We deserve NHL hot takes, just not from Mike Milbury

Puck Daddy

The hot take cycle, as it pertains to P.K. Subban and Mike Milbury, is now complete.

It began with an oafish bit of improv from Milbury on NBC, in which he criticized Subban for dancing during Nashville Predators warm-ups before a Stanley Cup Playoff game.

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“P.K. has got a tremendous personality and sometimes you got to keep it under control. This worries me. I know it’s a new day and age and everybody wants to be on Instagram or Twitter or whatever. But you got to keep focus. This is a tough game,” said Milbury.

“When I see this I start to think maybe (Predators head coach) Peter Laviolette ought to give him a rap on the head and say, ‘Hey P.K., we got a game tonight, focus in, you don’t need to be a clown out there. And he will. He’s been a clown in the past and we’ve seen him act like a clown. When he’s serious and focused he’s one hell of a player.”

It continued with the expected outrage over said comment, as Milbury was filleted on social media for being out of touch or a killjoy or off-base about Subban’s commitment to the game. People point out the uncomfortable notion of a coach smacking up his player for dancing during warm-ups. People point out the weird racial milieu of claiming the most prominent black star in hockey is “acting like a clown.” Someone brings up Milbury beating a fan with a shoe in 1979, which is a hot take on top of a hot take until we have some kind of hot take parfait.

It continued further with people lamenting Milbury’s status as the most prominent hockey commentator on American television since 2007, and then questioning whether he belongs on NBCSN in 2017.

And then the cycle is completed when Milbury apologizes, sorta, for his commentary on Subban.

From The Tennessean, Mike Milbury:

* Apologized for saying that Subban should be “rapped on the head” for dancing. “I regret the use of that terminology. I wish I had said something different.”

* He said that while he called Subban “a clown” that has “acting like a clown for years,” he was merely trying to openly wonder if Subban was hurting his team with his clownish behavior. “This was just a question of, does behavior like this impact the rest of the team in a circumstance where it’s pretty serious for everybody but you can get away with that attitude. I mean, God bless him. But the question, does it impact anybody else as a coach, does it distract, I think was legitimate. And that’s what it was meant to be. It’s turned into something far different, and that was not my intention,” said Milbury.

* He began the interview by claiming that the playoffs are a slog and, I don’t know, maybe he was cranky? “First of all, we go pretty hard in the playoffs. We don’t get much time off. We do a lot of doubleheaders and we’re in there like all the time. We try to look at what we’re looking at and then convey our opinions or analyze what we see in a moment’s notice. We don’t always get it right, but we try to,” he said.

He’s right. It’s a very tough job: Analyzing the highlights, developing opinions in the moment and trying to push those opinions through the cacophony of media, new media and social media to become something people care about. It’s not easy.

But the problem with Mike Milbury on NBC and NBCSN is that his most notable moments of analysis have little to do with criticizing teams or players based on what we’ve just watched, or based on what’s happening in the NHL today.

It’s his own clown act, juggling insults both baseless and abhorrent.

American hockey fans have an appetite for hot takes about our sport. Just not necessarily from Mike Milbury anymore.

***

Our own Jen Neale wrote a terrific piece on Milbury after the Subban incident, part of which rehashed his greatest hits:

Milbury has said countless unbelievable things throughout his tenure as a broadcaster for the network. For example, excoriating Alex Ovechkintelling him to ‘act like a man.‘ Or calling Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin ‘crack addicts.‘ Or being upset the St. Louis Blues didn’t give the San Jose Sharks ‘slight concussions’ (in the same WCF game Thornton was dancing in). Or saying teams should stop Corey Perry by hurting him in some ‘painful and permanent way.

Let’s not forget how the Russian players are “Euro-Trash.” Or calling Washington “The Crapitals.” Or saying Ovechkin should call Sidney Crosby “daddy” and then getting into an altercation with a blogger about it. Or perhaps the “Citizen Kane” of Milbury nonsense, when he called Henrik and Daniel Sedin “Thelma and Louise,” because the hottest takes are the ones where the ‘takist’ is attempting to slander two men by calling them ladies but chooses two of the most empowered bad-asses in the history of cinema to do so.

And now we have Milbury calling Subban “a clown” for dancing in warm-ups.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all these incidents this week after the Subban take, and can’t help but wonder if NBC is happy with the heat Milbury generates.

