John Steigerwald's Sports Column
It’s clutch and grab time in NHL
Here we go again. It’s Stupid Season.
The best tournament in sports began Wednesday night, when the Stanley Cup playoffs started, but, unfortunately, it was also the beginning of eight weeks of mind-numbing, exasperating, inevitable stupidity.
I saw the first major example Thursday night in Madison Square Garden. It was during the first game in the series between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. About one minute into the game, one of the Rangers was trying to skate behind the Flyers’ goal and was slowed considerably by one of the Flyers’ sticks being jammed between his knees.
Broadcaster Pierre McGuire, working from between the benches on the telecast, said something like this: “That’s interference in the regular season, but, this is the playoffs and it’s good to see that the referees are not going to be calling it tonight.”
McGuire is an excellent analyst whose opinion is respected by everyone in the hockey world. He’s a former Penguins assistant coach who watched Mario Lemieux get clutched and grabbed out of the league by the time he was 31.
It’s 2014 on the planet Earth and around 1997 in the National Hockey League. The Great Lockout of 2004 produced a salary cap but only temporarily eliminated the mind-boggling stupidity that says it’s only right that super-talented players be prevented from having too much fun in the playoffs.
No, you wouldn’t want the fans who paid $150 to $300 per ticket to be entertained by the best skaters, passers and shooters. Let’s let the clutchers and grabbers shine. And, if the stars complain to the referees, we’ll accuse them of whining and looking for special treatment.
Just imagine the NBA allowing a defender to give LeBron James’ jersey a tiny tug to slow him up and disrupt the timing of an alley-oop slam dunk. Then imagine the analyst saying, “That would have been a foul during the regular season, but this is the playoffs and it’s good to see the referees are gonna let the guys play.”
That’s still the mentality in the NHL and, even though at least half of the people in charge of the league know that it’s stupid and hate it, it is apparently never going to change.
The NHL is the only major professional sports league in North America – if not the planet – which allows its product to be watered down by people who think the games are played for the enjoyment of the people playing, coaching and analyzing them instead of the people who pay to watch them.
They’re fortunate, like the other three major sports leagues, to have a monopoly.
• The NCAA ruled this week that member institutions of higher learning will be allowed to provide any and all kinds of food to student-athletes at year-round. This allows these institutions of higher learning to provide cream cheese to student-athletes who are eating a bagel provided by the institution of higher learning.
Believe it or not, before the change, it was an NCAA violation to provide toppings for bagels, because the topping turned the bagel from a snack into a meal. The new approach means all of those barely literate student-athletes we’ve been hearing about will no longer have to read their Cat in the Hat books on an empty stomach. Never underestimate the value of the NCAA.
• The Penguins had the highest local TV ratings in the NHL again this season. Their games on Root Sports averaged a 7.57. That’s three times higher than the Rangers, Islanders and Devils – combined.
The Buffalo Sabres, with the worst team in the NHL, were second at 5.56. Buffalo hockey fans deserve better. They deserve a better football team, too. The Bills consistently draw some of the highest local ratings in the NFL.
The Phoenix Coyotes are thrilled to see their ratings increase by 85 percent. They’re now up to 0.74 or 1/10th of the Penguins’ audience.
Then there are the Islanders, who saw a huge 71-percent increase all the way up to a .36, about 1/20th of the Penguins. The New Jersey Devils put up a .18.
Here’s an idea for the NHL: Put three more teams in the New York City market and another one in the desert.
• The Houston Astros have some work to do. They are in a rebuilding phase and the fans seem to have lost their patience. They’ve had two telecasts “draw” a 0.0 this season. Nielsen placed meters in 579 homes in the Houston market and not one home tuned in. Imagine how bad the radio ratings are.
• Game 1 of the Penguins-Blue Jackets series drew 17 and change in the Pittsburgh market.
• I saw the movie “Draft Day.” It only stunk about half as much as I thought it would. Kevin Costner did another magnificent job of playing Kevin Costner and Denis Leary did a really nice job of playing Denis Leary. Roger Goodell played himself and managed not to be believable.
Catch it on cable.
• I wonder if it’s possible to owe Nielsen ratings points.
John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.