May 24, 2018
Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Pierre McGuire, Mike Milbury, Sam Flood
CHRIS MCCLOSKEY: Thank you for joining us. We are joined by executive producer, Sam Flood, and our NHL team of Mike “Doc” Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury.
We will begin now with opening remarks. We’ll go to Sam Flood.
SAM FLOOD: Hi, everybody, thanks for joining us. I apologize for background noise. I’m at an airport right now.
We are fired up. It’s great to see that people are consuming hockey at record levels this year. I think it’s a sign of how much this sport has grown and all the great things the NHL has done to make the product better each year, and the on-ice product has never been better.
The drama on the ice, the action, the physical play has been top-notch, and I love what our guys do calling the games; and the passion that Doc brings every time you get to hear him call a game; Pierre inside the glass hearing things he should and maybe should not be hearing and translating them properly to the audience; and Eddie Olczyk, the man who can hit the trifecta and then go call a hat trick the next day, is always impressive; and then Mike Milbury who has added a new wrinkle to his game being both game analyst and a studio analyst has made us better this year.
So it’s been a fun season to watch everything develop as we build into the Stanley Cup Final. And to see this happen without real power from the Original Six teams in the playoffs and no Original Sixes last week, and four of them not even making the playoffs.
To have these ratings without those pillar teams is remarkable and again, a statement about how this league has developed and how the game of hockey is being embraced in new markets like Las Vegas, like Nashville, and we love seeing that. Tampa has done an incredible job, and now Washington has a chance to win its first Stanley Cup.
With that, I hand it off to the man who hopefully will call some overtime games in the Stanley Cup final, the man who has won six Emmy’s and five in a row, a streak unprecedented, the great Doc Emrick.
MIKE “DOC” EMRICK: Thank you, Sam. I am grateful to be a part of this. An old hockey writer I knew, I remember him telling me about a story he was working on, and he used the phrase, this story was just singing.
All of you out there are professionals and imagine since 11 o’clock last night, like the rest of us, you’ve seen how this matchup is just singing. I’m not going to steal my colleagues’ time or yours and getting us to where you want us to be in answering your questions about the two likely Conn Smythe Trophy candidates wearing Nos. 8 and 29, or the playing styles which Eddie and Pierre and Mike are so well-versed on.
I’ll only say that it’s just a thrill to look forward to Monday with them, especially after the year that Eddie and Pierre have had health-wise; and to anticipate these two teams in the first shift and who is going to forecheck whom, and who gets in the first hit and just listening to the crowd.
I thank you for joining us on this. And here is my colleague, whose second residence could probably be the home of the first game in Las Vegas, Eddie Olczyk.
EDDIE OLCZYK: Thanks, Doc. Great to be back again. This is the best time of year. This is what we live for is to see these incredible athletes and having a great privilege of having been through the grind and getting my name on a Stanley Cup, it is — this is what you worked for your whole life, for these opportunities, and just so jacked up to be a part of it on the broadcast side with our great team at NBC.
No better time than Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, and things will materialize early. Those are the things that I will be looking for. There’s so many storylines in this series, front and center George McPhee, of course, the general manager in Vegas, the long-time general manager in Washington, taken over by Brian MacLellan; and two guys that know each other very well from not only the management side of hockey, but the inside hockey of being teammates, Bowling Green and also playing in a National Hockey League together.
It’s just an incredible story. If the Vegas Golden Knights are not the Sports Team of the Year or the Decade; I said this before, there should be an investigation. Just an incredible story, a team that hasn’t even been around for one year land to see where the Washington Capitals were after the first two games of the playoffs, losing both games at home, it’s well-documented. But just an incredible, resilient bunch to get to this stage; and to get an opportunity in the Alexander Ovechkin era who has just played absolutely terrific hockey in all three zones.
Just can’t wait to see Game 1 in Vegas. One of those great 5:00 local starts, which will be working out extremely well for a lot of different reasons, but now I will pass the puck, not the dice, to the man inside the glass, Pierre McGuire.
PIERRE McGUIRE: Thanks a lot, Eddie, I appreciate it. Doc, well said. Sam, great having you on the call. Mike, I’ll pass it to you soon.
But one guy that doesn’t have to pass it, Alexander Ovechkin. The playoff that he’s had; the domination that he’s had, even when he’s not scoring, is influencing the outcome of games. A big body presence; the mobility that we haven’t seen from him probably since he’s been in his first three years in the league. He’s just gotten quicker and he’s gotten stronger, and I think that’s a testament to his commitment to the game.
We love the resilience of their team that Eddie alluded to. One of the great pictures from last night’s game is the fearless nature of Devante Smith-Pelly blocking a shot in Game 7 off his shoulder and into his neck. You know, and then coming back and playing. Watching T.J. Oshie block a shot fearlessly off the inside part of his left knee, but yet coming back and playing.
That’s what the Stanley Cup, the chase. Eddie talked about having his name on the Stanley Cup, it’s a very addictive thing. When you compete for it, you’re prepared to do whatever it takes to win and that’s one of the great things.
Both these teams, Washington’s case, they got tired of having people kick sand in their face.
On the Vegas side of things, I was around that team when they played against Winnipeg in Winnipeg, and the one thing that was really apparent, they are resilient, much like Washington and they are tired of people telling them that they are no good and they are Cinderella. They are not Cinderella. They are for real.
This team is built of three different components: Character, coachability and speed, and when you watch them play, every one of those characteristics stands out. This might be one of the better-skill finals and speed finals we have seen in a long time, and I just can’t wait to get going.
Mike Milbury, even your robust style of play couldn’t stop the speed of these two teams.
MIKE MILBURY: Well, it’s about three months ago I was in Washington to do a game with the Caps, and Doc and I sat down with Barry Trotz, and at that time he said to us, straight up, “We are not as deep as we were last year.” Basically said they didn’t have the tools they had last year.
But the difference was, and you could hear this if you heard the press conference after the game last night: Everybody had bought in. And I know that Barry had a little bit of a tête-à-tête with Alex Ovechkin at the end of last year. Wasn’t all a bed of roses, but the guy bought in. He’s a different player. He’s a better player.
Their team plays like a team. They talk the talk of a team that’s all on the same page, and that’s a tribute to the coaching staff and to the guys that have bought in, particularly Ovechkin, who is a different player than he was. Took him a while to figure this out, but when you hear him last night talking about, “I don’t care who scores; I don’t care what the stats are”; he talked about getting in the shooting lanes; he talked about not wanting to give up chances.
That’s a new language from him and that’s a new language from the Washington Capitals, and why — why people are now showing them the respect that they had not earned in previous seasons because they had not earned it. They had not bought in then, but they have now and it’s been wonderful to see it evolve,.
And as far as Las Vegas is concerned, everybody is shaking their head at this. But I think they are the — their emblematic of what makes the game so good.
No, I don’t think they are as talented as everybody else in the league. They still have some great talent and evolving talent but they have also bought in in a different way. Their work ethic is just beyond compare. They go, go, go, and they go four lines deep and three sets of defensemen backed up by a world-class goaltender, and that kind of performance and consistency of effort, concerted effort, can overcome lack of talent at every level of this game, and they have certainly shown that.
It’s been fun to watch both of these teams. I’m really curious to see how they feel each other out in Game 1. It’s going to be a very interesting series and I think highly entertaining.
Q. Pierre, how much from a player evaluation standpoint, does Vegas’s success turn up the heat on other GMs and coaches who thought they were on long-patient rebuild, and how much does it force GMs to take a second look at their own rosters for guys who may not be in the right role and may develop for if they tinker with them more?
PIERRE McGUIRE: Well, we’ve already seen one general manager fired in Minnesota, and two of his players, Alex Tuch and Erik Haula are on the Las Vegas team.
