Embracing the New NHL Networks

Hockey coverage on ESPN off to a good start. Kraken open camp. Are three goalies a crowd? Whats next for Evander Kane? Aaron Ekblad almost 100 percent.

Stand by NHL fans, you're in for a treat instead of a treatment.

Courtesy of ESPN.

It's becoming more and more apparent that the newly-contracted network will be pulling out all stops when it comes to innovation and fan friendly features.

The first example of such break-through hockey television was ESPN's hockey-savvy Linda Cohn doing a one-on-one with Evander Kane before the results of his gambling probe were released by the league.

Based on the first NHL major finding both Kane and Cohn are winners. Especially Linda who asked all the right questions and got the right answers.

That, in good, old-fashioned journalistic terms, is a scoop! All things considered a mighty big one.

Mind you this is not -- repeat not --  a knock at previous NHL carrier NBC which simply did things another, call it simpler, way.

That, however, is history. What matters now -- and next -- is how ESPN will be treating the new season. And if the Cohn-Kane exclusive is any barometer, we're going to see the kind of arresting NHL features never before presented.

Another issue which bears watching is how the high-priced talent -- Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier are two good examples --  perform as analysts.

One critic, who for decades has been associated with hockey telecasts, asks a potent question: 

"After the novelty wears off for Mess and Gretz, the challenge is going to be for both of them to say things which are informative and relevant. They'll have to stay off the marshmallow fluff!"

That's certainly true but ESPN is off to a galloping start. I unequivocally recommend that the very-expert Linda Cohn be moved right up into one of the top -- Messier-type -- chairs so that her wisdom is fully exploited.


THE JIVE: TFR's Glenn Dreyfuss reports the Seattle practice facility was jammed with both fans and media.

Defenseman Mark Giordano, at 37 and a 15-year NHL vet, is the Kraken's elder statesman. That doesn't mean a lack of enthusiasm for Seattle's first-ever day of training camp. "I got up early today," the former Flames captain told a packed media scrum. "I was excited to come to the rink today."

Giordano noted the large fan gathering in the stands at Kraken Community Iceplex, watching drills and listening to the boom of shots hitting boards. "It's been a great atmosphere (in Seattle) ever since the draft." Mark assessed his campmates as highly skilled and underrated. "We have a lot of guys who are pains to play against."

For ex-Islander Jordan Eberle - like the rest of the Kraken - Giordano is one of many former opponents he's getting to know as teammates. "I didn't know Gio was wearing a visor. I hadn't played him for a couple of years." Philipp Grubauer will just be happy when games begin, and Kraken goalies won't have to face playmaking drills solo like they did today. "It'll be easier once we have defensemen to protect us," Grubauer joked.


THE JIVE: Once upon a time, long, long ago, NHL teams kept one goalie on its roster and that was that. Injuries occasionally forced call-ups but essentially the one-goalie system worked. 

But the game has drastically changed and -- despite all the equipment advances -- goaltenders now are being injured at record rates. That means back-ups have to be produced at record rates.

Not to mention back-ups to the back-ups.

Which means that teams such as the Dallas Stars plan to open the 2021-22 season with three goalies on their roster. They include Anton Khudobin, Jake Oettinger and Braden Holtby.

The most interesting one -- at least to me -- is Lakeville, Minnesota native Oettinger who was picked 26th overall in 2017. He's calm, agile and athletic but is he good enough to bump the vets?

Holtby has a one-year, $2 million deal and Cup credentials. Khudobin also delivered playoff heroics. All in all it's an interesting challenge for g.m. Jim Nill and coach Rick Bowness. 


THE JIVE: Did I not warn you that "The Saga of Jack Eichel" will be the longest-running soap opera in NHL history? What's hilarious to me is how those "Inside-Inside-Insiders" haven't come up with any worthwhile Eichel ingredients since oval soap was invented. But just for the heck of it I dashed off Elliotte Friedman' 32,000 points column the other day, and, sure enough, there was a juicy Eichel entry. 

