The Problem With Mike Milbury

Today, CBC hockey analyst Mike Milbury was charged with assault in relation to an incident that occurred with an opposing player as he helped coach his son’s pee wee hockey team.

How serious the incident was is not entirely clear; but from the reports today it sounds like it’s fairly unexceptional hockey parent behaviour. That may change depending on what exactly Milbury said – the reports also indicate he was charged with uttering threats, after all – but everyone who has spent any amount of time around the game has seen, heard or at the very least read about the line-crossing actions of hyper-competitive hockey moms and dads.

The actions alone weren’t the reason the internet quickly filled with Mike Milbury jokes this morning.

The problem with Mike Milbury is that his entire public life – from his playing career to his managing career to his broadcasting career – has been filled with unpleasantness. So when something like this happens, people spread the word quickly, not just because something like this happening to a high-profile hockey man is newsworthy (which it is) but because Milbury simply isn’t very well-liked.

Some of it stems from the things he did before he entered broadcasting. Milbury was a hard-nosed defenseman for a rough-and-tumble Boston team, but that’s not what he’s remembered for. He’s generally remembered most for his role in this incident:

Milbury is number 26 in the video above, seen hitting a guy with a shoe.

Then, of course, there’s Milbury’s record as the general manager of the New York Islanders. A decade at the helm of any franchise that managed to win just five playoff games over that span would be a black mark on any reputation, but it’s not just what Milbury did, it’s how he did it.

Aside from his gruff personality – the internet is full of quotes from his time at the helm in Long Island, though my favourite was when he said that player agent Paul Kraus was “depriving some village of a pretty good idiot” – it was the sheer magnitude with which some of his trades failed. He traded Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe and the pick that turned into Jarkko Ruutu to Vancouver for an aging Trevor Linden.

He dealt Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen to Florida for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish. He drafted Rick DiPietro first overall, rather than taking Dany Heatley or Marian Gaborik. He sent Jason Spezza, Zdeno Chara and Bill Muckalt to Ottawa for Alexei Yashin. He ruined a franchise in search of immediate dividends, and still has the hatred of Islanders fans today.

If anything, though, Milbury has worked hard at becoming more disliked by more people since moving into broadcasting. Whether he’s referring to the Russian national team has playing a “Eurotrash game,” talking about the “pansification” of hockey, referring to the Sedin twins as “Thelma and Louise,” analyzing about the Washington “Crapitals,” ridiculing Alex Semin as “a lazy, overpaid talent not worth the time,” threatening to send hockey players to beat up “meathead” Tiger “Wuss” Woods, talking about the German national team “getting peed on” by the Canadian squad or just defending his lackluster record as Islanders manager, he’s been nothing if not polarizing.

Even when Milbury isn’t grabbing attention with hyperbolic commentary, he can be difficult. During a recent Hockey Night in Canada segment on re-aligning the NHL, Milbury was bored – “wake me up when it’s over” he said. He’s frequently spoken out against suspensions, often arguing loudly with his co-hosts on the subject. He’s dismissive of obvious things, like the impact of keeping a junior-aged hockey player up for more than a nine-game audition.

That’s not to say Milbury isn’t occasionally on point. He fearlessly defends angles that aren’t politically correct, voicing the thoughts of many – and when he doesn’t venture into bigotry or xenophobia, that can be valuable. He can add insightful analysis; as a life-long hockey man, he has useful things to say. Unfortunately, what value he does bring is typically overshadowed by his trademark arrogance and compulsive need to belittle players, teams and even co-hosts.

Mike Milbury is, in the end, thoroughly unlikeable. It’s what separates him from someone like Don Cherry, who often advances similar points – Cherry’s not only capable of recognizing his imperfections, but he comes across as the kind of guy it would be fun to share a beer with. It’s impossible to read either of his two latest books without just enjoying the personality behind the narrative. Milbury’s successfully grabbed the worst parts of Cherry’s old-school mentality, but he’s missed the thing that’s really made Cherry successful on Hockey Night in Canada – his personality.

