The NHL returned to ESPN on Tuesday night, with the self-proclaimed World Wide Leader celebrating itself and especially the old ESPN hockey theme.
Which... fine: It’s the most recognizable aspect of what ESPN did back in the day.
There wasn’t much else remarkable about ESPN’s debut. Most of the voices we’d seen before on NBC, save Emily Kaplan at ice-level. John Buccigross remains an insufferable play-by-play guy, as he’s always been since ESPN picked up the Frozen Four. Not only is he trying to get his catchphrases in or remind you that he was the one hockey guy on SportsCenter for the past two decades, but he’s way behind the play. That’s a minor complaint. Sean McDonough is a pro, even if I’ve grown weary of the Syracuse Big Voice style.
There just wasn’t much new, at least not yet. The score bug didn’t have a shot counter, which is the bare minimum of how most fans watch games now. To be a real visionary, they would have a shot attempt counter next to it, but let’s see them walk before they can run. There was no mention of any real analytics anywhere, and ESPN isn’t anti-analytic with its coverage of other sports. Baseball has its own Statcast broadcast at times, and both their basketball and football coverages use NextGen stats. It just felt like they put barely any research and thought into their hockey broadcast, other than just turning on the lights. There were plenty of mentions of faceoffs and other traditional stats that most of us don’t use to measure games anymore. But there’s time for them to find this stuff.
They did debut a new-ish track cam, but its fisheye type view and inability to actually be over the ice when play was going on meant that when the puck was on the far side from the camera, it might as well have been in the parking lot.
But the real feature for the NHL, and its fans, is that when the second game was over, both sets of highlights from the NHL Tonight were on the leadoff segment of Scott Van Pelt’s SportsCenter. Which wouldn’t have happened last year. That’s what the NHL came for.