I generally try to stay away from criticizing the way the NHL is covered by television/radio — in print, anway.
I know everyone’s trying to do the best job they can, and come up with as many innovative ideas as possible, and get a handle on what the viewing/listening public wants. It’s all about ratings, and that’s fine. Heck, my life now is all about page views and hits and scheduling blog posts to appear as many times over the course of a day as possible.
But watching Monday night’s Detroit-Calgary game on the NHL Center Ice package, on the channel with the TSN feed, I really found myself enjoying the work of color commentator Ray Ferraro. He was positioned between the benches and really jelled with play-by-play man Gord Miller. And I realized, ‘wow, you can do that between-the-benches job and not scream? Who knew.’
Anyone who has watched a Sunday afternoon game on NBC this year knows what I’m talking about. Pierre McGuire spends the entirety of every game he covers screaming like he’s yelling at kids to get off his lawn, making sure that every fact he’s thought of over the last month comes out of his mouth and that he starts almost every comment by addressing the person in the booth he’s talking too (I have no idea why he has to differentiate between Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk) by their nickname.
McGuire is an insider with a lot of knowledge and contacts. And he makes any studio show or round-table discussion a must-watch. But he ruins games and makes them almost completely unwatchable to the U.S. audience. And I want to know, why did NBC hire him? In Canada, he’s a well-known icon that people either love or hate. Obviously he’s spent his entire life working in that nation’s most popular sport, and he’s dedicated tons of time to getting to know the lower levels of the game in addition to the NHL. But in America? He’s just a guy with a funny accent who yells all the time. People might tune to Sunday Night Football to hear John Madden or watch a baseball game for Tim McCarver’s analysis. But Pierre McGuire? In the U.S., he might as well be Mr. Peabody or Mr. Clean.
NBC should make a better effort to carve out its own niche with its own talent. And it has kind of done that by making Mike Milbury a prominent member of its studio show. Here’s an American-born guy with ties to one of the league’s most stories franchises, who worked and coached in New York. He’s someone U.S. fans, hard-core and casual, can relate to. I hate to tell McGuire, but people in the U.S. could care less which guys starred at the World Junior Championship or won a Midget tournament in Saskatoon a decade ago. American viewers wants facts, they want fun and they want to know why things that happen on the ice happen.
Someone like Ferraro would be a perfect fit. He’s worked for NBC in the past and, although he’s not a household name, his NHL career had stops in numerous U.S. cities that remember him well. Plus he was a major player on the old NHL 2Night show on ESPN2. However, it doesn’t have to be Ferraro. It doesn’t have to even be an American-born former player or coach. It could be anyone that knows how to appeal to a U.S. audience and, most importantly, knows that constantly yelling isn’t the way to sell the game.