Anyone who wanders into Major League Baseball can't help but notice the stark contrast between the field of play and the uneasy space just off it, where the executives and the scouts make their livings. The game itself is a ruthless competition. Unless you're very good, you don't survive in it. But in the space just off the field of play there really is no level of incompetence that won't be tolerated.
- Michael Lewis
The late Roone Arledge transformed the way television covered sport.
Those beautiful shots of the host city and its skyline that open each broadcast? His wife’s idea. Arledge introduced it after going to San Francisco to see a Major League Baseball game.
Multiple cameras and, amazingly, cameras that move? Arledge.
The instant replay? Arledge.
Iso cams? Arledge.
Slow motion? Arledge again.
Monday Night Football? The dude created it.
The only staple of modern sports coverage Arledge didn’t invent, and the one that’s become the most essential part of my nightly sports viewing? The mute button.
I get that the Leafs aren’t a particularly good hockey team. I watch them struggle night in, night out. I can read the standings, a box score, and you don’t need to go into the agate type to do a quick calculation of their goal differential (I’ll save you the time: it’s not good).
I also know that there are huge swaths of this country that takes great delight in the Leafs struggles, a feeling normally described as Schadenfreude but often seems more akin to pulling the wings off a fly.
But Saturday night’s Leafs Habs game may have hit new lows in terms of tone and content. Garry Galley and Glenn Healy combined for a rare daily double of snark and stupidity.
Healy was a career back-up goalie who put up a .887 save percentage. He received a Stanley Cup ring for opening the bench door on the 1994 New York Rangers, which is the equivalent of claiming part of a Pulitzer for working on the copy desk. The main exception to that analogy being, the kid working the copy desk likely wouldn’t run his mouth as much about his role in the big win.
I recall Garry Galley being a marginal player on a lot of teams (Boston and Philly in the mid to late 80s). I had no idea he was a broadcaster and I wish it were still so. I’m not sure what team he normally covers but I hope he returns to them as soon as possible.
This isn’t a complaint because the Leafs lost. The Habs were hands-down the better club and were full marks for the win. They deserved the two points and they seized them.
I also - as anyone who has ever read this blog, listened to one of the PPP podcasts, or met me in person knows – have no problem with criticizing the Leafs. And, let’s face it, there is much to criticize.
What I do have a problem with is irrational or unfounded criticism and Saturday night’s broadcast was replete with it.
Two quick examples:
Countless times Galley and Healy spoke about Thomas Kaberle’s propensity to never shoot the puck. A quick look at NHL.com shows that Kaberle’s actually 31st in the league among defencemen in shots. In half an NHL season Kaberle has just 13 less shots than James Wisniewski who, according to Galley and Healy, is a revelation on Montreal’s defence.
Viewers were also told that Montreal hasn’t given Toronto “a sniff” this whole season. That’s absolutely true if you ignore that Toronto beat Montreal 3-2 on October 7 and 3-1 on December 11th and the season series is actually 2-2-0.
On and on it went, the snark coming so thick from Healy it was as if he’d ingested an entire strata of comments from TSN or HFBoards and the toxins and stupidity were desperately trying to purge themselves from his body.
The mute button is an adequate response for dealing with Nick Kypreos’ history of head injuries, Doug Maclean’s rampant managerial incompetence, Healy’s chronic unfunny snark and the regularly scheduled rantings of Pierre Maguire. The downside is, I don’t get to actually hear the game and its wonderful sounds.
The crowd at the Bell Centre has to be the best in hockey. They are passionate, engaged, and they clearly “get” the game. That’s what I want to hear when I watch hockey and that’s what the game lacks when I have to keep hitting mute.
I’ve often said that I would be willing to pay extra for the CBC or TSN, or Sportsnet (Home of the StupidTM) to offer a digital package with game only sounds. I would have paid a pretty premium last night.
In a country full of journalism schools and a passion for hockey it’s shocking how few “outsiders” make it on air. Many of the sideline guys and panelists are outstanding, but when it comes to colour guys, the metric for competence seems to start and end at former player.
The Leafs, love them or hate them, draw the largest ratings in the country. They play in the most populous centre among the largest corporations in the land. They are a terrible hockey team that, oddly, is much beloved. National broadcasters, you would think, might want to court this massive fan base. Maybe finding one or two on-air personalities that aren’t so openly hostile, or ill-informed, would be a good start.
Might be the sort of thing an innovator like Roone Arledge would do.
Glenn Healy added this gem to the Saturday night broadcast: "I played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and you don’t get shutout on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada.”
That's a great insight from Healy, especially in light of his performance with the Leafs against the New York Islanders on Saturday, October 4, 1997.
Yeah, it was a 3-0 shutout loss for the Leafs with Healy between the pipes.