EVERYTHING! (OK, got that out of the system. Moving on…)
There was a moment during last night’s NHL Awards extravaganza that pretty much summed up the entire evening for me:
Music played, and Erin Andrews, the “everyone look at me!” ESPN employee who probably couldn’t name more than ten NHL teams, strolled (more like “teetered,” actually, due to the size of her heels) onto the stage to deliver the Jennings Award to Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot. Before presenting the award, she made a horribly written joke about there being another penalty called on the Devils, so she’d have time to give out three awards. HA HA! The camera cut to Dustin Brown, who just captained his team to a Stanley Cup Championship over those Devils, and he didn’t even smile. The crowd barely tittered. After the awkward pause, Andrews continued with her presentation.
The NHL Awards, ladies and gentlemen: where bad jokes, bad presenters, and bad music come together to form what is perhaps the most mismatched spectacle in all of sports.
When I was in school preparing for a life flipping burgers – I mean, studying journalism – we had a number of sportswriters come to our classes to talk about their trade. One frequent question was about which athletes were the easiest to deal with, and “hockey players” was the response pretty much universally.
For the most part, hockey players are publicly humble and rather low-key. Sure, in each other’s company they’re full of braggadocio, claims to who bagged the hottest “rocket,” and enough catchphrases to fill a dictionary. But in front of the press, the media, and the general public, they’re usually pretty good dudes.
Can you picture a hockey player holding a nationally televised press conference just to announce which team he’s going to play for? Didn’t think so.
Maybe it’s that the game is humbling, maybe it’s all of the lonely mornings on the rink and long car rides, or maybe it’s a Canadian thing. Whatever it is, hockey players tend to be a pretty humble bunch. Hell, the flashiest guy in the league is probably Alexander Ovechkin, and his antics pale in comparison to what the average NFL player is up to daily.
Where am I going with this? There’s really no place more inappropriate to host an event honoring the most humble athletes in sports than Las Vegas, and the entire event deteriorates from there. Humility and doing things low-key have no place in Las Vegas. Everything done in that city, from sleeping in a hotel room to withdrawing money from an ATM, is done as “over-the-top” as possible.
It just doesn’t fit. Everything about the event is just horribly forced, from the “celebrity” presenters to the joke-writing to the player interviews about what Dustin Brown did the night before.
I understand what the NHL is trying to do, and respect them for it. When a sport is constantly playing third or fourth fiddle to the NFL, NBA, and even NASCAR, “low-key” isn’t going to bring in advertisers, “humility” isn’t going to sell tickets, and “restrained” isn’t going to increase revenue. So instead, hockey fans get Nickelback (I know, I know), Erin Andrews, and Matthew Perry.
The problem is that what the NHL is selling with this awards show (slot machines! Encore Las Vegas! Showgirls! Kathryn Tappen in a prom dress!) doesn’t at all fit with the players its allegedly honoring (thanking interviewers for their time, quiet charity work, etc.). With this Las Vegas spectacle, the NHL has overshadowed the very reason the show exists: it’s become more about making a scene than honoring the players. Watching the show last night, did any of them look tremendously comfortable? Zdeno Chara looked like he was sitting at a meeting of the Max Pacioretty Fan Club.
So what should the NHL do? Make it more about the players, more about the fans, and less about impressing people who don’t really care about hockey.
First, take the ceremony out of Las Vegas. Put it in a hockey hotbed; Toronto or Montreal would be perfect. No, advertisers wouldn’t pay as much for space because they’d fear not as many Americans would watch. But for the love of God, it has to stop.
When Montreal hosted the All-Star game a few years back, the entire thing was a magnificent spectacle. I can’t stand the team, and most of their fans are annoying too (most, not all), but damn, do Montrealers love hockey. The coolest part about the whole thing was the red carpet affair, where players walked a red carpet lined with screaming fans of all kinds. The players were, for the most part, smiling the entire time, graciously taking pictures and shaking hands. They looked at home, at home in a hockey hotbed surrounded by fans who knew their name, team, and position, not by B-list celebrities who probably were paid by the NHL to show up.
Take the awards show back to cities that have fans that care about hockey. Imagine the reception Henrik Lundqvist would’ve gotten if he accepted the Vezina Trophy at Madison Square Garden, or the boos that would’ve rained on Marty Brodeur. Sure, partisan crowds could be a problem, but that’s part of the fun for the players. Imagine how much satisfaction Zdeno Chara would’ve felt accepting the Norris Trophy at the Bell Centre.
A solution would be to hold the ceremony in either Toronto or Montreal, or maybe rotate between those two cities and other hotbeds like Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago or St. Louis. And let the fans in, not an “actor from ABC’s Happy Endings!”
Or, to take it more places, let the All-Star city host the event. Columbus hosts the All-Star game this year, so…OK, maybe not the best example. But the point is the same.
Where would the players- ya know, those guys who are supposed to be the focus of the event- feel more comfortable: in front of a bunch of nobodies in Las Vegas, or in an NHL arena filled with fans who know why Erik Karlsson winning the Norris was kind of controversial.
Take the ceremony away from the sponsors, suits, and brown-nosers who want to be photographed with a minor celebrity, and give it back to the players and fans, the people who make the sport what it is.
And for God’s sake, enough with Nickelback.