Around the league – Nov 19, 2009

Watching the Oilers, Flames and Canucks play in places like Long Island, Atlanta, Tampa and Columbus and then seeing the highlights in many other American cities, it is clear that fans aren’t filling buildings. What can the NHL do?

I don’t think the game itself will grab the casual fans attention, so the NHL has to find a way to get in the psyche of the non-hockey fan. They have to use the Internet, YouTube, Facebook and even Twitter to try and expose their league to more people.

Changing the game will only piss off the fans who like the game, so, please Gary and company don’t come up with asinine ideas that will lead to fewer hits, goals or fights. The game isn’t the problem, how the league markets itself is.

There are lots more they could be doing to promote the game that wouldn’t cost them millions.

Make promotional videos about players that are actually funny, and not so stuffy that it makes fans groan. The NFL Network gives fans a true behind-the-scenes look into their favourite team, player and even opposing teams.

The NHL offers nothing close.

Fans want to feel like they know the players, or learn more about them. Some complain that Peyton Manning does too many commercials, and that might be valid, but when he made this appearance on Saturday Night Live, even non-sports fans laughed.

This is classic, especially when we learned that Manning called an audible during this skit. He adlibbed the part where he yelled at the kid to, “shut the door” in the outhouse. The directors were stunned he did it, but loved it.

Once the NHLPA stops their immature infighting, they should call up SNL and suggest getting one of their players on there. Alex Ovechkin would be great, but some quick-witted guys who might be better include Marty Reasoner, Steve Ott, Craig Conroy and Matt Greene to name a few. The problem is those guys aren’t super stars, and normally they want a big-name player.

The NHL needs to market their players better, nationally or locally. They have to get out of their shell and stop being worried that fans might actually see the personalities of some players. The diehard fans aren’t going anywhere, but if hockey wants to attract new fans, they need to do so via the personalities, not the on-ice product.

Now this next example doesn’t showcase any sort of skill, but the dry humour is funny. I wonder how many of Jason Strudwick’s teammates knew he was in a band called The Bubblegum Boys?

His vocals weren’t great, but it probably made you laugh, moan or cringe, or maybe a bit of all three. “We are a fresh look of the music world,”…or… “We’re kind of like a boy band, but not really.” The humour is what makes this funny. The cheesy stach helps, but I’m curious what is with Strudwick’s socks? Laundry day must have been around the corner. When his voice cracked I roared out loud, and I think it is hilarious how they tried to make it seem like a documentary.

None of those guys are household names, and this wouldn’t be a national bit, but if more teams came up with ideas like this to their own fans, I think they’d love it.

Does the Sidney Crosby Tim Horton’s commercial make a non-hockey fan want to find out more about him? Does Jarome Iginla and his Scotiabank commercial make you want to run out and buy tickets to his next game?

Have some fun.

Hockey fans have a sense of humour, and so do the players. Come up with something creative. The Scotiabank commercial, “Is there an issue Pappa” made people laugh. Imagine if the Dad was an NHL player with a cheesy moustache? Might have been funnier, and at the very least better than the lame road hockey one with Iginla.

Some American NHL teams get it and they have better commercials and promos on their websites. It seems the Canadian teams are worried that the fans might actually see another side of their favourite player.

Guys and girls love self-deprecating humour, or watching someone who can laugh at themselves. So why not show that side of NHL players? They are just people after all.

I have no idea why, but this Manning commercial still cracks me up. I can’t stand Manning on the field, but I respect his acting skills.

Ice woman of the week

I appreciate the boys who are calling for an ice woman in every article, but I’m more about quality over quantity. So we will stick with every Thursday in this feature. I’ve seen a lot of Bauer shoulder pads, but I’ve never seen them look that good. How funny is it that she is holding a left-handed stick, but shooting right!

