For the April 5th issue of ESPN the Magazine, 50 random NHLers were asked 20 questions (ESPN Insider sub. required) that would elicit more interesting responses than "Who's the best [enter position here] in the NHL?" ESPN does ask "Who's the best player?" (Ovechkin), "Best coach?" (Babcock) and "Who will win the Stanley Cup?" (Blackhawks) there was still some gold to be taken out of this For example:
"Who's the top ref?"
The man with the best hair in hockey, Kerry Fraser, won the honor with 26% of the vote. In no surprise, the second place response was, "There are no good refs" at 12 percent. Players were also asked who the worst ref is and Stephane Auger lead with 20 percent, with one player saying, "He's terrible at everything." Alexandre Burrows nods in agreement.
"Who has the best groupies?"
If you're a hockey player living the bachelor life then Montreal is the city for you, earning a 42 percent endorsement. The second place city was Vancouver at 18 percent but then again, we could have just asked some of the Chicago Blackhawks. In a surprising fifth place was Long Island with four percent. I guess the near-by Hooters on Hempstead Turnpike and Hofstra University helps attract the puck bunnies near Nassau Coliseum.
"Who has the hottest spouse?"
Mike Fisher(notes) might have locked up this category for a while after his recent engagement to singer Carrie Underwood. Funny enough, 22 percent said "no comment", while seven players refused to say anyone but their wife. The Tiger Woods mess has affected everybody.
"Grade Gary Bettman, A through F, on the job he's doing as commish."
He might have graduated from Cornell, but Bettman would need some extra credit assignments to pull up his marks. Graded a "C" by 30 percent of the players polled and a "D" and "F" by 16 percent, he doesn't get much respect from the players here. ESPN even quoted an unnamed "recent all star" as saying, "He doesn't give guys enough money, and he needs to have more teams in Canada -- that's what drives our league right now."
Aside from the few fun questions and getting digs in on Bettman, there were a couple of serious queries that we'd love to see ESPN use again in a larger sample next time they poll NHLers.
"Do you think you have any gay teammates?"
Forty-two percent said yes, they believe there's a gay player in their locker room.
"Do you think any of your teammates are taking PEDs?"
"No comment" received 12 percent and "yes" got an eight percent response.
"Have you ever been approached about fixing the outcome of a game?"
No player said "yes", but three of the 50 polled replied "no comment" and we can all assume they've played for Rick Tocchet at some point in their careers. (/jokes)
"What one change would help the NHL's popularity the most?"
It's the question on every hockey fan, player and executive's mind. And to no one's surprise 52 percent said "more TV coverage" ... in a poll ... for ESPN. Hint anyone? A League veteran said "We need something like 'Hard Knocks' on HBO. It shows players are real people, and the drama of getting ready for the season. If we had that, we'd see the impact right away in the stands." Which team would help give the most exposure and personality in that situation? Philadelphia? Washington? Chicago? Vancouver?
One player, definitely not me, did suggest to "Have mandatory ice girls at every game". I think this is something we can all believe in, right?