MayorsManor 2010 NHL Playoff Preview with Bob Miller

Legions of Kings fans aren’t the only ones who have waited eight long years for the team’s return to the playoffs.  The man who has most likely seen more Kings games live than anybody else has had his patience tested too.

Bob Miller‘s been the voice of the Kings for over 35 years, has been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Today, he joins us on MayorsManor for a bit of a playoff preview.  You”ll get his predictions on each series coming up in the Western Conference playoffs, plus he shares some thoughts on who might be a playoff hero this year for the Kings.  Just for fun, he’ll also weigh in on the debate of the Forum vs. Staples Center, which arena is better?

MM: How good does it feel knowing the Kings are back in the playoffs again?

Miller: Well, when you’re not in the playoffs it’s like you’re out of the loop in the NHL. When you go to the playoffs there are other people there that you maybe don’t see during the regular season – executives from the NHL and everything else…just the whole atmosphere of the playoffs. When you’re not there you’re sitting at home and watching it on TV, you’re not part of the loop. This is gonna be good to get back in there.

People have said Staples Center doesn’t get loud enough, although it was pretty loud at times those first few years.  As a broadcaster is one better than the other, the Forum vs. Staples Center?

Well, I like the intimacy of the smaller building, the Forum.  I like Staples Center too.  Our broadcast position is really good, we have more room to work than we did in the old building.  The problem at the Forum was… if you look back at the tape of the Miracle on Manchester, when the Kings tie the game against the Oilers with five seconds left, about eight different heads jump in the way of our TV camera.  I don’t think you see the puck go into the net.  I’ve also said that another problem at the Forum was where we broadcast from, it was right above that walk way…and the cotton candy guy would come by and I’d have to look around him to see the players.  So, we have a much better angle and a better view at Staples Center, even though its further away.

I think like you, I’ve heard Staples Center get really loud.  I don’t understand when people say ‘Oh, it doesn’t get really loud in that building.’ Going back to the early 2000′s and some of those games, like when we eliminated the Red Wings from the playoffs…it was as loud as any building I’ve heard.  The new buildings are never going to be as loud as the old Chicago Stadium or the Forum in Montreal.  You know, those buildings were built without much thought to acoustics.  So you had steel and brink and just noise bouncing all over the place.  The new, multi-purpose arenas are built with acoustics in mind for concerts and everything else.  So, it may not seem as loud.  But, I think it’s been pretty loud at Staples at various times.

Unfortunately, earlier this year you missed a few games due to illness.  Did you happen to watch the games on TV – and if so, what was the experience like for you to see the Kings playing on TV?

Well, I watch some of the games on TV now because if it’s a short road trip, say two games and neither will be televised, I don’t go on the trip and I watch the games on the Center Ice package.  So as far as watching our own telecast, I hate being at home watching our own telecast and not being there.  It was the first time since 2002 that I had missed a game, so it was different.  I appreciate Jim Fox, Nick Nickson, Daryl Evans, Mike Kalinowski and everybody that jumped in.  They all had to adjust their schedules because I couldn’t do it.  It’s different and I don’t like it.  I’d rather be there.

What goes through your mind when you watch those road games on Center Ice and you hear other broadcasters calling a Kings game?

I kinda look to see how much they’re talking about the Kings.  Some telecasts they really stick to their own team and don’t talk all that much about the opponents.  When the Kings played in Dallas and I watched that game, I saw the Dallas feed with Ralph Strangis and Daryl Ray who call the Stars games.  I was really impressed.  And I called Ralph and I told him this, I said ‘I was really impressed with how much you talked about the Kings, how much praise you gave the Kings players and how knowledgeable you were about the Kings.’ As I say, not all telecasts do that.  It’s more of the we’re worried about our team and here’s a little bit on the Kings, not much.  So, I was very impressed on that Dallas telecast and the attention they gave to the Kings.