Random thoughts

I sat beside former referee, Mick McGeough, during the Oilers/Avs game on Wednesday. McGeough is currently one of the officiating evaluators in the league. He watches and evaluates 14-16 games a month. He was in Calgary Tuesday, Edmonton last night and back in Calgary tonight. And don’t worry fans he is just like everyone else. He questions calls. I didn’t see his report, but there were a few calls he didn’t like, some he thought they missed and others that he thought were bang on. He will be on my show again this week to give more insight into officiating.

I said two weeks ago the only thing that would derail Ryan Smyth’s Olympic bid would be a lengthy injury, and now he is out a month. I still think he showed enough to make it, but if doesn’t return before December 31st when they announce the team he might not make it. And that would be devastating for Captain Canada.

Avs D-man Kyle Cumiskey might be the most underrated skater in the league. I think he is top-five. His acceleration is unbelievable and his lateral movement is very close, if not on par with Jay Bouwmeester.

Another class guy announced his retirement this week, when Brendan Shanahan hung up the blades after 21 years which saw him score 656 goals, 1,354 points and 2,489 PIMS. He is a lock for the Hall of Fame, but he needs to be a face of the league in some capacity. He should be an analyst in the States and in Canada. The league would be better served to have him in that capacity than in management for one club.

Leaders through the week

Here are the top ten in pts, goals, assists and other stats.

Fifteen: Alex Ovechkin and Marian Gaborik
Fourteen: Anze Kopitar (no goals this week) and Dany Heatley
Thirteen: Rick Nash, Patrick Marleau, Corey Perry and Steven Stamkos
Twelve: Dustin Penner, Ryan Malone, Ilya Kovalchuk, Henrik Sedin and Jarome Iginla.

Twenty: Joe Thornton and Ryan Getzlaf (five assists again this week)
Nineteen: Tomas Kaberle
Eighteen: Nicklas Backstrom and Kopitar
Seventeen: Mike Green (seven assists this week to get into top five)
Sixteen: Vinny Prospal, Paul Stastny Dan Boyle, Nik Antropov and Brad Richards
*** Getzlaf has only two goals with his 20 assists, while Antropov has no goals.***

32: Kopitar (leads for 4th straight week)
27: Gaborik
26: Thornton
25: Marleau
24: Ovechkin, Perry, Nash, Zach Parise
23: Penner, Heatley, H. Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg, Ryan Smyth and Rich Peverly
***Rick Nash is the only player in the top twenty who is a minus player, sitting at -7***

+18: Matt Carle (leads for second straight week)
+14: Chris Pronger
+13: Parise
+11: Penner, Nicklas Lidstrom and Alex Goligoski
+10: Mike Knuble, and Travis Zajak
+9: Ovechkin, Ryan O’Reilly, Brent Seabrook, Evander Kane and Christian Ehrhoff.
***The worst +/- goes to Rod Brind’Amour at -17. Martin Havlat is -14, Joe Corvo is -13 while Sergei Samsonovand Robert Nilsson are -12.***

PP Goals:
Seven: Heatley and Gaborik
Six: Stamkos and Scott Hartnell
Five: Kovalchuk, Smyth, Andrew Brunette, Teemu Selanne, Milan Hejduk, Loui Eriksson, Brooks Laich, Rich Peverley and Mike Fisher.

82: Ryan Callahan (leads for sixth straight week)
76: Chris Neil
74: Dustin Brown
70: Matt Greene (had 16 hits this week)
68: Cal Clutterbuck
66: Stephane Robidas
65: Scott Nichol
63: Doug Murray
62: Matt Cooke
60: Troy Brouwer

87: Ovechkin (leads for seventh straight week, with two weeks not playing)
84: Parise
81: Jeff Carter (16 shots this week)
79: Dustin Brown
76: Sidney Crosby and Zetterberg
75: Nash
74: Michael Cammalleri
71: Penner, Kopitar and Gaborik

Final Point

I pointed out earlier this year that it pains me that the Oilers and Flames still play Cotton Eyed Joe at their games. Well, the Oilers finally have must have heard the complaints, because thankfully we haven’t heard it for a few games. And it looks like the Oilers might have new dancers to replace the bald guy who used to take his shirt off and dance up and down the aisle to CEJ back in the 90s. Last night two girls came out of their seats and did some hip hop moves to I Know You Want Me, by Pitbull. Welcome to the 21st Century Oiler brass. I’ve only been to one game at GM Place in Vancouver, but I’m guessing CEJ isn’t on their play list. God help you Canuck fans if it is.

