September 30, 2010
The amount of criticism aimed at NHL players, coaches and teams on a daily basis is staggering when you take all forms of media into account.
We imagine a guy like Ken King, president of the Calgary Flames, sees his franchise as a fortress being constantly barraged by arrows and catapulted boulders. When the moment calls for it, he must climb to the turret and begin firing back ... while his general manager Darryl Sutter is busy negotiating with another castle to overpay for a malfunctioning cannon. (See? Criticism.)
On Tuesday, defenseman Jay Bouwmeester(notes), a $33 million investment for the King and the Flames, saw his reputation tarnished by former NHL pest Michael Peca(notes), now a panelist for TSN. We'll get into his full comments in a moment, but the Cliff's Notes version is that Peca felt Bouwmeester is all skate, no toughness, and a turnover machine that doesn't have an upside.
"I don't care. If he wants to say that, that's fine. He's not playing anymore, so I don't care," Bouwmeester said Wednesday. "I'll probably have a different opinion of the guy that said it. Those guys on TV are what they are."
A benign response from a player you'd expect to issue a benign response. Which is why King took to the airwaves yesterday wielding his hammer and, in the process, giving us a glimpse at why so many ex-NHL players are complete bores when they enter the electronic media.
Here's Peca on TSN's insiders' panel (video) on the Calgary Flames, and his thoughts when asked about Bouwmeester's upside:
"I don't see it. I've never seen it. Playing against this guy for a lot of years I've just seen a very casual player with tremendous speed. He was brought in and he was much sought after at $6.68 million, made Dion Phaneuf(notes) expendable.
"You look at this team, the lowest-scoring team in the League, it means you have a bad power play. He's a guy that they brought in to quarterback that power play and I've just never seen that part of the game in him.
"I enjoyed playing against him. He turned pucks over. He made the game easier to play. Calgary needs to see a sense of urgency out of him. I think they love his upside. But it's been seven years or eight years that people have been in love with his upside.
"He wasn't a tough guy to play against. He didn't play tough. He skated well, but he was casual with the puck. He's one of those guys you looked forward to playing against. I never saw the upside in him."
Nothing exactly scathing there, but definitely a pointed critique. But watch the video: Was it undue snark? Was it ridicule? Did Peca goof on him?
No, no and no. But that's apparently what King saw.
Here's Ken King, Calgary Flames President, with Rob Kerr on Fan 960, who came on the show under the auspices of responding to Peca:
"I think it was out of line. Here's a guy talking about his peer, his colleague, somebody he's played with. Listen, we get lots of criticism from lots of different places, even yourself from time to time, about how well or how poorly a player has functioned. But to take such a low-brow approach -- to laughing at or ridiculing one of the premiere defensemen in the League - I just think is completely inappropriate. I don't care what he thinks in a journalistic sense. That's his right.
"But, you know what? I can't remember when another professional hockey player came out and ... had the poor taste to say the kind of things that he said."
Did you see what happened there? Instead of presenting several reasons why Peca was wrong, King decided to argue that Peca shouldn't have said anything at all because he's an ex-player.
"I like Mike. I think Mike's a smart guy. I think he was a good hockey player when he played. He made the rounds at the end, and far be it from us to enter into some dissing match. But let me say this: We're not going to let Jay Bouwmeester, or any player on our team, to be talked about in that manner without challenging it."
"Mike Peca's gotta determine whether or not he's entering the realm of becoming a professional journalism or if he's an ex-hockey player making comments as a guest guy. There's a different. What he needs to do is understand what the difference is."
The difference? Journalists and commentators who never played in the NHL are apparently not beholden to some code of silence regarding peer-on-peer criticism. (There also appears to be a statute of limitations on that code, seeing as how ex-players-turned-coaches-turned-announcers like Don Cherry and Mike Milbury are so very caustic on the air.)
"I think he ridiculed him. I think he laughed at him. And I think he said he'd love to play against him because it was easy ... you fight with my family, you fight with me."
"Journalistic criticisms, observations of a player or a president or anybody else, that's fair game. That's how the world works. But just determine whether or not you're pundit, a critic or someone whose making fun of someone you used to play against."
"If he's going to spend his panel time expressing his history and his experiences with players in that manner, my guess is that he should probably be cautious of that. I'm not sure that's journalism."
What makes this King/Peca tiff a little different than most is King's background in journalism:
Born and raised in Hanley, Saskatchewan, King launched a 30-year career in the newspaper business that included senior executive positions in Canada's leading newspapers including President and Publisher of the Calgary Sun and Calgary Herald. During his newspaper career in Calgary, King was acknowledged for his innovative marketing, establishment of healthy corporate relationships, spirited community leadership and appreciable growth for the newspapers.
There are two issues here. The first is King's contention that Peca declare himself a journalist, which would appear to be an occupation King believes should not allow Peca to rely on his life experiences for informed observation.
If Peca declared himself an editorial writer, would that put him in the clear?
The second issue is more disconcerting: You can tell King believes his players should be safe from criticism delivered by ex-players. That there's a gentlemen's agreement not to do what Peca did when they leave the game.
When you think about the state of hockey analysis in the media, this makes sense: How many punches are pulled, opinions are dulled and stories downplayed out of consideration by ex-jocks for current jocks? It's expected that Peca, like others before him, would follow that "code." He didn't, so he gets flogged for it.
It's one of the reasons Jeremy Roenick(notes) has the impact he's had in the media, because (a) he has no filter and (b) he's not laying off a current player unless they're on the Philadelphia Flyers or Chicago Blackhawks -- which Dustin Byfuglien, of course, is not.
Lambert's going to have more on this topic during Friday's Trending Topics. He's never played in the NHL, so we imagine his comments will go without Ken King retort.