But watch any Versus telecast, and tell us that hockey doesn't need more Mike Milbury-types on television who are willing to toss around words like "pansy" and label their enemies as "self-centered little dinks"? Even if it means stomaching Mike Milbury to hear them.
It's a valid question -- pertinent to league revenues, even -- but: No. God, please no. That is not the way to cure hockey broadcasting. (Well, it would likely boost ratings, but at the price of our collective souls.) I know this is a losing battle for me, but here goes ... apologies in advance for the rant:
One happy result from ESPN and major U.S. networks pretending the NHL doesn't exist is that hockey-watching Americans don't have to put up with constant five-suit-wide panels of ex-athletes spewing effluvia on intermission shows and calling it "analysis" or "humor." (Am I the only one who is grateful that the NHL is not the colossus of hype and sideshows the NFL has become? So much that this attribute is worth preserving?) I could probably handle a Charles Barkley-type who (I'm told) provides real insight about his sport with cutting commentary. But Milbury, well, he has questionable hockey judgment and as a broadcaster seems to know one thing above others: being an irritant sells.
And it does. It does sell. But once you make the game broadcast a sideshow of escalating "WHAT did he just say?!", you follow the path that American TV has followed the last 20 years into its banal, "reality"-swamped hell hole. Just as creating excellent content like "The Wire" is hard and thus producers know it's easier and cheaper to throw attention-seekers together into a reality show; so, too, finding decent announcers is hard, and thus it's easier to grab someone who will always try to be the next Cherry.
See, Milbury calling Connolly "a self-centered dink" is funny only because it's out of character for your usual between-periods fare. Change the "rules" for our usual between-periods fare, though, and you'll have a bunch of Milburys calling players dinks and thinking they're just hilarious. Like a seven-year-old repeating the curse word he just learned, the novelty wears off in the time it takes to zamboni the ice. But once the bar is moved, we won't be going back -- oh, the viewers are calling in now! (We're not even going to go into the catalog of reasons why Milbury's history with Connolly make anything he says laced with questionable intent.)
I'm pretty sure I'm in a dying, curmudgeonly minority here, but alas: The thing about filling broadcasts with the "wow, is he drunk?"-type riffing that you hear at the corner bar is that there's already plenty of that ... at the corner bar ... and on the Internet. It's fun and great in its setting, but during game broadcasts I'd rather hear it straight, honest, and without pageantry, the way the excellent U. of Minnesota announcing duo handles things. They don't need to resort to off-the-cuff, message-board-like "he's a dink" -- and you can just Milbury's gears grinding when he thinks about dropping lines like that in -- because the U. of Minnesota duo actually have something relevant to say.
In short: I do not want announcers to be the show. I want, you know, the game to be the show. My friends and hockey buds and game thread cohorts can make me laugh 1,000 times more than any announcer ever can, because humor is a matter of taste, and familiarity with existing niche themes. Actually, maybe Milbury plays well in Boston precisely because he
didn't destroy their roster is familiar with their niche themes. If so, great for them. But that doesn't change the premise that broadcasting just to stir fans ("Ooohh, he said something divisive!") is a cheap gimmick that distracts from the actual game.
But yeah, I know, that's TV, baby. This is a losing battle. Packaging game broadcasts in absurdity and soap opera always wins. They put a MUTE button on my remote for a reason.