I’ll concede that this may come off as unnecessary grumbling about something only a small segment of those watching will care about, but it also feels like I’ve seen enough chatter on this topic that it bears further exploration.
What the hell are the Blackhawks and NBC Sports Chicago doing with this rotating Open Mic night in the broadcast booth for games this season?
Let’s make sure the aim of this piece finds the proper target, too: this is not an indictment of the people who’ve been in the play-by-play or analyst roles for Blackhawks games this season. They’ve all been, at a minimum, decent calls.
But this is a Hall of Fame broadcaster in Pat Foley who is being replaced with a career stretching back decades. There had to be a better way for the Blackhawks organization to do this than by having rotating cast of auditions for so many games during the season.
How are these broadcasters supposed to know the team they’re talking about, anyway? There’s no way to fully grasp the nuances of what’s going on with any professional sports franchise in preparation for a one-off broadcast, no matter how much game film is dissected. It comes from months of watching the games while being around the team at the practice rink and on the road. It’s that familiarity which gives broadcasters insights into the on-ice happenings that they then share with the audience instead of a watered down, generic call that any replacement-level broadcaster can muster. That level of additional information is what the regional broadcast designed for the hometown team’s fan base is supposed to provide.
That’s pretty much what happened during Saturday’s game against the Nashville Predators. During the second period, with the Hawks already being embarrassed by a 5-0 deficit, the broadcast duo of Alan Fuehring and Paul Caponigri started with the “If they can just get one here ...” narrative. But what else do you want them to say? They don’t have enough information on this team to properly diagnose what’s going on. They haven’t seen enough Blackhawks games this season to know if it’s the result of Chicago skating two AHL goalies or if it’s the result of the team just getting its collective ass kicked.
And that brings up another issue with all of these new broadcast teams. When the Blackhawks are getting soundly outplayed there are usually clues coming from Foley that give you an idea of what he thinks about the team’s performance in that game. My personal favorite is when he offers a rhetorical “Will there be a retrieval?” after Chicago dumps the puck in, usually followed by a dejected “No,” once the other team establishes possession. But it’s just not fair to expect someone auditioning for a long-term role with the Blackhawks to go on the team’s home broadcast and say that the team sucks — directly or not — even if that’s exactly what needs to be said in that moment. Foley can get away with that. Someone like Fuehring probably can’t (And if I’m Fuehring or Caponigri, I’ve got my agent pleading with the team for another game to call different from this weekend’s pair of debacles).
The White Sox actually developed a gameplan for the Blackhawks to follow this season while the South Siders were saying goodbye to their own Hall of Fame broadcaster in Hawk Harrelson. Jason Benetti, who ultimately replaced Harrelson, got his feet wet with the team by calling all of the road games while Hawk handled the home ones. Once Hawk retired, Benetti became the full-time guy. But that was ONE fill-in broadcaster who called half of the games. It also helped that Benetti is one of the best in the game and had an excellent analyst sitting next to him in Steve Stone.
The Blackhawks didn’t have to replicate that script but it provided guidelines to follow. Perhaps the Hawks pick a broadcast duo and give them a couple months of road games. Perhaps, say, half of the season. Then turn those games over to another duo for the other half and make a call in the offseason. Or maybe split the road schedule into thirds for a trio of auditioning duos.
There are plenty of logistical issues there and none of them are easy. But this is the world of professional sports: no one ever said any of it was going to be easy.