The NHL and its television partners introduced some fancy new doo-dads to do with puck and player tracking on Saturday night’s NHL all-star game broadcast.
The boss thought your agent was just the person to take a look and offer an opinion. It was no coincidence, I am sure, that your agent is an old coot and a traditionalist who still giggles when he thinks of the Fox network’s old glowing blue puck and red swoosh.
She was right, of course. I didn’t like any of these great breakthroughs in technology. They were all either underwhelming (the new puck-tracker thingy) or simply clutter (all those tags that told you how fast a shot was, how fast someone was skating or how long he was on the ice).
Technology-wise, the most impressive thing to me came during one of the commercials when Mitch Marner got Alexa to start his Corvette.
But far and away the most surprising moment came during an intermission courtesy of Hockey Night In Canada’s Scott Oake and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres. It seems Eichel, who is all of 22 years old, is a big classic-rock fan. So Oake sat him down for a test, running a series of lyrics past Eichel and asking for the names of the song and the artist. Every song, except for the last one, was on the charts in the 1960s and ’70s when your correspondent was in high school. Eichel nailed every one. Unbelievable.
Sorry, I digress. Back to the high-tech doo-dads.
First, I must congratulate Sportsnet for its restraint in the use of them. The network’s executives, no doubt acutely aware that Canadians still mock the Fox puck, 20 years after its brief lifespan expired, kept the intrusion of these things (don’t ask me their official name) to a minimum.
I did not watch every second of the broadcast – it was the freakin' all-star game – but I did not see Sportsnet use the puck-tracking once on Hockey Night In Canada. For that, I had to turn to NBC, which cluttered up the screen regularly with all of the special effects.
Then again, seeing the puck has been an obsession of U.S. TV network executives for decades. The Fox puck was their version of the Holy Grail. They are still on the case in 2019, somehow having missed the development of high-definition television, which made it possible for even U.S. viewers who do not live in a traditional NHL market to see the puck.
The latest version of a puck-tracker is much more understated than the original Fox version. There is no glowing puck or red streak. This one is a light-grey streak that follows the puck after it leaves a player’s stick. It is so subtle these old-guy eyes didn’t pick it up for a couple of minutes.
But it proved to be a distraction more than a marvel. When you can see the puck just fine then, it’s not necessary to see a grey streak of where it went. Sportsnet was wise to ignore it.
The other stuff, which Sportsnet employed from time-to-time, was mostly clutter, especially the tags over each player that appeared at every faceoff at centre-ice following a goal. The tag had the player’s name and number. Since this was the all-star game, of course, that meant they were used a lot.
First, most fans know just about every player’s number on their favourite team and they can figure out who’s who on the ice soon enough. Second, even with the three-on-three all-star format, all of those tags cluttered the screen. They covered each other and it was impossible to read more than one or two for the couple of seconds they were up.
The other boxes used gave a skater’s speed, the speed of his shot and a running total of his ice-time. Also underwhelming, unless you need to know the speed of that Erik Karlsson wrister from the slot was 65 kilometres an hour or Elias Petterssen was skating 25 km/h on that breakaway. Twenty-five km/h? Be still, my beating heart.
As far as the inter-division games went, what caught my interest was an update of the old-school approach of planting microphones on the players and coaches. Now they allow for two-way communication. So we got to see play-by-play man Jim Hughson tell Pacific Division coach Bill Peters he should send out Gaudreau, Petterssen and Connor McDavid as a line in response to a goal that gave the Central Division a 10-1 lead.
Peters readily agreed, and Gaudreau scored off the faceoff. “I’m open-minded to your ideas,” Peters told Hughson.
Eichel, although, once again provided the best moment. He actually chatted through a shift with the boys in the Hockey Night booth. He was asked if he was going to be a playmaker or a shooter just before the opposition scored. As the puck went into the net, Eichel replied, “Gonna be a disher … or maybe a minus.”
Better yet, a few seconds later during the gabfest, Eichel, who may not have been concentrating fully on his play, fed a pass to a linemate who was offside. “Ah, that’s a [terrible] pass,” he said, approximately.
You can’t beat live television.