Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Mike “Doc” Emrick
MODERATOR: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to our NBC Sports Stanley Cup Final conference call. We’ll be joined by our broadcast team of Mike “Doc” Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire, as well as our executive producer, Sam Flood.
SAM FLOOD: Thanks for joining us. We were thrilled with last night. Fun game. Anytime Doc Emrick can get up into that crazy pace late in the game with plenty of drama, 3-3, with a little bit of time left on the clock, and there’s a game-winning goal late, nothing quite like the drama of Stanley Cup hockey and then elevated to another level for the Cup Final.
I was surprised by what a good Game 1 it turned out to be in terms of, for a minute there at 3-0, there was fear it might be a little tilted. Then all of a sudden Nashville didn’t let anyone shoot the puck on net and made sure they put three pucks in the goal.
So a lot of fun to watch. I went into the building for the second period and got the excitement and energy of that building, which is going to be challenged by Nashville. I’ve got a feeling that Nashville will set the new gold standard for noise in a building for a Stanley Cup Final game, because having been there for a Conference Final game, Nashville is the place to be for hockey right now in terms of crowd engagement, crowd energy, crowd excitement. And Pittsburgh has its work cut out for itself to try to get inside that same level of passion inside their building.
And for a period there, Nashville took the Pittsburgh fans out of the game when there were no shots on goal.
So it will be fascinating to see what, Doc, your thoughts being in the building, but it was a fun way to start the Final and great to have a close game. Pass the puck to the great Doc Emrick.
MIKE “DOC” EMRICK: Sam, thanks a lot. Thanks to our athletes for the show they put on through the first three rounds and in particular last night. Nashville was impressive and they have been all the way to get here. They shut down that offense that Chicago had. And the fact that Chicago would leave their arena and not get a goal in the first two games, and then the way they smothered the Penguins for half the game last night, too.
Aside from the noise level and the passion of their fans, they have a hockey team to match it. I’m looking forward greatly to get in there for the third and fourth games and any that might follow.
And Pittsburgh, I figured out last night after the game that they played 20 hockey games since the season ended, and they have either given out or received 1300 hits.
Tomorrow’s going to be their 210th game in the last 20 months. To count the run they were on last year and the one they’re on this year, and despite the carnage they had during the course of this season, let alone what they’ve had during the playoffs, it’s remarkable that both teams are here and are putting on the performance level that they continue to do for all of us that watch.
If this were simple, all of you know listening that it’s not, I guess, other teams would have done it. But they’re remarkable. And it’s just fun to sit there and watch them do it. And we get to do it at least three more times and maybe as many as six. On to the Cup winner from ’94 with the Rangers, Eddie Olczyk.
EDDIE OLCZYK: Thank you very much, Doc. Great to be on this team again with Doc, Pierre and our leader, Sam Flood. Anytime you can be a part of the Stanley Cup Final, it is a blessing. It is something that is not taken lightly, and to be able to be in that building last night here in the ‘Burgh and to see the Nashville Predators come out and dominate early and all of a sudden a change in momentum, and it’s something that we talk about on a nightly basis in the National Hockey League is where you see momentum swings and momentum surges come for long durations. And last night we saw it.
And Pittsburgh fell behind. A great challenge for Mike Sullivan. The goal was overturned. And that was an opportunity for them to seize the momentum that Nashville had. And then it was all Pittsburgh for the last five and a half or six minutes and they put up a crooked number there in the first period.
And then it was all Nashville again. And I just think what makes these Playoffs so amazing is you see these surges night in night out, and when you have it, most importantly, is what the hell do you do with it? Like, are you able to put a puck in the back of the net? Are you able to make a dent in a team whether it’s period one of Game 1 or if it’s Game 5, period five? When you do have the momentum it’s important that you do something with it. And when you don’t have it everybody thinks you’ve got to get it back.
First off, you have to stop the surge that’s coming the other way. And Pittsburgh was able to do that in the first period. And they were able to do it in the third period on the first shot of the game and about 37-plus minutes by Jake Guentzel and beating Pekka Rinne on the short side.
So, to me, again, the amazement of these athletes, the amazement of two outstanding teams, as Sam has said and Doc and I will echo it, is looking forward to getting to a Stanley Cup Final down there in Smashville. I saw all the games in the Chicago series, and the two games in particular in Nashville were pretty — were pretty special and pretty intense. And I know it’s going to go to another level once we get there for Game 3 on Saturday night.
So just great to be a part of this game again. And I guess I got the puck on the old Titan right now and a little bit of Gordie Howe tape, so I’m going to pass it on to the man in the glass, Pierre McGuire.
PIERRE MCGUIRE: The number one word that comes to me, having had the thrill of being around both of these teams the entire Stanley Cup Playoff is character. They both have been challenged due to injury. Pittsburgh, obviously, with Kristopher Letang not being able to play a Playoff game, and then dealing with what they had to deal with, with injuries to Justin Schultz and to Chris Kunitz and to so many other players on the Pittsburgh side.
