Friday, January 29, 2010

Canadiens Coverage

When Did The Zoo Become A Jungle?

Not that long ago, I used to catch my Canadiens games on Saturday nights, my statistics in the Tuesday Gazette and my coverage in a couple of daily pieces from September to May. Back then, players called the Montreal Canadiens media frenzy a zoo.

If that's so, what is it now? The jungle?

Thankfully I can watch all games without a pinwheel and a media guide to find the coverage. And, I'll be honest, I like being able to regulate how much coverage I take in – which I can easily do, because there's far more than I would ever want or need.

I'm sure it's the same for all of you. It's a good time to be a fan and voracious consumer of sporting and other news.

On the whole, I think the expanded coverage has been a good thing. More is said about games, more is analyzed, more is recorded. Blanket statements like "Kovalev had a terrible season" are harder to make with the evidence to refute such generalizations.

But as an observer of events, I'm wondering if many (indeed any) players would take the same view. And if not, would being coerced into an untenable situation like this play out in the results, the fatigue we've seen...

A bridge too far?

On December 8, 2008, the Canadiens opened a state-of-art practice facility in Brossard, with beautiful ice, gyms, spa-like facilities, the works. But don't be fooled, Little George (that's Gillett) didn't bankroll this facility solely to help the team be more competitive, he planned this facility to benefit the organization (i.e., his bank balance) as well.

The way he would turn it to moneymaker was by integrating Canadiens practice into the Canadiens hype machine. Cleverly, the design of the facility included a viewing gallery. It wasn't long before it also became the place to stage a daily press conference and loose reporters on the dressing room.

Since the practice facility opened the Habs went 26-24-6 in 2008-09, 0-4-0 in the playoffs and now 25-25-5 in 2009-10 for a 51-53-5 record (or if you prefer 51-58). It's worth noting that the pre-Brossard Habs from 2008-09 were a rather rosier 15-6-5, defending Eastern conference champions and looked to be heading in the right direction.

It would be foolish to put down all the woes of the team to increased media scrutiny. But in certain cases it may be more feasible. We can think for instance of players who don't seem to like the camera as much, who don't seem to thrive with extra eyes and ears on them. Koivu comes to mind, several of the summer departed. I'll just pick one player from a hat, though: Carey Price.

Since Brossard, it has been 10-12-6 in 2008-09, 0-4-0 in the playoffs, and 11-17-4 in 2009-10. For those who don't read Allan Walsh, that'd be 21-33-10 (or 21-43). Remarkable when you think of his Calder trophy challenge and his 13-4-4 record before his every move was simultaneously tracked by 60 iphones from the southshore. Don't think wins count for anything? Fine, I'll do it your way. 3.15 and 0.895 in 2008-09, 4.11 and 0.878 in the playoffs, and 2.73 and 0.913 in 2009-10. Contrast that with 2.36 and 0.920 in 21 starts.

Carey's not unlike other Habs players in that he laps up the media when it's winning times. But when there's losses, he does get that noticeable "What the hell do you think I'll say?" look about him. He's not alone in the dressing room, but his case is most easily illustrated in numbers. A retroactive analysis proves little, so treat as food for thought. Just interesting that someone who doesn't seem to like the excessive coverage might be affected in the one area of his undertakings that the majority of his fans actually care about.

Today's story

I bring all this up because as I was reading the morning rounds, the story that dominated on the off day in this losing run was the Markov v. Price ten-word exchange.

I didn't need the new reports coming out to understand that people working to common goals often disagree. I didn't even need Pat Hickey's piece to know this has a precedent in the Montreal Canadiens locker room. I've been on teams, I've been a member of society, I think anyone who has knows how much value to put in strong words after an emotional fall.

But be it boredom, the stretch for anything to talk about, the loss of perspective, this became the big story of the moment.

TSN who dips in and out of Canadiens coverage only when things go wrong enough to interest their Toronto following followed up their initial story on the word-of-mouth report of rift with this story. The hug, of course, as meaningless as the initial words. The look to the media...
That Price then looked up at the media seats at the Montreal Canadiens practice facility made it clear the gesture was in response to a report this week of a confrontation between the two in the club's dressing room.
... perhaps most significant of all.

At least TSN only reported it. Michel Bergeron seems to be personally offended that a player who sees fit enough to question, even ridicule nightly on another inane tabloid gossip session would turn around and mock him and his gang. Habs Inside/Out did the usual upgrade on RDS and provided some pro journalism, but did Dave Stubbs really need to tweet every other ten seconds from Brossard? Finally, the fact that the most professional reporter in the scrum (that'd be Arpon Basu) is also airing his personal frustration on this matter (albeit about a different element of the debacle) is more striking.

It was these reports that made me think things were getting out of hand.

The players on the Canadiens were already among the most scrutinized in the league before twitter ever existed, and before every day had a press conference. But they've been asked to take on even more. I for one think Komisarek mooing, Price engaging in mock hugs – this is all fair play. What's more, I think players should be allowed to opt out of the jungle whenever they feel like doing so. I know some think it's some kind of right to have every question answered whenever they come asking, but I disagree. The players are there to play hockey, and god forbid practice playing hockey, not to be story generators for reporters looking to fill more air time and columns of type than should ever be afforded to a sporting endeavour.

I think it's high time the Habs take a look at limiting the ridiculous practice of opening their training facility to everyone. Now that George "I finance my debts with sports teams" Gillett is gone, I think there's a window to do it.

Again, this is only me, I wanted to know what you (some of the most sensible and loyal fans of the Habs) think:

Has it gone too far?
Could this be hurting the team?
Is this why we don't have a captain?
Do we need twitter updates by the minute from Canadiens practices?
Do we really benefit from seeing our idols behind the doors that used to be pretty much closed?

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