There’s nothing more entertaining than having your intelligence insulted, something the Canucks have managed to do repeatedly this season by enforcing their comical “we don’t have room for blogs or podcasts” policy that is referred to by the Canucks Director of Communications Craig MacEwen as “long-standing”.
The long standing policy was invented on October 1st, 2022 in an effort to keep myself and two other people out of the press box and from covering the team. Ultimately, it has devastated one entity and one entity only, and that would be mine.
The club was unhappy that I broke a story that they likely didn’t want broken. More on that debacle later.
((The ongoing defamation actions I was forced to file regarding that story are still being resolved or initiated, so there will be no further thoughts at this time. We’ll have a video presentation in two to three weeks))
I’m not entirely alone. Canucks ownership/upper management kind of blocked out Jeff Paterson and completely blocked out his podcast partner Andrew Wadden. The club had extreme discontent with the twosome’s affiliated program “Sekeres and Price”.
Paterson has still been able to provide limited Canucks coverage. He’s a fixture in local media and has been allowed at select games while holding the mic for TSN. Not so much for the affable Wadden. They obviously don’t deserve this.
Apparently The Athletic lost a seat as well. Even as a non-daily, they should have been able to keep the luxury of two seats. Their inclusion in ‘the ban’ was apparent window dressing to give the policy an air of legitimacy. Clearly the club had nothing against these writers and radio hosts back in October, or since. They have unfettered access to Canucks practices and press conferences.
Expected Dishonesty Delivered
I met with the entire Canucks public relations staff in February to review the ridiculousness. I’m not sure why MacEwen decided to drag his assistants into it, maybe as witnesses, but the lies came regardless of who was present, as expected. I felt bad the assistants had to sit through this nonsense although one of them played an important role in it by being honest.
As for MacEwen, there appears to be a real personal vendetta and there could be a variety of motives, not the least of which was me eventually complaining to management about his performance. I wouldn’t be alone.
Vendetta or not, he’s ultimately just a very willing errand boy, following instructions in an environment with toxic elements. He wouldn’t have thought of the following technique used to enforce a ban on his own. Apparently this is the Canucks trying to control the message.
The press box is now allegedly reserved exclusively for newspaper, TV and radio entities. Yes, in 2022. So how would one explain that 80-percent of the media covering the team are “blog/podcast” based outfits. One calls itself “a site by fans of the Canucks, for fans of the Canucks”, another, an “in-depth online hub”.
Having prepared for that inevitable line of inquiry, MacEwen actually started to recite the list of online businesses presently covering the team. He claimed they’re somehow owned by newspapers or other radio/TV conglomerates.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter. For any other NHL club, it’s who the writer/reporter/host is, regardless of the name of the site or the ownership.
Telling the truth about why a restrictive policy exists is so much easier. You don’t have to remember anything.
Which is what we did. We ended up cutting to the chase, which led to this remarkable exchange:
“This is how it works, you cost yourself money by missteps,” MacEwen said.
“What are they, I don’t know what they are,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter that you don’t know what they are,” he said.
“That’s the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” I said.
But then again, he wasn’t done yet.
“Why do I have to justify to you, why you can’t come in, and why you don’t meet the criteria,” MacEwen said. “and there are nine other things that we have.”
“Really!? What are they?”
“I don’t have to supply that to you, all I have to do is go to the National Hockey League and supply that to them,” the answer came. “I didn’t want to go that route with you and have other problems for you in other rinks.”
“I don’t have any problems in any other rinks,” I said, stating the obvious.
“Well, if we were to give them all the other stuff, perhaps you would.”
To be honest, I could stop right there. Nothing else needs to be said quite frankly, but for your information and entertainment … why not. Plus, it actually gets worse.
The effort to keep me out of the building has been remarkable, unethical, and as you’ve just read, actionable.
Nuclear Passive Aggressiveness
Wouldn’t a professional communications director have said something, or should have said something, after offence number one … or two … or three?
All one has to say is; “Hey, I’d prefer you didn’t do that.”
Nope, we’re not going to tell you what you allegedly did wrong, we’re going to make a list and keep secretly adding to it over fourteen months. This would be a one-of-kind-approach. If only it were real.