The playoffs are known for producing some unlikely heroes.  We did an interview just last week with a guy that falls into that group, Gary Shuchuk…

Big goal against Vancouver in double over-time back in ’93. 

Who do you think on this year’s team could surprise people in the playoffs?

Maybe Brad Richardson falls into that category.  He was injured a year ago and didn’t play a lot during the early part of this season.  I think he scored his first goal around December 1st [note: it was exactly December 1].  He really played his way into the line-up and has been valuable.  I think somebody like that could do it.

I was going to say maybe Wayne Simmonds.  But, I think he’s been a little more high profile than Richardson.

Over the first half of the season, Simmonds was playing better.  Now, it seems he’s slowed down a bit the last month or two…

Yeah, but there are times when he’s been OK.  I don’t know if he’s battling the little bumps and bruises or what.  He could be somebody that comes through in the playoffs too.  We know what he can do when he’s on his game.  He can be pretty reliable.

How about we get some predictions on the Western Conference match-ups …first up, Phoenix vs Detroit, what do you think about that series?

Well, I have to go with Detroit.  Now, Phoenix has been the story of the NHL.  And it’s a great story.  As I talked about with Foxy on the last few telecasts, if Dave Tippett doesn’t win coach of the year, something is wrong.  He’s done a marvelous job there.  But, Detroit is playing so well right now.  They have such outstanding playoff experience too.  I’d only go with them because of the way they’ve played since the Olympics.  Everybody thought Detroit would falter because their older and everything, then they got all of those guys back…so, I have to go with Detroit.  But, I hope Phoenix wins.

Before we move on, how about a counter point to Tippett to react to - Joe Sacco might make a good argument for Coach of the Year.  Phoenix was a good team last year.  They were in the playoffs for most of last season and fell apart at the end.  Then, they made the coaching change to Tippett.  He’s such a good coach, maybe he’s worth an extra 5-10 points in the standings for them this season.  On the other hand, Joe Sacco took over a bad Colorado team.  He had no NHL coaching experience and he took a group that everybody expected to finish 29th or 30th and he has them in the playoffs.  Thoughts?

Well, he’s going to get some votes.  There’s no doubt about that.  Early on in the season he may have even been the front runner.  But, to me, they kinda faltered down the stretch.  And what I took into consideration with Tippett was he was hired seven days before the regular season starts.  They don’t know if they’re going to be in Phoenix or in Hamilton or where they’re going to be.  They don’t know who is going to own the team. And they weren’t drawing at all.  We played there one night and they announced just over 5,000.  It was the smallest crowd in their history.  It’s tough to get a team up to play with nobody in the stands and all the extra stuff going on.  Dave was able to go in and say ‘Forget about it.  Just worry about playing hockey.’ And they did.  Now the fans are coming back and here they sit with over 100 points.

Sacco is going to get some votes.  And probably Barry Trotz in Nashville, who year after year has his team in the playoffs.  Yet, they keep taking players away from him and everything else.  So, there are some great candidates and it’s going to be a good race.  I just think Tippett, with the whole situation and what they did in the regular season, he should be the coach of they year.

Fair enough.  How about those Avalanche though – they’re taking on the Sharks…

Well, I have to go with San Jose.  I think they’re going to be a little nervous though.  I wouldn’t have minded seeing the Kings playing San Jose in the first round.  The Kings have played well against them this year and you get the California rivalry.  San Jose will tell you they’re not, but I’m sure they’re thinking about ‘Wow, if we get knocked out in the first round again…or even the second round…things are going to happen around here.’  So, they have to be worried about that a little bit.

Next up is Chicago vs Nashville…

That could be pretty good.  I think that’s going to be a good match up, with the division rivals.  Chicago has great speed, great players with great scoring.  I know (Antti) Niemi has played well in goal for them lately.  But, if he falters and then they put (Cristobal) Huet in and all of the sudden you have a question mark about the goaltending…and I just mentioned the job Barry Trotz does in Nashville.  They’ve had good goaltending from Pekka Rinne.  I think it’s going to be close.  It think Chicago will win it, but it’s going to be close.

