Plenty of hockey fans who watch ESPN idolize John Buccigross as one of the only hockey analysts left standing at The Worldwide Leader in Sports. But Buccigross’ latest comments about the NHL returning to ESPN’s airwaves seem to show some unawareness.
Buccigross oozed confidence that the NHL will be back on ESPN soon, which is hard to believe after it laid off nearly every full-time reporter covering the sport for the network.
“I’m real optimistic that we’ll be a part of the NHL plan next time,” Buccigross told BSN Denver. “I’m not in the negotiations or decisions, but the negotiations open up in two years, and the (NBC) deal ends in three. There’s no doubt ESPN (was) very aggressive last time trying to get the package, and we’ll be very aggressive this time.. and I feel good about our chances to get some.. to have games in the next package.”
It’s important to keep in mind Buccigross isn’t saying ESPN will seize all television rights for the NHL. And no offense to the sport itself, ESPN really shouldn’t spend too much on an NHL package. Most of their staff layoffs were a result of paying outrageous amounts of money to the NFL, MLB and NBA for television rights. The last thing ESPN needs to do is spend an exorbitant amount on the least popular of the “Big 4” American sports.
But even if ESPN made a run at airing some hockey games from time to time, wouldn’t the recent batch of layoffs speak volumes to the league? Sure, these negotiations are two or three years down the road. But the network’s stance on the NHL should be abundantly clear after it showed the door to numerous respected reporters such as Pierre LeBrun, Scott Burnside, Joe McDonald and Craig Custance.
The ESPN layoffs were not limited to just the NHL side of operations. But the network should prove it is actually invested in covering and discussing the sport — something NBC has kind of done effectively — before the NHL commits to having its games aired.
Then again, we are talking about the NHL. If Gary Bettman is still hanging around, he’ll likely take whatever offer he can get. In fact, bringing the NHL back to ESPN might be one of his lasting memories as commissioner as he approaches the age of 70.