Fantasy Hockey Broadcast Talent for MLBAM’s NHL Network

When news spread that MLBTV will oversee the NHLNetwork in the U.S., faithful viewers (and former ones) felt like this war of attrition of trying to find watchable programming was over.

MLBTV managed to pluck some of the best from ESPN, NBC and other properties whether full-time or part-time. Here’s a sampling of the major personalities from MLBTV:

  • Peter Gammons
  • Bob Costas
  • Harold Reynolds
  • Brian Kenny

And plenty of impressive former major leaguers including Hall-of-Famers Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, recent retiree Ryan Dempster and rising regional media stars including Kelly Nash, who covered the Tampa Bay Lightning for Fox’s Sun Sports.

The NFL Network, though managed by that league, has a solid talent line-up, too, including a local D.C. favorite of mine Dan Hellie.

The NHL Network’s line-up, at least what is officially listed, is small. That’s to be expected when you essentially have two shows. NHL Live, a simulcast radio show, and On The Fly, or whatever they decided to call the running highlights show.

Most of them are part-time and appear on other networks probably more than they do here. Former NHL2Night host Bill Pidto does work for MSG; Kathryn Tappen does plenty of work for NBCSN; Barry Melrose still has some ties to ESPN but has a much larger role at NHL.com and NHL Network and Kevin Weekes is always on.

Keep those guys and gals and build upon that.

After TSN lost the majority of its NHL games we see Craig Button on here a lot more, and more guest appearances by Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger.

It might be a little challenging now that NBCSN is plucking both TSN and ComcastSportsNet talent like Brian Boucher. And don’t bet on Jay and Dan leaving FoxSports1 so soon—or at all.

Whether full-time or part-time, who would else I like to see on the new NHL Network?

John Buccigross. Hockey fans have clamored to unleash Bucci’s Overtime Challenge but without the salary budget and production values, it was a pipe dream for the old variations of NHL Network to do this. Would he leave the Worldwide Leader like Rich Eisen, Peter Gammons, Brian Kelly, Dan Patrick and others?

We can only hope. His hockey contributions have lessened on ESPN.com over the years and his column shifted more to Cawlidge Hawkey than the pros—necessary to grow the sport more in the U.S., but it would help if ESPN broadcast more than the Frozen Four.

My gut on this one tells me he won’t come. He writes about his youngest boy Jack often as he shares his empathy and sympathy for all the sacrifices hockey parents make and unless Jack is ready for a billet home and make hockey is dream, I don’t see Bucci making the move unless he feels it will be nothing but a positive for his family—especially one with a teenager. (His oldest, Brett, has graduated from Miami University of Ohio.)

And if you ever read his column he wrote for USA Hockey magazine in 2010, you’d understand he takes pride in being more than the hockey guy. (And don’t call him the hockey guy.):

You see, I have always viewed hockey as an equal part of the ENTIRE American sports family. As a child, I hummed the music of NFL Films in my head while playing football next to my house and dreaming of becoming an NFL running back. I shot my Nerf basketball in the house with the CBS basketball theme in my head (“You’ll see the best of basketball on CBS.”), and I played whiffle ball every day the weather permitted.

There’s a lot more to that column, and you should read every word.

—Pierre LeBrun. Another ESPN guy (kinda), he’s all on the digital side only at ESPN.com and otherwise puts his time in at TSN where he’s kind of in no-man’s land with the rest of the hockey guys.

He’s a great scribe and a great TV personality and is in the upper halos of hockey journalists with scoops and breaking news. Just be sure that the network has a one Pierre only rule and don’t let McGuire in.

—Bob McKenzie. This would have to be in a part-time to featured correspondent role unless he’s really ready for a change. Not only is his insider information well sought after for pro hockey, his junior hockey knowledge is just as incredible. Unless the U.S. NHL Network bleeds over to Canada with the same production, I don’t see McKenzie heading South of the Border full-time.

You could argue it’s like stealing a Canadian institution, but when your network doesn’t have NHL rights anymore, you have to keep your options open. And he’s done that so far with regular NBCSN appearances.

—James Duthie. He brings wit, knows how to balance being newsy and humorous and is more loose than Bucci on-air. He likes to free wheel and improv a bit, to the point where you’re not sure if that’s Duthie or Ed Helms.