Today’s story may or may not turn out to be more than a relatively minor incident of poor behaviour; we won’t know until more details emerge. Milbury has denied the allegations in a statement released by his lawyer. But the reaction to the incident, which has been overwhelmingly hostile to Milbury, has less to do with what Milbury did at his son’s hockey game than it does with what he’s done with his time in the public eye.

  • srbuhr

    To be honest I am not much of a Milbury fan but you have to wonder if the charges are just a result of his public persona – I mean if he didnt use his fists he should be okay.

    • Just as a point of clarification, Milbury has been accused of assault – not battery.

      Assault is the act of attacking someone in a threatening, though non-physical manner that creates a sense of intimidation (ie: saying “I am going to kick your ass” or making a fist gesture towards someone).

      Battery is the actual physical attack.

      When you hear of the charges of assault and battery, that would obviously be a combination of the two (ie: Telling someone you’re going to kick their ass and then doing so).

      Technically, if MM was acting in a threatening manner, that’s assault, and the second he lays a finger on the kid (even if he just grabs his arm), it can grow into a battery charge as well because of the physical contact.

    • Wax Man Riley

      Karma, what goes around comes around, You get what you give,…..Call it what you want but Milbury is a blowhard, he is arrogant, obnoxious and the worst part of itis that it is unfounded he has nothing to back it up with. I can’t listening to him on HNC.
      I try not to wish bad things on people or to rejoice at their failures but I have to say he is the cause of his own undoing and I am happy to see how life evens everything out.

  • Good read. I am pretty sick of Milbury’s act, so even though this incident shouldn’t necessarily reflect upon his broadcasting career I certainly won’t be shedding any tears if he goes off the air on CBC and NBC. I do not think, for the most part, that his aggressive contrarianism is helpful when discussing many of the critical issues facing the game right now, particularly surround injuries and violence.

    • Vanguard

      Totally agree, I can’t stand listening to him.

      And 7lLet’s be honest, is anyone who’s made the trades described above by Willis truly qualifed to talk about hockey anyway?

  • Wax Man Riley

    For all the wrong that Milbury’s done over the years – and as this article points out, there is much – I’ll always remember him fondly for the time he called Al Strachan a “dink” on HNIC.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    He may not be remembered as one of the best GM’s to guide a team, but i’ve always admired his sink or swim methods. Kill or be killed.

    Mike Milbury reveals the truth about hockey, a testement that the game is in fact a war on ice.

    Society as well as sports have become a haven of softies. People who hide behind the law/rules even in pro sports.

  • Ducey

    but from the reports today it sounds like it’s fairly unexceptional hockey parent behaviour.

    Jonathan? How much time do you spend at your local rink?

    I currently coach three teams and have coached for 7 years. I can tell you that Milbury’s actions are quite the exception.

    That kind of behaviour (entering onto the ice, other than to attend to an injured player) in Edmonton (criminal or not) would have him expelled from coaching for a very long time.

    On top of this, Milbury is a high profile ex NHLer. You can bet that every kid in the arena knew that he was there and looked up to him. To set that kind of example over a Pee Wee game shows an appalling lack of understanding.

    Milbury deserves every bit of hostility heaped on him.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      You don’t even know the man, or the facts of these charges, yet you’re going to judge/execute him based on this second hand imformation?

      Your bearing false witness is probably a more of a crime than the one Milbury was said to be involve in.

      • Ducey

        Seems a tad hypocritical of you, given that we all “judge/execute” players all the time, present company included, when we don’t really know them as people.

        Besides, he was charged. That doesn’t mean he is guilty, but clearly something happened to merit it, so it is fair to discuss the situation.

        I just hope his broadcasting career is finished so he can try and land a GM job, It would be great to see some of his zany trades again. We need a loose cannon back, so all 29 other teams can feel better about their GMs.

        • Quicksilver ballet

          Every TV network that is in the hockey business wants a piece of Mike Milbury. I don’t think he’s going anywhere. People will look forward to what he has to say in the coming weeks about this i’m sure. It’s probably much ado about nothing me thinks.

