If you haven't heard yet, the Florida Panthers parted ways with Denis Potvin. The loss of the Hall of Fame Islanders legend, who has been a Panthers color man since the club's inception, is a curious one that stunned Cats fans.
The reasons are unclear -- employment break-ups rarely are -- but SBN's Panthers blog Litter Box Cats has some thoughts and links to local coverage of Potvin's dismissal:
It would appear Panthers management were a tad concerned about ensuring their television personalities were living in South Florida year-round, as opposed to only during the regular season. Ya know, since the vast majority of Canadian snow-bird types won't connect with a hockey Hall of Famer who spends no more than ten months per year in the area.
Yeah, the reasoning sounds a wee bit forced. As Litter Box proprietor and chief scooper Whale4Ever notes, not every organization can claim to have a dynastic Cup-winning Hall of Famer who has been with them from Day One. And for the Panthers -- my how time flies -- that history is now 15 years (give or take a lockout).
As for the NHL franchise that has an even longer history with Potvin, the natural question is: Do the Islanders want any part of the newly free broadcaster, Denis? If he were interested or the job came open, should they try? [Note: We're speaking hypothetically of a broadcast job -- I assume most fans would happily have him back in any sort of mentoring/advising hockey op' role.]
Among NHL fans I've encountered, Potvin's announcing reputation is interesting and mixed. I've heard him viewed as "a homer," yet there is some thought that his criticism of the Panthers is part of what encouraged this divorce. For an announcer, in many ways, you can't win.
I'll say this: He's honest. He's certainly rooting for the home side (a necessary trait in a non-hockey-mad market, I think), but he also seems to call it like he sees it: Both his episodes of homerism and criticism come from the heart, not from some desire to make everything a show.
So Potvin's Free ... Bring Him Back to the Island?
But would I want him with the Islanders? No.
First, on the TV side, the Islanders are set with the excellent Billy Jaffe. I don't know if Islanders fans realize just how good Jaffe has become in relation to his peers, but it's gotten to the point where I worry someone is going to steal him. His ability to break down relevant plays -- immediately, in this short-stoppage era where there is little broadcast time to do so -- is refreshing, as other fans who have caught him on Versus should realize. His home broadcast analysis is objective yet does not alienate us Islanders fans who could use a virtual over-the-air hug from time to time.
Jaffe's handling of this past season, difficult as it was, was on the money: We're rebuilding, so you can't live and die with each loss, but you can focus on the positives and negatives of the development process. He struck that balance well.
Now, suppose Jaffe were scooped up or reassigned by MSG. Then would I want Potvin in the fold? Still, no. As a player, Potvin was obviously gold in my mind. As an announcer, not quite such. And I've learned that when you have an opinionated, self-assured franchise Hall of Fame legend move to the broadcast booth, it can change your impression and start to affect your memory of the person as a player.
In St. Louis, Bernie Federko has had the color job for quite a while (after first publicly and curiously saying he should be considered for the GM job back when Mike Keenan was hired and fired. Pshhh, players don't just become GMs overnight ... right?). I know both in his campaigning for the GM job and his early years as an announcer, my impression of Federko changed -- and not for the better. I ended up wishing my memories of him had closed with his playing career.
As an announcer, Bernie is okay, but let's just say his caliber is not what it was as a player. And yet, the confidence these great players bring to the broadcast booth seems to stem from their playing career rather than from their broadcast acumen. Both Potvin and Federko bring a sort of cockiness that is probably an essential ingredient to (or inevitable result of) building a Hall of Fame career, but doesn't necessarily translate well to the booth.
Like a superstar trying to coach regular players, sometimes that creates an awkward incongruity. Elite stars have a way of observing a sport that betrays their unfamiliarity with how average players experience the game. Wayne Gretzky saw the ice like no one else. Brett Hull found soft openings where few defensemen and only select centers could find him. For them, it is hard to grasp how the average player does not see -- and thus cannot do -- what they did. While they still provide an interesting perspective, it's one I might not want to hear if I have a lot of other, positive associations with them as a player.
Now, is it fair to judge an announcer by his Hall of Fame playing standards? No, not at all. But as a fan, is part of one's connection to this game tied to memories of watching that player spin mythology on ice? Yes.
So this is a quite selfish view, but such is the fan's right: When it comes to legendary players, I prefer the memories stay there, unless they're some other franchise's legend. It's actually a treat to hear Potvin on Panthers broadcasts from time to time, just to hear his voice again. But would I want to hear him regularly on Islanders broadcasts, adding his commentary and adding a possibly diminished coda to his place in Islanders lore? Actually, I'd rather not.