—Daryl Reaugh. A gem in Dallas who wants to transition to play-by-play, he deserves the national spotlightRazor is the best at turning phrases on-air. To me, he is the best color commentator out there, especially his early work on NHL ’99.

—Randy Hahn. When the San Jose Sharks needed change in the organization, they should have toyed with the roster more. Instead the broadcasting partners decided not to re-up another video game voice. He’s doing Edmonton Oilers broadcasts, but this guy. Oh this guy is an honest one.

—Alan May. Alan May has been the strongest addition to CSN Washington’s revamped pre-game and post-game talent, even filling in as a man between the benches during broadcasts. He’s honest, he’s quick and has great analysis of how the game’s played. When GM George McPhee was fired from the Caps, May pretty much let the door hit his ass on the way out.[Scrub to 1:00]

—Rick DiPietro. DP made the wise choice to retire after his comeback bid wasn’t meant to be, and through his unlucky streak of injuries he kept his sense of humor. That served him well when he became a radio host on ESPN New York’s “Hahn & Humpty.” Hopefully the network’s internal censors aren’t too harsh and let him spin a yarn on air, like this doozie about Bill Guerin scolding him for pissing in a shower.

Bill Lindsay. When Fox Sports Florida brought back Denis Potvin, it displaced Bill Lindsay to a smaller role either in studio more or when they could, place him between the benches where he was more valuable than ever. Bill both thinks and speaks clearly—both in his choice of words and his sound. That voice of his can self project like no other.

Greg Wyshynski. There’s no way he would give up Puck Daddy on Yahoo for the NHL Network because you’d likely face more editorial restrictions. But as a contributor with a regular segment or his own 30-minute off-beat show would do wonders for the network. He can continue to promote his Yahoo role and give us a different flavor of hockey news without working entirely for “the man.” Hey, if DC 101’s Elliott Segal can tone it down for segments for Capitals Red Line, Wyshynski would have no problem. He’s been nowhere near the lovable absurdity of Elliott In The Morning, but for hockey’s vanilla atmosphere it’s edgy in those circles.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Chris Osgood
  • Ray Ferraro

If you notice, there’s a challenge in finding former star forwards not named Jeremy Roenick who want to work in TV for hockey. A lot of the dynamic personalities make their home with Sportsnet and CBC (Don Cherry, Glenn Healey) that could create great TV.

But this list building upon the existing NHL Network staff would at least be a good start.

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3 thoughts on “Fantasy Hockey Broadcast Talent for MLBAM’s NHL Network

  1. I really can’t wait to see what kind of programming might be conjured up by this new deal! Nice breakdown. I wonder if some of the SportsNet guys up here in Canada are going to be plucked for this new endeavour. I would imagine the likes of Nik Kypreos wouldn’t think twice about heading down south.

    • Thanks! The guys on Sportsnet, I don’t see them going anywhere or at least I don’t see them wanting to do segments on NHL Network because they’re in a golden position with a network that has the rights to video in Canada, broadcasting to in an environment where hockey is a first-run on sports shows, sports pages and in conversation. Guys like Kyper and Elliotte Friedman have enough commitments between Sportsnet radio, TV and Web content, too. The gains for them appearing on NHL Network in the U.S., for additional work would not be worth the work, especially when NHL Network could show the Hockey Night in Canada feed anyway like they do now.

      The staff who are rising stars who can’t get air time because the resources are focused on Kyper, Friedman, Cox, Healey et al, those people would be jumping at a chance to raise their profile. The hardest people to find to balance out needed viewpoints are former coaches and GMs who are good on TV, Hall of Famers and more women.

      • You make a really valid point. Their current commitments with Rogers/SportsNet between tv, radio and the internet should keep them busy enough to ward off any attempts by the NHL in this new venture. But wasn’t that the case when the MLB pilfered HBO and ESPN for their current crop of talented individuals, like Gammons, Costas and co.? Gammons had commitments with ESPN and NESN but chose to go with the MLB anyways?

        You’re probably right that these guys might not leave, they have a good gig and this new NHL venture will inevitably cast their broadcasts anyways. Regardless, I’m excited to see what they come up with in terms of new content and what they can do with real-time stats and metrics.

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