Of all the strange things which happen in the middle of a hockey season, the firing of a popular commentator ranks high on the list, especially when the deed is done unexpectedly and in the name of ratings.
Larry Murphy, a popular former defender on the Detroit Red Wings turned brodcaster on Fox Sports Detroit’s coverage of Red Wings games, was unexpectedly cut from the lineup prior to a game against the Calgary Flames. Murphy didn’t know he was being terminated prior to the game, and the move came as a complete surprise to him. It was a low move.
I’m sure everyone’s favorite hot dog craving, glasses wearing, in between the benches commentator was the sole reason the Red Wings were generating lower ratings for Fox Sports Detroit. Never mind the team’s less than pedestrian play most of the year and the little matter of (another) NHL lockout, which prevented many fans from becoming emotionally invested as fast as past years. Neither of those factors can be controlled by Murphy, who’s only job is to describe the action he sees in front of him.
In addition to not grasping the unpredictability of local hockey ratings, Fox Sports ignores the fact that the funny banter between Murphy, Ken Daniels and mainstay Mickey Redmond are literally the only elements which make their hockey telecasts unique. In most other cities, the song is the same on Fox hockey broadcasts. There’s an average play by play guy, a dry color commentator and a boring studio host, hell bent on yucking it up with cheesy puns and jokes. With Murphy in the fold joining John Keating in between periods in the past, at least there was always some unique discussion going on.
Between the benches, Murphy brought an added dimension as a former player. The goal of every broadcast is to get fans into the minds of the players, and Murphy did that well, always lending a story or an observation about what was going on while seated close. Combined with Redmond’s own on-ice experience, the Red Wings had a diverse team to get fans to understand the action along with Daniels. In fact, as far as describing the action and having charisma, Murphy is above NBC’s Pierre McGuire, who started the between bench hockey commentating craze several years ago despite his below average skill and personality.
Now, without him, Fox Sports Detroit threatens to stymie themselves further. There’s already a grassroots movement to get Murphy back (you can view the petition here) and there’s been 3,003 signatures collected. Already, that’s three more than the initial stated goal of 3,000. Think ratings seemed bad before? There’s always a passionate minority in a group that will leave when pushed. Way to rile up your viewership, FSD. I’ll be interested to see how the ratings look in a few months without Murphy, especially if the team manages to miss the playoffs and April excitement wanes given the presence of the Detroit Tigers.
Broadcasters by nature do come and go, but in Detroit, there’s always been more of a family approach in the profession. Fox Sports Detroit’s decision to axe Murphy is a mistake, especially given their flimsy reasoning.
Hopefully, whether he returns to call Red Wings’ games at Joe Louis Arena or not in the future, Murphy lands on his feet and is able to remain in the area. It would only be fair for one of hockey’s good guys.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax