I don't know about any of you people, but I'm getting real sick and tired of it being "news" everytime somebody asks an executive or personality at ESPN about their coverage of hockey.
Yesterday, Richard Deitsch posted his typically outstanding Media Circus column, which featured this bit from ESPN President John Skipper on the network's treatment of the sport:
"Look, I don't think it's fair," Skipper said. "I see SportsCenter every day and we cover hockey every day. We do not have a significant differential between highlights of hockey now and when we had it. The only difference is we are not there [as a rights holder]. If we were there for the playoffs, we'd be throwing to the guys calling the game. We can't do that, but we are at hockey games. We are doing hockey highlights."
As I said, whenever anybody puts ESPN and the coverage of the NHL in the same sentence, everyone freaks the hell out. Lots of folks wrote about it, including the terrific Travis Hughes.
I, personally, have grown completely worn out of the subject. It doesn't matter anymore, it won't matter again until NHL television rights are up again at the start of the next decade, and I just don't want to have this discussion. The National Hockey League has moved on. ESPN has moved on. So why can't everyone else?
(Before we get into an ESPN-related rant, let me please point out that they (between ESPN.com and Grantland) employ three of my favorite human beings covering hockey today -- Katie Strang, Katie Baker, and Craig Custance -- as well as one of hockey's pre-eminent insiders -- Pierre LeBrun -- it's funniest satirist -- Sean McIndoe -- and a Scott Burnside -- Scott Burnside. Also, that Buccigross fella' is still there. I highly recommend all of them.)
Let's talk about something that no one ever really wants to talk about whenever we have this argument: John Skipper is 100 percent correct when he says that ESPN covers hockey about as much as they did before they lost television rights. Whenever people talk about hockey's "glory days" over at ESPN, they're almost exclusively discussing the off-the-cuff feel of "Fire on Ice" and Gary Thorne and Bill Clement doing Red Wings/Avs games on the reg. You're not talking about SportsCenter highlights. Around the Horn didn't exist then. When people think of ESPN and hockey, they think of game coverage and NHL2Night.
First, let's cover the "games" part of that discussion. What follows are, via The 506, the number of games ESPN and ESPN 2 covered from 1996-97 through 1998-99, the last three seasons in which the network shared NHL TV rights with the Fox network (and before they very shiftily took those rights away).