I know Sam Flood, the overlord of their coverage, likes him. Do they see him as a radio host getting under his audience’s skin? Do they see him as an American Don Cherry, whose archaic takes are intended to infuriate a portion of the audience? Do they think that as long as he’s being talked about, that this is a good thing for NBCSN, even if the talk is about how bad their studio coverage of the NHL is?

I honestly don’t know.

What I do know: When I’m changing the channel during a game.

Full disclosure: I love NHL Network’s postgame coverage during the playoffs, and watch it with more regularity than I do NBCSN’s.

The analysts have a little more time to think through their opinions. The game recaps are presented with depth, stats and insight. I want to hear Kevin Weekes on goalies and Mike Rupp on just about anything.

But what NHL Network doesn’t give me – because it can’t, because it’s not its mission – are delicious piping hot takes on players and teams.

And sometimes I crave them. I remember watching Game 2 of the Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins series, when Braden Holtby gave up that softy that got him pulled. I wanted to see what the studio show had to say about him, maybe just for some cathartic criticism.

I think hot takes have a place in sports media, and especially on a studio show. When we talk about hockey as a sport in the United States, and its lack of coverage from so many mainstream outlets, one of the primary issues is how to translate a hockey story into “sports talk” for the general public. Hot takes, for all their evils, boil down stories, games, players and sports into easily digestible portions for the masses. They make you care, one way or another, about a thing.

Yet the “hot take” has become a taboo term in sports media. Partially because it’s the de facto label any opinion piece that’s short on fact but long on indignation gets. Partially because of where the industry is headed: Reporters are given walking papers and hot take dispensers are given Skip Bayless money. Good journalism isn’t supported, but opinion is rewarded.

I’m hoping that there’s a market correction on this. You can have hot takes, and not make them completely irrational, irresponsible or dumb. It’s one thing, for example, to say that the Washington Capitals decided to play a more physical game in Game 3, and talk about the repercussions of that; but it’s another to claim that Nicklas Backstrom ordered the Code Red on Sidney Crosby in a players’ only meeting without a single voice on or off the record speaking to that.

I’d like to believe that the former might provoke a reaction but won’t repel an audience from coming back for more; I’d like to believe the latter would cause an audience to dismiss any further takery from that source, going forward.

And there are signs that properly cooked takes are valued more than the steaming ones. Take the NBA studio show on TNT with Charles Barkley. It was the gold-standard for years when it came to hot takes steeped in the experience of the panelists and what was actually happening on the court. It was amazing. Now, it’s being accused of turning into “a barrage of idiocy,” with Barkley arguing that LeBron should be punched in the groin, and fans don’t view it with the same vitality.

Yet, as hockey fans, we’ve been living with that level of takery for 10 years.

***

The problem for American hockey fans, insofar as hot takes on television: They can only come from one place. The Canadian network pundits issue warm takes. The rest of the American sports media ignores hockey, for various reasons. The only place we can get a hot take on the NHL is on NBC, because the League signed a monolithic rights deal.

I don’t mean to trash NBC here. Their in-game coverage is exceptional – Pierre notwithstanding. Their studio show is comprehensive, if not particularly insightful. NBC long ago decided that it was going to pitch the coverage to casual fans, when it’s the die-hards that are watching the pregame shows and intermission reports. That’s just a philosophical difference between myself and the network.

But what irks me is that, after 10 years, they don’t look at Mike Milbury and wonder, “hey, can we do better?”

Can we get someone who coached or played in NHL 2.0 (after the 2005 lockout) to opine on a game that’s changed greatly?

Can we get someone who could offer a few salient facts to back up their opinions, so the piping hot takes provoke debate about hockey rather than provoke reactions like, “Mike Milbury is an idiot and should apologize?”

Can we get someone who can criticize players and coaches and team and fans without gender insults or xenophobia or being a killjoy or wishing violence on a player? Someone whose scorching hot takes have a resonance and a relevance, and aren’t exceptionally lazy and flaccid jabs without merit.

Can we get a fresh voice? Can we get a fresh perspective?

Can we get someone other than Mike Milbury as the most prominent studio host on the NHL in the United States?

(Actually we can: Move Pierre McGuire from between the benches to the studio to replace Milbury, where he’s actually quite good. Then pay Ray Ferraro all the money to move from Canada to the U.S. and do the benches thing. Problems, plural, solved.)

(There’s my hot take.)

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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