- Terry Frei, Special to ESPN.com
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Dallas Stars president Jim Lites went ballistic last week, blasting the Predators for neither acknowledging nor honoring Mike Modano when he became the all-time U.S.-born goal scorer in NHL history in a game at Nashville. Lites not only was dead-on right, he had just scratched the surface.
Lites went after the Predators, noting Modano's accomplishments and implying that Nashville, with its embrace of revenue sharing, at times is like the loser youngest son who -- at age 31 -- won't move out of the house or get a job, sponges off his parents and spends his day calling talk shows and reading scripted rants.
In the NHL, it isn't only about records and record-breaking moments.
It is about the ineffable concept of "class," a term that always triggers a few e-mail responses from English literature majors who point out that it is a vanilla and misused term. And I always tell them I prefer that they move on to combat the misuse of "hopefully," "irregardless," "110 percent," or "could care less."
Because don't we know what "class" is?
It certainly isn't ignoring a milestone because the player is wearing the "wrong" sweater.
It also involves what often seems to be NHL franchises' reluctance to mandate and embrace the concept that the game, the sport and the league itself all should be "sold" to a generally savvy fan base that cares about more than the guys on the home-team roster. And even if they are relatively "new" fans in the nontraditional markets -- and they're not among those raised in Detroit or Chicago or Boston and have moved -- they want to dive into the sport, not just root, root, root for the home team.
In all the arenas, sell and salute the game, the sport, the teams and players in it.
Not just the home team.
Not just the guys in the right-colored sweaters.
And it's good business, too: The product is two teams on the ice each night and 30 NHL teams, not only the franchise that plays 41 games in the building. The product is the fourth-line, lunch-bucket winger and the young superstar who comes to town once every three seasons.
The product is the league and everyone in it.
It's not only classy to acknowledge that.
It's good business.
Sometimes, I get the feeling that many team officials would be happy if the NHL could teach the Washington Generals to skate and send them on a circuit of all 30 arenas to be the straight men.
Now, before I type another word, I also must acknowledge that some of you perhaps are saying, well, gee, what do you expect of hockey operations in such, ahem, "nontraditional" markets as Nashville? Or anywhere else where fewer than half the fans in the arena on any given night can't recite the alliterative legends of Bill Barilko and Bob Baun.
Yes, it can be argued that savvy fandom can respond with spontaneous and heartfelt salutes, as the Calgary fans did when Colorado's Joe Sakic reached 600 goals with an empty-netter in a game in the Saddledome last month.
That indeed was classy.
It can be argued that Colorado fans earlier should have stepped above the Avalanche's lack of class when Teemu Selanne cracked the 500-goal threshold and the Ducks came off the bench, though no official acknowledgment of the accomplishment was even made.
Instead, there was merely scattered applause.
Well, the fact is, the decision makers in many cases -- such as in Denver, where the Avalanche also refuse to show replays of opposition goals on the scoreboard screens because that's demeaning to the "good guys" -- are either Canadians or, if not, still have deep roots in the sport.
Jim Lites is right.
The NHL needs to change its communal mind-set on many issues, and this is one of them.
The one-for-all, all-for-one, team's-the-thing culture can be -- and often is -- a refreshing contrast to the me-me-me culture of the NBA and other sports. (By the way, this is an aside: If the NHL ever follows the increasingly prevalent NBA practice of encouraging their public-address announcers to be screaming lunatic morons who act as if they believe everyone in the building has an IQ of a roll of adhesive tape, hand me earplugs.) When that team's-the-thing morphs into only-one-team matters policy, as often happens in the NHL -- leading to a frequent refusal to promote opposing stars, great plays or teams -- it's a problem.
TV ratings in the States aren't great? (OK, that's being nice.)
It would be better if fans in Nashville or Miami or Tampa, or even St. Louis and Washington and Denver, were indoctrinated on game nights that, wow, this Ovechkin kid or Marian Gaborik or Pavel Datsyuk all are worth watching on television -- and not only when they're passing through town.
Promote the game.
It's a mind-set and it involves little things.
Mandate that all goals are replayed on the scoreboard screens. Even if the home-team goalie was a sieve on a floater from the point or the young opposing star weaved through four home-team skaters and got the shot off with one hand after being knocked to the ice. Show them all. (For one thing, don't confirm to the guy who spent $122 on the ticket that he might have been better off staying home and watching from the couch, because even the cheerleading home broadcast realizes it can't get away with pretending the other team didn't score.)
Show highlights from around the league.
Salute players reaching milestones.
Stop pressuring local broadcasters, whether they draw paychecks directly from the franchise or otherwise are beholden to the team, to be relentlessly "positive," no matter what happens. Insulting fans is no way to court or keep them.
When a player who did yeoman's service for the local team, but has moved on in an increasingly transient league, returns -- especially for the first time -- at least show him on the scoreboard screens during a media timeout and allow the fans to give him a nice round of acknowledging applause.
Technology is great, so the detailed press notes can be flashed on the scoreboard screens and fans can be told that the left winger has points in 11 of his last 14 games, his dog's name is "Chico" and he had a terrific career for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens before moving to the NHL. But do it for both teams, not just the home guys.
All of that happens in some cities. Good for them.
It should happen everywhere.
It's about class.
The Predators didn't have any last week, but they're not alone.
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."