It's no secret that ESPN's once-hidden agenda has been exposed by the blatant missteps of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his puppets. Skim the front pages of ESPN.com while it's NFL or college football season and 90% of the content is football-related. Virtually none of their editorial content holds anti-NFL opinions despite the NFL's abhorrent handling of several events, notably the Ray Rice and Greg Hardy scandals along with 'Deflategate'. The same holds for their television and radio content. From the time after Super Bowl Sunday until mid August, the rest of ESPN's published content and coverage is NBA or NCAA-related, until we reach Summer when there is nothing to report on but baseball and the frequent NFL player arrests.
The excitement for hockey that ESPN SportsCenter mainstays like Steve Levy (also an NHL play-by-play announcer and writer), John Buccigross (NHL writer), Linda Cohn (reporter & analyst), and Barry Melrose used to bring reminded us that hockey still exists in America. Now Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside's coverage remain hidden in the depths of ESPN.com alongside those of their equally passionate colleagues.
Unless you are a caveman, you will have gathered that rarely, if ever. will you see or hear NHL-related content on ESPN channels or websites, unless it is an off-ice event unrelated to the game of hockey itself (i.e. Patrick Kane this summer).
So why would the NHL do this? They are trying to kill the NHL. Yes. This isn't sensationalist opinion, it's truth.
12 Skip Bayless & Stephen A. Smith (part 1)
For years, Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless have continued to give daytime television viewers something to cringe at. They are the most hated, loved, and reviled members of sports journalism and that's precisely why ESPN gives them a top platform. The one thing about the two of them is that they know next-to-nothing about hockey. Bayless wrote an article for ESPN's 'Page 2' way back when the NHL lockout was occurring and asked himself in a 'self-therapy' column why he hates hockey so much. He denied hating it, but said he could not bring himself to like it. Here's why: he couldn't find the puck. Likewise, he said the lockout in 2005 was the most interested he had ever been in hockey. If that's not a sign of taking pleasure in killing a sport, we don't know what is.
11 Skip Bayless & Stephen A. Smith (part 2)
There is no doubt that Stephen A. Smith is an absolute beast at his job, but what he said one afternoon back in 2013 was a true detriment to the NHL. Here's what happened: Midway through the 2012-13 NHL season, the Chicago Blackhawks went through a 30-game unbeaten streak. Meanwhile the Miami Heat were on winning streak, at that time 14 games, with the Blackhawks streak at 22. During SportsCenter, Stephen A. was asked which streak was more impressive. He obviously chose the Heat, claiming ties in hockey were worthless for this debate. He went on to mention that someone had previously mentioned the Columbus Blue Jackets to him, which he had never heard of. There were three shots fired here at the NHL: First, that a top ESPN analyst was unaware of the Blue Jackets' existence. Second, that a smaller streak (Heat's 14 vs. Blackhawks' 22) in a sport with much less parity is more impressive. Third, he thought there were still ties in the NHL despite it being impossible due to the change in rules since 2005. How can someone in such a position be that uninformed?
10 Lonewolf Analysis
If you're unlucky enough to catch ESPN's infrequent-at-best NHL coverage, it nearly always includes a SportsCenter anchor and Barry Melrose. This anchor is nearly always a true professional, but is nearly always directed to act as a robot and make Melrose look good. The best sports shows are the ones where ideas and opinions bounce off of everyone. To have only one of those analysts (as Melrose) and one robotic anchor is simply bad TV. Do you think viewers are going to be attracted by one old guy with a mullet whose opinions and analysis are never questioned? ESPN knows what it's doing.
9 Barry's Bistro
ESPN's 2016 attempt at creating a new and improved playoff-centric SportsCenter segment involves sitting with Barry Melrose between a red and white-checkered tablecloth with the segment title hanging hovering above. First and foremost, it's Melrose. Secondly, this is an utter mockery of any restaurant - it only has one table! The restaurant owners in this country are reeling. Okay, maybe not - but rest assured that this half-baked attempt at revitalizing ESPN's playoff hockey coverage is as bad as Melrose's analysis itself. The best part about this is segment is the chalk-art.
