February 02, 2010
There is a persecution complex the size of the National Mall that hovers around the Washington Capitals when it comes to the media. It's born out of voices in the North American press foolhardily saying the team should be contracted or inventing any number of reasons why the franchise doesn't deserve a unique talent like Alex Ovechkin(notes). It's born out of a local D.C. media that, for decades, worshiped at the altar of football and basketball while hockey was locked out of the temple.
But conditions have changed mightily for the franchise in the last two years. Its success on the ice earned pundit respect; and the surging, "Rock The Red" bandwagon and packed arenas forced an apathetic local media to embrace the puck.
(Did you know Ovechkin had "a big lobster and a big steak" at the Palm downtown on Sunday, as was reported in the Washington Post's gossip pages? Needless to say, Peter Bondra(notes) never had that level of attention.)
Yet the persecution complex exists, and it was on full display Monday afternoon on the Mike Wise Show on 106.7 FM in D.C. Alan May, a Capitals analyst for Comcast SportsNet who played parts of five seasons with the franchise in the 1990s, slammed the hell out of the Canadian media for its alleged "bias" against the Capitals and its coverage of defenseman Mike Green's(notes) hit on Michael Frolik(notes) of the Florida Panthers that resulted in a three-game suspension -- to the point where he claims networks like TSN and Sportsnet actually caused Green to be suspended by pestering the NHL office about it.
May's comments show a blissful unawareness of the team's Golden Boy status around the hockey world in 2010 ... although there are some salient points to be mined from his rant.
Is the Canadian media biased against the Washington Capitals? Is there another team you feel suffers from a vast hockey media conspiracy that has a real gripe?
To reset the spark to this flame war, here's Mike Green's hit on Frolik, complete with TSN demonization:
TSN's Ray Ferraro was adamant about the egregious nature of the hit, and frankly the season has seen worse. That doesn't change how nasty it was, however.
That critique, plus Green receiving more than two games, was enough to set off May on the radio, and luckily for us Dan Steinberg of the D.C. Sports Bog played stenographer for May's rant:
"I thought it was created by TSN up in Canada and their announcers, sitting there on a Friday night. The only angles they showed of the Mike Green hit were very poor angles that looked like it was a bad hit, and when you go in super-slow motion, it makes it look worse all the time. And I thought the Mike Green hit, no one even noticed it the other night. And they made a big deal, and he winds up getting three games out of it."
The hit was bad enough for the Capitals' NHLPA rep to take Green to task, which is something May should have taken into account. Later, May expanded on those thoughts, and it's a miracle his tinfoil hat didn't interfere with the radio signal:
"Because the league offices are in Toronto, where they dole out the suspensions, they're on the phone within five minutes of a hit saying, 'Is he gonna be suspended?' ... Well, the guys in the office there, they're saying, 'Well, we didn't even see it,' so they've got to go back, and all of the sudden players are getting suspended. I don't like it at all. I blame it more on the Canadian media, and I think the league has to quit letting those guys have so much influence on the game, because the power of the NHL is in the United States."
Whew. We're confused: Is he saying that U.S. media should be able to call up and create suspensions? Because we might actually be in favor of that ...
May had two more beauties before he was through. Because, you seen, the Capitals' flashy style is rejected while a Canadian team's is embraced:
"The style of hockey they play is no different than the style of hockey that the Vancouver Canucks play, but the Vancouver Canucks are top of the pedestal, and they treat the Caps as though they're frauds."
Has anyone, anywhere accused the Capitals of being a fraud"? Do they even put the Canucks on a pedestal in Vancouver? Regardless, Alex Burrows disagrees with your Canadian media coddling the Canucks theory, Mr. May; and we believe it'll go down as one of the dumbest observations we'll have read in 2010.
Finally -- and make sure to visit the Bog for the full interview -- it circles back to Canada and Ovechkin, where May actually makes a somewhat valid point:
"I think the Canadians up there, they do not like the fact that there's a Russian hockey player as the best player in hockey."
It's not as simple as that, but May's argument is taken: Ovechkin and Green are outsized personalities who play an unorthodox style of hockey, and that combination is frowned upon by Canadian traditionalists.
That overt criticism has manifested itself in Don Cherry rants about Ovechkin and in Green's Team Canada candidacy getting as much media love as Dennis Kucinich in the U.S. presidential election. They scrutinize Ovechkin's personality more than any Canadian player's -- see the infamous Crosby vs. Ovechkin informercial -- and Mike Green's defensive game is treated like that of a less-responsible Brian Campbell(notes). If May's point is that that these players are hit harder because of who they are and where they play: Point taken.
But that does not excuse the rest of his silly, misguided screed, which may have had a scintilla of legitimacy in 2006 but now sounds like something you'd read on a fan board after a tough loss. As Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada called May's rant last night: "Tonight's version of 'You've Got To Be Kidding Me.' "
The Canadian media follows Ovechkin around like a prophet when the team is in Canada. They absolutely love Bruce Boudreau. Ted Leonsis is celebrated for building the brand and filling the seats, while his plan to build a winner has been lauded as a template. We've seen nothing that indicates the Capitals are getting kicked around as a franchise in 2010 by the Canadian media. Individual players? Maybe. The team? It's the flavor of the year.
The suspension was created by one guy: Mike Green. If the Canadian media can influence that suspension, then it's on the NHL for listening to the echo chamber instead of judging the hit fairly. But again: It's easier to boogeyman the media than to fight City Hall, as Alan May showed yet again.