The Problem With Mike Milbury

Today, CBC hockey analyst Mike Milbury was charged with assault in relation to an incident that occurred with an opposing player as he helped coach his son’s pee wee hockey team.

How serious the incident was is not entirely clear; but from the reports today it sounds like it’s fairly unexceptional hockey parent behaviour. That may change depending on what exactly Milbury said – the reports also indicate he was charged with uttering threats, after all – but everyone who has spent any amount of time around the game has seen, heard or at the very least read about the line-crossing actions of hyper-competitive hockey moms and dads.

The actions alone weren’t the reason the internet quickly filled with Mike Milbury jokes this morning.

The problem with Mike Milbury is that his entire public life – from his playing career to his managing career to his broadcasting career – has been filled with unpleasantness. So when something like this happens, people spread the word quickly, not just because something like this happening to a high-profile hockey man is newsworthy (which it is) but because Milbury simply isn’t very well-liked.

Some of it stems from the things he did before he entered broadcasting. Milbury was a hard-nosed defenseman for a rough-and-tumble Boston team, but that’s not what he’s remembered for. He’s generally remembered most for his role in this incident:

Milbury is number 26 in the video above, seen hitting a guy with a shoe.

Then, of course, there’s Milbury’s record as the general manager of the New York Islanders. A decade at the helm of any franchise that managed to win just five playoff games over that span would be a black mark on any reputation, but it’s not just what Milbury did, it’s how he did it.

Aside from his gruff personality – the internet is full of quotes from his time at the helm in Long Island, though my favourite was when he said that player agent Paul Kraus was “depriving some village of a pretty good idiot” – it was the sheer magnitude with which some of his trades failed. He traded Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe and the pick that turned into Jarkko Ruutu to Vancouver for an aging Trevor Linden.

He dealt Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen to Florida for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish. He drafted Rick DiPietro first overall, rather than taking Dany Heatley or Marian Gaborik. He sent Jason Spezza, Zdeno Chara and Bill Muckalt to Ottawa for Alexei Yashin. He ruined a franchise in search of immediate dividends, and still has the hatred of Islanders fans today.

If anything, though, Milbury has worked hard at becoming more disliked by more people since moving into broadcasting. Whether he’s referring to the Russian national team has playing a “Eurotrash game,” talking about the “pansification” of hockey, referring to the Sedin twins as “Thelma and Louise,” analyzing about the Washington “Crapitals,” ridiculing Alex Semin as “a lazy, overpaid talent not worth the time,” threatening to send hockey players to beat up “meathead” Tiger “Wuss” Woods, talking about the German national team “getting peed on” by the Canadian squad or just defending his lackluster record as Islanders manager, he’s been nothing if not polarizing.

Even when Milbury isn’t grabbing attention with hyperbolic commentary, he can be difficult. During a recent Hockey Night in Canada segment on re-aligning the NHL, Milbury was bored – “wake me up when it’s over” he said. He’s frequently spoken out against suspensions, often arguing loudly with his co-hosts on the subject. He’s dismissive of obvious things, like the impact of keeping a junior-aged hockey player up for more than a nine-game audition.

That’s not to say Milbury isn’t occasionally on point. He fearlessly defends angles that aren’t politically correct, voicing the thoughts of many – and when he doesn’t venture into bigotry or xenophobia, that can be valuable. He can add insightful analysis; as a life-long hockey man, he has useful things to say. Unfortunately, what value he does bring is typically overshadowed by his trademark arrogance and compulsive need to belittle players, teams and even co-hosts.

Mike Milbury is, in the end, thoroughly unlikeable. It’s what separates him from someone like Don Cherry, who often advances similar points – Cherry’s not only capable of recognizing his imperfections, but he comes across as the kind of guy it would be fun to share a beer with. It’s impossible to read either of his two latest books without just enjoying the personality behind the narrative. Milbury’s successfully grabbed the worst parts of Cherry’s old-school mentality, but he’s missed the thing that’s really made Cherry successful on Hockey Night in Canada – his personality.

Today’s story may or may not turn out to be more than a relatively minor incident of poor behaviour; we won’t know until more details emerge. Milbury has denied the allegations in a statement released by his lawyer. But the reaction to the incident, which has been overwhelmingly hostile to Milbury, has less to do with what Milbury did at his son’s hockey game than it does with what he’s done with his time in the public eye.

  • stevezie

    For all the wrong that Milbury’s done over the years – and as this article points out, there is much – I’ll always remember him fondly for the time he called Al Strachan a “dink” on HNIC.

  • Good read. I am pretty sick of Milbury’s act, so even though this incident shouldn’t necessarily reflect upon his broadcasting career I certainly won’t be shedding any tears if he goes off the air on CBC and NBC. I do not think, for the most part, that his aggressive contrarianism is helpful when discussing many of the critical issues facing the game right now, particularly surround injuries and violence.

    • Vanguard

      Totally agree, I can’t stand listening to him.

      And 7lLet’s be honest, is anyone who’s made the trades described above by Willis truly qualifed to talk about hockey anyway?

  • srbuhr

    To be honest I am not much of a Milbury fan but you have to wonder if the charges are just a result of his public persona – I mean if he didnt use his fists he should be okay.

    • Wax Man Riley

      Karma, what goes around comes around, You get what you give,…..Call it what you want but Milbury is a blowhard, he is arrogant, obnoxious and the worst part of itis that it is unfounded he has nothing to back it up with. I can’t listening to him on HNC.
      I try not to wish bad things on people or to rejoice at their failures but I have to say he is the cause of his own undoing and I am happy to see how life evens everything out.

    • Just as a point of clarification, Milbury has been accused of assault – not battery.

      Assault is the act of attacking someone in a threatening, though non-physical manner that creates a sense of intimidation (ie: saying “I am going to kick your ass” or making a fist gesture towards someone).

      Battery is the actual physical attack.

      When you hear of the charges of assault and battery, that would obviously be a combination of the two (ie: Telling someone you’re going to kick their ass and then doing so).

      Technically, if MM was acting in a threatening manner, that’s assault, and the second he lays a finger on the kid (even if he just grabs his arm), it can grow into a battery charge as well because of the physical contact.