And obviously everybody thought that Nashville was going to be finished the later end of their series with Anaheim because of the key injury to Ryan Johansen and obviously to Mike Fisher, and they found a way to overcome.
Both these teams find ways to overcome. And if Pittsburgh’s going to play the same way, they’re going to have a tough time overcoming, because they couldn’t beat the forecheck of the Nashville Predators. And I credit Peter Laviolette, Phil Housley for coming up with a brilliant of closing down the walls and stifling the Pittsburgh attack. And Eddie talked about the no shots in 37 minutes — that’s a big reason why.
But I think character is what stands out about both these teams and I think that’s why we’re going to have such an amazing final. Both of these teams want to push right to the end.
Sometimes you get Cinderella and they can’t push anymore. We don’t have that. We have two teams that really deserve to be here and it’s going to be a fantastic final.
Q. There’s been a lot of criticism of the NBA this year for how sort of predictable the early rounds are even though they have a great finals matchup, whereas in hockey you have a 16 seed and a team trying to repeat for the first time in 20 years. Why is hockey always this way? Is it the nature of the sport? Is it the importance of goalies? Is it kind of more parity? What is it about hockey that causes this?
EDDIE OLCZYK: I think it’s all of the above. You give yourself an opportunity to get into a format of the National Hockey League Playoffs, and we see the great equalizer, the guy in goal that can steal you a game or two.
The league is so close. It is just — let alone on a nightly basis, but in these Playoffs series, it is just a play here or a play there that separates teams that can move on. And unfortunately players lose jobs, coaches lose jobs, managers as well.
But I just think that the league is just absolutely so close. Look, I go back to the year that, when the Kings were the eighth seed and they started every series obviously on the road, but they started every series on their way to the Stanley Cup where they went 3-0 up in every series that they played. That’s just incredible to be able to go on the road and win two games of every round and give yourself a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup.
I just think it is all the above. But I just think it speaks to the depth of this league. It is a team game. Yes, you need the difference makers. But if you look at the common denominator for me over, whatever, the last handful of years, is that you need the guy in goal to be consistent, as I said earlier.
We talked about this last night, you need your goaltender to make the routine saves 110 percent of the time. You can’t give up bad goals. You need the difference makers up front. And you look at teams that have won here in the past, they’ve had a stud on the back end.
And Nashville has got a couple of them in particular, in my opinion, in Josi and Ekholm. And we know what P.K. Subban has done. Ryan Ellis has emerged with more opportunity. And Pittsburgh is out, as Pierre touched on, with Kris Letang.
Those are the common threads when you look at the run that teams that have won, they’ve had difference makers up front; they’ve had the big guy, the big stud on the back end; and they’ve had the guy in goal to be able to get it done. And that’s just why our league is just so good, and it’s just so difficult to get there let alone try to win and have a chance like the Penguins do of going back to back.
PIERRE MCGUIRE: I’ll agree with everything Eddie has just said, and I’ll add a couple more things. We haven’t had a bad draft in this league since 2003. So the talent bucket’s full around the league, because we’ve had these unbelievably strong drafts and we haven’t had expansion since the Nashville Predators came into the league since ’97-’98.
So because of no expansion and these unbelievably fruitful drafts, the talent bucket is full. Then you compound that with the salary cap and you compound that with the movement of unrestricted free agents and free agency being at a younger age, all these things put together lead to this amazing league full of parity, but also excellence.
Parity could be great, but it’s even better when there’s excellence. And there’s so much excellence around the league that it leads to a lot of what Eddie was just talking about. But I really think if you do a scientific study of it, no expansion and the ’03 entry draft going forward until last summer, the depths of these drafts have been phenomenal.
MIKE “DOC” EMRICK: It’s the ultimate team game, too, because in a 60-minute game, the best players don’t play half out of it.
Last night, Sidney Crosby played 20:09. He had two assists. That means that for almost 40 minutes he wasn’t there. He wasn’t on the ice; he was at the bench. And, yet, he was one of the best players in the sport.
And it makes a difference when he’s out there. But the rest of the time, the rest of the players have to be pretty good, too. Roman Josi played more than any other Predator, 28 minutes, 22 seconds as a defenseman. Not quite half the game.
The team depth just has to be there in this sport. You can’t count on star players to be out there three-quarters of the time. They just can’t do it, because what’s required in hockey is so great in terms of speed and stamina and everything else. It’s not 94 or 92 feet, it’s 200. It’s a lot different.
Both sports are wonderful sports. But this one is one where you have to have so much team depth and you have to count on it for all 60 minutes.
