Tuesdays With Stoosh 04.03.2012

Some gutless thoughts on Mike Milbury as the regular season draws to a close this week, dudes…

The madman gazes out over his nation, a people unknowing of the havoc he is about to wreck.

Herrrrrrrp…Chara, Muckalt and the rights to Spezza, you say? For Yashin. Why sure…derrppppppp


At this point, most of you are already aware of the bizarre comments NBC Sports hockey analyst Mike Milbury made as a guest Monday morning on 94WIP in Philadelphia while discussing the incidents that ended the Pens-Flyers game this past Sunday.

Milbury used the appearance as a means to take shots at the Pens – head coach Dan Bylsma and Sidney Crosby, in particular – and driving Angelo Cataldi and Al Morganti into a series of chortles, hysterics and guffaws that seemed to increase (somewhat uncomfortably) with every anti-Penguins comment.

(Audio of the interview is near the bottom of the link above. And a tip of the hat to Puck Daddy for the link to the link.)

Good thing the interview didn't run ten minutes. Cataldi and Crew might have choked to death on the cheesesteaks they were probably inhaling for breakfast.

Milbury is a clown. In that three-ring circus full of washed-up, "tough-guy-this, leadership-and-character-that" dinosaurs that NBC employs as hockey analysts, he's the ringleader.

He was a stay-at-home defenseman whose skillset was mostly limited to beating the hell out of opposing players. His style of play endeared him to then-Bruins coach Don Cherry. Since washing out of franchise management after destroying the Islanders and making David Littlefield look brilliant by comparison, Milbury has returned the favor to Cherry by shamelessly ripping off Grapes's bombastic hockey analyst act.

The difference, of course, is that while Cherry's jingoism and ignorance occasionally get him in trouble, he is also charismatic and has a genuine "common man" element that frequently comes through in his Coach's Corner segments. Often times, he seems to be aware that the blowhard persona is at least in some part an act. Oh, and he's at least cognizant of the fact that the game has changed since 1975.

There isn't another analyst that the NHL puts on its network who believes his own bullshit more than Mike Milbury.

Milbury is the former-athlete-turned-analyst who never came to grips with the idea that he's no longer playing and that the game has evolved after he left. He's not so much an analyst as he is the former-jock/now-grown adult who still goes to his alma mater's games wearing his letterman's jacket, barking about the glory days and picking fights with parents from the other team. He's the classic-rock star who never came to terms with the fact that it's no longer 1987. He's the surly relative everyone has who shows up at family gatherings, farts at the dinner table and does nothing but bitch about the food, the weather & everything with these damn kids these days.

Milbury's comments Monday on the Philadelphia radio show go beyond pandering to a particular audience. Milbury went on as a representative of NBC Sports, the league's flagship network. He went out of his way to cast some derogatory statements towards a coach and one of the league's best players and most recognizable name.

There's nothing wrong with a primary analyst on the league's network being critical of a player, coach or team; I think hockey fans in general hope to get some degree of that from the national network coverage.

However, this is a league making conscious attempts to grow its fan base into various other demographics. There have to be some at the NHL offices who weren't happy to hear one of its primary paid analysts demanding that a coach "take off the skirt".

This is also a league that has been dealing for three years with concussions to its star players, not to mention multiple player deaths this past summer that may in some part be due to excessive head trauma. I'm sure, then, that the league absolutely loved to hear Milbury poking fun at Crosby's "35th concussion".

Milbury is entitled to his opinion. And truth be told, he wasn't ENTIRELY wrong in all of his comments about Crosby.

If Milbury wants to call him a "punk", that's not exactly a stretch. Crosby has a decided edge to his game; he always has.

That edge to Crosby's game was never a secret. It was put out there front and center the day he was drafted (remember the comments about how he'd never win a Lady Byng award?). It's a necessary element to his game – one that was developed at an early age coming up through the amateur ranks as he was consistently playing against – and dominating – kids who were two or three years older than him. Anyone who has seen any form of amateur hockey at those levels knows how vicious the play there can be. There are major junior scouts in the buildings starting when these kids are hitting 14-15 years of age. Players at those levels will do whatever they need to do to get noticed, especially when they have a chance to take a shot at the prodigy who is three years younger. Especially when the prodigy just turned them into a human turnstile three shifts ago.

There is a lot of value to that facet of a player's game, especially with someone as naturally-gifted as Crosby. Occasionally it gets the best of him, just as it does with Malkin and Lemieux, from time to time (ask Todd Krygier or Brad Ference.) Crosby, Malkin…those guys are all going to give back what they get sometimes. Trust me, as a fan of a particular Western Conference team who made it to the Cup Finals last year, I saw what can happen when a couple of elite skilled players who don't quite have that same edge get bumped off their game and don't respond in kind.

You want to leave it at calling Crosby a punk, fine. You'd think a guy who has already generated a fair amount of controversy with his mouth would've known to just leave it at that. Unfortunately, Milbury has proven time and again that he doesn't get it.

This isn't about the league kissing Crosby's ass or kissing the Penguins' ass. This is about the league and its broadcast partner coming to grips with what it wants to delivery to its fans. It's about the league understanding that a clown like Milbury doesn't add one thing to a broadcast. Existing fans can't stand him because his act is horribly dated and laughably transparent. There isn't one hockey fan who started watching the game because they were enlightened by something Milbury said. And if there was, give him thirty more seconds to say something stupid. He'll piss them off and cause them to flip the station back to Nascar or golf.

At the end of the day, it probably doesn't matter. The NHL won't do anything with Milbury because the NHL can't get out of its own way when it comes to this kind of stuff. Foresight is in short supply in the league offices and has been for a while. Hell, the league seven years removed from killing a season because they bored their fans to death, they've allowed the same tactics that slowed the game down to molasses-in-July levels to creep back into the game.  If they can't figure out what they want with their on-ice game, there isn't much hope for anything off the ice…not even the vehicle designed to bring the game to the fans.

The NHL has been kicking itself in its own ass like this for the better part of 20 years. No reason to stop now.