June 21, 2012

Fischler Report: TV ratings, officiating sub-par in Cup finals

By Stan Fischler


OBSERVATIONS

Kings GM Dean Lombardi (Getty Images)

* DEAN LOMBARDI (Ludlow, Mass.) has received all due kudos for his stewardship of a team that remarkably reached the NHL peak. Ditto for Darryl Sutter. The Cup-winning couple now faces a challenge that outwitted Peter ChiarelliStan BowmanRay Shero, and other GMs who’ve learned that no team repeats as champs anymore. Don’t laugh: It’s possible that L.A. could even miss the Promised Playoff Land next spring.

* ZACH PARISE played the politically-correct game at New Jersey’s season farewell. He indicated—remember, the word is indicated—that he’d like to remain a Devil and enjoy New Jersey life. Lou Lamoriello (Providence, R.I.) will tender the best offer possible in the next couple of weeks. If loyalty still is in the Parise lexicon, Zach will be captain at The Rock next season.

TV AND THE FINALS

What does a television critic think of the NBC ratings?

Our Joel Cohen offers the following:

Was NBC's Cup Final TV rating slide due to LA-Devils matchup?

While NBC and the NHL boasted record TV ratings for the early playoff rounds, ratings for the first five final games were down over recent years.

L.A.’s Cup-winning Game Six at the Staples Center drew a strong 13.6 rating for the LA market, up from 8.8 for the previous five games. New York did a 5.1. The slide in national ratings may have been due to a lack of a broader-based national interest in the two teams, with neither having a national "superstar" on-board or a compelling story to tell.

The huge New York TV market also has a stronger allegiance to the Rangers rather than the Devils. The upside is that the Kings and Devils now have had positive national TV exposure and will certainly be much more attractive to viewers across the country next season.

NBC Sports gets a lot of credit for the overall showcase of the entire playoffs, giving it a NCAA tournament feel with every game televised coast to coast.

KATEY STONE NEW COACH OF U.S. OLYMPIC TEAM

Harvard women's coach Katey Stone

As women’s hockey in America continues to grow, so does media focus along with fan attention. Our Allyson Gronowitz covers the story for us:

Uncle Sam’s women’s Olympic team last won the Gold in 1998.

With the Winter Olympics coming up in 2014 at Sochi, Russia, key moves are being made to regain the Gold.

At USA Hockey’s 75th Anniversary Gala on June 8th, Katey Stone was named head coach. The winningest active coach in the NCAA, Division I, Stone recently completed her 18th season behind the bench for Harvard.

Stone replaces former Olympian and 1980 Miracle on Ice hero Mark Johnson, who led the 2010 U.S. women’s squad to a Silver medal in Vancouver.

 Stone also captured Silver on the international stage while coaching the U.S Women’s National Team in this year’s IIHF Women’s World Championship in Burlington, Vermont.

 Stone’s many years of experience and impressive coaching record have earned her the respect and admiration of her peers.

“We’re very confident that we have the person who gives us the best chance to be [at the top step of the podium],” says Dave Ogrean, the Executive Director of USA Hockey.

Adds Director of Women’s Hockey, Reagan Carey: “Coach Stone is committed to making sure we’re proud of what we do here.” 

As the coach of six of the 15 recipients of the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award—presented each year to the most outstanding collegiate women’s hockey player—Stone knows how to get the most out of her players.

 “It’s like a coaching Utopia,” Stone explains. “These kids are putting themselves in any position they can to be successful. To have that many elite athletes around you all the time pushing each other—it’s incredible.”

The women’s program in USA Hockey continues to grow, and Stone calls it “exciting” to watch these young players develop. “It’s a testament to what USA Hockey has done.”

Stone will guide the women’s team through a variety of tournaments—including the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Ottawa—in order to prepare for the Olympics. She will resume her position behind the Harvard bench the following season. 

