The Watermark: Doc, Kovalev, Isles' Dynasty, and MLS

The Watermark is a free-flowing, frequently exasperated weekly column concerning the NHL and its media coverage. If you come across something relevant to the NHL and media coverage, please do send the link over to [email protected].

This did not happen this past week, but I’d be stupid to not spend some words on Mike “Doc” Emrick stepping down from his position as the only good thing about watching the Devils, in order to focus entirely on his commitment to NBC and Versus/NBC Sports Network.

Doc Emrick is not the voice of the NHL, but of the hockey fan. He works the microphone like you’re listening to the game on the radio, not watching it on TV. His voice flows parallel to your increasingly erratic pulse during the course of a game. The man has done more for verbs and adjectives than his now former booth-mate, Chico Resch, has done for being befuddled and amazed by the simplest of hockey plays (for those who don’t know, imagine a man who consistently reacts to an ordinary chest-save as if it’s Richter/Bure penalty shot).

This is an extremely lavish and verbose way of saying that I truly enjoy Mr. Emrick’s work. I am glad that he has chosen to focus on committing fully to NBC. Congratulations sir, and please do keep it coming.


Alex Kovalev vs. the World…

…or just one of his evil exes. On his way out the door, on to the plane, and across the pond back to Russia, Alex Kovalev decided to take some shots at the Ottawa media.

“My opinion of Ottawa journalists is that they don’t watch hockey at all. When they fly with the team and go through [the metal detectors] at an airport, their bags are filled with beer. You realize right away what these people do when they write about the NHL.” - Alexei Kovalev, translated by Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov

Anyone else having a mental image of a journalist’s suitcase accidentally ripping open to unleash an avalanche of Labatt Blues on to the airport floor? Also, anyone else having the sudden urge to visitOttawa? While we’re at it, anyone else surprised that they’d ever consider visiting Ottawa?

Let me first say, I am and will always be a fan of Kovalev. As an unabashedly pathological fan of the Rangers, I got a soft spot for, until now, the last remaining member of the fabled ’94 Cup team still playing in the NHL.

But calling out Russian players for being enigmatic has become one of the most tired arguments in sports. I am not saying they are or aren’t, but it’s a narrative that is more of a media construct than anything else. So I understand the visible frustration of a highly talented veteran having to leave the NHL after enduring almost two unproductive years while constantly being questioned about his effort. It’s a label that sticks and has done so in Kovalev’s case for a large portion of his career. And it’s unfair. Just as you can’t judge a player by his best game, you can’t judge him by his worst. In such a fluid sport, it’s lazy to simply attribute inconsistent performances on the player being an “enigma.”

When the news got out, it was only going to be a matter of time before somebody from the Ottawa media responded. Bruce Garrioch did not disappoint:

“Of course, Kovalev has left many a GM needing a drink after watching him perform and somebody should let him know you can’t get beer past airport security.” - Bruce Garrioch, Toronto Sun

Come on Bruce, lighten up. Don’t strike down the man who made the Ottawa media infinitely cooler than you guys have any right to be. Plus, noting the difficulty of the offensive act that someone accuses you of isn’t the best way to play defense. It just implies that you might actually have at least considered trying to do it.

In the end, it’s not a big deal; a barely controversial story in the least exciting month of the year. Even though they are dime a dozen nowadays, break-ups are tough, especially when Labatt Blues are involved.


This Week in… Shut up, ESPN

Ahem. “Did the Islanders have the best non-Yankees dynasty in New York sports?”

There are two ways to answer this. 1: Yes. 2: Yes, because there are no other New York dynasties you stupid morons.


This Week in… Guys, We’re Super Serious about this Sports Channel

NBC Sports inked another sport/league to their lineup this past week by agreeing to terms with MLS to broadcast games starting in 2012. Specifically, the broadcast deal is for three years and will cover 45 MLS games and four U.S. Men’s National Team contests per season. When broken down, NBC will televise two regular-season MLS games, two playoff games, and two USMNT appearances, while the newly formed NBC Sports Network will take care of the rest. While ESPN will still hold ownership of the MLS Final, this is a legitimate step in increasing exposure for American soccer and viability of NBC’s newly invigorated sports division.

This is all well and good, but how does it help the NHL?

The broadest answer is also the most significant: where NBC goes, so does the NHL. As it has been noted time and time and time again (even by me), with their new ten year media agreement, the NHL’s potential for growth is very much tied to the success of NBC’s new media offering.

If NBC has any serious hope of contending as a viable alternative to the ESPN/ABC behemoth, they need to expand their coverage. Outside of the NHL and their weekly NFL game, exclusive rights to a no-longer-relevant-and-overly-self-important football program (hello Notre Dame), a relevant-once-every-other-year sporting festival (what’s up, Olympics?), fringe sports (bull riding!), and golf aren’t going to cut it. To establish true legitimacy, NBC Sports needs to be a home for all sports, not just specific ones here and there. This deal with Major League Soccer is solid step forward in that direction. It shows that the network is serious about competing with ESPN for space in the sports television landscape.

Eventually, they will need to make a play for even partial rights for NBA and MLB coverage. After all, a presence in the coverage of all four of the major U.S. sports leagues is a boast that even ESPN can not make.

And you know what? On a more specific level, coverage of multiple sports also provides a fantastic opportunity to cross-promote to a built-in audience. In fact, it is one of the surest ways to grow your audience. For example, if I’m watching a hockey game, and I see an ad for an upcoming football, soccer, or baseball game that strikes me as compelling, you bet I will watch. However, the opportunity has to be there for me to find out about it. A lot of us do not necessarily have the time to be actively searching for the next intriguing sports game to watch on TV. What is regularly covered and promoted is what will be consistently watched.

It has been the biggest hindrance to the NHL post-lockout. ESPN is as much a business (arguably more so) as it is a news institution. As much as we (rightfully) decry it for minimizing its coverage of the NHL, it just makes great business sense. They do not pull in any profits by promoting and covering the NHL. So they will give it as much or as little attention as they need to get the information across, but they won’t prioritize it over a sport or league that actually nets them some green.

Therefore, by bringing in Major League Soccer and their fervent fanbase, and assuming they do the smart thing and eventually sign deals with the NBA and MLB, NBC can promote their NHL content across all the different pockets of sports fans that would tuning in. They wouldn’t prioritize one league or sport over the other simply because they wouldn’t have to. It would be just good business.


Sahil is counting down the days until the season starts and he can start bringing in video clips of Milbury and Roenick into this column. You can follow him on Twitter @sahilness.

Tags: Alexei Kovalev Doc Emrick ESPN MLS NBC New York Islanders

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