I realize the NHL has spent a lot of time and money in marketing Alexander Ovechkin as the Russian Magic Johnson to Sidney Crosby's Larry Bird. I also realize that Ovechkin is one of the 2 or 3 purest goal scorers in the NHL today, right along side the likes of the Lightning's own Steven Stamkos and the enigmatic Ilya Kovalchuk of the Devils. However, what I hope the Lightning's sweep of the Capitals proves to the hockey world, and whatever Madison Avenue agency is driving the NHL's marketing strategy, is that you cannot build one half of a league's marketing strategy around a player who simply does not play the game the right way and therefore cannot lead his team anywhere near a championship.
There's a lot that's been said about Ovechkin's "passion" for hockey and his "passion" for scoring goals. Is it a "passion" for hockey? Or is it a "passion" for drawing attention to Alexander Ovechkin? Is it a "passion" for scoring goals that causes this young man to disrespectfully show up his opponents every time he scores? Remember the hot stick? First off, let me say, I savor the fact that some of our guys like Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone were able to issue a check for payback, in full, for that disgusting act from just a little over 2 years ago. But let me also say, how asinine is it that a league builds half of its entire marketing strategy around a player who cares more about individual scoring accolades in the regular season, as shown by that stupid, choreographed routine in 2009, than he does about winning a championship?
You know, living out of town, I haven't had the opportunity to see Rick Peckham and Bobby Taylor's broadcasts of the Penguins series. Now, as anyone who has read my game posts knows, I do enjoy the occasional meta-critique of the other team's announcers any time I get their feed on Center Ice. In particular, folks know how I feel about Atlanta color man Darren Eliot, the Carolina crew of Forslund and Tracy, and some of the members of the Buffalo Sabre's broadcast team (not Rick Jeanneret, but on-ice reporter Rob Ray and studio personality Mike Robitaille). But, as this is the playoffs, I didn't want to detract from what was going on by chastising the media. As John Tortorella said in the Flyers series in 2004 when Ken Hitchcock tried to goad him into a media spat by making an off-color remark about Tortorella's heritage, it's not about anyone off the ice. It's about the athletes.
However, now that the series is over, I can stop biting my tongue about Penguins color-man Bob Errey. I would've never thought that anyone could supplant the uber-pompous Darren Eliot on the Mount Olympus of NHL broadcasters I can't stand, but after having to watch the Pittsburgh Root Sports broadcasts for 6 of the games in this series, I can now say Bob Errey is now the uncontested champ. I have never in my life heard a broadcaster who was so thoroughly unobjective, so thoroughly disrespectful to the opposing team, and so thoroughly nonsensical about it. I made the decision as the series progressed that play-by-play man Paul Steigerwald probably isn't that bad. He has a level of bias, but I suspect with a normal color man beside him he wouldn't be any worse than the average NHL broadcaster. But Errey? How can Root Sports pay a man this unprofessional?
In general, there was the unqualified praise of Penguins players, the constant whining about officiating going against the Penguins (tell that to Marty St. Louis' front teeth), and the portrayal of Lightning players as heartless, talentless, brainless clods. That was bad enough. When a Penguins player would put his arm down on a Lightning player's stick to induce a hooking call, that would be "savvy." When a Lightning player would do the exact same thing 5 minutes later, suddenly it would be a gross miscarriage of justice perpetrated by those devious, dirty, shifty Lightning players (who 10 minutes later would be reclassified as heartless morons). Fine. That's annoying, but that's not any worse than Eliot, Forslund, or Tracy. Heck, at least the Pens have won something. One of the central parts of my critique of Eliot has been the undeserved sense of entitlement he and the Thrashers organization operates with given the fact they have a whopping 0 playoff wins in their franchise's entire history. The one solace I had after Game 4 of this series was that even if the Lightning lost Game 5, they still would've had more playoff wins in ignominious defeat than the Trashers have had... ever. But, I digress.
No, what elevated Errey to his perch atop the landfill of NHL broadcasters can be summarized by three instances from this series:
Norfolk goaltender Dustin Tokarski was pulled from the Admirals' game against the Hershey Bears on Saturday after being cut on he neck by a skate blade. When you hear a goalie getting cut by a skate blade you immediately think of the Sabres' Clint Malarchuk vs. the St. Louis Blues years ago.
Tokarski was a lot luckier than Malarchuk Saturday as he "only" required nearly 30 stitches to close the wound.
Tokarski's teammate and fellow Lightning prospect Stefano Giliati posted a picture of Tokarski's gash on Twitter Tuesday morning, which Giliati referred to as "badass."
The Tampa Bay Lightning announced today that they made some final alterations to their jerseys before sending them into the NHL.
After some fairly pointed criticism from the Lightning fan base, the team stepped up and added back their familiar lightning bolt to the sides of their pants and black trim around the bolts and their numbers. Lightning fans didn't get to keep their celebration stripes, and the amount of black being added to the uniform is more modest than other proposals on the internet, but getting back the bolts on the side of the pants was one of the two most important features that were a point of contention. I give credit to the Lightning fan base for showing their ownership they cared enough about the team's tradition to fight for their colors, and I give the ownership the credit for having the wisdom to reach a compromise. After being steamrolled for almost two decades by ownership groups with commitment to the fan base that ranged from detachment (PS&E) to outright disdain (Koules and Barrie), Lightning fans finally have an owner who legitimately puts the fans and the product first. It's refreshing.
Not that anyone necessarily cares, but here's my two cents on the Lightning's rebranding: I think it misses the mark by a wide margin. So far, it seems like the overall reaction from the fan base has been unfavorable by a two to one margin, and it certainly evoked an unfavorable reaction from me. Now that I've had a little time to think it over: there's a couple of reasons why.