It was easy to find since it was Friedman's number one item. So, I read it and re-read it and was about to do a book report on Elliotte's revelations.

Except -- as we used to say on Delancy Street in Lower Manhattan, 

gournished helfen. Or, to put it on a higher mathematical plane, it was the Square Root of Don Granato. I learned nothing.

Next came another "Insider-Insider,"  the Darren Drege-Pierre LeBrun version; and the soap opera advanced into the same chapter; same old, same old. So, maybe, you, the reader can join this soap-of-all-soaps. How about telling us something like Eichel is threatening to jump to the WHA. (Hmmm; that's not around and he won't go KHL 'cause he doesn't speak Russian. Sherlock Holmes, where are you now that Pat Brisson needs you?


THE JIVE: The NHL's extensive probe of the Sharks' forward based on allegations made by his wife, has concluded. Kane has been exonerated.

The following is the league's statement. 

“The investigation included a detailed review of social media, public data, and court filings from the bankruptcy proceeding initiated by Mr. Kane in January 2021 and his pending divorce proceeding; a review of sports betting data and analysis; and in person and virtual interviews of members of the Sharks organization and others, including Mr. Kane. It should be noted that Ms. Kane refused to participate in the investigation.

“The investigation uncovered no evidence to corroborate Ms. Kane’s accusations that Mr. Kane bet or otherwise participated in gambling on NHL games, and no evidence to corroborate the allegations that Mr. Kane ‘threw’ games or did not put forward his best effort to help the Sharks win games. To the contrary, the evidence raises doubts about the veracity of the allegations.” 

Now, the question is what's next for the gifted forward? Will he show up for training camp? Will San Jose choose to trade him?

Stay tuned!


THE JIVE: Good move or bad move: Blues hire Peter Chiarelli as V.P. of Hockey Ops; Ken Hitchcock, goalie consultant? Two good men; two good moves; What's the scoop on Dominique Ducharme? He's a "Straight Shooter" and will do well with a whole season coaching Habs. What's Bob Murray's first order of business in Anaheim? Fix the NHL's worst power play.


THE JIVE: For starters, you have to like Dubois enthusiasm, starting his first full season in Winnipeg. "I'm back!" he shouts and the hope for coach Paul Maurice and the municipality of Peg is that the ex-Blue Jacket is as good as his word. And I, for one, believe he'll be an asset. As for Laine, a new, non-Tortorella coach will do Patrik a whale of good. 'Nuff said.


THE JIVE: Our man, Alan Greenberg, gleaned a few observations from day one of the Panthers’ training camp.

Ekblad was heading towards a Norris Trophy-worthy season and his Panthers looked like they would enjoy their first deep playoff run in over two decades. It all came to a crashing halt when Ekblad suffered a fracture in his left leg during a March contest in Dallas. It has been a long six months, but the rehab is almost complete.

“I’m about 100%, medically cleared and ready to go.” He referred to the process as “long and grueling.”  With the Panthers being eliminated from the playoffs in the first round the urgency to return was diminished and, as Ekblad explained, “With the extra time we were able to be diligent and detailed and take care of as much as we could up until now.” As for watching from the sidelines, “It was brutal. It was gut-wrenching. Sitting around and watching is not something I’ve ever done in my career. I’ve never had a major injury like this…It wasn’t fun.” In all, he had been off skates for about ten weeks. It was six weeks before he took his first steps – with crutches.

Given the Cats’ improved lineup this year, he echoed what most of the long-suffering veterans have said. “I’ve never been so excited for a training camp before – or an exhibition game…I’m really excited to get going and test my rehab and my preparation.” He explained that he is “not yet perfect” but confident that he could exceed his level of last season.

As far as being 99.9% rather than 100% rehabbed he was non-committal other than to say, “I wouldn’t say it’s performance based. It’s more the fact that certain things take a long time to heal, however they are stable.”

For the Panthers to live up to their lofty expectations this year they need a healthy and high performing Aaron Ekblad.