Out of Town Notebook: A Farewell to Rod Phillips and Rating the NHL’s Play-by-Play Teams
[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]
Photo credit: Edmonton Journal
It was a bittersweet moment this week in Edmonton, where radio play-by-play man Rod Phillips called his final game after a 37-year career.
Sweet in that, if there was ever a play-by-play man who deserves a banner in the rafters, it’s Phillips. The man never failed to deliver goose bumps.
As the iconic voice of the dynasty Oilers, his most famous calls (Gretzky’s 50 in 39 pops immediately to mind) are already a part of hockey history. He is a well-deserved Hall of Famer, and by all accounts a great person to boot.
But the night was also slightly bitter in that Phillip’s retirement represents another nail in the slow death that is hockey on radio.
The era of turning down the TV volume and turning up the radio is coming to a close.
Think about it. As the number of sports cable networks has grown, so to has their need for content, meaning fans can watch every home team game. The television broadcast of any hockey game are also more accessible than ever before, streamed online to any computer and a growing number of portable devices.
If you’re a good broadcaster, chances are you’ll end up in television, where the money is better than radio anyways.
To sum up – if Foster Hewitt were alive today, he’d have spent little-to-no time broadcasting hockey on radio.
In honour of Rod Phillips, and thanks to the Centre Ice Package, here now are one man’s rankings of television play-by-play teams in every NHL city.
TURN THE VOLUME UP CREWS (16-20 points)
Play-by-Play: Pat Foley
One of the best. “Hawks Win! Hawks Win!” Absolutely loses himself on game winners, which is always fun.
Colour: Ed Olczyk/Steve Konroyd
Olczyk seems to be everywhere these days – it’s like you can’t watch a US hockey broadcast without seeing him. He was a good NHL player, a terrible coach, but as an analyst, he’s one of the best in the game. Konroyd replaces Olzcyk when Eddie O’s doing Versus games, but I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing him provide colour.
Rating (Olczyk only): 9
New Jersey Devils
Play-by-Play: Mike Emrick
The voice of U.S. hockey, and it’s a well-deserved title. Has to sell the game a bit more than he would broadcasting in Canada, but there’s no doubt he’s an elite-level performer.
Colour: Chico Resch
Always sounds like he’s had a few. He’s an old-school, homer analyst who’s having a good time in the press box. It’s hard to dislike him.
San Jose Sharks
Play-by-Play: Randy Hahn
Underrated and probably deserves more exposure.
Colour: Drew Remenda
It didn’t work out for him on Hockey Night in Canada, but Remenda remains an insightful analyst. He and Hahn work very well together.
Los Angeles Kings
Play-by-Play: Bob Miller
Another of the all-time greats and a Hall of Famer. Too bad folks on the East Coast are asleep by the time he steps up to the microphone
Colour: Jim Fox
As solid as the come, with good analysis and insight. Kings broadcasts are surprisingly good.
Play-by-Play: Jack Edwards
Great, great energy level and the catchphrases are delivered in machine-gun-like fashion. God Boston sports fans are blessed with some great hometown broadcasters.
Colour: Andy Brickley
Brickly combines with Edwards to form one of the best local on-air teams. He’s knowledgeable and the pair has solid chemistry. For what it’s worth, has also dropped an on-air f-bomb.
Detroit Red Wings
Play-by-Play: Ken Daniels
The former Leafs broadcaster has really blossomed with the Red Wings into one of the league’s best. Easily holds the attention of viewers and brings them to the edge of their seat.
Colour: Mickey Redmond/Larry Murphy
Mickey Redmond is to Red Wings hockey what Jerry Remy is to Red Sox baseball. Grandpa may or may not have a screw loose, but you’re curious to hear what he has to say next. I haven’t had a chance to hear Murphy (he only does West Coast games) but the online feedback isn’t great.
Rating (Redmond-only): 7.5
Play-by-Play: Rick Jeanneret
A living legend. One of the best of all-time. Have a listen yourself.
Colour: Harry Neale
One of the great funnyman/storytelling analysts of all-time is in the sunset of his career. If you’re looking for real insight though, look elsewhere.
Play-by-Play: Joe Beninati
Informed and is one of the better play-by-play men at weaving information into the action. I’m not sure what “on the interchange” or “reverse the flow” really means though.
Colour: Craig Laughlin
High-pitched but informed. He and Beninati clearly listen to each other and have great chemistry.
Play-by-Play: Pete Weber
Nashville is still looking for their first playoff series victory, but in terms of expansion teams they clearly won the championship bringing Weber on-board from Buffalo. He’s terrific.
Colour: Terry Crisp
Like John Garrett, he’s another old-schooler who at this stage of his career has little insight to offer. However, he has great chemistry with Weber and his enthusiasm level is still high. Always starts his sentences with “Pete,” like he forgets he’s talking to more than just his broadcast partner.
TOLERABLE CREWS (12-15.5 points)
Play-by-Play: Jim Jackson
Like Ken Daniels, easily brings fans to the edge of their seats.
Colour: Keith Jones/Bill Clement
Jones is an authority when it comes to talking the game, but his voice is rather bland. Clement fills in for Jones from time to time, and has been doing hockey for ages. As smooth as they come.
Rating: Jones 7.5, Clement 8
Play-by-Play: Ralph Strangis
Pretty generic but incredibly popular in the Dallas area. Need proof? The Stars simulcast Strangis and Reaugh on both radio and television, and you can also listen to them on an in-arena radio channel.
Colour: Daryl Reaugh
Really knows the game, and has one of the best senses of humour going. Might be the best colour analyst in the United States.
Play-by-Play: Dave Strader
Great voice and follows the play well.
