I'll admit that, generally, I don't go out of my way to tune in to see what you have to say. But Monday night, there you were at the intermission of the Rangers-Red Wings game on Versus, giving your analysis on the game and the news of the day.
I really should have known better, because it seems every time you have something to say I don't agree. For example, I watched the Bruins broadcast of their home game against Carolina Jan. 17 when, during the intermission, you called Tuomo Ruutu "reprehensible" and claimed he had a reputation for being dirty. It wasn't the first time I had heard the younger Ruutu's style mistaken for that of his agitating older brother, Jarkko. But I was disappointed nonetheless that you used your pulpit to haphazardly sully the character of a player who does things the right way.
I was willing to chalk that up to a mistake — a case of you simply not watching enough hockey to know that Tuomo plays the game nothing like Jarkko — but last night is something I'm not willing to overlook.
During the first intermission, you took your few minutes of face time to attack Boston defenseman Andrew Ference for his comments concerning head shots. Ference was under the gun from many angles for criticizing teammate Daniel Paille for his blindside hit on Stars forward Ray Sawada. Here were Ference's comments on the hit that sprained Sawada's shoulder, broke his nose and earned Paille a four-game suspension.
"It's a bad hit. That's what they're trying to get rid of and you can't be hypocritical about it when it happens to you and say it's fine when your teammate does it. You hear it from every player after they do it, they feel bad. I talked to Danny and he feels bad. It's tough as a back checking forward to make those kinds of hits. It's so hard to do it in a clean fashion with the new rules."
Ference's mention of being hypocritical of course refers to the concussions suffered by Marc Savard — the first coming on a hit similar to Paille's by Penguins forward Matt Cooke — who was shut down for the season Monday and could be facing retirement. Ference, unlike his head coach, realizes that being honest about hits like this — regardless of who delivers them — is the only way the reckless culture of player-to-player, on-ice disrespect is going to change.
Your comments focused on Ference calling out a teammate — a worthwhile discussion, I suppose, even if it glosses over the important issue of player safety — but you spiraled out of control in your disagreement with, frankly, any stance Ference has ever had.
1) As mentioned, you expected Ference to keep quiet when asked about Paille's hit instead of answering honestly. But wouldn't not speaking up throw under the bus innocents like Savard and Patrice Bergeron, both teammates who have suffered from post-concussion issues, instead of a player who has earned a reputation of toeing the line when it comes to rules?
2) You bashed Ference for his environmental efforts. Mike, if you don't agree with Ference about global warming and other green issues, that's fine. But why would you attack Ference for doing charitable work and asking players to voluntarily offset their carbon footprints? That's akin to criticizing someone who gives money, blood or time to the Red Cross because you don't think the charitable organization should be in other countries helping the less fortunate. If you're against the cause, don't get involved. But why pile on a guy because he gives his time and money to something he believes in? What's next, tearing him down because he went to Africa as part of the NHL's "Right To Play" initiative, perhaps because it doesn't get cold enough on most of the continent to flood an outdoor rink?
3) You insinuated that Ference was a key cog in bringing down former NHLPA head Paul Kelly. That could be the case. And while Kelly, by all accounts, is a competent and good guy, the players are surely better off with Donald Fehr. Yes, the Donald Fehr who The Hockey News recently named the most powerful and influential person in hockey (sorry, you didn't make it) and is the most well-known labor negotiator of the past 30 years.
4) Finally, you said that the Bruins players have likely lost respect for Ference for speaking out "against" a teammate, and that those comments should stay in the locker room. If you read or listen to Ference's comments, he honestly accesses the situation. He believes it was a bad hit, says how he spoke to Paille and how his teammate feels about it, and then states how the new rules have presented a gray area for players. I find it hard to believe that players have lost respect for a teammate who, at 5'10", has been willing to take on some of the NHL's tougher players to stick up for them. Especially when his comments are as much about sticking up for Savard and Bergeron as they are bashing Paille.
You see, Mike, we all know what you want. You want to be the next Don Cherry. Maybe you even want to eventually replace him as the next voice of Coach's Corner as the game's top off-the-cuff commentator — an unapologetic, larger-that-life figure that captivates his fans and enrages his detractors. I'm assuming that's because you, like Cherry, want to be remembered for your bombastic opinions instead of your failures in the game.
Despite the coaching success he had, Cherry's days in the NHL will always be remembered for the too many men on the ice call in 1979 that allowed the powerhouse Canadiens to tie up his Boston Bruins in the semifinals, leading to an eventual Montreal overtime victory and subsequent fourth consecutive Stanley Cup.
You were a better player than Cherry, carving out a 754-game career — all with the Bruins — as a stay-at-home defender. But your playing career is remembered, like Cherry's coaching career, for one thing: the time you joined teammates in the stands at Madison Square Garden to take on unruly Rangers fans. While Terry O'Reilly was the first to scale the glass to attack a fan who had cut teammate Stan Jonathan's face with a rolled up program, it's you who is best remembered for returning from the tunnel to join the fray and, eventually, smacking the fan in the head with his own shoe.
Still, you moved on to coaching — still with the Bruins — and led Boston to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1990. You lasted two seasons in Beantown before later landing on Long Island, where your stints as the team's coach are overshadowed by the incredulous trades you made, earning you the moniker "Mad Mike." The players you shipped off the Island are a who's who of NHLers: Roberto Luongo, Zdeno Chara, Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe and Eric Brewer are just a sampling of the players involved in trades that hurt the franchise.
So I understand why you might think making your mark as the next outspoken, exaggerated hockey commentator would appeal to you. And it might work — there are people who will tune in just to get mad at what you have to say, much like many have for Cherry over the years. The difference is, outside of your bosses at Comcast (who now owns both NBC and Versus), you don't have anyone behind you. Your attempts to grab the spotlight and drum up controversy are not only desperate, but they hurt the game.
No matter what you do, you'll always be Mad Mike or the guy who beat someone with their own shoe. I'm glad to see those days are past you and you now stick to your own shoes, it's just unfortunate that you do it so you can consistently put your foot in your mouth.