Q. Last night you talked about the natural swings in any game. But the Penguins went nearly a period without a shot on goal. Is that a fluke? Is that opening night jitters? Is that just the Predators defense? Can you guys explain that, and what does Coach Sullivan do to change that in Game 2?
PIERRE MCGUIRE: I think the number one thing Coach Sullivan has to do is make an in-series adjustment in terms of how they move the puck out of their own zone.
Was it a fluke? No. Because Doc said it brilliantly off the start, what you saw Nashville do to Chicago in the first two games in Chicago in round one, where the Chicago Blackhawks, one of the most powerful offensive teams in the league, didn’t score a goal on home ice.
That said a lot about Nashville and their commitment to defense and their frustrating forecheck game in their neutral zone transition defense.
And it also spoke to the great depth of their defense that Eddie was just alluding to and obviously the goaltending of Pekka Rinne.
I think that Coach Sullivan knows along with Rick Tocchet and Jacques Martin, the assistant coaches, they have to make some adjustments. And I think one of those adjustments will be how they come out of their own zone.
So it will be interesting to see whether they make the adjustment or not. But Nashville is a legit team; they’re not Cinderella. They’re a really, really good team.
The St. Louis Blues found that out, the Anaheim Ducks found that out, and the Chicago Blackhawks surely found it out. And after Game 1 Pittsburgh now knows it too.
EDDIE OLCZYK: To be exact, Pittsburgh went 37:09 without a shot on goal until Jake Guentzel scored that goal late in the game.
And, look, as a player sitting there, you know because you can hear the crowd. And the crowd was wanting their team to get the puck to the net.
But Nashville is — I think we’ve all alluded to and I think Pierre touched on it just a second ago — is Nashville checks extremely well. They have big bodies.
They have really good stick positioning, and they allow themselves to really take away those lanes regardless of their passing lanes or their shooting lanes.
And if you hesitate at all — and Pittsburgh did hesitate at times last night — but there were a lot of stretches there where, I mean, they had nothing going.
They just almost — they were in survival mode for a good stretch. So, look, the Penguins — and Doc touched on it, with the carnage factor — they played a lot of hockey here.
They had the seven-game series against Ottawa. They had the seven-game series against the Caps. Let’s refresh everybody’s memory is that Games 5 and 6, at times they just didn’t have it.
They looked like a tired team. But they gutted out a game. Marc-Andre Fleury played extremely well in Game 7 and then they moved on.
Go back to round one. Yes, they took out the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games. But as Doc and I talked about at the end of Game 7 against Ottawa, that series was more like, even though it was five games officially in the record book, it was more like six and a half games or seven because of how hard Columbus and Pittsburgh played in those five games.
So it takes its toll. And sometimes you just don’t have it. And as a manager, as a coach, you just hope that all 18 guys aren’t feeling that way on that particular night.
And I think last night had a lot to do with just the energy level being low and for how Nashville, how they played for a good, what, in my opinion, a good 50-some minutes of that game where they dictated the terms. And that doesn’t happen to the Penguins very often.
Q. You guys have kind of made a couple of allusions to this, but wonder if you can expand on it. We’ve seen some of these nontraditional markets have great success but have trouble sustaining it when they’re not going to the Stanley Cup Finals. From what you’ve seen of Nashville, do you think this franchise can sustain the excitement that it has established there and the quality of that franchise that we’ve seen these last couple of years?
MIKE “DOC” EMRICK: I think it can, because of wins. And I think it’s going to continue to win.
I figured up last night, between 18 years and 29 years, there are 20 guys on this roster that fall into that. When you have that much youth and you have that much good going on in Milwaukee — and almost all of these guys have played there, except for the superstars, almost all of them did time in the American League in Milwaukee. And they are continuing to be developed there and they’re drafting wisely.
I know Pierre and Eddie have both pointed out the success that Nashville has had in drafting. I don’t see any reason why it can’t continue to sustain itself. And crowds beget crowds when the team in front of them wins. So I don’t see any reason why not.
PIERRE MCGUIRE: It’s more than just a hockey game in Nashville. It’s an event. They have done a masterful job in terms of cultivating a fan base and building it.
They’re in-game presentation is phenomenal. The atmosphere around the building is insane. It’s fantastic. It’s as good as anybody’s in the league.
I was talking about Stanley Cup Final before and I had the privilege of coaching in the ’92 Final in the old Chicago Stadium — and Eddie played there so he could tell you, and Doc could tell you, too, from the games he called there — that place was loud.
I remember being at ice level in Nashville for one of the deciding games against St. Louis, it was Game 6. And that was just insane.
It was as loud as any building I’ve ever experienced. So clearly they’ve done a masterful job both in the building and outside of the building. And the drafting’s been phenomenal. The coaching is excellent. The management has been really solid.
And I just think it’s built to last. It really is. And the atmosphere in the city of Nashville has been amazing. So I think it’s built to last, I really do.
