The most controversial man in hockey right now isn't Dustin Brown after his borderline hit on Michal Rozsival. It isn't Shane Doan, who gave Brown a stern, almost fatherly talking to and later trashed officials after that hit. And it isn't John Tortorella, the coach who's turned post-game press conferences into a quiet circus over the past few weeks.
This pivotal figure is not a factor in goals, assists or saves for any of the three teams remaining in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Right now, the name that may emit the greatest reaction from National Hockey League fans at the mere mention of his name, at least in the United States, is Pierre McGuire.
McGuire started his American television career in 2006, having helped create -- along with NBC Sports head hockey honcho Sam Flood -- the "Inside The Glass" reporter position. It was simple enough: Having a hybrid analyst/reporter between the benches of the two teams would provide greater access to the players and a better ability to convey what's happening on the ice to the television viewers.
The latter part is nothing new to the NHL's tumultuous television history. Back in the 1990s, FOX wanted lead analyst John Davidson to explain in more detail what coaches were doing on the bench. In the early 2000s, ESPN did telecasts entirely dedicated to explaining what was happening in detail on the ice and at the benches during their NHL Rules shows.
This, however, was a step in a new direction. Three people were initially trained to do the "Inside The Glass" job for NBC -- McGuire, Joe Micheletti and Cammi Granato -- and only one of them still does it on a regular basis, though Micheletti worked the position for NBC Sports Network during the post-season. Since the beginning, many have popped up to do the job with varying degrees of success (Glenn Healy, Brian Engblom, Ray Ferraro) but McGuire remains the face of that position, and is perhaps, save Mike Milbury, the best-known hockey analyst in America right now.
But is that a good thing?
The most recent criticism of McGuire's work occurred following Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. After a powder keg burst open when Mike Rupp shoved Martin Brodeur, coaches Pete DeBoer and Tortorella took to screaming at one another from the edges of the benches, with McGuire (and a backed-off Healy, working for CBC) right in the middle.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Seth Rorabaugh openly loathes McGuire's work, and last night dedicated a lengthy Twitter rant to pointing out what he felt was wrong with the whole thing. New York Daily News columnist Bob Raissman accused McGuire of appearing on too many talk shows. Andrew Bucholz of Awful Announcing wrote an interesting post about how McGuire withholds information. Don Cherry even weighed in with his usual bombast, a rare occasion where Grapes has criticized a fellow broadcaster.
The beef with McGuire's handling of the situation seems to be two-fold.
- He's standing right in between them, as if to make himself a part of the show. Healy simply backs out of the way.
- He does this, yet refuses to reveal any true detail about what's happening around him. This isn't the first time McGuire's done this, either: He wouldn't reveal any details of the April 1 bench argument between Flyers coach Peter Laviolette and Penguins assistant Tony Granato.
I personally think McGuire does a pretty decent job. He can be a little heavy on referencing junior teams and colleges, and his style is often both in-your-face loud and softer than a whisper, making for a difficult listen. One thing you can't deny, though: The man watches a ton of hockey, has coached in the pros, and obviously knows what he speaks.
He needs to choose the right spot to go loud, but that's often what analysts need to do to get heard in the soundbite era. While Davidson was the perfect analyst for his era -- measured, quick-thinking, smart -- before he quit to run the St. Louis Blues, McGuire appears to often sound like a hockey parody of an ESPN talking head.
The main question that needs to be asked: What should be the parameters of the "Inside The Glass" job? Should it be HBO's 24/7? Should it be like the cameras HBO gets to put anywhere they want, including the referees' locker room? Should it be complete, unfiltered access?
If we have that, somebody -- McGuire or Healy or whomever -- will step over the line and leak out something that goes beyond the level of necessary information.
So does that mean it should it be what it is now, just a regular analyst with a different view of the ice and a coach interview twice a game? I think the happy medium is somewhere in the middle. It is my personal belief -- and I'm sure I am not alone here -- that the "Inside The Glass" reporter works better when paired with just a play-by-play guy.
The flow of hockey is not conducive to a three-man booth. It didn't work on ABC, with Davidson flanked by Gary Thorne and Bill Clement, and it isn't the best situation with McGuire, Eddie Olczyk and Mike Emrick. It often feels like too much opinion can get through. While the three have developed chemistry -- Emrick could have chemistry with a brick wall -- it just seems like everybody's got something to say and there just isn't enough time to say it.
For "Inside The Glass" to work, we need less discretion. As long as the report doesn't involve foul language or heavily detailed injuries -- God forbid the NHL let us in on those -- it's OK for McGuire or whoever else sits between the benches to explain what's going on when it comes to coach squabbles, questionable calls by officials and strategy.
As long as it doesn't go too far down the rabbit hole of info to divulge, the motto should be, "If you hear something, say something." The problem now is that analysts like McGuire are hearing everything and saying nothing.
Steve Lepore covers the hockey media for Puck The Media on SB Nation.