In-Depth Hits: Hockey Broadcasting, NHL Discipline

Stephen Lam

Welcome to a new feature on WiiM. For In-Depth Hits, we'll take a deeper look at some of the more interesting takes we've seen around the blogosphere lately. In his inaugural episode, we take a look at what might be the worst local team broadcast channel and get some insight into player safety. Let us know what you think.

Hockey Broadcasting Dos & Don'ts - J.J.

Case Study: How ROOT Sports is ruining the viewing experience | The Pensblog

If you follow the Pensblog guys, you know that they're pretty critical of the things about the Penguins fanbase that pisses off non-Pens fans (like the bandwagon jerkoffs). Among their more-common complaints are those about ROOT Sports, the local station which airs their games. This article takes a look at one of the more-annoying habits of what might be the worst local broadcaster in the NHL, the ill-timed cut shot. I'll let them explain the problem:


This play is in the neutral zone. The camera goes from the normal wide-angle camera to a bizarre cut shut of a zoom-in on Malkin. We purposely cut off the end of this GIF that goes back to the wide angle because what if there is a Stars player about to pick off Malkin's pass? We don't know until he's about to shoot the puck on Fleury. Ridiculous.

The rest of the article shows some more great examples and counts up how often ROOT Sports does this compared to other broadcasts, with some pretty insane numbers. If you missed the link, here: go read it.

While ROOT is much worse about this than our own Fox Sports Detroit, I've noticed lately that they've been cutting in to close-ups and odd angles at bad times more often. I wouldn't say the problem goes as far as to "ruin watching a hockey game" like what's going on in Steeltown, but it's incredibly annoying whenever it's done wrong.

The problem is that hockey isn't exactly a great sport for artistic license in broadcasting. The advent of HD and widescreen solved a lot of the problems that older broadcasts had in the tradeoff between catching enough of the ice and catching enough of the detail, but it can also be somewhat sterile, distant even, when the wide center ice camera is used exclusively.

I don't care. I prefer watching the play develop. I expect to be able to know whether a pass will connect before it gets near its target. I want to know what the people in the arena know about whether a guy is about to get plastered by an opponent lining him up from 20 feet. Cut shots look artistic and they can help establish or strengthen a narrative when the announcers are talking about a player, but if they come at the price of chopping up the flow of the puck, then they should never be used. If you want to drive a narrative about a guy, wait until a break in play and then key in on him.

Just cut back to the goddamn action before the faceoff.

To FSD's credit, I do think they're listening where ROOT sports isn't. After sending that tweet, I was contacted by an employee of FSD who did state that they're listening to criticisms like these and are working hard to improve in these areas while keeping the angles interesting. All in all, I think FSD is among the better local team broadcasts available in terms of production quality. This would be an area in which I'd like to see them improve.

NHL Discipline - SlapshotGoal

Backhand Shelf - January 22 2014 | Podcasts | The Score

Justin Bourne interviewed Patrick Burke, the Director of Player Safety, on an episode of the Backhand Shelf Podcast. You can hear the interview in its entirely at the above link, and I highly recommend it. Patrick provided some very interesting insights into how the department of player safety operates, the processes they go through to determine if a player will receive supplemental discipline, and a lot more. There were a few things that really stood out to me as interesting or important.

Let's get to the good stuff, shall we?

  • There are designated video review guys who watch almost every NHL game in real time, in its entirety. That's 2,460 regular season games, which is 147,600 hours of hockey if every game only lasted 60 minutes. That's a lot of hockey to watch. They're not just watching and evaluating a game if someone does something that could require extra punishment, or if a penalty was called. Even if something happened that wasn't a penalty on the ice, the department will still watch the game and review anything questionable to determine if discipline is necessary. If the video review guys think something is even questionable, it gets clipped and sent up the review chain. There are 4-5 levels of review before a hearing or phone call is scheduled and I was impressed to find out that the average time between when the questionable even occurred and when it gets all the way up to Shanahan, is about 7-10 minutes. That's pretty quick given the circumstances.

  • Most of the time this team not only watches the games, but they log each relevant event. So for example, if take a hard run at Kyle in the 1st period and he comes back in the 3rd period and tries to Tanya Harding my knees, Burke and his team can see that Kyle and I have been going at each other throughout the game and have the context to say that Kyle probably didn't do it by accident. Knowing the whole story gives Patrick and his team an indication as to whether the event was accidental or retaliatory. We all know from watching games that if you don't see the whole thing, there's often a lot that can be missed or taken out of context. It's nice to know that these guys are taking the time to try to get the whole story.

  • Checks and balances to avoid team or player bias are important, and I appreciate that when it comes to weighing in or voting on if a player should be disciplined, and how long, the votes are sent to Shanahan individually so the department members are less likely to be swayed or influenced by each other. This helps cut down on groupthink and encourages each member of the department to give their honest assessment without fear of judgement from their peers.

  • How much does injury affect the punishment or non punishment of a player? This is a hot topic that's been discussed and argued about at great length just about everywhere. Prior history and injury do not turn a non-suspension into a suspension, nor do they turn a suspension into a non-suspension. They can however add games to a suspension the player is already going to receive. Sometimes it's incredibly frustrating when a player seems to get off with a lighter sentence because the guy they committed the offense against was lucky enough not to get injured (or at least appears that way at the time). One important thing to note is that the department taking injuries and player history into account is mandatory for them because it's in the CBA. J.J. already covered the Supplementary Discipline section of the CBA in this Getting to Know the CBA article and it clearly states that it must factor into their decision. I'd personally like to see a change in how the CBA addresses this topic because I'd like more focus on the intent of the offending player, rather than looking at whether a player was injured or not. I understand using injury as a factor to try and gauge how hard someone was hit, how much force was behind an infraction, but it's so unreliable and tends to be more lenient on an offender if the person they illegally boarded is a tough mother f'er who has a hard head and didn't get knocked out. There's a lot of chance involved in that aspect of the process and I don't like it.

Pierre LeBrun wrote an interesting in depth article on the department of player safety and their processes that delves a little deeper into what Patrick Burke described.

NHL: We take you inside Brendan Shanahan's player safety room - ESPN

I think the inside perspective is valuable, even if we don't always agree with the decisions being made, at least we understand the process better and see what they're trying to accomplish. One of the things that sticks out to me from the LeBrun article is how much Shanahan and department are trying to educate the players and help them understand what's acceptable and what's not. When Shanahan called up Charlie Coyle of the Minnesota Wild last spring to talk about his almost suspension worthy hit on Matt Stajan, Shanahan said "It's not so much a warning when I make those calls but rather just want to walk the player through it and make him understand why the play was close to a suspension."

For all the imperfections of the DOPS, they're doing a lot of things right and are really making the effort to try to educate players, coaches, and everyone involved in hockey, as to what's ok and what's not. It's easier to play by the rules if you know exactly what they are and how they'll be enforced. It indicates to me that there's a desire to change player behavior rather than simply punish them when they mess up.

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