Has Mike Milbury become an old softy at age 63? “I guess so,” he said with a laugh.
Not only does the former Bruins bruiser, Islanders coach and GM favor a ban on fighting in the NHL, he has become an enthusiastic advocate of the new 3-on-3 overtime format.
“I love it, are you kidding?” the NBC analyst said of 3-on-3 skating during a phone interview to promote Wednesday’s Rangers-Islanders game on NBCSN.
“This 3-on-3 is the most exciting thing that’s happened to this game, and I hate to say it, since the shootout. But I’d much rather see the game decided 3-on-3 than on a shootout.
“Unless they’re going to make the nets bigger, they have to start thinking about things as entertaining as 3-on-3 is. I think bigger nets have to come, but if not bigger nets then more 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 in different situations. Man, is it fun to watch.”
So much for considering Milbury a traditionalist, something hockey people got a taste of last autumn when he bluntly argued against fighting in hockey, a stance that has not changed in the ensuing 14 months.
Still, it’s clear he has some nostalgic pro-fighting impulses in his memory bank.
“I’m not anywhere different than I was a year ago,” he said. “We still don’t know enough about what happens here but it’s pretty clear for most medical observers that these skull-rattling hits are causing some serious damage and long-term damage and we’re seeing guys go off more and more frequently.
“I like a good fight as much as anybody. I thought it was a great part of the game. I still will get excited when I see a fight, even though a part of me chuckles when I see guys fighting with these hard-headed helmets and face masks on them. It’s a little different than when (Clark) Gillies and (Terry) O’Reilly went toe to toe with bare knuckles and bare heads.
“It still brings people out of their seats. For me it’s instant vigilantism. You right a wrong right away. There’s something great about that and I’ll miss it, but it’s already fading itself out . . . In my opinion why wait until somebody might get seriously hurt in a condition where we know somebody might get seriously hurt?
“It was crazy. It was fun and it was young men unleashed, but it’s changed and I’ve seen these guys get up and stagger away, and I’ve seen great players not only not play the game again but not function properly. I really think it’s time to pull the trigger on it.”
(Milbury was in the middle of one of the most notorious incidents in NHL history when in 1979 he was among several Bruins who went into the stands to confront a fan at Madison Square Garden. He struck the fan after removing one of the fan’s shoes.)
Milbury has been gone from the Islanders and with the NBC for nearly a decade, and he is happy with his post-management lifestyle. (He conducted Monday’s interview while babysitting his 18-month-old grandson.)
“I’d say that nobody should ever completely close the door but I’ve enjoyed this,” he said of his TV career. “A lot of guys take this job after they move on from a situation and they use it to position themselves to get a new job back in management. I’ve never done that in the brief time I worked at ESPN and now the eight or nine I’ve worked at NBC.
“I felt I owed it to the guys who paid my salary to do the job, give a solid opinion based on experience and fact. That doesn’t endear me to a good segment of owners and GMs around the league but I’m at a point now where I think this is a good way to complete the cycle: player, coach, manager and now analyst.”
One of the best things about TV work is that analysts are undefeated. “That’s right, but I also haven’t won a game,” he said. “I did miss the waves of high and low initially but there comes a time where – I can’t say ‘maturity’ without a small grin on my face – but there comes a time when that means less to you than some of the other parts of your life. That’s where I’m at.”