Colour: Tyson Nash
Still pretty new at this. Knows the game though
Play-by-Play: John Ahlers
Ahlers is an excitable and strong play-by-play caller. Great chemistry with Hayward.
Colour: Brian Hayward.
Hayward is the calm, cool analyst who contrasts very nicely with the excitable Ahlers. He’s opinionated, and a notorious homer, but he does really know his stuff.
St. Louis Blues
Play-by-Play: John Kelly
A Ken Daniels knockoff, which isn’t a bad thing.
Colour: Darren Pang
Mr. Positivity is enthusiastic and fun. Might be tough to sit through an entire season of his energy though.
Play-by-Play: Paul Steigerwald
Sounds a bit like Pete Weber. Serviceable, but listening to him you can’t help but compare him to former Penguins TV broadcaster Mike Lange. That’s a comparison few people would win, which could be why Steigerwald isn’t exactly Mr. Popularity in Pittsburgh.
Play-by-Play: Bob Errey
Informed and funny. Good chemistry with his broadcast partner
Play-by-Play: John Forslund
Very, very good. Love the “hey hey whaddaya say!” catchphrase.
Colour: Tripp Tracy
Tracy sounds an awful lot like Drew Remenda. Remenda though provides far more interesting insight.
Play-by-Play: John Shorthouse
The best play-by-play men reflect the ebb and flow of a game in their voice. “Shorty” has transitioned nicely from the radio side to become the voice of the Canucks.
Colour: John Garrett
Stronger delivering colourful stories than he is at in-game analysis.
Play-by-Play: Mike Haynes
Hard to knock a guy whose survived a brain aneurysm. He’s serviceable, but can get a bit over-the-top. Some of his enthusiasm strikes me as insincere. A noted homer, but come on – how many home town broadcasters aren’t?
Colour: Peter McNabb
He and Haynes have some good chemistry, but like other U.S. broadcasts, sometimes their conversations have nothing to do with the game action. Seems to have a tough time being critical of Avs play or players.
Play-by-Play: Kevin Quinn
Quinn has moved well-beyond the guy who used to make Barrie’s CKVR sportscasts almost tolerable. His play-by-play has improved with practice, and while his goal calls are average, his “overrrrtimmmmmme winner” call is pretty great.
Colour: Louis Debrusk
Bland. A big step-down from Ray Ferraro, who had this gig before moving to TSN.
New York Rangers
Play-by-Play: Sam Rosen
Rosen just sounds like New York – belligerent, loud, potentially tipsy. These are actually compliments.
Colour: Joe Micheletti
My one note on Micheletti in my notebook: “blah.”
Toronto Maple Leafs
Play-by-Play: Joe Bowen
Like John Shorthouse, another former radio guy who made a smooth move into television. One of the best pure voices and play-by-play calls in the game. Sadly, he’s pushed his awful “holy makinaw” catchphrase to the point of embarrassment. When Harry Neale used to be his booth partner, minutes of the game just featured the two of them giggling.
Colour: Greg Millen
This is the man who once used the Telestrator during live game action. His obsession for goaltenders hasn’t waned – it remains the primary focus of all his analysis.
Play-by-Play: Dave Randorf
Not a naturally gifted hockey play-by-play man, but he’s got a good voice and a decent goal call.
He’s still really new to the broadcast arena, but Johnson’s shown some knowledge.
New York Islanders
Play-by-Play: Howie Rose
Hockey isn’t Rose’s first love, obviously. Still, he’s decent. Gets a full extra mark for his classic Matteau call.
Colour: Butch Goring
Great former Islander. Not a great speaker. Definitely falls in the “glass is half full” class of analyst.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Play-by-Play: Jeff Rimer
Easy enough to listen to, even though he seems to get confused on air, especially when it comes to penalties (who got it, for what).
Colour: Bill Davidge
I’m pretty sure 95% of Canadian hockey fans know the game just as well as Bill Davidge does.
TURN THE VOLUME OFF CREWS (less than 12 points)
Play-by-Play: Dean Brown
One of the most boring game callers in the NHL. Bit of a stuffed shirt approach.
Colour: Denis Potvin
Arguably one of the top-5 defenseman of all-time, but coasting as a broadcaster. Not as much insight as one would expect.
Play-by-Play: Matt McConnell
One of the more generic play-by-play voices going.
Colour: Daren Eliot
Not afraid to speak, unlike some other commentators, who go minutes without saying anything. Has good chemistry with McConnell.
Play-by-Play: Peter Loubardias
Has a great voice but comes across as a keener, trying to hard to put his stamp on the action. I also don’t need to know where everyone on the ice ever played junior. And what exactly is an “up pass?”
Colour: Charlie Simmer
Simmer’s quiet, low-voice – basically the anti-Loubardias, which isn’t a bad thing. But a team with this history, and in Canada, should be able to do better.
Play-by-Play: Dan Terhaar
Another generic play-by-play voice. And, like many of the play-by-play guys in the U.S., sometimes doesn’t seem to know what’s happening on the ice.
Colour: Mike Greenlay
See Bill Davidge. For a hockey mad city Minnesota deserves a better crew.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Play-by-Play: Rick Peckham
Another generic play-by-play voice.
Colour: Bobby Taylor
Doesn’t have much to say, and doesn’t come across as very informed. Odds are good you’ll here a “this guy” a few times during the game.
Play-by-Play: Steve Goldstein
He might just be the reason why no one watches games in Florida. U.S. hockey Goldstein sounds disinterested, talking with Lindsay about other topics around the NHL, and other times letting the broadcast go silent, rather than call game play action.
Colour: Bill Lindsay
Still pretty raw at the broadcasting game, but he seems informed. Not a lot of chemistry with Goldstein though.