Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


January 7, 2014

The Daddy of All Hockey Bloggers

Puck Daddy founder and popular podcaster Greg Wyshynski breaks the ice news.

Michael Gluckstadt

There's an element of hockey fandom that carries a perpetual chip on its shoulder. That voice that's always worrying about empty seats in Phoenix or complaining about the lack of hockey highlights on SportsCenter (though certainly not SportsCentre, as this is a uniquely non-Canadian strain). But that perpetual concern has yielded positive results for the league, encouraging it to pursue bold new initiatives like the Winter Classic, or opening its locker rooms to the 24/7 cameras. The results have spoken for themselves.

Greg Wyshynski
"We had over 105,000 fans watching a game worth two points in the standings. That's insane."

Greg Wyshynski

But even if they hadn't, Yahoo's Puck Daddy blogger Greg Wyshynski, could speak to them. "[The Winter Classic] is the single most successful thing Gary Bettman has put his name to as commissioner," he tells Gelf. "It sparked casual fan interest in the NHL during the regular season in an unprecedented way." Wyshynki, who also co-hosts the popular podcast Marek Vs. Wyshynski, is one of the league's closest watchers, and his platform is one of the most influential in the sport.

A former managing sports editor for the Connection Newspapers in Virginia, Wyshynski started Puck Daddy in April of 2008 and has been at the helm ever since. In the following interview, which has been edited for clarity, he tells Gelf how the league's openness may have recently backfired, what the difference is between the regular season and the Olympics, and why there's no such thing as too much outdoor hockey.

Gelf Magazine: Did the decision to give ESPN's Scott Burnside and USA Today's Kevin Allen access to the Team USA selection process backfire?

Greg Wyshynski: It backfired, but it didn't need to.
Team USA was offering unprecedented access. It could literally set any ground rule it wanted to, including a vetting of the final product. If the journalists invited to that party bristled at that, it would have taken about 0.7 second to find two more that were accepting of it.
Instead, Team USA attempted to set a "no player evaluation discussion" rule on the coverage and Burnside violated it, like any other journalist with that access and that story might do. (I would have.) Without a failsafe in place, it all went to print, and the Olympic team announcement was shrouded in controversy rather than celebration.

Gelf Magazine: Could the fallout from Burnside's piece lead to less access in the future?

Greg Wyshynski: It could, but not necessarily because of what Burnside (allegedly) did. If anything, Team USA and NHL teams have probably woken up to the fact that processes that exist solely to tear down the reputations of players in order to build up others—Olympic selection meetings, arbitration hearings, draft war rooms—are breeding grounds for disparaging comments to leak to the public and to those players being discussed. Which was, essentially, Team USA's primary mistake to begin with.

Gelf Magazine: Between that story and 24/7, would you say that hockey has more of an open-access culture than other sports? Why might that be?

Greg Wyshynski: Yes, and because hockey has to try harder to attract casual fans. All of this pulling back of curtains exists to knock down obstacles between fans who might not understand the intricacies of the game but who respond to hockey players as sons, blue-collar guys, and family men.
The game-changer, though, was the decision to send out videos with suspension rulings. That's not for the casual fan: That's for the diehard begging to understand the logic of the League's rulings, and for the players who are still adjusting to new rules about hits to the head. It was a brilliant tactic from an educational and public-relations perspective; even if you debate the ruling, at least you have to respect the thought given to it.

Gelf Magazine: In the Winter Classic, the league created a new tradition out of thin air. How successful has it been for them?

Greg Wyshynski: It's the single most successful thing Gary Bettman's put his name to as commissioner. More than realignment, expansion, and three labor negotiations. It sparked casual fan interest in the NHL during the regular season in an unprecedented way. It carved out a niche for hockey on college football's day. It spawned 24/7 and the Stadium Series. It created new revenue streams for merchandise. Most of all, it created a veritable Super Bowl for the league: Cities are begging for the event, seeing how each host prints money every Jan. 1. We had over 105,000 fans watching a game worth two points in the standings. That's insane.

Gelf Magazine: Is the Stadium Series too much of a good thing?

Greg Wyshynski: Nah. From a national perspective, it might seem like overkill, but locally these events are massive successes and unique experiences. Plus, they might bring outdoor hockey to places that might not be "Classic" worthy.

Gelf Magazine: Is Olympic hockey more exciting than regular-season NHL games? What could the league learn from it?

Greg Wyshynski: Apples and caviar. One's an 82-game grind; the other is an all-star tournament with single-elimination games, which even the Stanley Cup Playoffs can't replicate until Game 7.

Gelf Magazine: Do you think we'll ever see the NHL expand beyond the US and Canada? Is there still a lot more room to grow domestically in those countries?

Greg Wyshynski: There are still cities with untapped hockey fan bases in North America: a second Toronto team and a Quebec City team in Canada; Seattle, Las Vegas, and potentially Houston in the US. I think international expansion is inevitable, although I shudder to think what that playoff format might look like.

Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.

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Article by Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.

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