For LA – Vancouver, rather than have you pick a winner (he laughs), how do you size up the series?  What are the key things to look for and what do you think will be the difference?

As far as Vancouver goes, they have to have Luongo back playing the way he was in the Olympics.  He has not been all that sharp.  Even in his playoff history, they’ve always said ‘Oh he can’t win the big game.’  Well, he’s won the big game in the Olympics.  This will be a little different.  The last time the Kings played him they put eight goals on him.  I don’t expect that to happen again.  So – that will be a key, the way he plays in goal.  They have great scoring – that top line with the Sedins and Burrows.  The Kings have got to find a way to shut them down.

I think for the Kings…they key is they have to be strong defensively.  They have to have Jonathan Quick back on his game, the way he was before the Olympic break.  And they have to get some more scoring.  They just have not been scoring very much since the break.  They have to get more scoring from a variety of people too.  I do like the way Dustin Brown has played lately.  For your captain to be playing as well as he has going into the playoffs, I think that’s a plus.

The other key here is how will the Kings, without a lot of playoff experience, do in this situation?  I think about only 1/3 of the team has ever been in the NHL playoffs.  So, that’s going to be a big difference there, to see how they adapt to that.  I know Terry Murray said he’d rather not play in a Canadian city, because of all the extra stuff going on – the press conferences and all the writers and all the attention given to it.  He said all that can sometimes be intimidating to young players who haven’t been in the playoff situation.  But, at the same time – if you’re a Canadian player and you know this game is televised throughout Canada and all your friends and family are watching, you want to be on the top of your game.  I’ve seen that with players.  They’ve asked ‘Is this game on Hockey Night in Canada?’  If they’re told yes, it means a lot to them to know that they’re seeing all throughout Canada.

Also, I think when you go into the playoffs you want to go into a town where there are 15 or 16 reporters and 5 or 6 television stations and all the talk in the town is about the playoffs.  Rather than, maybe going somewhere, like Phoenix – where there are might only be 1 or 2 articles.  Although, there might be more than that in Phoenix now.  But…I think as a player, I’d rather go where people are excited and everybody is talking about the playoffs.

Speaking of Murray, he’s been criticized at times this season for changing the lines so much.  When Nick Nickson has been asked about it on Kings Talk after the games he’s tried to tell people that the days of guys playing together for long periods, like the Triple Crown Line, are a thing of the past.  However, guys like Brian Rafalski say that part of Detroit’s success can be attributed to guys knowing who they’re playing with on a nightly basis.  What’s your take on Murray changing the lines?

I can see where there were times he was trying to figure out, especially when you had (Justin) Williams injured and (Ryan) Smyth before that…he tried to figure out who he had and who can play with one another.  Lately though, down the stretch, I think he settled on his top three lines.  The unsettled line going into the playoffs would be the – what you might call – the fourth line.  He’s moved things around a little bit, with (Raitis) Ivanans getting back in the other day…then (Jeff) Halpern getting back in.  He’s been mixing that one up a bit.  But, he seems pretty well set for the last three weeks or so with his top three lines and his defensive pairings.

I also know what Nick is talking about…where you get a lot of teams now in the NHL with two guys playing together and then they plug in a third guy at a different times on that line.  So, you don’t have the Triple Crown line or the French Connection line.  Which is too bad actually, I used to like that.  When you know who’s coming out there.  The nicknames were colorful – like the Production Line in Detroit.  So, looking back, it’s too bad it’s gone by the wayside…that just seems to be the way it is though.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Tomorrow we’ll have part-two with Bob - where he talks about NHL players in the Olympics, the rivalry between Canada and the U.S., Hall of Fame players retiring, his favorite players around the league, the World Cup of Hockey and much more.

[UPDATE: Part two of the interview is now online, click here to read the article]

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