Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Top Shelf-- McCown's Law: The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments (Books)

The Top Shelf

McCown’s Law: The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments

Bob McCown and David Naylor

Doubleday Canada

Want to start an argument, want to solve one? Or do you just want to drop into a conversation and pick up some tidbits of information that will make you go “hey that makes sense”

Well if so, then grabbing a copy of Bob McCown’s book; "McCown’s Law--The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments" is something that should be on your playoff season to do list.

McCown, the host of Prime Time Sports on Toronto’s Fan 590 and Rogers Sportsnet, has put together a great topic starter for the hockey fan. His 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments, is like dropping into the local sports bar and joining in with some fans as they banter back and forth about the merits or lack of, in any number of hockey topics.

Like many a night spent at work with your buddies talking over hockey during your breaks, you can pick up and put down the book and never feel like you’re missing a step.

Skim through a couple of chapters and you’ll quickly be thinking over whether Mark Messier really was a great leader or the pointlessness of the NHL all star game. A few pages later you’ll discover how the Bobcat figures that coaching is becoming a harder and harder gig in the NHL, at every second or third page there’s an argument waiting for your attention.

The book has been constructed in fast paced snippets by David Naylor, who when not working for the Globe and Mail, was making phone calls checking on facts and comparing notes with McCown. His blueprint for the book was to provide a shot here, an idea bounced over there, all of it with McCown’s voice resonating in your head; a quick jab of sensibility then gives way to a longer more thoughtful presentation. Each entry provides its own cadence of content.

For those that are regular listeners or viewers to his daily chat fest the book will be like transcripts of his wide ranging conversations with co hosts Stephen Brunt or Jim Kelley, or the frequent topics of concern for the round table discussions that serve as the sounding board of sports for that day.

Sport has dominated his working life for years, going back to his early days in Toronto radio his knowledge of the industry that sport has become, was well documented on the global TV program the Business of sport many years ago now.

It’s that background that fleshes out this book, the concise entries one through 100 are hot button topics for many. Some will wonder where he’s approaching the topic from, others will join the chorus with the hallelujahs, but few can say that he hasn’t thought the issue out while coming up with his definitive word on the topic at hand.

McCown explores the draft and how he would change it. Suggesting that the never ending quest for eighteen year olds is doing harm not only to the players, but to the junior leagues and even to the team chemistry of the NHL organizations doing the drafting.

He tackles the obsessive lure of American markets and how he would avoid the temptation of the endless attempts to try and woo American fans. Most of whom McCown says aren’t inclined to follow the game, let alone bring it to a high financial level of the likes of the NFL or Major League Baseball.

One of the more intriguing of offerings of the book arrives early on, with entry number 12, McCown’s all time greatest team of players that didn’t draft very high. It’s a list of some of the games most impressive players, who were overlooked or short changed at draft time. Players selected in the mid 100’s fourth, fifth, sixth round and beyond.

They were the ones that didn’t get to smile for the camera’s, weren’t shown on TV pulling on that team sweater or getting that slap on the back for the whole world to see. Instead they and many others like them, were the ones who worked their way into the line up. Once they had their chance to shine, they took advantage of their opportunity to show just what the scouts had missed.

It would be a foolish GM that would turn his back on a Brett Hull, Daniel Alfredsson, Doug Gilmour or Luc Robitaille, even more surprising is the fact that the likes of an Ed Belfour or an Adam Oates weren’t even drafted at all, becoming found ins along the NHL trail. Yet those are some of the names we learn about through McCown's Law.

The next time we’re told that a team lives and dies with its draft, we’ll understand why some teams die more often than others, as McCown and Naylor have shown with their research, dozens of NHL GM’s and scouts missed the gold that was in the river of those respective draft years.

That’s what McCown and Naylor bring to this book, those forgotten bits of information, making it the perfect fact check to quiet down any blazing hockey argument.

It must have been an interesting process as they put McCown’s Law together, Naylor having to research some of the points that McCown would bounce around for inclusion, always aware that one of the Bobcat’s witty barbs could be but a phone call away should the facts not be fast in coming, or were not concise and clear.
The flow of the book and its ability to transfer McCown’s persona from radio to print is Naylor’s best contribution however, there are no dead zones in the book, no parts where the reader’s eyes glaze over and you wonder what other books may be on your to be read list.
If you’ve had your fill of debate and hockey nuggets for the day, then take a break, absorb what you’ve learned and make use of it the first chance you get. Just make sure that you pick up the book again and show your friends that your sharp wit and keen eye will be there for another day.
Faithful listeners and viewers to his program on the Fan or Sportsnet will know that he never shies away from a good argument, always based in the concept that he’s right and probably everyone else is wrong. But within that less than democratic approach to sports observation is some great opinion and controversy, which is what makes his show so enjoyable to watch and listen to.

McCown offers opinions which as he might say, raise a Spockian eyebrow for some, an example being his defence of Alan Eagleson as not quite the hockey pariah that many have painted him to be over the years, while not condoning Eagleson’s much documented illegal activities over the years, McCown still credits Eagleson for changing the face of hockey at a key moment in its evolution.

Some readers will be throwing their arms up in frustration as he lobbies against Paul Henderson for the Hall of Fame, suggesting that the iconic hero that brought Canada “The Goal”, doesn’t have the career stats that would clinch the call for inclusion to the Hall.

Other observations will seem as obvious as an empty net goal, as when he examines the remarkable career of Wayne Gretzky or speaks for millions when he wonders aloud why it takes until June to declare a Stanley Cup champion.

Entry after entry offers up a sample of his observations built up through decades of involvement in sport from broadcasting whether in Canada or in the USA.

It’s a wise hockey fan who will make notes as he or she goes along through the book, much of the material is the kind of thing that most folks probably forgot about shortly after they heard of it, yet as stubborn as all of us are, they’ll swear that their version is the correct interpretation.

You won’t give a flying fidoo about anyone’s rants or ravings; waving your copy of McCown’s Law in the air, you’ll be bringing each argument to a conclusion in quick order.

If you’re armed with the McCown and Naylor talking points, you can set pretty well any argument thrown at you on its ear. Think of this as the Cole’s Notes of modern hockey history.

Argument one in the book opens your travels with an examination of why hockey is the ultimate sport for fans to disagree over, your journey comes to an end at argument one hundred, which offers up a timely examination of NHL discipline. Perhaps an autographed copy of the work has been sent to Colin Campbell, who gains praise from McCown for cleaning things up during his term as sheriff, though as always, Bob has a few ideas for Mr. Campbell and the rest of us to give some thought to.

In between 1 and 100, are ninety eight more discussion points that should keep you talking hockey, long after Mr. Bettman has handed over the Stanly Cup in June.

McCown’s law is as vital to your playoff season as a good supply of beer and ample helpings of chips, dip and pretzels. Combine it with some friends and even the most one sided of playoff matches will be bearable, as you and your crew toss out the talking points to tide you over to the next game.

For more details on McCown's Law, check out the official site from Random House books.
You can pick up your copy of this essential ingredient to any hockey fans bookshelf at Chapters- Coles-Indigo, Amazon Books or your local independent book store.

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