Predictably, the first week of the NHL season had its share of surprises.
The defending champion Detroit Red Wings, virtually everyone’s pick to repeat as Stanley Cup champs, were shocked in Game 1 by the Toronto Maple Leafs, many people’s pick to compete hard in the John Tavares/Victor Hedman sweepstakes.
The Vancouver Canucks, a team that struggled mightily last season to score goals, beat Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff six times on 23 shots (that’s a .739 save percentage for those of you scoring at home). Don Cherry raised eyebrows when he suggested a player, Sheldon Souray, should stop engaging in fights because he was getting injured in them.
Of course, it wasn’t all shock and awe. We knew we weren’t hallucinating when Dany Heatley scored thrice in two games, Roberto Luongo posted a shutout on opening night and Sean Avery made headlines with his mouth.
Only this time with Avery, his dis shouldn’t be summarily dismissed.
In the event you missed it, Dallas’ newest nasty boy criticized NHL marketing, his bland brethren around the league and specifically called out much-loved Jarome Iginla.
In spite of the track record of the messenger, the message has some merit – to a point.
Here’s my take:
The NHL has attempted to promote its stars with a handful of creative ad campaigns and those ventures have been met with varying degrees of success. Some have been fun, some have been lame, some have been just OK. But the NHL deserves credit for effort.
The shortcoming, if you’re a firm believer in marketing machines and what they stand for, is precisely what Avery opined, though I’d phrase it differently: NHL players, for the most part, are safe. They continue to live by an unwritten code when it comes to media dealings, not wanting to step outside boundaries that may lead to ridicule in the locker room.
Here’s an example. One star player refused to sit on steps for a pose in a photo shoot with us because his teammates were nearby and he was afraid what they might think. Yes, of him sitting on steps. Another young player balked at sitting in a replica king’s “throne” for a photo shoot because he thought it looked “gay.” Holy homophobia.
That type of behavior is not uncommon.
If the league and its leading men are intent on making marketing strides, they need to start taking chances, be braver and change the culture of the “code.” Or as my colleague Ryan Dixon said, they need a structural change to their hockey DNA.
That said, (yes, I’m inserting fence-sitting here), there comes a point where you can try too hard and reek of desperation. For me, it comes back to belief in the product and being comfortable with its place in the universe.
The game will always be the thing and if you play it (and play it to its sweetest, maximum potential), those who want to come will come. Those only attracted by the marketing glitz will likely just be fleeting anyhow.
THE POLITICS OF HOCKEY
In the spirit of election fever on both sides of the border, blogger Joe Pelletier has assembled a Hockey Party where “left wingers and right wingers come together” for the greater good. You can check it out HERE.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
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