Monday morning, Barry Trotz put on a figurative tinfoil hat and said one of the most wacky things he’s ever said as Caps coach. Frustrated by the length of Brooks Orpik’s three-game suspension, Trotz suggested the NHL favors the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised based on who we’re playing and all that,” Trotz said.
Later when asked to clarify, Trotz replied, “Take it for whatever you want.”
I, a rational human being, do not believe the NHL favors one team over another. But the problem is the optics. And the main provider of said optics is NBC, the NHL’s American TV partner.
Over the years, NBC’s analysis during intermission can basically be summed up like this: yell first, think later. Whether it’s Jeremy Roenick calling Alex Ovechkin a bad defensive player due to plus-minus or Keith Jones pushing tired narratives, NBC’s hockey analysis can seem more about settling scores than communicating constructive information. (It’s basically the opposite of CSN Mid-Atlantic’s coverage of Caps games.)
Mike Milbury, whose personality wavers from patient to cranky night to night, is the kingpin. During the first intermission of Game Two, Grumpy Milbury launched into an angry screed about Brooks Orpik’s headshot on Olli Maatta. The Orpik hit was bad, don’t get me wrong, but Milbury’s analysis still somehow managed to be over-the-top.
“This [hit] tonight is suspendible,” Milbury, sounding irritated, began. “If they don’t suspend this guy, there is no justice. There should be a protest in Pittsburgh. He picks the head. It’s about a second late after he passes the puck. He’s a predator, we know that. He looks for people who are vulnerable. He’s done it in the past.”
Finally, at the end of his rage crescendo, Milbury added with disgust, “That guy needs to go.”
Liam McHugh tried to temper Milbury’s “predator” comments, pointing out that Orpik hasn’t been suspended in a decade.
“It’s at least two games,” Milbury predicted of Orpik’s suspension. “It’s at least two games for this hit. It’s a very late hit. It’s tough.”
This discussion occurred on network TV.
Two nights later on cable, Marcus Johansson got elbowed in the head by Penguins defender Kris Letang. The hit, in my opinion, was just as bad as Orpik’s, but the tone from Milbury was completely different.
“As great of a player as he is, Kris Letang has a tendency to lose his cool,” a calm Milbury began, making sure to compliment the player first. “A 2-0 lead, you don’t have to lose your cool. There is every reason to keep your cool. This is a late hit.”
NBCSN then showed a replay of the elbow with a stopwatch graphic, clocking Letang delivering his head shot to Johansson .63 seconds late.
“This is not exact,” Milbury said. “[But if that time] holds up, that’s a borderline late hit. The question is, where is the principle point of contact? He looks like he has some hip on body. He also makes contact with the head or shoulder. Is he going to have to go through league discipline? Looks to me like he got a lot of head. I wouldn’t be surprised if he sits out a game.”
While Milbury agreed with Keith Jones that Letang was lucky he didn’t get thrown out of the game, he was more reserved, spending more time justifying Letang’s hit than crucifying it (like he did with Orpik).
“It’s a bing bang [play],” Milbury continued. “The puck goes somewhere else. Sometimes you’re following the puck. Referees have to get it right. They’re going to review this, no doubt about it. But it’s a borderline suspendible call.”
Orpik and Letang’s dirty hits were more similar than different. Yet Milbury’s analysis is night and day. It makes you wonder why.
My question to NBC and NHL is this: How can you expect Caps fans to not feel like the fix is in? It’s a problem.
The solution is more thought-provoking analysis, where intellect is valued over someone’s entertainment value. The solution is more rational, thoughtful opinions that advance the conversation, not poison it. The solution is not delivering hot takes that get press. It’s about helping hockey fans understand the game better. Instead we’re left clenching our fists and gritting our teeth.
Until the voices and faces change, that distrust is going to remain.
And it’s only going to get worse if Letang is suspended fewer games than Orpik.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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