In the opening moments of Versus’ coverage of the NHL Entry Draft Friday night male viewers were treated to an appearance by, and interview of, lovely Alyssa Milano, celebrity puckhead of the first order. The interview was fun and illuminating — the Milano family, we learned, loves its hockey. We didn’t see her again, and the rest of the night, Gary Bettman dominated the broadcast, shaking approximately four hundred sets of hands, many of them in repeat fashion. It was excruciatingly dull. Talk about a television event peaking early. That’s but one symptom of what’s wrong with this yawn-inducing event.
It needs more Alyssa, a lot less Bettman.
Think about it: the league is asking a national television audience to tune in to an event in prime time on a summer Friday night that will have action — such as draft activity can be said to be such — once every 10 minutes or so. Some post mortems from Friday’s event suggested that the telecast was hampered by a paucity of name player trades on the draft floor. Nah. Even a half dozen doozies of those wouldn’t have altered the draft as a Bettman-centric event.
George McPhee was everybody’s favorite manager on the evening for expeditiously galloping up to the stage and announcing the Caps’ first-round selection. It was a drive-by selection, mercifully, a manager’s commendable humanitarian act. The rest of the managers, and their scouts, and their VPs for hockey operations, and their rescue mutts, took turns saying thank you to the host town and team, hello to fans watching at team draft parties, adieu to retiring execs, and even imparted a few backyard barbeque recipes before announcing their selections. These were State of the Team Union addresses gone very long and very dry and very unnecessary.
To go back to Bettman the Dullard, why must he proceed over the entirety of the first round’s four hours? Because that’s what the other commissioners do? That’s no justification. The NHL’s draft will always lag behind those of other pro sports in general interest level because save baseball’s the draftees in those other sports fairly make immediate contributions to their drafting clubs, particularly in the NBA and NFL. One or two or three guys at the very top of the NHL draft have a plausible chance at making the opening night roster come autumn, that’s it. Consequently, the NHL draft is a party for draftgeeks. But not media. And certainly not a general television audience. And what the league is doing with its draft in terms of production values ensures its being a snorefest.
To make it a party, the commissioner ought to open the evening with a terse hello and then hand off the proceedings to a hockey-loving mega celebrity. Like Alyssa Milano. Carrie Underwood’s attended a few hockey games in recent seasons; she I think could be deemed an enthusiast of our sport. She’d enliven the draft stage a wee bit.
Think that parade of 18-year-olds selectees might have enjoyed being on the receiving end of a stage hug and a peck from Alyssa or Carrie? You’d have sixth-round prospects flying in from Siberia just to be in the building. The draft would sell out (as a free event).
I can think of an outfit for entry draft hosting for Shania Twain that would draw a few more eyes to the TV.
Friday night Bettman would shake GMs’ hands and then shake them again an hour later when the same GMs returned to the stage. Steve Martin or Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars this was not.
Other (hottie) celebs ought to be brought in and accorded TV time. Hockey players disproportionately seem to attach themselves to fashion models and actresses and other attractive entertainers. It might have been fun, for instance, to have had Underwood interviewed in the middle of the first round and elicit from her an appraisal of how much she’s learned about hockey in recent seasons from attending Ottawa Senators’ games. The NHL isn’t bashful about including hockey-loving celebs at its Winter Classic; why not the draft as well?
I’ve traveled to attend a draft, and even in a year (2002) when the Capitals had a glut of high selections I found the event to be an energy sapping snorefest. There’s a whole lot of waiting around for something to happen (it’s like soccer in that regard), and if you’re seated in the upper deck by about minute seven between picks you want to hang yourself over the ledge. Go to one draft, you don’t ever need to attend another. But even watching it on TV has grown incredibly stale. Even bellicose histrionics from Pierre McGuire can’t save this event from itself.
There is great action at the draft, but fans — in the arena and watching at home — are necessarily walled off from it. I’m referring to the strategy table deliberations among a GM and his scouts. That’s the nitty-gritty grist of the draft, and that’s proprietary stuff, obviously, but I wonder if fans couldn’t be brought on the inside there to some small degree? A team’s GM and all its scouts have terrifically important work to conduct on the draft floor, but I wonder if a PR staffer for each team could be empowered to Tweet, in real time, something more than gossip but info less than that that would compromise a team’s standing?
We learned well after the draft telecast had concluded that the Caps were trying to trade up (fairly dramatically) to land the guy they most wanted in round one. What if Ross Mahoney had shared that info for Nate Ewell to relay on line just seconds after his GM walked off the draft stage? Nothing proprietary is being compromised in such a scenario.
This is a proposal positing an intrusion upon an inviolate feature of hockey culture; I’d have an easier time leaving the rink with Alyssa for a late-night tour of L.A. in her limo.