You know, I think there will be a lot of scrutiny around the league. People are going to want to know, you know, what happened with the development of William Karlsson. People are going to want to know how come Luca Sbisa didn’t get more of a look in different places. People are going to want to know.
And this is very answerable, by the way, on Shea Theodore. Two years ago we did a conference call in his rookie year. We talked about the potential of him being a dominant player, but the problem is they had too many players on their roster in that position in Anaheim. So it was a protection problem, and there was not much Bob Murray could do about it.
So I think some owners understand that this was a different type of expansion draft, but I do think that there will be a lot of scrutiny in some marketplaces in terms of how you are build your team; how come your team isn’t as successful as Vegas; and what is it that Vegas saw that they could do when they were building their group that made them this competitive this quick.
I’ll go back to the three components that are really apparent: It came down to coachability, character and speed. And if you didn’t fit into those components, then they weren’t taking you. They didn’t want you as part of their group.
EDDIE OLCZYK: George McPhee played poker with a lot of general managers. And you know, look, I guess it’s an easy tie-in, obviously, with Vegas.
But the home runs that he hit in the games that he played, he won, obviously, in a lot of those, and most importantly, is he got the guy in goal. And that, to me, just kind of ties everything together when you look at the moves.
Look, the rules are what they are. The protection rules are what they are but you look at a lot of the moves, the side deals, the — don’t take this guy, you can have this guy, and then we’ll give you this — all that kind of stuff. He played poker, and I mean, he dominated, and there’s no other way around saying it, because look where they are.
Q. You’ve all obviously been around the game for a really long time. I’m just wondering, have you ever seen a series like this, especially a Cup Final where there are just so many storylines? There’s more than just one on each team. We’ve got so many things. I just wonder if you’ve ever seen something like that.
MIKE “DOC” EMRICK: Not in recent memory. I mean, we always have situations where you have maybe one fading star who is trying for one last Cup. Remember Ray Bourque in what turned out to be a seven-game series in 2001 between Colorado and New Jersey? And this was just New Jersey trying to get one more. They had won in ’95 and 2000 and they get another in 2003, but that was the main story. You didn’t have so many side-bar stories.
I think another thing, too, is that in addition to having the two general managers, and people don’t buy the tickets to see general managers but you have George McPhee that really crafted both of these teams.
Brian MacLellan finished off what Washington once was and announced last year that he was going to have to retool the team when they faded against Pittsburgh in the second round.
But you also have two teams that are far different in size, and so here you have another side-bar story. The average size is 6-1, 201. You only have six of the Golden Knights that are that size, but as Pierre mentioned there’s a lot of speed there.
So how that works against the Capitals and their 18 skaters on the ice that they used last night, a dozen of them are above the league average in size. Well, I know this isn’t the line of scrimmage like you have in football, but it’s another thing to consider. It’s just loaded. It’s just loaded. And I can’t remember a final that has had so many things that we can attach ourselves to, and that includes all of you.
So what you might want to do is maybe a column that will have the Top-10 things to consider going into this final series, because I think you’re loaded with them.
Q. Are you adding anything new in terms of cameras, tech, cool production toys for the final, and also, what’s been a few of your big production highlights for the playoffs, some really cool moments that you were real proud of throughout?
SAM FLOOD: I think starting with the back end of the question, the stuff we are most proud of is the way our talent captures the mood of the moments of the game.
The way Doc makes anything sound bigger and better, and enhances the moment instead of trying to get in the way of the moment and it’s something special that he does. Doesn’t happen in many other sports, so that’s what we are most proud of.
I think we are doing a better job putting together our replay packages and I think we are smarter in that category than we ever have been before, and it’s just a process of making sure you show how that puck goes in the net first, and then you show them why it’s the resource (ph) of other sports.