EDDIE OLCZYK: Just one last thing, I think that for a lot of us I think we were waiting for Nashville to take that next step, for all these years, lots of consistency behind the bench from Barry Trotz, now to Peter Laviolette.
Only known one general manager. So I think a lot of us felt that when were they going to take that next step? They’ve always drafted — they’ve always been able to find goalies and defensemen.
One of their greatest needs has been to go ahead and draft a stud, to find one of those guys in the draft.
And they made the trade for Filip Forsberg. They brought in Ryan Johansen. But, like, that’s the one thing is could they take the next step. And, look, for Pekka Rinne, he hasn’t been able to get the job done up until this year.
And that’s just fact. The numbers are there. And this year he’s been able to do it. So when you put it all together and you get down there in Smashville and you’ve got people believing — and we had a taste of it when we were in Nashville for the All-Star Game, Doc, what was that, a couple of years ago we were there for the All-Star Game?
MIKE “DOC” EMRICK: Yes.
EDDIE OLCZYK: So, I mean, we had a taste of the in-game experience, the experience of outside Bridgestone Arena. There’s a passionate base there and it is infectious.
And now you’ve got everybody wanting to be a part of it. That’s the great thing. Now the pressure continues to be there all the time when you get to the Stanley Cup Final regardless of what happens for Nashville. And I’m sure they’ll be up to the task.
But for me, I just think it’s been waiting a long time for Nashville to take that step and finally they’ve been able to do it.
MIKE “DOC” EMRICK: But to add one other thing, these are heartening stories. It’s not that long ago that the players of the Predators bought season tickets and gave them out. They bought suites because they had to protect the franchise from being moved.
And in Pittsburgh, Mario rescued the franchise, not once but twice — once on the ice and once in the boardroom, or this might have been a casualty.
And, of course, there’s still people around the arena that mention, oh, just think of what it would have been like if they had gone to Kansas City.
And you think of Chicago, where probably 10 years ago you could have had your own section. Now you can’t get a seat.
And these rebirth stories are magnificent. And that’s why it’s so wonderful to think about what’s going on in Nashville and to think about now eight, nine years later, after the Mario rescue here, in Pittsburgh what they’ve had and what they’ve had in Chicago.
And it’s borne out in three Stanley Cups in one city and two in another.
Q. Sam, just got the release about the ratings numbers from last night and the total audience. Now you’re going back to cable for a couple of games before going back on the main network. Is there any concern about whether people are going to be able to find the game and whether you can sustain those numbers through the series?
SAM FLOOD: No. People at this point know that NBCSN is the home of hockey. And it’s in more homes than it’s ever been in before. We’re over 85 million homes available right now, which is within three million homes of ESPN. It’s the closest it’s ever been.
So the world has changed from a few years ago. And the fact that it’s a 3 million gap between ESPN and NBCSN and how much people are embracing the product we have.
This is a network that has something for everyone, from the Premier League, to NASCAR, to the NHL, to IndyCar, to F1, the list goes on and on of top-rated content.
So the NHL Finals fit right in there. And we’re excited we can get a lot of people watching. And the hockey fans know where it is and now some casual fans will join as well.
And that’s not even talking about last summer when millions and millions of people watched the Olympics on NBCSN. And they’ll do it again in February over in Korea. It’s a pretty good place to be right now to be part of this NBC family.
Q. Do you foresee the day, Sam, I don’t know what the contractual stipulations are about, just for consistency sake, getting on one network?
SAM FLOOD: I think right now it’s working great. It’s been great for the growth at NBCSN and it’s been great for the NHL, and the way that NBCSN is the home of the NHL throughout the year, I think it’s a perfect combination.
With NBC going to the broader audience and barking how great the NHL is and then knowing that NBCSN is there and the growth to this 85 million number is exciting.
And that’s what we’re proudest of is that we’ve been able to grow this network and smartly let people know where it is.
You talk about the Olympics and you talk about the attention that gets; that helped get us to where we are. And the NHL works hand in hand with the Olympics to make it all happen.
Q. Doc, seemed like earlier in the telecast last night you tried to be aware that there might be some new hockey fans tuning into the telecast. Is that something you try to be aware of during the Final?
MIKE “DOC” EMRICK: Yes. Almost any Game 7 in the Olympics and also in one of these where we’re starting in with what we think will be an expanded audience, even though it may seem — we really feel that veteran hockey fans are patient.
They like to have other people join them and come along. And so we hope they’ll be tolerant of an occasional icing and offsides, because, in particular, Eddie’s precise description of what offside is and isn’t was very important to the flow of the game in the first period of last night.
We did do icing on one occasion. The icing description, of course, has changed in recent years now to where it doesn’t have to be touched up. But we feel a need to do that especially when we’re going into a Stanley Cup Final over the air on NBC.