NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus wants people to watch hockey on his networks. He thinks playoff beards, as iconic a part of the NHL playoffs as multiple overtimes and playing through grisly injuries, are keeping those people away.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun Times, Lazarus said he's talked to officials, the NHLPA and players about shaving off their beards because that extra hair can stunt their branding opportunities:
"I know it's a tradition and superstition, but I think (the beards do) hurt recognition. They have a great opportunity with more endorsements. Or simply more recognition with fans saying, 'That guy looks like the kid next door,' which many of these guys do. I think that would be a nice thing."
Yes, Lazarus is a suit who only looks at the world through money-colored lenses. But Islanders fans can cut through the bull and see what's really going on here: NBC continues its vengeful, unceasing vendetta against the New York Islanders.
The playoff beards are just the latest strike by The Peacock, this one at the Islanders' most precious area: their glorious golden history.
The playoff beard tradition was started by the 1979-1980 Islanders on their way to the first of four straight Stanley Cups. What began as a way to break the routine of another two month gauntlet went viral as the Islanders picked up Cups and other teams wanted to emulate them.
"It wasn't a formal announcement or proclamation to the league," [writer and broadcaster Stan] Fischler said. "It wasn't even picked up by the media at first. Just an occasional beard here and there. Then more and more guys started doing it. Then other teams picked up on it over the years."
Really, that's it?
"That's it," said Hall of Famer Clark Gillies, a mainstay on those Islanders teams. "In fact, we didn't even realize we started it. Only recently did people start saying we were the ones who should stake claim to that. It really turned into something much bigger than I could have imagined."
Would Mark Lazarus be so concerned about playoff beards if grim, hairless Easter Island Moai Mark Messier had started the tradition? If 27-year-old Sidney Crosby, who has the facial hair patterns of a pubescent pre-teen, told his teammates to quit shaving, would Lazarus worry about the Penguins captain's marketing muscle? No.
Obviously, 35 years of tradition is not good enough for NBC, who are trying to wipe out any trace of the Islanders' very existence.
Just this past season, NBC scheduled exactly zero Islanders games for national broadcast, a direct slap in the face of the franchise. Sure, the Islanders were a non-playoff team in 2013-14. But NBC still somehow found a way to air eleven (11!) games featuring the Buffalo Sabres, a team that threw in the towel on their season before Labor Day.
Exhibit A: No playoff beards, an Islanders-started tradition.
Exhibit B: No nationally broadcast Islanders games.
But these aren't even the surest signs that NBC hates the Islanders. No, the clearest signal that NBC has the most base, outright contempt for the Islanders and their fans comes from their continued employment and promotion of a man so inextricably linked to the franchise's 20-year fall from grace that the mere mention of his name sends fans down a rabbit hole of depression, disillusionment and draft busts that they sometimes never recover from.
Exhibit C: Mike Milbury.
Imagine devoting some of your precious and all-too-short free time to watching a hockey game, only to see the guy who burned your team to ashes offering his awful, nonsensical, reactionary "advice" to other teams who want nothing to do with him. All you can do is watch in horror, while thinking, "Yup, he would totally have done that to the Islanders."
NBC hates the Islanders. The writing is right there: the playoff beards, the schedule, Milbury. Everything about the NHL on NBC points to this one, inarguable conclusion. Mark Lazarus didn't say so, but he definitely said so.