Go Away, Rick Jeanneret
by Patrick Broadwater
In the first season after the NHL lockout, I lived in a small town in Western Pennsylvania, and Rick Jeanneret was my lifeline to Buffalo and the Sabres. I never crouched on a hilltop with a transistor radio like Terry Pegula supposedly did, but I did have DSL service for the first time, enabling me to stream GR55 on game nights without interruption. For the first time in more than a dozen years, I had access to more than a handful of Sabres games. I sat in my living room and listened to nearly every one that year, and though I was more than 200 miles from the city, I swear I could feel the magic enveloping Western New York as this group became the new darlings of the post-lockout NHL. And, technology aside, it was Jeanneret and his terrific analyst, Jim Lorentz, that conveyed the excitement of that year to me in such a way that I’ll never forget.
Having said that, I’m back in Buffalo now and I watch every game on TV. And I wish Jeanneret would just retire already.
Yeah, I said it. And here’s why:
He’s not a particularly good TV announcer
Look, Jeanneret did radio only for the Sabres for 25 years. That’s a long time. In 1995-96, as a result of management’s short-sighted cost-cutting moves, he was thrust into a role where his broadcasts were simulcast on both TV and radio. However, his style—built for listeners, rather than viewers—never changed. Radio play-by-play is a totally different animal than TV play-by-play. Pay attention next time you watch a game with Jim Hughson or Mike Emerick on the lead. It’s not just constant play-by-play. They actually give the viewer something other than what they’re seeing. They’re complementing the visual action, not just spitting it back to the viewer. Sabres President Ted Black touched on this when Jeanneret announced in May that he would be cutting back on his schedule. “RJ’s strength is that he spent so much of his career calling a radio game that it’s not a reach. It’s just his style.” Black’s point was, should the Sabres scrap their simulcast arrangement and go to separate broadcast teams for radio and TV, you can’t have a TV guy working radio because his style wouldn’t translate to radio, thus frustrating the audience. Well, left unsaid, is that the opposite is also true: You can’t have a guy built for radio doing TV.
He makes it about him
Jeanneret is the godfather of the ESPN-ization of broadcasting—he’s got the annoying catch-phrasey goal calls, he manufactures excitement when there is none and every time the Sabres score he draws all the air out of the room. How crazy is that? Cody McCormick gets 8-10 minutes of soul-cleansing, gut-wrenching, hard-nosed ice time a night. He’s out there working his butt off, fighting off defenders and should he be fortunate enough to pot a rare goal, you’d think the joy would reside in the fact that his perseverance was rewarded. Instead, all anyone wants to talk about the next day is how RJ yelled some nonsense about cookies. More insulting? Jeanneret has publicly stated that he wants to retire, but can’t stand the thought of the Sabres winning the Stanley Cup without him, as if any jubilation surrounding the city’s first pro championship in half a century will be based on the identity of the local radio announcer.
He doesn’t let Harry Neale talk
I’m not being glib. This is a real complaint. The Sabres pay Harry Neale a good bit of money to provide analysis, but we get precious little of it. He’s pleasant, yes. He’s funny; his old-school sayings provide some color, but they usually come during the Whip or some other between-period segment. During the action? Nothing, except a few stats someone has prepared for him that he’s clearly reading. There’s no in-depth, real-time analysis of what’s happening on the ice. Why? Mostly because Jeanneret never shuts up. Jeanneret’s refusal to let go of even a second of action puts Neale in a position where he’s only allowed to talk during stoppages in play, and then only when he’s dodging radio promos. If not for Sabres broadcasts, I’d have no idea who Howard Simon was. But now I know he hosts the Lindy Ruff show every Tuesday morning on WGR. Thanks. I can remember that, but not any incisive insight from a guy who was a former NHL head coach and GM.
He won’t step aside and give someone else a shot
Jeanneret’s refusal to give an inch extends to his own career. For years, he’s drawn out his retirement, taking vacations during the season and complaining publicly about the travel. This year, he’s taking it a step farther by reducing his schedule to 50-some regular season games, which is actually a step in the right direction. But it doesn’t go far enough. As long as he stays, Neale who came out of retirement at CBC to work with his friend, will stay, too. Meanwhile, talented broadcasters—like Danny Gare, Rob Ray, Kevin Sylvester, even his own kid, Mark (!)—are waiting in the wings. But if you’re Ted Black, here’s what you have to offer a potential replacement: You get to do 25 games a year, all on the road. No home games, no playoffs. Sure, there’s the assurance that if you do a good job, you can take over when RJ finally retires. But will that be a year from now? Two years? Ten years? Jeanneret’s retirement charade could last longer than Brett Favre’s. There’s only so long you can expect a proposed grooming scenario to last.
Pegula and Black have a lot of capital with fans, and they would burn a lot of it by dumping Jeanneret unceremoniously, so tread lightly they must. It would be slightly less harmful to shift Jeanneret to radio only, which may be what Black was hinting at back in May. But what makes anyone think that Jeanneret would do that? He constantly says that he’s out for one thing: the Stanley Cup. But in every instance, his actions have shown that he’s really only interested in one thing: himself.
> Patrick Broadwater, Orchard Park
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