When you tune into the NHL awards every June, you do so knowing only that you're going to be put through hell to find out who won the trophies.
Its very existence ensures a lack of enjoyment. No one could make this work.
And so with that in mind it must be said that this was probably the best of the three NHL Awards Shows actually done in the current format. This is, of course, damning the show with the faintest praise detectable by modern science, given that 2011 featured more player name mispronunciations than NHL2k5, and the host-free 2012 show was DOA. But nonetheless, I didn't watch this show in abject horror so much as plaintive eagerness that the end would come soon. That is, in fact, a compliment.
They kept the things that made past incarnations of the show to a... well, they didn't keep them to a minimum, obviously. A minimum for what you could expect from the NHL awards, probably. If you were being honest with yourself, the eye-rolling could not have been as vociferous this time around. There were even, I swear to you, actual highlights that bordered on being entertaining. The lack of Kevin Smith and Nickelback was a definitive plus, for instance.
However, it should also be noted that the celebrity rollouts were, as with past seasons, a little tedious, and made worse by the fact that almost every one of them — with two stated dissenters — was a sworn fan of the Los Angeles Kings. It got to be a bit much, but when the league insists on trotting out its meager few celebrity fans (no matter how much I might enjoy their individual work. I'm looking at you Retta and Colin Hanks) who don't mind being caught dead at this particular ghastly early-summer awards event in the middle of the desert, this is what happens.
At least they didn't have anyone reading tweets this year.
Here, then, are a handful of things about this show that were not actively terrible, and I only had to cheat once.
5. Ryan Getzlaf's advice
Maybe the worst part of the NHL awards is the red carpet pre-show that precedes it, broadcast on the NHL Network. This was pared down from the previous three insufferable hours to a merely interminable two. Hosted by Kathryn Tappen and Barry Melrose in a delightful repartee of the former saying one short sentence, then letting the latter yammer on for a good minute and a half about nothing in particular, pausing only to veer into wildly inaccurate statements, such as this season being reigning Norris winner PK Subban's “coming out party.”
They also, occasionally, kicked over to Kevin Weekes for some player interviews.
It was in one of these that Weekes asked a somewhat risque question — as these things go on such a sterile broadcast — prodding Hart finalist Ryan Getzlaf on whether he actually tells his linemates “Go to the net, and I'll make you rich.” Getzlaf confirmed that this is a thing he actually says regularly.
Other than that, though, it was two wasted hours of dead-eyed, canned responses. Two hours of them. Two hours the viewer could have spent learning a foreign language or with a loved one.
4. PK Subban as backstage correspondent
Perhaps this is my undying love of PK Subban sneaking into the proceedings here, but the Habs defenseman was actually pretty good at his role interviewing a few award winners backstage wasn't the worst idea. Again, it wasn't a great one, but at least he knew these guys and had some sort of rapport with them. His questions were even a little better than the standard, “What does winning this award mean to you?”
There were two things that were good about this change:
1) Tuukka Rask had no time at all for him, and forced things to be cut short after a single question because he seems not to like PK Subban very much.
2) The Las Vegas-themed background actors, like Elvis and Michael Jackson impersonators and stereotypical Showgirls, silently walla-walla-rhubarbing their way through the most obvious fake conversations in television history.
The latter was perhaps one of the most compelling things on the show.
3. Having a host (who actually knows hockey)
After the disastrous Jay Mohr experiment of 2011 (we weep for thee, Steve Whyzerman), the league went without any sort of host for 2012 and things were somehow worse. Directionless, it turns out, is worse than a bad direction. So they went back to the original format this time around, bringing CBC presenter and Rogers desk host-elect George Stroumboulopoulos run the show.
Again, no one could make this material work. Billy Crystal would die a thousand deaths with it. One can only assume the quote-unquote jokes, such as they are, are merely the printouts of a rudimentary computer algorithm that looks for as many ways to squeeze hockey puns into a one-paragraph throw to a video package as possible.
But Stroumboulopoulos at least tried. He pronounced everyone's name right. He exhibited actual hockey knowledge. A huge step in the right direction. They're still a couple light years from the final destination, of course, but the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single … SLAPSHOT.
(Hire me for next year, NHL awards. This is an example of the quality of my work, i.e. better than what got trotted out again this year.)
2. Rich Peverley and Dominic Moore
Dominic Moore (hopefully, for his sake) wrapped his “You Poor Man” sympathy tour by winning the Masterton award, presented to him by Rich Peverley, who might just win it next year even if he doesn't play a single game.
Very deserved, and there even seemed like an actual moment of genuine feeling between the two players while they talked about what it takes to stick through tough personal times and continue to play. Just very nice. That's all.
1. Cuba Gooding, Jr.
This could have been, in all honesty, The Best Nos. 1-40. I don't know what happened to Cuba Gooding backstage — maybe he just got excited to be working again — but he came out with a fire under his ass, which he kindly asked both Adam Graves and Mark Messier not to touch, on mic.