It’s like something out of a Stephen Colbert monologue. “Mr. Johnson, you’ve been fined $50-thousand dollars and sentenced to six months in jail.”
“For what, your Honour?”
“We don’t have to tell you that.”
After all, I wasn’t hard to find. I covered more practices and games than anyone on the beat last season, and even wrote as many as three Canucks stories a day during the summer. It’s why tens of thousands of fans were reading my material, and why a portion of the “competition” in the market is absolutely thrilled I’m not covering the team.
Canucks Twilight Zone
A funny thing happened on the way to the rink; I got banned by the Vancouver Canucks.
Instead of driving ten minutes to my local rink in Vancouver, I presently drive two hours to Seattle where I have friendly and lively conversations with general managers, coaches, and broadcasters from throughout the NHL.
It doesn’t make up for the tens of thousands of dollars I’ve lost in investment and sponsorship as a result of the ban.
Was I supported with a public show of media solidarity? No. I think one guy told me “it’s not our fight”. Remarkable, considering this is a market still in a state of outrage and sympathy after media layoffs two years ago.
That said, I have definitely had support from a few media pals here behind the scenes.
Oddly enough, the Canucks have invented something that doesn’t benefit them one iota. In fact, they lose out by not having the coverage.
While my delightful acquaintance Bruce Boudreau’s trauma was very public, “Gabby” is still getting paid. I’ve suffered in silence, not getting paid.
During my first Vancouver training camp in the fall of 2021 under the direction of an old acquaintance of mine, head coach Travis Green — we shot an episode of a TV show in Boston in 2006 — I found the majority of media to be welcoming and helpful, particularly Daniel Wagner, Ben Kuzma and Iain MacIntyre (“IMac”). I knew the very fine gentleman Dan Murphy a bit from working and guesting on TV gigs at ice level.
I managed to break a couple of stories that first week, both ignored by the existing media, understandable, since no one at that point was reading my stuff.
One was Brady Keeper’s broken leg. I happened to be sitting next to Canucks GM Jim Benning in the media dining area in Spokane before the first exhibition game of the season, and the first ever in the history of the Seattle Kraken. Benning informed me about the details of Keeper’s injury suffered the day before. I obviously lucked into it.
The next day someone else reported it as if it had never been reported.
Just a couple of days later in Abbotsford, I learned firsthand that Benning had been shopping Brock Boeser. I showed the information to MacIntyre and he said “nice scoop”. I wrote it up.
No one talked about it. It was a bit of a head scratcher, but as time went on, this became standard operating procedure.
MacIntyre said to me once this season on the road, something along the lines of, “You’ll find this media market is a bit different.”
In fact, Vancouver is the first market I’ve ever worked in where a member of the media would actually lie about who broke a story and mis-credit it, in an effort to promote a direct cohort.
Ignoring stories and then reporting them a bit later as if they’re new is even more common.
Kudos to IMac, Rob Williams and Kevin Woodley for typically giving credit where credit was due.
The Incestuous Cabal
Incestuous (adj) – excessively close and resistant to outside influence.
Cabal (n) – a secret political clique or faction
In this case, it’s not very secret and the politics are personal. Cabal is just my fun little replacement term for ‘clique’, in reference to that small portion of your media, probably the element that many NHL people from here and elsewhere complain about on occasion.
Is there a very small group who influences much of what you see and hear and a limited amount of what you read? Are your options limited? I’ve heard that argument. Is the presentation particularly special, or is it the self-promotion that’s most impressive.
Hey, I get it, protect your turf, but limited options sure the hell do a disservice to the fans and ironically to the Canucks.
Canucks ownership doesn’t like a portion of the media, some of it more than others.
So why the hell would they hire a guy with no experience, one who’s not a hockey guy, who came directly out of this media market.
The inexpensive option? Maybe. But it still makes no sense. He worked on the local radio station and called himself “the boss”. Gee, what could go wrong?
While the boss can’t reveal my mysterious nine offences, I don’t mind sharing how a few things went down during the first 14 months.
