Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Okposo In, Outsider Out

I'll be sitting in my apartment as the Islanders take on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tonight is the NHL debut of Kyle Okposo, and I have elected not to witness it in person. This season has seen several must-be-there events at the Coliseum: the home opener, the first tilt with the Rangers, the return of Al Arbour to the bench, the celebration of the Core of the Four, to name a few. I have made it a point to be there for these special circumstances, but on this night, other circumstances win out.

Going to the game on a weeknight requires taking the car to work, and paying for parking in midtown, or else I'd never make it out to Long Island in time. Then there's driving back to NYC after the game and not walking through the door until after 11:30, at which time there's zero chance I would start writing about the game. First of all, I would be up way too late. Secondly, you don't come home to your wife just prior to midnight on a Tuesday and disappear to blog about hockey. That's not something you learn; it's just something you know. There are also responsibilities and family matters to which I want to attend. That being said, it was no one's choice but my own to watch this one from my living room. Years from now, will I regret not being able to say that I was there for Kyle Okposo's first NHL game? Perhaps. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. The last thing Kyle needs is more hype, to which I am adding simply by talking about it.

Ah, yes. Hype. Here are the most recent headlines from my Google Reader feed of newyorkislanders.com:

Kyle Debuts Against Toronto
ITV: Okposo Raw
ITV: Okposo Practices
Kyle's First Skate
Get VIP Parking and 12.5% Off for '08-'09!
Expert Opinion: Okposo Debut
Okposo to Make NHL Debut on Tuesday
Kyle on the Isle
Coach Capuano on Kyle
Montreal 3, Islanders 0
Isles Skate into Montreal
MC and KO
KO Parallel Parks!

I had to have a little fun with it. So, nine out of the 12 real news stories from the Islanders have featured Okposo. That's a lot of attention for a guy whose career to this point has a pedigree equivalent to that of Scott Scissons. (Poor Scissons--we should really all leave him alone already.) Chris Botta made some valid points in his blog entry addressing this issue. The Islanders are to be applauded (and have been) for the unprecedented access to the team they have given to fans. It's kind of silly to expect them to stop now. I'm not sure where promotion crosses the line to hype, and it probably doesn't matter because they blur well before and well after the line.

What all of the attention does point to is how starved the organization and the fans are for a dynamic home-grown skater to become a cornerstone of the franchise. It reminds me of the mid- to late-90s, when a similar hunger drove me to find a Web site, before such types of sites were ubiquitous, where I could follow J.P. Dumont playing for the Val-d'Or Foreurs in real time because his exploits were the only thing to be really excited about. That site was simply a fan page run by a young woman up in Quebec who would post the scoring summaries in basic HTML. I found myself checking it every night the Foreurs had a game.

How much information do we need about Kyle? Did the Blackhawks market Kane and Toews like this, following nearly their every move? How about Peter Mueller in Phoenix? In today's Globe and Mail, Ted Nolan called this an important day for the franchise, and said that the organization should take care not to over-hype it or under-hype it. My preference would be for no hype. Let Kyle be the humble kid who needs to earn his spot, as well as the attention and adulation. If he merits those things, they will come. And so will the spoils of marketing him.

In the short term, I can't imagine that some extra tickets sold and a few additional headlines are going to make much of a difference. The revenue and the attention they generate will go away in a hurry if Kyle is not ready to demonstrate the kind of play that warrants the spotlight. At present, he is still just a first-round draft pick. So, yes, a spotlight introduction would be too much. It's wonderful to hear repeatedly that Kyle the person is everything we want him to be. Just let him play and allow the rest to come naturally.

Now, how soon before we can get one of those Ovech-kams or Mal-kams focused solely on Kyle?

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