  • Shanye Gretz

    @ Jason Gregor

    I've been to a few games at GM Place this year and will be at the game on Sunday as well.

    I still haven't heard CEJ here.

    As much as the bush league franchise here in Vancouver makes my skin crawl, the do many things better than the Oilers.

    1. The have ice girls (no offense to Goggles). They could dress better/less, but it's a start.

    2. They use Facebook and their website much more effectively. Plenty of behind the scenes photos and stories. Oh and they have tours of the rink too.

    3. They listen to their (knuckle dragging) fans. The 7th Canuck "tradition" of raising the banner was stupid and they stopped that immediately. The Oil must be due to raise their "200th Sellout" banner soon…

  • Should the Oilers be looking to Chicago as a trade partner. With the rumor that Toews Keith and Kane going to be extended and players like Byfulglien Sharp Versteeg being the odd players out from being resigned.
    I would love to see Sharp first line centre and some toughness from Byfulglien althougth hopefully a healthy Jacques can bring the same type of game for a cheaper price.

    • Byfulglien is under contract until 11/12. And Patrick Sharp is signed till 12/13, same with Versteeg.
      It's pretty obvious that the Hawks are going to be looking to dump some salary, but I really doubt they are going to toss away some of their key components for nothing, just to save a little money.
      And I still don't think it's worth trading away youth and picks for a decent NHL'er. I mean it sure worked for the Leafs right?

      Getting a Byfulglien or a Sharp is a nice thought, but I really, really don't think it's at all feasible for this team.

  • Pajamah

    At the risk of not sounding manly enough, are ice girls really the way to go? Sure, guys will like them, but you're really only furthering the "only guys like sports" thing. Feminism 101.

    Basically, I don't think ice girls will put more people into seats, but they might take people out of them.

    Nothing against them or anything – one of the Rush girls was in my wedding party – but I have a feeling that "expanding the game" and "ice girls" aren't really going to work together so well, especially in established hockey markets.

    • Jason Gregor

      THey have them in Calgary and no one is complaining. How would Ice Women be any different than cheerleaders, especially since they are wearing more clothes?

      • Milli

        Did you actually read what I wrote or just skimmed it? Particluarly the Feminism 101 and "only guys like sports" bit?

        In established markets, ice girls aren't going to put anybody into seats because the seats are already full. It's certainly not reaching out to a new demographic. In an established hockey market, any women who have issues with that sort of thing are just going to be replaced by more guys.

        In unestablished markets, it encourages guys (likely the target demo) to get into seats (which is why the Rush have cheerleaders, really) though admittedly some of the sports in which there are cheerleaders have them for historical reasons (which are based in trying to encourage guys to get into seats). Sure. Put ice girls in Phoenix. It might get other people in the seats. That said, you're perpetuating the guys=sports girls=dolls thing, which is generally accepted as sexist and a Bad Thing in this day and age.

        I'm not arguing that ice girls should be removed from the sport or anything like that. I'm just saying that it's not going to expand the market, it's not going to make the game more family friendly, and it's not going to put a nicer face on the franchise. At absolute best it'll increase beer sales, and at absolute worst this boys club will become even more of a sausage party than it is.

        So yea, I don't think that you can talk about ice girls and expanding the game in the same breath. Sue me.

        And yea, I could write "ice woman" but everyone is thinking "ice girl" anyway, and I personally don't think "ice woman" is somehow more friendly or politically correct. Could just be me.