My favourite is from January 2022 when one of the local media personalities dressed down MacEwen in the doorway to the media room. Expletives, the whole nine yards. How he wanted things done and how ‘the boss’ had screwed things up. The director of communications walked away quietly and I even jokingly said to him as he went by, “you probably could have gone with ‘go F yourself’ in that situation.”
Nothing was done, and I doubt the incident went on any list.
Over the next two weeks, I was repeatedly denied one-on-ones with players — remember, we were still in Covid and didn’t have dressing room access — only to step out into the hallway and watch the boss’s apparent boss doing not one, but two one-on-ones. This scene repeated itself.
I eventually complained to Canucks President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford about the favouritism and a handful of other mistakes and behaviours one would never see anywhere else in the league.
JR has been stringing me along, understandably busy and more concerned with hockey operations, but also proof that the umbrella policy part of this came from on high. I’ve known him awhile. We have dozens of friends and acquaintances in hockey in common from over the decades. Had this simply been a novice communications guy acting entirely on his own, it would have been corrected.
Caption: Apparently company policy would disagree with this statement.
Around the time of my complaints, MacEwen “The Boss” told me in October “it doesn’t matter who you work for, you’re not covering the team”. It apparently came in a fit of pique. I recorded that one too.
Oddly enough, he wasn’t kidding. Remarkable examples to follow.
Keeping Me Out
As a credentialed beat reporter for the Seattle Kraken this season, I was denied a pass for a game as a road reporter at Rogers Arena on December 22nd, despite the fact that the lone Seattle-based writer on hand said he had three empty seats next to him. Road seats are allocated separately. I wasn’t given one.
The actual Kraken team, as is customary, filed the request for me as a beat reporter. It was denied. As you might hear in a Monty Python skit or movie: “Oooo, what a giveaway!!”. In other words, there was no reason I should also have my Seattle beat coverage affected by a vendetta.
Here’s the seating chart.
Road media allocation: one. There were actually nine seats intermittently open next to the Seattle writer. For the March 4th game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, space was magically made available for, oddly enough, nine visiting road media. I have that seating chart as well but will spare you.
The two blocked out names in seats 65 and 67 are for the PR interns. Yes, the interns are sitting in professional press row for the first time in history. The four seats for the mythical four reporters for “The Boss’s” old radio station, Sportsnet 650, has since been expanded to five seats. They usually go unoccupied as one might expect.
Everything after seat 87, as in 115 and beyond to the right are different sections and not part of press row. I blacked out the names for privacy.
Remarkably Impressive, Selective Work Ethic
He couldn’t manage to set me up with any one-on-one’s with Canucks players last season, he failed to provide scoresheets for an entire rookie tournament in Penticton, and every interaction was stiff and unpleasant. Not customary. Ever been in one of those relationships when it feels like you’re always walking on eggshells? Sucks doesn’t it?
What he can do however, is work extra hard to make sure I don’t cover the team.
On four other occasions, the Canucks made sure I couldn’t attend Vancouver games on the road. Twice I had passes issued anyway, by two PR directors who basically said “Simmer, you’re welcome here anytime.”
But here’s the best, or maybe second best compared to what earlier sounded like blackmail.
For two weeks just before my new websites came online, one of my old directors at SiriusXM NHL Network Radio, where I hosted a national morning show for four NHL seasons, told me I could report on a temporary basis for them. That meant getting a media credential to two or three games.
After I appeared at the Edmonton Oilers home opener against the Canucks, “the boss” had one of his assistants call SiriusXM to make sure I was supposed to be reporting for them. Unheard of, considering it was under Oilers jurisdiction, issued by the Oilers, and I was there to conduct meetings about a new website, including a pitch and long discussion with Hockey Hall of Fame media honouree Jim Matheson.
What’s even better is how the conversation went down in February when I brought it up.
“That’s not accurate, because I didn’t call them,” he said.
“Who called them?” I asked.
“No idea,” he answered.
“Really?!” I said. I had talked to my old boss about this at a Hockey Hall of Fame shindig in Toronto in November.
That’s when I turned to an assistant, who admirably, and not surprisingly based on what I know about them, refused to be dishonest.
“Did you call him ….. Did you call him?” I asked.
“I called him.”
Whoops! Part two.
Suddenly the tune changed.
