"Once a player always a player" .... so goes the motto of all NHL players past and present. There's a lot of truth to that adage. When you share the same set of experiences with a group of athletes over the course of a very taxing NHL season, you tend to develop a strong bond. It’s a brotherhood. You watch out for one another; you face the same set of challenges day in and day out. In hockey, you literally fight for one another. For every team, even the great ones, there is always adversity and slogging through the adversity together draws you closer as a group.
But when a player leaves the game and he enters the broadcast booth, a different dynamic arises. I would not go so far as to say that the former player's allegiances are torn. But in his new profession, the ex-player has to adopt a more objective perspective. It was something I've gone through the last few years as I joined Tom Callahan in the Preds broadcast booth. Specifically, it comes up in the following type of situation.
A former teammate of mine coughs up the puck in his own zone, the opposition scores and, as a broadcaster, I now need to analyze what I just saw.
There are just two options to choose from in the above scenario. One is to ignore the miscue, focus on the goal scorer's accomplishment, and shield the offending ex-teammate from any criticism in the process. The other option is to call a spade a spade and describe the giveaway that caused the goal. In spite of the fact that it puts a friend in the spotlight for reasons he'd rather not be. In my view, option two is the only option available to a broadcaster if he intends to do his job with integrity. Here's why I feel that way.
First, fans want to know what caused that goal. A fan wants a former player’s perspective on all the elements that directly led to that specific goal being scored. Former broadcaster, turned team president, John Davidson once offered me some great advice. “Focus on the notable stuff, and always try to tell them why that just happened.”
That’s the part that might escape the eye of even a seasoned hockey fan. What a fan doesn’t want, on the other hand, is for the color analyst to simply repackage the comments that his play-by-play man made as the goal was scored. There’s nothing very insightful or interesting about that.
Second, hockey fans are a sophisticated bunch. They appreciate the finer points in the game. For that reason, if a broadcaster consistently avoids calling out the hometown player when the player “boots it," you tend to lose credibility with your audience. I cannot tell you how often Tom and I hear from our listeners on this very point. They appreciate that we call the good and the bad in spite of the fact that we work closely with the players.
Lastly, let me make two simple points. No one is perfect and it’s almost always possible to deliver criticism in an even-handed way. Players and fans realize that it’s a long and demanding season and every player is going to have the occasional "lowlight" to go along with the many bright spots. When the unfortunate does happen, a broadcaster, by way of the tone in his voice and the words he chooses, can still break down the play and tell the fans what they need to hear without hanging a player out to dry. Makes sense, no?
See you around the rink.