8 Cutting of NHL 2Night
Think back to 2004 just before the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Calgary Flames played in the Stanley Cup Finals. Prior to the pending lockout, ESPN cut their only NHL-dedicated program. It was 22 minutes of John Buccigross shooting the breeze with Barry Melrose and Ray Ferraro - a program known as NHL 2Night. It was fun, it was fast, it was the last NHL-dedicated television show on ESPN.
7 SportsCenter Censorship
Can you even remember the last time Barry Melrose or anybody for that matter was on as a hockey analyst for SportsCenter? "Careful Bucci, you might get the boot if you reference NHL" is what John Buccigross must tell himself before every segment. ESPN's poster-child, SportsCenter, has been their rice and beans since day one - it's the one thing they survive off of. East-coast version or west-coast version, it doesn't matter. People watch it and bars play it, even on mute. So, what is it that sells? You guessed it, the highlights. They no longer run NHL highlights.
6 False Portrayal - NHL is More Dangerous than NFL
For those of you living under a rock, so to speak, several NFL owners came out with some Trump-level-stupidity comments last week. Unsurprisingly, it was the Dallas Cowboys' multi-talented owner, GM, President, busboy, and valet Jerry Jones who stated that there is no link between CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and playing football. Soon after, Colts owner Jim Irsay compared the 'unknown' risks of playing football with the 'unknown' risks of taking Aspirin . Read the articles ESPN has written about NHL and concussion CTE links. Then read the ones about the NFL - they are flat and purely fact-based. You'll notice the distinct difference immediately. It's as though someone from the NFL is clearly keeping any editorial and opinionated content from being published.
5 Frozen Four > NHL
On March 27th, ESPN ran a three minute non-narrated segment showing highlights of Boston College's men's hockey team. This was the first proof of the existence of hockey in North America and there was zero NHL content. The Frozen Four is great and it needs more coverage. The NHL, however, is fantastic and deserves far more coverage than it receives. There is no argument among sports fans who have ever experienced the Stanley Cup Playoffs that it they are by all measures the most entertaining and wearing playoffs of any of the major sports. Yet, there has been zero build-up to the Stanley Cup playoffs on ESPN's Sports Center or daily programs - they would prefer a three-minute segment of Boston College's Frozen Four run.
4 MLB Spring Training > NHL
Again, SportsCenter on March 27th showed us 30 seconds of the NHL and four minutes of highlights of the most boring of the major North American sports to watch on television - baseball. At that time of year, playoffs are about to kick off in the NHL and the stakes are considerably high. The stakes could not possibly be any lower in Grapefruit league play as the games are considered "practice" (cue Allen Iverson). The ball players don't even seem to care about Spring Training, as the regulars hit the showers after four innings. We bring in Dr. Michio Kaku, Professor of Theoretical Physics, to explain to us what absolute zero care for Spring Training baseball means: "Nothing - is the absence of something. Zero - is absolutely nothing." Those of you reading will agree that your care for the NHL is likely more than absolute zero.
3 End of ESPN National Hockey Night
If you kill a sports' most-watched television programming, it's not a good sign. Through the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, ESPN had a Monday Night Football-style hockey broadcast that ran several nights each week. It ran when the MLB and NFL seasons were not in action and showed marquee match-ups several times per week. For those with nothing to do on Saturdays and Wednesdays, Gary Thornes' high-octane commentating was unmatched. His play-by-play tone, insight, and analysis made games joyful and dramatic. It only lasted so long when, of course, ESPN opted out of their contract in 2005.
2 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament > NHL
Statistics clearly show that NCAA Women's Basketball has very low ratings, but lower than the NHL? When pigs fly. On a night when Andrew Ladd scored the game-winner in the final minutes over the Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks being the most polarizing team in the NHL, it's impossible to make the argument that the NCAA Women's tournament highlights are higher on the pecking order.
1 Television Rights
This is at the center of every reason above - besides for Barry Melrose's incoherent analysis. After the ugly 2004-05 lockout, the NHL underwent a plethora of changes. One of those changes was to the television rights - ESPN no longer was to air any NHL games after they opted out of their contract. From then on, ESPN has belittled the NHL at every opportunity - showing as few highlights as possible. Sure, it's a business. At the same time ESPN is a journalistic entity with the duty of reporting on sports fully and fairly. It all comes back to a conflict of interest, and a lack of television rights certainly entails a conflict of interest. They might pretend to cover the NHL, but it is a mockery at best.