He shouted at inappropriate times, uncomfortably put his arms around people, kicked a box off the stage, hit on Andrew Ference's wife, and for a few brief minutes made the entire affair briefly not-boring.
As reward for doing so, you can be assured that he will neeeeeeever be invited back to the NHL Awards. That's the greatest gift a man can receive, because this awards show is mostly...
5. Phillip Phillips
Maybe I'm not as in with the “42-year-old squares” crowd as I need to be to know who this person is — Wikipedia tells me he won American Idol two years ago, so I'll take their word for it — but his musical performance, of his hit No. 58 song “Raging Fire” was, well, it was something.
For one thing, it was not live. It was taped at several different Las Vegas locations. Not, like, in front of things you'd recognize or anything like that, because this is the NHL awards, where even the Las Vegas landmarks must, by rule, max out at B-list. And not only was it taped, it was obviously also playing the single version of the song and having him lip sync the lyrics, in the league's worst faking-it epidemic since the Habs were eliminated.
Were it not for the fact that the league got Phillips, whose songwriting is as imaginative as his parents' child-naming, to put on the league's 30 different team jerseys (in still images, mind you), this could have been a bad music video for the song and there would have been no way of knowing.
My takeaway, though, is that I now know who Phillip Phillips is, and I am poorer for it.
4. It wasn't live on CBC
Perhaps as one final F.U. to the league for the whole Rogers thing, the CBC chose not to air the awards live from 7-9 p.m. East Coast time, when they were live. Instead, it pushed the show back an hour.
Lucky Canadians. They could just sit back and not-watch this, and find out who won every award, and all the voting totals, on Twitter. I suppose I or any other American could have done this as well, of course, but we need that immediacy, don't we? I mean, the only reason I watched it was it's just my job at this point and also I hate myself, but Canadians were at least given a reasonable excuse to not do so.
3. Doc Emrick calling bubble hockey
The oddest segment of the night by far was when they kicked the show over to a pre-taped segment from the red carpet event during which various awards nominees, for some reason, played each other in bubble hockey.
Doc Emrick was on hand, for some reason, to provide play by play, for some reason. It was filled with all the usual non-sequitur jabbering about who-knows-what that you've come to expect from Emrick's call on national television, and because one of the teams wore white and red he, for some reason, referred to them as though they were the Red Wings. From 2012. At least, that's what I can only assume, because he, for some reason, referred to one of them as “Brad Stuart.” I didn't understand it.
Was there a point to this segment? Of course there wasn't. Was there a joke anywhere in there at all? Obviously not. Was it entertaining? What do you think.
With all that in mind, one can only assume that this will, for some reason, return next year.
2. The pace
At one point in the show, while talking to Alex Ovechkin, Stroumboulopoulos lamented that this was “only” a two-hour show. This led one to wonder whether that was actually true, because at that point there was still about 50 minutes left and it felt as though I had been watching this my entire life, whether I had ever done something besides take notes about the 2014 NHL awards. It seemed as though I must have, but then I could recall no such events.
But once the show ended I was able to collect my thoughts and remember that this was actually one of the faster-feeling versions of the show — they even tried to play Duncan Keith off during his (underserved) Norris acceptance speech.
This is a show in desperate need of tightening but with no real way to do it. You can't cut it to just an hour, because that would make everything feel too rushed. Would we excise the vast majority of the clunky jokes told to an audience with a seeming genetic predisposition toward not-laughing? Yeah, but the scant few half-decent parts of the show would be squeezed as well.
You also can't go to 90 minutes, because that's a clunky run time. It's ideal in terms of making the viewer not want to crawl into their own mouths to live the rest of their lives in their own bile-filled stomachs, but TV people wouldn't go for it.
So it's 120 minutes that feels like double that. And it's going to be forever.
For the second year in a row, a musical act everyone stopped caring about some time ago stole the show with an inexplicable, bad performance. Last time out it was Nickelback, which has been ruining things for as long as it has existed. This time it was Matisyahu, who your puka shell-wearing college classmate told you was, like, totally chill back in 2006 but who you haven't heard of or thought about since.
He apparently wrote a song about the Los Angeles Kings, and it was the same kind of nonsense pablum he's been peddling for the last decade that appeals to people for whom Bob Marley is just too, y'know, edgy.
Then, in the middle of the song, several members of the Kings who inspired the song came out on stage with the Stanley Cup and stood there awkwardly while the show went to commercial. Again, this is in the middle of the song. While it would have been nice to see a rap battle between Matisyahu and Bill Ranford — to match the out-of-place street crew breakdancing showdown of the NHL15 cover vote winner later in the show— the NHL Awards again left viewers wanting.
In reality, a milquetoast musical performer who hasn't been popular since Eric Lindros was still in the league throwing to commercial while a bunch of hockey people stand there awkwardly is a perfect encapsulation of everything wrong with the NHL awards: Out of touch, boring, curious, and bad in a way you can't quite put your finger on.