that he had a problem, we acted.
“We made a decision instantly that we weren’t going to hide behind his cause of death. Anne and I wrote the obit on the plane to Calgary and asked that everyone make donations to Simon House and they got a lot of money in Bruce’s name. And we heard from people after that they had someone in their life who thought enough about it to go to rehab, so there’s that immediate positive effect. We weren’t hiding behind it then and we won’t now.”
Life Of Brian: Everyone has justly celebrated the announce position between benches in the NHL popularized by Pierre McGuire. Intimacy and all that. How quickly they forget. Back in 1974, Brian McFarlane got very up close and personal during this Flyers/ Rangers playoff game. Our favourite part is when Mr. Peter Puck asks lineman Matt Pavlich to triage the cut on Barry Ashbee. Sadly, the injury ended Ashbee’s career.
Tip Line: Why the rich are not like the rest of us. Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen has money the way a beach has sand. The NFL tried this weekend to ensure that no one tipped off the draft picks on TV or social media before commissioner Roger Goodell announced the selections at the dais.
Allen must have missed the memo (cough, cough). Allen broke almost all of the early Round 1 picks and trades on Twitter before Goodell could start his hug-it-out session with players on the stage. Then, after the Seahawks made their pick, Allen went back to ironing the thousand-dollar bills in his wallet. Cold.