  • What else would you expect from a two bit league except that they would continue to have retired ref Magoo on the payroll supervising other refs. Magoo epitomizes all that is bad about NHL refs. The best refs are those you really never talk about and who like it that way.

  • Shanye Gretz

    can anyone on this site tell me how to find the list of the 50 players that the oilers have signed for nhl contracts. Is Linglet and Chad Wiseman on the list?

    • Jason Gregor

      They don't have 50 players signed…

      You can start with the 28 players who have dressed for the Oilers. Add Pouliot and it is 29.

      Here are the rest that are signed…

      Lerg, McDonald, Minard, Paukovich, Trukhno,

      Bendfeld, Motin, Nickerson, Wild, Plante, Peckham,

      Dubnyk, Pitton

      That is 42…they do have Eberle, Rajala and Kytnar signed, but they don't count since they are in junior.

      Linglett and Wiseman are on AHL contracts and not eligible to be recalled, unless they sign an NHL contract.

      I included O'Marra and Arsene in the 28 since they have played in the NHL this year.

    • Are you talking about the fact that Brent Seabrook got 3 points AND beat up Shrek, inspite of the fact that he refused to take his bucket off?
      Phaneuf is a decent enough player, he just is not nearly as consistent defensively as he should be. And there are 3 or 4 other D-men that are pretty much locks for Team Canada that are better than him offensively. He'll be lucky if he makes the taxi squad.

  • Jason Gregor

    "it is clear that fans aren’t filling buildings. What can the NHL do?"

    I vote for nothing. The buildings in these cities are empty for a reason. The league needs to give up on it's futile effort in these markets.

    Lets put it this way. Right now the powers that be in the soccer world and saying the exact same thing. Ditto the figure skating world. How can we get more market share in the US. Ask yourself if there is anything they could honestly do to make you a fan. They could give tickets away and serve free beer and get you there once, but you'll never be a fan as it's not part of the culture. We all have to admit that Bettman's bog gamble was a failure or we will still be asking these same questions 10 & 20 years from now.

  • I think the leagues code of conduct manual got lost on the way to calgary.

    Anyone else struck by the irony that a former coach of a hockey canada crown jewel can repeatedly behave in a manner befitting a charles dickens character?

  • Dan the Man

    Bad News from today's Edmonton Sun(Pat Quinn Interview):

    "Horcoff tried to practise and couldn't get through it, so he left. We only had the eight forwards out there. We've got Nilsson who's out … um, I need the (injury) list."


    "Reddox is gone. We all saw him get hit with a shot from his own player. It (swelling) still stayed up this morning so he's gone for an X-ray on the ankle. Who else are we missing? I should have brought the list."


    "Visnovsky needed a day, he's still suffering from being banged four or five days ago."

    Ales Hemsky?

    "Hemsky is still sore from upper-body stuff that's been going on with him for a while. Um, Gagner went to have his hip further looked at. Who else is on the list? Grebeshkov, as we know, is still out for a period of time. Pisani is where he is. Who am I missing?"

    Ryan Stone.

    "Stone, we're hearing is better news, he didn't have a setback in his skating. We expect to have him practising with us by the weekend. And Jacques had his first full … well, we didn't have a full team but he had his first full practice today.

    "I think that's it."

    • Eddie Shore

      TEAM 1260 had that all day yesterday, and I think it is archived on Gregor's site…paper is always a day late now…which is why this site is my go-to now…

      • Dan the Man

        I caught a good chunk of Gregor's show yesterday as per usual but I don't recall hearing about Hemsky or Horc. Either way I'm guessing that not every reader of this site was aware of what I posted which is why I posted it.

  • Milli

    @ Jason: The two commercials that you mention in your article are, IMHO, symptomatic of the difficulty NHL marketing seems to have understanding that they simply don't need to keep trying to sell hockey to Canadians. Both commercials are overbearing, insular, and pretty much exemplify that only two emotions seem to link Canada with hockey: a kind of sickeningly quaint, homey 'aw-shucks' humour in the 'vinyl cafe' mode, or wistful, hypersentimental and self-serious (see: CBC's often embarrassing 'Hockey Day in Canada'). I mean, the NFL certainly spends enough time mythologizing itself in the States, but it also seems to have enough self-awareness to pull off those Peyton Manning commercials.