          We’re not sealing a players fate when we discuss the desire to have them moved/traded out of Edmonton. We know their pitfalls as players here, we’re just wanting them to take their show elsewhere. No players have ever been harmed by the goings on here at ON.

    • book¡e

      Milbury did not enter the ice during a game. The game was over and they had a friendly shoot out. When my son has done this, the coaches have more liberal rules, for instance can get pucks or coach the kids. I’m not defending him, just setting the record straight on that one aspect of this incident.

  • Kids are awful. The twerp probably deserved to get pummelled and all got was a stern shaking. Usually there’s video of this kinda blow up. We live in a world where everyone owns a smart phone. How can there be no video?

  • Scuba Steve

    This is pretty negative, Jon. While I don’t enjoy Milbury’s contributions on TV, to heap scorn on the man and deem him “thoroughly unlikeable” is pretty harsh.

    This article reads like a guilty verdict is deserved “because Milbury simply isn’t very well-liked.” Maybe we should wait until we hear some facts before we send him to the gallows, huh?

    I find your writing in general very negative (and usually skip your articles as a result) but this has gone over the line of negative to hateful and vindictive. The only point of this article that I can see is that you used it as a forum to spew vitriol about someone who, in your opinion, is a lesser human being than you, and doesn’t deserve any level of respect or grace.

    This article is a black mark on Oilersnation.

  • @ Scuba Steve:

    Milbury shouldn’t be judged adversely based on the charges, which may or may not be overblown. On that front, we’ll see.

    Yet, the twitter-sphere and the blogs exploded, with the vast number of commenters hammering on Milbury. Why? Because he’s consistently a dick on TV – to players, to his co-hosts, to everybody.

    What I think of him isn’t especially relevant. The guy isn’t well-liked, and that’s why the reaction has been what it has. Just look at what people are saying.

    I’m not saying that he’s disliked because I’ve judged him that way, I’m saying he’s disliked because it’s all but impossible to find anyone saying anything nice about the man today. Even you, rather than defend the guy by saying ‘hey, look, here’s an example of people saying this is out of character or Milbury wouldn’t hurt a kid’ have tried to cover him by saying ‘Jonathan Willis is a dick.’ The last may or may not be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of reaction has been scornful.

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    Milburys almost

    as big a Delta Bravo

    as Avery is*.

    EDIT * Sean Avery is .00001 ahead of Mike Milbury in the race for Biggest Delta Bravo of all time

  • Ducey

    You don’t even know the man, or the facts of these charges, yet you’re going to judge/execute him based on this second hand imformation?

    Your bearing false witness is probably a more of a crime than the one Milbury was said to be involve in.

    First, “false witness” means I related some evidence of what happened incorrectly. Clearly I was not there. To render my opinion of someone who makes his living in the public eye is not bearing false witness or a crime. Its fair game.

    Second, I don’t really care if he is criminally liable. Likely 100 people saw him go on the ice so I doubt that is in issue. If you are a minor league coach you don’t go on the ice to get involved with another player/ ref/ coach. Ever. Period.

    12 year old kids are playing for fun and exercise. 10 in 30,000 might make the NHL. They don’t need to have some idiot adult confront, intimidate (and possibly assault) them while they are playing.

    If you cannot understand that then do us a favour stay way from the local rink.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Milbury deserves every bit of hostility heaped on him.

      This opinion (yours) states otherwise. You support any form of retribution levelled against him. Fairly straight forward me thinks. Guilty or not, you’re all about someone getting even with Milbury it appears.

      2) 12 yr old kids and their parents are aware that people may be watching this age group for possible future affiliation with the WHL. You appear to have an air of self importance with your wanting folks to stay away from arenas if they don’t understand. I find it odd that you of all people don’t understand this…… are you coaching to insure your son(s) made the team, if you didn’t coach/offer to help, would your son(s) still have made your club?

      With people like you leading these 12 yr olds, these kids don’t have a hope in hell of making it, especially your son with you being his fulltime, apparently jaded/vindictive father figure.

