DENVER, CO – Before getting to the headline: NHL Sells Soul to ESPN, let’s consider the following:
Baseball: Nine players stand still for ninety percent of a three-hour time period. Average baseball injury report: Amed Rosario to miss time due to quad tightness.
Baseketball: Five players aside jog back and forth for forty minutes. Average basketball injury report: Devin Booker dealing with knee soreness.
Football: Twenty two players run into each other repeatedly. Average football injury report: Kyler Murray, blah blah twelve medical words, requires offseason surgery.
Hockey: Six skaters a side reach speeds of up to 30-mph while being abruptly stopped repeatedly by a wall. Average hockey injury report: Upper body injury: Igor Shesterkin takes a puck to the face then gets his head bounced off the ice. Igor is day-to-day after continuing to play after the incident.
Some on this site have expressed their dismay at the lack of transparency in hockey’s injury reporting. I personally love it. This is just one aspect of sports inherent toughness that no other sport requires. It takes gumption to sign up for a sport where your job is to allow other large humans to fire a rock hard piece of rubber at you while you intentionally get in the way. It takes some moxie to sign up for a sport wherein mistakes of conduct are met with fisticuffs. It takes grit to sign up for a sport that on the margin will cost you a king’s ransom in dental work.
What does this have to do with the price of tea in China? I fear the new ESPN/ABC/Disney deal is going to dilute the game. NBCSN allowed hockey to live in a safe space for the majority of the last fifteen years. Hockey players and analysts could be hockey players and analysts. Coaches by and large have been able to say and do things that coaches in other leagues might not get away with because their comments weren’t taken out of context. Referees compared to other leagues have received far less criticism for letting the boys play.
So what happens to hockey when it’s back on ESPN, where the average pundit/influencer is looking for a bad college basketball game to watch and trips over a bad Ducks vs Kings game on a Wednesday? What happens when ESPN starts covering hockey on shows like First Take and Get Up? I’ll tell you what. Non-hockey people will be commenting on hockey. They will be doing so on a larger platform with greater reach. Their words along with the money that comes with the ESPN contract will change the game negatively.
Refs’ whistles will start going off anytime a team has a two-goal lead. Refs whistles will go off anytime an inconsequential hit happens away from the puck. Stars like Ovechkin and Raask will get “cancelled” by the media and the public for making comments that are innocuous in their native languages but are seemingly offensive in English. Eventually big bruising teams will have to rebuild in the mold of the Avs and Lightning in order to compete with fewer penalty minutes. The game of hockey as we know it will soon be a watered-down beer commercial, as opposed to a game watched by people who already drank said beer and need no commercials. Beyond the on-ice effect, the viewer experience will change as well.
Imagine a Rangers Habs game with Booger McFarland on the ice. Imagine an intermission with cutaways to basketball games instead of other hockey games. Imagine a Tuesday slate of national coverage wherein the top two teams in a division are squaring off and they are flexed for a last-place larger market match-up that no one was watching anyways. Imagine Justin Bieber being invited into the press box. Imagine Brendan Shanahan becoming the face of hockey because the broadcast is more interested in analyzing a hit with two thirds of the screen while the game is live in an inset in the upper right hand corner.
These things can and will happen.
When they do happen, know that the NHL sold out…..again. The only good that can come from this is Mighty Ducks 4-8.