“So, we were told by him that he didn’t give you permission,” ‘the boss’ said.
“We … were … told … by …. him.”
I don’t know what was suggested in their conversation, but my friend and I had a brief credential arrangement. I was a guest on a show a couple of days after the game.
I’ve twice sent credential requests to the Canucks for home games just for policy confirmation, and curious to see just how fast the rejection would come back. It came back within minutes. Although those are generally handled by an assistant, MacEwen quickly stepped in to personally deliver the bad news.
By the way, all of this is bizarre on a very basic level, considering my dedication to covering the team.
At one point during the 2022 preseason after I had covered the Development Camp, preseason informal skates, and Canucks training camp at Whistler, I spoke to Canucks assistant coach Mike Yeo in an exclusive interview about special teams. I had no choice but to arrange it myself, with a coach who was familiar with me and used to listen to our national show, because I had no other option available.
If that was an ‘infraction’, and it probably was, nobody said anything.
Canucks Twilight Zone – Part 2
Another favourite moment, involved the off-season. I had planned to visit some team personnel overseas for some features. You know, produce it, plan it, pay for it, execute it, and come back with some phenomenal material.
MacEwen told me we’d have to run that by Sportsnet first and the team would have to give them first dibs on my idea.
So, just to get this straight. I have to share my idea with the TV rightsholder, “because they pay tens of millions of dollars to broadcast the games”, allow them to take the idea if they want, or approve it, and then maybe I can go do my thing.
An NHL PR guy’s job is to facilitate the idea and try to make it happen. Nothing more, nothing less, permission isn’t required, except from the people I’m going to see, who just happened to be excited by the idea.
Without fail in the past, whoever was involved in such a project was happy to cooperate, anywhere in the world. I’ve never had to clear a story idea with another media entity.
Just know that post-Covid, now that the “room is open” and actual access to players is allowed, the content you’d be seeing and reading would be stuff you’ve never seen before and no one else would be doing.
Not the hockey team.
Other than the Sportsnet folks, no Vancouver Canucks reporters covered the club on the road against the Rangers, Devils, or Islanders. I would have been there, just as I was last year. I would have been at the Detroit game that followed as well.
Coverage denied, for a team that could use as many features and stories as it can find, with ownership looking for any attention to help sell tickets.
I averaged 2.5 stories a day last season. Thousands or tens of thousands of readers a day as time went by.
Who does benefit is Craig’s buddies in the incestuous clique, as in a portion of the “competition” in the market. Those readers who I built up over a year of reporting insights about the Canucks have since turned their attention elsewhere.
This whole thing is so ridiculous I actually had to question whether or not MacEwen had a direct interest in their efforts.
I actually had a Canucks reporter who hadn’t initiated a conversation with me in fourteen months, come up to me in the press box in Seattle and fist bump me with a “Simmer!”, so giddy that I was working out of there and not in Vancouver.
The team doesn’t benefit. I’m obviously not a danger to anyone. I’m polite and respectful to a fault to everyone involved in the news gathering process and to anyone who works in the building. I also know more NHL coaches and GM’s and other personnel than any other reporter in the market. My focus is on the personalities and humanity of the game. The all-important hockey elements found in unique combination in no other sport. Chemistry, commitment, camaraderie, character, coaching, and confidence.
I covered my first Vancouver Canucks game as teenager in 1981 at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. That just happened to be who the Red Wings were playing that night. I still have the postgame audio. I made reference to that NHL longevity on my twitter profile, about ‘most experience in the market’ or something. That may have added to the acute “passive” …
… including myself, I believe there were 18 reporters in Vancouver who were members of the Pro Hockey Writers Association last season. All but one were given the privilege of voting on the postseason NHL awards in 2022. The lone member and beat reporter left out. Me. I guess that was the ensuing “aggressive”.
Meanwhile, it’s been an honour to meet and cooperate with some of the media folks here and with many of the fine people in the organization. I’ve received some very constructive and insightful comments from fans over the last 20 months as well.
The team is headed in the right direction on-ice. Its energetic and dedicated patrons definitely deserve a greater variety of coverage off of it.
Some earlier VHI posts:
Who is Simmer exactly; his CV and background: Simmerpuckmedia.com