    I think my first move would be to get in touch with a guy like Rawson Marshall Thurber, director and writer of the movie _Dodgeball_ and those hilarious "Terry Tate Office Linebacker" commercials from a few years ago. Office hockey might be funny to see (if logistically more difficult to pull off than football, what with the ice and all).

  • Pajamah

    Dion Phaneuf reminds me of Patrick Ewing. Missing link kind of thing going on.

    Next BofA I'll be there in my Jane Goodall costume pointing out his sloped forehead and hunched posture.

  • Pajamah

    Dion Phaneuf reminds me of Patrick Ewing. Missing link kind of thing going on.

    Next BofA I'll be there in my Jane Goodall costume pointing out his sloped forehead and hunched posture.

  • Milli

    Chicago media guy on Gregors kept mentioning Sharp as a likely candidate to get moved by the Hawks (I still figure it will be some combo of Verstege/Barker/Sopel….). If the media guy is right, the Oil need to push hard for this guy. One of the most underated guys in the league and a perfect fit for what the Oil need to get off the bubble.

    @ Gregor/Brownlee, Do you think/have you heard if the Oil would have sufficient interst in Sharp that they would make a competitive offer for him?

  • Ender

    Ender wrote:

    Sure. Put ice girls in Phoenix. It might get other people in the seats. That said, you're perpetuating the guys=sports girls=dolls thing, which is generally accepted as sexist and a Bad Thing in this day and age.

    I'm not arguing that ice girls should be removed from the sport or anything like that. I'm just saying that it's not going to expand the market, it's not going to make the game more family friendly, and it's not going to put a nicer face on the franchise. At absolute best it'll increase beer sales, and at absolute worst this boys club will become even more of a sausage party than it is.

    Women at baseball games are pretty common. Basketball, somewhat less-so but it's still an accepted 'date sport'. Football and hockey, though, are already, as you point out, sausage parties. The nature of the sports draw a predominantly-male crowd. In established hockey markets, minor and junior teams often try to sell the family aspect of the game because the low-hanging fruit (the male hockey fan) is already interested in the NHL and so they have to find another tactic. That doesn't make it the most effective tactic, just the one that's left to them.

    If you're trying to sell hockey in Phoenix, the low-hanging fruit is still the male hockey fan. If you're going to attract your prime target market, you give them what they want. Your primary market wants ice-girls. Thus, at the end of the day I do think ice-girls will put more people in the seats than it will turn off, and thus it will expand the game. Not a lot; let's face it – it's the product that sells and not the packaging. Still, nice packaging (ie ice-girls) could swing the small percentage that are looking for a reason to commit to what you're selling.

  • I think the feeling is that since seat revenues aren't the issue, all efforts are focused on bringing in more advertisers. Following up on what Ender is saying, I agree.

    But its not entirely the right strategy. Ice girls and all the peripheral stuff the US markets do IS beneficial. How? It makes a better product for the fans.

    For example, I've heard it said that PPV's are a concern for the org. Here's an idea – how about producing something fans (as stated above, primarily male) would want to buy. Have some more focus on the ice girls, special PPV only inside-info segmemnts instead of website cut-and-pastes.

    I'd like to see more of what Gregor has been talking about – informal player interaction instead of them reciting their PR training in between periods. I can't tell you how enjoyable it is when I'm listening to Gregor's show and Jason Strudwick (or his wife!) calls in. It makes the players human and relevant – you know – guys just like us but REALLY good at hockey.

    The ice girl thing is just an example of Oilers marketing not being concerned about the product as much as the cash. That's narrow-minded thinking in my opinion because until the product is better, the cash won't come.