December 27, 2011
ESPN SportsCenter dedicates roughly the time it will take you to finish this sentence to the NHL on a nightly basis. That established, we didn't expect to see much coverage of hockey on SportsCenter's 2011 Year In Review, which debuted this week; but we did expect to see the stories that transcended hockey to receive their due.
So when it came time to honor those figures in sports that died in 2011, one assumed there would be names like Derek Boogaard (who died May 18 of an accidental overdose) or Rick Rypien (who took his life on Aug. 15), active players at the time of their deaths; Wade Belak (found dead on Aug. 31), who was playing in the NHL back when it was still on ESPN; and the 43 men who played for the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl that perished in a plane crash, killing an entire professional sports team.
Here are the names mentioned In Memoriam by ESPN in its Year in Review:
• Al Davis
• Bubba Smith
• Dan Wheldon
• John Mackey
• Lee Roy Selmon
• Hideki Irabu
• Dave Duerson
• Duke Snider
• Walt Hazzard
• Harmon Killebrew
• Joe Frazier
Not. A. Single. Hockey. Player.
Was it a notoriety issue? Even the most ardent puckheads will agree that the three players we lost during the summer didn't have the name recognition of the baseball and football Hall of Famers on this list. But what sports fan wouldn't agree that the death of an entire team, that featured over a dozen former NHL players, wouldn't rise to a level of notoriety that mandates their inclusion in a year in review?
But nothing. Nothing on Lokomotiv, Boogaard, Rypien or Belak.
Literally nothing on hockey for long stretches of SportsCenter's Year in Sports.
Nothing on Sidney Crosby's concussion, until it was referenced without context in the final moments of the show.
The "new landscape" of NCAA Football in 2012-14 was discussed, but not NHL realignment or relocation. Kirk Herbstreit talked about how this might be the year the BCS is scrapped; never mind the NHL actually did vote to scrap its playoff format.
Famous quotes? Nope. "Tire-pumping" evidently has no place on SportsCenter, despite having defined the two goaltenders in the Stanley Cup Final.
News of these snubs started hitting the hockey community during the holiday, but we wanted to see the magnitude of these omissions ourselves. What did make the cut for hockey on ESPN's Year in Review?
• Bobby Ryan's goal vs. Nashville was the No. 10 play of the year.
• The Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara was featured kissing the Cup to lead off the show in a montage; the Bruins were mentioned by name during the "hey, these teams won a title" segment; and then a Tim Thomas save and Chara again kissing the Cup were featured in the end-of-show "champions" montage.
• Sidney Crosby's comeback game against the Islanders was shown briefly in the "champions" montage at the end, with a goal he scored and his curtain call.
And that's it. No concussions or Shanabans or the Winter Classic or former Sabres driving their SUVs on three wheels after leaving a bar. (OK, we kinda get why that wasn't featured.)
But hey, we got a 5-minute segment about how exasperated ESPN's talking heads were over Tim Tebow's winning streak. So that's something.
Look, this is no mystery. ESPN promotes its products on SportsCenter; the NHL is not one of those products. Combine that with apathy for hockey on ESPN's television properties and by its television executives, and it earns a small pittance of time on the Year In Review.
SportsCenter doesn't care about hockey* beyond Sidney Crosby and the team that wins the Stanley Cup. Every hockey fan in America knows this. But that's OK. NHL Network and VERSUS have nightly highlights shows. NHL.com has every play from every game. The world has changed so we don't have to rely on ESPN or the local news for those glorious seconds of NHL coverage in-between basketball highlights. (And we think to ourselves, "what a wonderful world …")
"The Worldwide Leader in Sports" neglected to cover the death of an entire hockey team in a plane crash in its year in review, but found time to feature lines from Deion Sanders' NFL induction speech.
That's a disgrace.
* We have to offer our usual caveat about ESPN here: That you shouldn't paint ESPN.com with the same feces-covered brush you might use on the television side when it comes to hockey. LeBrun, Burnside, Custance and others provide tremendous coverage online. Ditto Bill Simmons, who found his love of puck again, and Katie Baker on Grantland. They don't get a final edit on the television product -- well, Simmons does, and we get great stuff like the Gretzky 30-for-30 -- or a seat in the yelling chair on "Around The Horn." There are people at ESPN who give a damn about hockey, even if ESPN apparently doesn't give a damn about it. To that end: Occupy John Buccigross!