It was the “rant” heard around the world, although it was a pretty tame one by Chicago Blackhawks play-by-play man Pat Foley’s standards. During Thursday night’s Game 5 of a first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the St. Louis Blues, the beloved (by Chicagoans, at least) Foley let his audience know about his disdain for late start times during the postseason.
“Eddie, we’ve had a tremendous series between two great teams here. And it has been compelling theater. The two teams have been tied or one-goal games 96 percent of the time so far. But this is the third time in five games that a start time of 8:42 local was mandated. I can say with certainty, players cannot stand these late starts. Coaches cannot stand them. Most importantly, the fans can’t stand them. So as we approach midnight Eastern, again, on a work night, a school night, a simple question: An 8:42 puck drop serves … “
Above is the text of Foley’s brief commentary on the late starts, which have plagued the Central Division teams — and those teams alone — during these and other previous Stanley Cup Playoffs. His short rant was cut off by NBC Sports Network, which The Blackhawks and Blues, as Foley mentioned, have kicked of three times at 8:42 p.m. in five games. The Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild have started at that time for multiple games, while the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks were also given that fate Tuesday in Nashville, not to mention the ridiculous 9:30 p.m. start on a Sunday.
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So, naturally, human garbage bin/man who beat a fan with his own shoe Mike Milbury was upset by Foley’s comments and used his way-too-high-for-his-abilities platform on NBC Sports Network to call out Foley.
Now, if Milbury actually thinks Foley is upset about the start times because it keeps Foley awake past his bed time, Milbury is even more dense than I originally suspected. I’m pretty sure Foley would call hockey from pillar to post if he was asked. If there was a 72-hour non-stop hockey marathon, he’d probably apply to commentate during it. So Milbury is just trying to stir the pot with his response.
However, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman got involved today, which shouldn’t be a surprise. Foley more or less directly attacked Bettman and his policies for playoff scheduling. According to the Chicago Tribune, Bettman said Foley “was off the mark” with his comments, and “that clubs are fine with the start times, and you can ask the Blackhawks.” He added that Foley “didn’t have his facts straights” when he spoke his piece.
The most disappointing thing about this mini-saga is that Blackhawks President John McDonough actually called to apologize to Bettman for Foley’s comments, to which Bettman said no apology was necessary.
Honestly, this is a whole separate issue that needs another post, but I’ll make a brief comment here. McDonough apparently saw no need to personally call Bettman and apologize when his star player allegedly raped someone this offseason, or when another of his popular players used a homophobic slur on live national television, or when one of his minor leaguers was accused of being involved in revenge porn.
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But when his play-by-play man, who dutifully speaks on behalf of the Blackhawks organization day in and day out no matter if he agrees with the words or not, decides to speak out on something in a reasonable manner, by golly we better bow to the almighty shrew Bettman. What a disgrace.
But getting back to the comments themselves, Foley is definitely right with his analysis, and Bettman has been living under a rock. This isn’t about Foley wanting to get to his blanket and bed faster. It’s about the fact he realizes the league is intentionally depriving itself of large segments of fans just because it wants to appease NBC and its advertisers, as well as Eastern Conference clubs and fan bases, with staggered start times. This might’ve worked fine in an unexpanded league. But guess what, Gary? There are teams all over the United States now, and they’re not all in the same time zone. Crazy, I know.
Sure, ratings are still going to be solid for a Blackhawks-Blues game that starts at 8:42, because many hockey fans are kind of crazy and this is “the series” in these NHL playoffs. But I’ll bet ratings for that series, and especially for Dallas-Minnesota and Anaheim-Nashville, would be a whole heck of a lot better if the league based its playoffs start times around how a clock works, and not how much money they can get from their TV deal.
The NHL has done nothing to show it isn’t a money-grubbing league, and Foley called Bettman and his cronies out on it. It’s truly disappointing to see McDonough stand up for the almighty dollar instead of a crucial piece of the organization, but considering what we’ve seen from this team’s brass in the 2015-16 season, it’s not at all surprising. At least Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was willing to stand up for Foley.
Writer’s note: Totally missed the year on this was from 2015 and not 2016. Thanks to Don Snyder on Twitter for pointing it out. Hopefully Q would say the same thing today, though.
At the end of the day, Foley was speaking for fans, players, coaches and even media members who are affected negatively by these silly start times. He was also speaking for the well being of the game, which he cares about so very much. But he was quickly pushed down by guys who answer to or lead a system that’s only concerned about pocket lining. Thankfully, it appears enough people agree with Foley, or at least respect his opinion, to make sure this battle doesn’t die just because Bettman wants it to.