Sabres fans will be happy to know that while Empire Sports Network is gone, Mike Robitaille will be back on the air this fall covering the Sabres.
When Empire went off the air in March, Western New York lost more than just a sports network — it lost a part of Buffalo sports culture. But if you're a hockey fan (and I'm guessing you are if you're reading this), the bigger loss was Empire's hockey coverage, specifically the Sabres post-game show, Hockey Hotline. For over a decade, fans from WNY and around the country could call in and sound off on each Sabres game for over an hour. Robitaille's colorful commentary and analysis were the backbone of HH. But while Robitaille will return, Hockey Hotline will not according to The Buffalo News:
"The Buffalo Sabres' TV plans for their first season on the Madison Square Garden Network include a post-game show with a new name, a different cast and a different agenda than "Hockey Hotline" had on the defunct Empire Sports Network.
Kevin Sylvester, the former WGR-AM morning host, will host "The Shootout." Mike Robitaille, the "HH" regular who worked with Josh Mora (now in Chicago) two seasons ago, returns with a former Sabre to be named later. If Rob Ray retires, he would be an obvious option.
Larry Quinn, the Sabres' managing partner, said the show will be live at HSBC Arena after home games and will include more in-depth features and more thorough analysis than offered by "HH." The show's call-in component won't be as large as it was on "HH."
Hmm, "The Shootout?" Like Sharpshooters? What was wrong with the name "Hockey Hotline?" Assuming rights to the name do not belong to Adelphia, I feel the name change either has to do with Quinn wanting to deemphasize the fan call-in portion, or Quinn wanting to just make it his own. I don't think the format change was needed, as HH was one of Empire's highest-rated programs and arguably the best post-game show in the NHL. In the article, Robitaille explained why he thought the change was made:
' "There is a lot to talk about this year, more than any other season," Robitaille said. "There will be more time to evaluate the game and teach the public the best we can. It might be difficult for people to grasp a lot of rule changes." '
I'm not familiar with Sylvester's work, but he'll be hard-pressed to live up to Brian Blessing or Josh Mora's standard. Seriously, though, I'm doing cartwheels now that a part of the Buffalo hockey culture I love will return in October!
Last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Comcast made a two-year, over $100 million deal to nationally broadcast NHL games for the next two seasons. Games would be shown on Outdoor Life Network, a move by Comcast to expand OLN and sway sports viewers away from ESPN. Still, long-time NHL partner ESPN reportedly gets the right to match any offer that Comcast makes. And while I don't appreciate the sub-par coverage of hockey on the deuce, the Los Angeles Times's Mike Penner makes some interesting points on why it's best for the NHL to stick with ESPN:
"Ice hockey, the quintessential indoor sport, on the Outdoor Life Network?
That makes as much sense as having more NHL franchises south of Kentucky than in Canada, but that's the NHL.
Of course, the Outdoor Life Network prefers to cloak itself behind its initials, OLN, a handle that became popular among cycling enthusiasts, who came to know the channel as the Only Lance Network. The NHL on OLN? It does have a ring. Say it fast enough and no one will have the chance to make any more outdoor hockey jokes. ...
For the NHL, the incentive is obvious. For better or worse, ESPN is the leading brand name in American sports television. In today's media culture, the ESPN logo has a legitimizing effect on any activity — even non-sports — it chooses to air. Look what the network has done for poker, fishing and competitive eating.
Without its long-standing ESPN rubber stamp, the NHL risks becoming more of a niche sport tucked away on a niche network.
But ESPN also needs the NHL. What kind of "Worldwide Leader in Sports" allows the sport of Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull to leave the building, quit the family, vacate the premises without a fight?
Keeping the NHL makes economic as well as promotional sense for ESPN, which has had a virtual monopoly in the national cable sports market ever since it squashed Fox's challenge. Let the NHL slip away to OLN and ESPN will essentially assist in birthing a new cable rival."
Currently, 61 million households receive OLN, while 71-plus million get ESPN. I just can't picture hockey moving off of a household name to OLN, a channel I've rarely watched. And I don't think a new start on OLN gives the NHL a better place in the broadcasting marketplace. Even though hockey on ESPN was not perfect, it's important that the NHL stays there if it ever hopes to re-solidify its roots in the American sports landscape.
AROUND THE LEAGUE:
-Redden to be shopped?: The Ottawa Sun reports GM John Muckler is in a tough position, wondering whether he'll have to part with star defenseman Wade Redden due to cap economics. Ottawa's long had a team of fast, skillful youngsters that helped the Senators finish near the top in the East almost every year. But with the lowered age of free agency and star players demanding more money, it seems Ottawa won't be able to afford to keep their roster intact for much longer.
"Mario Lemieux didn't get this kind of reception in his first moments in Pittsburgh. Neither did Ben Roethlisberger or any other athlete in the 20 years between the time those two were drafted by local teams.
But when Sidney Crosby rode down an escalator to the baggage claim area of Pittsburgh International Airport just after 7 p.m. yesterday [Wednesday], his white polo shirt reflected the glare of a host of television cameras. When he reached the bottom and was escorted into a back corner for a brief interview session, Crosby was mobbed by reporters, photographers and a few dozen fans who had gotten wind of his arrival or were just lucky enough to be there and figured out what was going on."
Now with the addition of solid goaltending in the form of Jocelyn Thibault, the Penguins are definitely shaping up to be a favorite to make the playoffs in the East. And with the possibilities of Mario Lemieux, Crosby and Ziggy Palffy up front, along with Thibault in net, it's a good chance the Penguins could upset a eastern powerhouse in the first round.