ESPN Shuts Down Hockey Talk; “They Don’t Count”
I don’t lack self awareness. I’m fully cognizant of the fact that the NHL doesn’t get the national attention that the other big professional sports leagues in America do. A gap of attention separates hockey from baseball, basketball, and football.
The NHL is hardly blameless for this phenomenon. They do a horrible job marketing the game to a broader audience. One reason for this is that groundbreaking events in most sports–like the trade deadline or the offseason–is relatively uneventful compared to the other sports leagues.
Whereas most leagues and fanbases embrace the importance of star players, the NHL tries to insist that there’s no meaningful difference between having Connor McDavid and “having strong depth.”
This makes following and supporting particular athletes–a common event in the other three sports–very difficult for fans of the NHL. An untrained eye isn’t likely to pick apart Nikita Kucherov from Ross Colton in the frenetic pace of play, and the league does nothing to encourage new eyes becoming trained with the way they talk about their sport.
So, I get it when ESPN doesn’t go out of their way to talk about hockey.
But this is something totally different.
Michael Kay goes out of his way to mention the New York Rangers as the next “New York sports team” to win a championship in the wake of acquiring Patrick Kane (and Vladimir Tarasenko, for that matter.)
Stephen A. Smith responds by throwing his hands up in the air–with the aid of whoever this co-host is–to declare that HOCKEY TEAMS DON’T COUNT!
Excuse me? Why don’t they? The co-host makes no attempt to justify why this sport doesn’t count. I mean, there is a hockey game score literally floating in the lower part of the screen during this insane take.
The rights to out of market NHL games are literally owned by ESPN+, a streaming service owned by… ESPN! The channel this lady is spouting nonsense for! Are we being serious here?
Stephen A. makes some attempt to justify this position. He says in characteristically flamboyant terms that he doesn’t know anything about hockey, so he can’t be trusted to have a take.
That’s fair. Or at least, it would be fair, if I trusted him to know anything about any other sport.
Does Stephen A. know the difference between a post route and a fade?
Does Stephen A. know the difference between a horns set and Spain Pick and Roll?
Does Stephen A. know the difference between chase rates and whiff rates?
Because he doesn’t know–or at least doesn’t talk about–any of these concepts, I don’t really require him to talk about the difference between a 2-1-2 or 1-2-2 offensive zone forecheck. Hell, I don’t even need him to understand the difference between a puck moving defenseman and an offensive defenseman… most hockey fans and teams don’t even know that!
He feels qualified to talk about all of these other sports, and yet he very rarely gets into the technical minutiae for any of them. So why isn’t it fair to expect him to know as much about hockey as he knows about other sports? That being, team names and player names with some general idea of whatever narrative is getting spun in these sports to date.
If Stephen A. Smith were some brilliant analyst of the sport of basketball, who could tell me the difference between the Cavaliers and Heat’s defensive schemes, then I’d give him a pass for saying he doesn’t know about hockey.
But that isn’t the case at all.
It’s a disgrace that ESPN is willing to put out low-brow content for literally every other sport except the one it purchased broadcasting rights for. The NHL needs to market itself better, but it isn’t exactly easy when we have someone like Stephen A. Smith saying: “I CAN’T BE BOTHERED TO KNOW THAT PATRICK KANE IS A VERY GOOD HOCKEY PLAYER!”
It’s a joke.
Mandatory Credit: Johnny Ulecka