Expectations are high for the 2014 Women’s Team, and there are hopes of winning the first U.S. Women’s Ice Hockey Gold medal since 1998.

At USA Hockey’s 75th Anniversary Gala, she was, notably, the only female coach present.

“To be the first female, it’s simply icing on the cake for me,” she says. “I’m excited to do the best job I can regardless of gender.”

What’s her key to success?

“I try to be good every day,” she explains.

It’s a message she will impart to her players as they embark on their quest for Gold.

TOM MURRAY TALKS ABOUT THE CHAMPS

Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi (Getty Images)

The Devils managed to secure two heroic victories in the Stanley Cup Final before falling four games to two in Game Six against the mighty Kings. Our national correspondent Tom Murray offers this view of the Kings victory:

It was over almost before it began, almost before porn star Taylor Stevens, the buxom distraction behind the Devils bench, was captured grinning for the camera, whose operator was also undoubtedly grinning.

Almost before someone named Pia Toscano finished singing the national anthem. (Is it just me, by the way, or does she sound—her name, not her voice—like something you’d order as an appetizer at The Olive Garden?)

Almost exactly 10 minutes into the first period of a scoreless Game Six of the Final between the Devils and the Kings in Los Angeles, the Devils Steve Bernier practically knocked Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi through the end boards and into the sushi bar across the street at Katsuya with a hit from behind. Bernier was assessed a major penalty for boarding and tossed out of the game.

More significantly, the Kings were awarded a 5-minute power play and they took full advantage, scoring three times in just under four minutes.

Keep in mind: This is the same team that converted on only nine of their previous 86 man advantages in the entire playoffs.

There were still almost 45 minutes remaining in the game, but you just knew it was already over—especially after the Kings added a back-and-spirit-breaking fourth unanswered goal less than two minutes into the second period.

After linesman Pierre Racicot set an inadvertent—but nevertheless gorgeous—pick, eliminating Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov from the play and allowing the Kings Dustin Brown to waltz into the zone and quickly find a wide-open Jeff Carter for his second goal of the night. (Racicot not only lost his balance and got a mouth full of blood, he also lost a tooth.)

This tells us two important things:  First, it was clearly the Kings night, and they got exactly what they richly deserved.

They were the best team throughout the playoffs, Jonathan Quick was a worthy recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, and the city finally celebrated the Stanley Cup it had been craving since the franchise arrived 45 years ago. And the next thing?

Despite Racicot’s hijinks, the guys in the stripes got the call against Bernier and a non-call just seconds before—one that would have benefitted the Devils—exactly right. And that few seconds turned out to be the deciding factor in the game.

A quick review:  Seconds before Bernier’s game-changing hit, the Kings Jarret Stoll hit Stephen Gionta from behind alongside the team benches, infuriating the Devils because no call was made.

 The Devils were still livid about that as Bernier was piling into Scuderi. But here’s the thing:

The non-call on Gionta is one that could have been made in October or even January, and yes, maybe even in the first period of a still tight and scoreless game, with the Stanley Cup in the building.

But the refs let it go. And their actions -- or lack thereof -- had nothing to do with the fact that Bernier’s hit was far more egregious, dangerous and irresponsible-- Exhibit A as far as the kinds of hits the league is trying to permanently eliminate from the game.

All of that said, it’s absolutely true Scuderi put himself in a horribly vulnerable position, a point that was correctly hammered home by Don Cherry at the end of the period when he pointed out Scuderi took a look, knew a collision was probably coming, and yet completely turned his back to the play and exposed himself.  Dangerous play on Scuderi’s part. But Bernier’s was even more so. He got what he deserved.

A few more thoughts:

* Sincerely hope for Ilya Kovalchuk’s sake he was really hurt during the Final. Because after a boffo performance against the Rangers in the previous round, he looked terrible against the Kings.

* I would have loved to have been a fly hovering over that handshake line embrace and conversation between Quick and Marty Brodeur.

