By Michael Wax
The NHL’s TV agreement with ESPN and Turner Sports (TNT) is over a year old at this point, and results have been… mixed. Many of TNT’s personal and production choices are very similar to NBC, who had previously held the rights, while ESPN has taken a decent amount of talent from NHL Network for their coverage. In this instance, TNT has gone with the devil, you know, while ESPN is putting in a fresh coat of paint for the casual audience. With the increase in viewership/accessibility has come an increase in scrutiny. While I have things that annoy me about coverage, this article is not meant to be a tear-down piece. Rather, I want to highlight some positives of each network and share constructive criticism for next season.
Pro: The TNT Desk
It’s probably been said to a nauseating degree at the point, but the TNT intermission group was very solid this past season. They try to bring fun into the game and do a fairly decent job at it. Now, they are not perfect. Sometimes there's too much goofiness and not enough focus on the game. At the end of the day, the camaraderie between the four and sometimes five members of the panel create an interesting dynamic and allow each person to shine. An example would be Anson Carter and Liam McDonagh, both of whom were hired from NBC. They were certainly knowledgeable at NBC but felt tied to a set script during every intermission. With TNT, they have some free reign to create memorable content with Rick Tocchet, Paul Bissonnette, and Wayne Gretzky.
Con: Taking Focus Away From Play (Literally)
The production crews at these two networks have major work to do if they want to grow their audience. Too many times this season, there were instances where the production truck would switch to angles that didn't show the puck and, often, didn't even feature players on the ice. Whether it was a close-up on a goalie's face or panning to someone on the bench, production cuts are taking the focus off of play far too often.
This extends beyond just camera cuts. ESPN, in particular, loves its replays and graphics. The showing of replays will often lead to missed faceoffs and gameplay, some of which can even feature chances/goals. It's also tough to watch the play when there are graphics on screen, as evident by this mid-season example I tweeted out last year:
Pro: Emily Kaplan
It says something about how good Emily Kaplan is that the interview segments aren't insufferable like past seasons. Kaplan started with ESPN as a reporter, writing hockey news pieces for ESPN's website. This season, she leaped TV and has gotten rave reviews. Her interview questions are a lot more focused, putting forth more interesting answers from the players and coaches in a sport that is dying for some personality. Kaplan has done a great job at keeping people interested. The one minor critique of Kaplan's segments, which is no fault of her own, is that some of them take place during play. This is something done all the time in ESPN's basketball coverage as well, and the play being minimized for a coach's perspective on how a game is going isn't the best usage of air time. Still, full props to Kaplan for her coverage.
Con: Three-person booths
As mentioned earlier, TNT took a lot of NBC's personalities. They also took some of their bad habits. The three-person booth is something that sounds great in practice but doesn't often work in reality. NBC would often have two men in the booth and one between the benches, something that they would repeat over and over again. The more voices that are added to a broadcast, the more jumbled it becomes, and the more the message sent from the broadcasters to the fans becomes diluted. While ESPN has caught some flack for the type of talent that they’ve hired, they’ve done a good job of understanding that hockey is better when there’s a play-by-play commentator and one color commentator providing analysis.
Pro: The score bugs
As mentioned earlier, both ESPN and TNT like their graphics a bit too much. But one thing that they can be commended on is that both have score bugs that are far and away better than NBC’s attempt. All the TNT scoreboard doesn’t blow people away; the fact they added a shot counter was a massive improvement over NBC Sports. And while ESPN has a bit of trouble displaying shots during certain portions of the game, their simple design and colors make their score bug pretty enticing to a viewer. Most people seem to like it, as indicated by its top ranking on a JFresh fan poll back in February:
Overall, ESPN and TNT have both been fairly average. Whether it's on-air talent, production changes, or something completely off the board, things need to change in order to grow the game in 2022-23 and beyond.
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