Puck Daddy - NHL

(UPDATE: Bob Gainey stepping down in Montreal; more coming up in Puck Headlines.)

Last week we mentioned that Washington Capitals fans are a hypersensitive bunch when it comes to mainstream media. That clinical inferiority complex can be the only sane reason why anyone would get livid over a snide remark by provocative meathead Mike Milbury on NBC, but alas that's what happened after Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, in an incident that's now the talk of the blogosphere.

To set the scene: Milbury was reviewing highlights of the first period with Pierre McGuire on NBC, and said the following during a Sidney Crosby(notes) goal clip (transcript via Off Wing Opinion):

"What a play. What a move. Quick hands. 1-0, sets the tone. Watch the move there. Good head fake on a great pass by Malkin. Passing, shooting, scoring. He's really matured into what everybody thought he was in the draft year, the complete player. To come here and say, hey, Ovie, I'm still your Daddy here. That's special."

"Hey Ovie, I'm still your Daddy here" joins "Crapitals" in the pantheon of on-air smack-talk against the franchise by Milbury, and his body of work has given Capitals fans a reasonable target for their angst. So one Caps blogger in the press box, Phil Van der Vossen of Capitals Outsider and owner of the sports/entertainment/lad-mag-esque site Gunaxin, decided to confront Milbury after the Penguins game for his verbal jab, which was rendered preposterous by Alex Ovechkin's(notes) ensuing hat-trick in the OT victory.

From Phil on Gunaxin:

I thought it would be interesting to get Mike's take on Sid being Ovie's "Daddy" now. Mike didn't appreciate the question, and immediately called me an [expletive]. He then proceeded to berate me for "being a jerk" and asking a question about a joke he made when the game appeared to be under control by the Penguins. Now I'm not sure if this is just Milbury's usual personality, or if he was just upset after witnessing the Capitals comeback victory in overtime, but he seemed to be in a fairly foul mood.

What made this a story: Van der Vossen pulling out his Flip cam and capturing the following (NSFW language warning):

Somehow, this clash of egos has become a flash-point moment in alt-media coverage and access in the NHL. While I can understand the level of embarrassment here, let's all exhale for a moment and look at this logically.

First, on Phil Van der Vossen: He's been in the Capitals press box for well over a year, and has enthusiastically attended the Blogs With Balls conferences I've spoken at in New York and Las Vegas. In this incident, he comes off as a combative goofball with amateurish disregard for protocol; but know that he's a hard-working businessman who isn't just in this for free tickets to the game.

Now, there are different factors at play here. Van der Vossen makes a physical assault claim against Milbury that seems crass and attention getting. He provoked the exchange, if not the contact; there wasn't anything overtly violent between the two, so let's not make a mountain out of that aspect. (Note: The initial post on Gunaxin has been edited today to downplay the assault claim.)

Should he have asked Milbury the question? Of course.

A national commentator, with a history of regrettable takes on the Capitals, weighs in that demonstrably on the biggest rivalry in hockey, and looks like an idiot after the final buzzer. Can't condone the tone and point of attack, but the question's a valid one for a blog that covers both the team and coverage of the team, which Capitals Outsider does.

Was the question too "fanboy"? Of course it was.

But when teams like the Capitals credential a site like Capitals Outsider, they do so knowing it's completely partisan. I've long argued that blogging's a big tent, just like other media; you have your beats writers, your comedians, your rumor mongers and your editorial writers. Capitals Outsider covers games and the team, but it's from an admittedly biased perspective; the site's not NHL Outsider.

So Van der Vossen is serving his audience by confronting Milbury. Forget all that "journalistic integrity" stuff; he's a Caps fan asking a question on behalf of Caps fans. Not every blogger wants to be a journalist, nor should that aim be the determining factor in their accreditation for the majority of NHL events. Lost in all of this is that he blogged twice about the game itself; again, from a partisan perspective.

Where he loses me: Going after a commenter near the elevators of the press box screams ambush journalism. So does taking out the camera after the confrontation. Take him aside, demand a comment; if he refuses, deal with it accordingly. Everything that's right about the question is wrong about the approach, and bloggers around the League don't look good right now because of it. Heck, even the Capitals need to be concerned with the image of their liberal press box policy in light of this -- the team told us Sunday night they're "looking into it."

(Not that these incidents are really anything more than isolated. The Oilers deny bloggers thanks to their spat with one. The Leafs are apprehensive about bloggers, probably because parody is lost on them.)

Unfortunately, Van der Vossen's made this matter worse in its aftermath. He's edited the video to "crop out" someone who didn't want to appear in it (bizarre). He's edited the text of his post to downplay the assault aspects, which is completely unprofessional and raises plenty of questions about its accuracy.

He's also made several appearances on a must-read post over on Kukla's Korner, in which he offers a smorgasbord of meek defenses in the face of criticism, including:

"He made a comment on National Television which essentially said that Sidney Crosby had sex with Ovechkin's mom (that is how Sid would become Ovie's Daddy). He was completely inappropriate to make that comment, and obviously looked really silly when Ovechkin made him eat some crow."

[...]

"If Mike Milbury has the right to spew forth whatever he wants on NBC, then I have the right to ask him about it, and call him out for it. What he did however is borderline illegal and if I really wanted to ‘make a name for myself' I would have filed charges."

Look, the situation is ugly. Fugly, even. Milbury comes off as a pompous windbag who battles criticism with petulant name-calling. Van der Vossen confirms the worst fears of tentative media relations suits across the League: That bloggers can't be trusted, and that their coverage will inevitably lead to uncontrollable guerilla tactics that make all involved look petty and shameful.

That said, this comment from Van Der Vossen is important:

"Bloggers are criticized for writing things that they wouldn't say to a player or coach's face."

The amount of digital ink dedicated to slamming Mike Milbury's words and deeds is incalculable. The number of those armchair critics that have actually had the stones to call out Milbury for his nonsense face-to-face is miniscule.

One of the major criticisms of bloggers is that we toss bombs from the comfort of our basements without ever facing our targets. Van Der Vossen confronted Milbury. He did so awkwardly, unprofessionally and his behavior following the incident is tarnishing his reputation in a significant way.

Not saying there's anything noble about that, but at least acknowledge that he offered Milbury the chance for rebuttal; which Milbury summarily dismissed as not being worth his time.

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