For the Final, we are looking at playing and showcasing the two venues. I think more than technology, hockey is a game that’s driven by passion and energy, and what you have in Vegas is one of the coolest, yet quirkiest pregame shows you’ll ever see with a night skating on the ice, and at one point cutting a jet fighter plane in half. That doesn’t happen anywhere else but Vegas.
So we are going to make sure we are letting you breathe in these buildings and giving you time to see this, see and feel what the fans inside the arena are feeling. We think it’s a really important part of the game of hockey, the whole presentation. And the more we can make it feel like you are there, that you are in the building, I think it is better for the growth of the game of hockey.
And people know they have to get to us early. We started a few years ago making sure we are there for every anthem during the Stanley Cup Final. Now we think it’s more than that.
We’re also really proud of the way we adjusted our commercial load during the first round of playoffs, which is one of the reasons why we launched so early. When we went from game-to-game at the end of the period and staggered the starts of the games, and the NHL being smart about how they scheduled the playoffs, which enabled us to go from hockey to hockey and reduce what is normally an 18-minute intermission to more hockey action, and really, only a 12-minute intermission time because you’re going to watch another hockey game.
So all of the things we have done to make sure we showcase the greatness of the players on the ice and at the same time show off more teams, so the audience to the to know Vegas and got to know Winnipeg, got to know Tampa. So all of that combines for a new attitude and a new way to look at the game of hockey. That would be my big picture take away.
Q. All those storylines, and you said you got so many different ones. When we think of these goalies, and Holtby that didn’t even start the post-season, and Fleury on the other side that was passed aside by Pittsburgh — this is for everybody, but just talk about what you see with these two fantastic goalies and their different paths to this point.
MIKE MILBURY: Well, the really feel-good story is Fleury because here he is, a championship-caliber goaltender, and all of a sudden he’s on the outs with a young goaltender and Murray pushing him out the door.
But even while he’s being slid out the door, he’s still helping them to win Stanley Cups, and then he gets a chance to reinvigorate himself in a new franchise, and he gobbled it all up. I mean, it’s great to see. He never seems to do anything but smile. He’s just laughing.
I remember Gerard Gallant talking about it. He’s on the bench screaming and yelling and looks over at Fleury, and Fleury is chuckling. So he’s got the right attitude and he’s never played any better than he’s playing right now. I think pretty much everybody across the board agrees to that.
And the other guy, who is a much more intense competitor, I mean, you watch these games in Washington, it’s fascinating to see him do his eyeball exercises before the game on the bench; and you know he’s focused in and he’s a different approach.
But he’s worked at it, and he’s had the kind of year that sort of mirrors the kind of year that Washington had. It wasn’t always easy. It wasn’t always a smooth ride. But he’s fought hard and stayed with it and stayed the course and back-to-back shutouts in the last two games, he’s proven his mettle. He’ll have to prove it again against Vegas but in a nutshell, that’s where I have him.
Q. Do you think the adversity they have both gone through has prepared them? Does it help them that they have took those lumps and now they have overcome them as they get to the Final?
PIERRE McGUIRE: It always helps to have reference points from tough times that have been overcome.
For Washington, it was obviously overcoming an 0-2 deficit that Eddie alluded to earlier in the call against Columbus and then winning in double overtime on a Lars Eller goal with Holtby getting his first start of the playoffs. That was probably their turning point, it really was.
And then them winning Game 6 against Pittsburgh without Tommy Wilson and Nick Bäckström make him fall back on that moment in the Columbus series knowing that they lost that third game in Columbus. They were probably getting swept. So they knew what it was like.
And I used this term earlier in the series against Washington and Tampa, playing without a safety net. They learned how to do that, and they handled it really well.
One of the most amazing things I saw in the playoff was the way Vegas bounced back against Winnipeg after Game 1.
CHRIS MCCLOSKEY: Thank you for joining us. The Stanley Cup begins Monday on NBC 8:00 PM Eastern. Thank you, everyone.