  • stevezie

    Thankyou for pointing out what so many Cherry-haters seem to miss, that while he may or not be dumb (I think he’s smart), he seems like a “good guy” who is cheering for most people to succeed

    As For Mad Mike, terrible GM, but surprisingly good analyst, I thought. I hope he makes it through this, for my aske as a viewer, but if he doesn’t he’ll have no one else to blame. When Cherry’s attacked he has people coming out of the wood-work to defend him to the death. When Mike goes down it’s just people like me, “I like him on tv, but whatever.”

  • mayhemsince1977

    Listen folks, as obnoxious as Milbury is he is not the only talking head broadcasting/color-commentater in pro sport who has the same qualities. Some prominent talkers in this area are some home-grown examples of egos run amok. You don’t have to look too far at all to see those examples either. There are broadcast personalities in this market who are well on their way to being worse than Milbury ever thought of being. The only difference is the size of the market affected.

  • Puritania

    He gets people talking so he stays employed. Nothing that comes out of his mouth is worth discussing but he will continue to have a job as long as he draws interest. His resume makes me think that his opinion is about the last opinion that anybody should listen to.

  • Puritania

    Agree with Ducey, he is 100 % right on this issue!! 12 year old children ought not to be touched by the coaching staff of opposing or for that matter his own team.

    Everyone talks about over involved parents. I do not recall ever seeing coaches grab opposing players ……. ever. Course that is over a 15 year period. So maybe in the 80’s that happened. Milbury’s story, while not sexual in any way, is like hearing Jerry Sandusky “just doing horseplay” in shower. No explnation will ever explain away the reported action……. Unless it is to confirm he did not grab the boy

  • Late to the party and haven’t read the thread, but excellent writeup JW. I particularly like your style for this article, since you don’t go all “Milbury” and blast the guy and call him names and whatever, but simply state the facts of things he’s done and peoples’ reactions to them.

    I knew he traded Luongo but had no idea about his other awful awful moves. Were these moves blasted at the time or is this a hindsight is 20/20 thing? Oiler fans get mad at Lowe and Tambellini, but WOW…Milbury really takes the cake for poor GMing.

    And I couldn’t even watch some of those clips all the way through. Painful and awkward…

  • justDOit

    Didn’t MM also give Yashin a ridiculous contract as well? Like $11M per for umpteen years?

    In spite of all that, there’s something about Milbury’s honesty as a hockey analyst that I like. He’s not afraid to call a pointy shovel a pointy shovel, shall we say.

    Imagine how it would feel to have every mistake that you’ve ever made in life, held over your head for eternity. That would be my version of H-E-doublehockeysticks. And for us to ‘assume’ that Mike hasn’t learned from his mess-ups is very narrow minded.

    So he shoved a kid who was yapping at his son. While that isn’t a smart move at all, it’s also light-years from being a shocking revelation. Penn State this ISN’T!

    If I had to make a snap decision on this, and give my judgment based on nothing but headlines and hearsay, I would venture that the kid got what was coming to him. I’m sure Milbury’s son is a target on the ice, and gets more than his fair share of verbal and physical abuse. Milbury would see all of this and know that his son is unfairly treated because of Mike’s status as a former player/coach/GM.

    • ubermiguel

      Good link. Milbury’s forthrightness makes me believe him and I might have done the same thing. Still, Willis’ point stands: the guy’s not well liked and no-one’s lining up to defend his character.

  • You can see somebody with Milbury’s characteristics coming from a mile away. What you see is what you get — he’s opinionated, bombastic, loutish and too often over-the-top. He doesn’t try to fool anybody into thinking he’s anything else.

    I prefer knowing what I’m dealing with up front with somebody like Mike than the devious types who drape many of the same traits Mike has in a smile and have mastered playing the Nice Guy game because it helps them get along — no opportunistic shots taken at them on Twitter or around the water cooler.

    These same nice guys are quick to stick a verbal shank in somebody’s ribs the second they leave the room or they lay in the weeds waiting until the time is right to have their say. They don’t show their cards very often and they do what they do without ever looking anybody in the eye. What follows is, “Oh, I can’t believe he’d do that, he’s such a nice guy . . .”