* Always interesting to see who holds the Cup after the team captain gets it from Gary Bettman. For the Kings it went like this, after Dustin Brown: Mitchell, Gagne, Kopitar, Greene, Stoll, Williams, Richards, Carter, Penner, Quick, Doughty, Scuderi and....you get the idea.

* Because she was there when they won the Cup does this now mean Taylor Stevens is not only a distraction, but officially a good luck charm for the Kings?

* Terry Murray may not get his name on the Cup, but here’s hoping the guy who laid the groundwork for the Kings and his successor Darryl Sutter gets a ring.

* And a final special thought for two guys who weren’t at Staples Center last night, but in some ways always have been and always will be: Garnet “Ace” Bailey and Mark Bavis, two team scouts who were on United Flight 175 on Sept. 11, 2001, on their way from Boston on that fateful day to attend the Kings' training camp.

LETTERS – REFS IN THE FINALS; HOW BAD? VERY!

Referee Dan O'Halloran points at Colin Fraser of the Kings while Devils goalie Martin Brodeur looks on. (Getty Images)

A number of readers took issue with the officiating quality during the playoffs, especially in the Final round.

The following are some excerpts:

Nico Garbaccio, New Jersey: There were some absolutely brutal calls these playoffs.

In one, the no-call in Game Six of the Final on Jarret Stoll's hit from behind on Stephen Gionta should have absolutely been a minor. 

Had it been called, who knows what would've happened in terms of the game’s result.

And as much as the refs were missing calls, they were also whistling penalties that shouldn't be called.

Plus, a lot of changes need to be made in the league's disciplinary system. 

One gripe is how they review certain penalties. They'll review delay-of-game penalties to see whether or not the puck was deflected over the glass, but they won’t review to see if a player really threw an elbow on someone?

Or if a player left his feet on a hit?

Those infractions are easier to spot than checking for a deflection.

Gus Vic, Connecticut:  Toss in linesman Pierre Racicot making himself part of a play in Game Six of the Final and that’s four goals where officiating made a difference.  I can’t recall a time where a single missed call was so definitive for both teams.

GOSSIP       

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star examines whether going after Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, among others, could be the answer in net for the Maple Leafs; “Until the Leafs and other NHL clubs looking for goaltending know the identities of all the goalies who may be available, it’s impossible to measure Luongo’s value against them… 

Samuel Pahlsson, the longtime NHL vet, is headed home to play in Sweden after signing a contract with his former team in the Swedish Elite League, MODO. Pahlsson was a deadline acquisition for the Canucks in a deal with Columbus and had spent the previous two-and-a-half seasons with the Jackets. Before that, he was a Stanley Cup winner in 2007 with Anaheim. … 

Steve Yzerman put two of his five draft picks in the first two rounds to use, shipping two second-rounders to the Predators in a seven-piece deal for goaltender Anders Lindback, giving the Lightning the young starter in net they needed. The Lightning also received forward Kyle Wilson, while the Preds got a new back-up goaltender in Sebastien Caron. Lindback, who has never started in the NHL, told the Tampa Bay Times Joe Smith, “I've got to work hard and prove myself.  My goal is I want to win and play games and win the Cup. That's why I play." …

Alexander Semin remains the big-name Russian sniper on the market this summer. With a potential lockout looming, is the KHL becoming a more appealing option to the UFA? Not according to Todd Diamond of International Sports Advisors Agency, who had this to say on the subject: “We’re not going to worry about the lockout at this point.”  For now the Semin camp will remain patient and look for “the best environment with the best group of guys.”  As to whether a coaching change in Washington could bring them back into Semin’s off-season fold, Diamond reiterated that any decision behind the Caps’ bench would likely come after July 1st and “Would not have any impact on Semin’s negotiations headed into July.” …

Good move by USA Hockey, naming Phil Housley head coach of 2013 U.S. National Junior Team.