Thursday, February 21, 2008

Where are the Blue Jackets?

The Senators host Columbus tonight at Scotiabank Place. On game day the routine is time honored. The home team has a 45 minute morning skate starting at 10:30am and afterward the media gets its chance to talk and interview the players and coaches. The visiting team has their skate at 11:30am followed by the same media access. I’d like to tell you what coach Ken Hitchcock has to say, but I can’t because the Jackets were not at Scotiabank Place this morning. They are staying at a downtown hotel and decided to hold their morning skate at the University of Ottawa instead. Problem is the media can’t be in two places at one time. The Blue Jackets must make their players and coach available at about 5pm at the rink but it just isn’t the same because you don’t have the same amount of time.

In talking with other members of the media this is an age old pet peeve with the NHL. MLB, the NFL, the NBA and the CFL can not force teams to practice, but if they do, they must have it in the same building where the game will be played later that night. The NHL has no such bylaw and thus there are several teams who choose this route. In fact there are many teams like the Caps, Rangers and Flyers where they don’t even skate in the game rink when they are the home team. They have practice rinks and don’t come to the game rink until the evening of the game.

It is difficult to understand how a league which is dying for media attention in many markets can’t seem to get some of its member clubs to play along. It goes hand in hand with comments made this morning on the Team 1200 by TSN’s Pierre Maguire. He was noting how all other major professional sports leagues have mandatory, truthful, injury disclosure rules. That is still but a fantasy in the NHL. At least with the new trend of generalized reporting we can narrow things down to upper body and lower body, but it really is quite foolish. Often time’s reporters actually know what the injury is and the players know that they know. So when the player is asked a direct question he is forced to either lie or be ridiculously vague so as not to break a team policy on injury disclosure.

I understand completely the idea that fully disclosing injuries, especially in the playoffs, can lead to players being targeted by the opposition. When the other team knows a guy has a sore hand, you think they won’t try and slash that hand? Of course they will. If I were a coach or a player I would do the same thing. But the league has to have the bigger picture in mind just like the NFL does. It leads to a greater distrust between the media and the teams when reporters know they are being lied to about injuries. They wonder how many other things they have been lied to about. The circle of frustration and animosity is complete when coaches and players develop a tense relationship with some members of the media because they take offense to being portrayed in some cases as interview subjects who are less than honest with their answers.

All the other major sports leagues have made this step in eliminating secrecy in areas where it is not needed, but only continued in the NHL because its an old habits. I don’t know if it ultimately will improve relations with the media, but it’s a great first step in eliminating one piece of sandpaper that grates on both parties.

See you at the rink.

No comments: