By Ryan Lambert
Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
In an effort to fill the void in hockey fans' lives and potentially capitalize on whatever vague remaining interest they may have in Alex Ovechkin's exploits — and let's be honest, for almost all of us, that interest is waning about as rapidly as his goal totals — ESPN recently announced that it would begin airing KHL games on whatever it's calling its ESPN3 platform these days.
In addition, they will also air a game on ESPN2 — actual hockey on an ESPN television property! — at 1 p.m. Tuesday, and then again at 8 p.m. that night.
A great idea for disenfranchised hockey fans in theory. Hockey fans are starved for the sport, since the season was meant to have started in just five days, and apart from the AHL, which has its own broadcast things going on, the KHL is undoubtedly the best league on the planet. As an added bonus, it has no connection with the NHL, with which the Worldwide Leader in Sports is current embroiled in a bit of a Cold War, but does feature a number of very recognizable NHL players.
Alex Ovechkin is one. Jakub Voracek, Zdeno Chara, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Pekka Rinne are others. These are people ESPN knows hockey fans might tune in to see. At least they could be. Maybe. If fans are really bored.
The problems with this whole thing are three-fold, and each is why it's odd to me that ESPN would pursue this other than as an "eff you" to the NHL.
(Coming Up: Bobby Ryan calls out the Euro NHLers during lockout; Bryz says KHLers might not return; Nathan MacKinnon's brilliant goal; Nashville, Carolina keep the fans engaged; Mikhail Grabovski's apathy; Blackhawks on the fence about leaving; Mikael Granlund and Alex Steen, killin' it; Kevin Bieksa is charitable; Braden Holtby is human after all.)
1. It is almost exclusively showing games for Ovechkin's Dynamo Moscow.
Sure he's the biggest name over there right now, but he's also the only name I even recognize on it. I tend to follow this sport FAIRLY closely, and this is a bunch of Russian names I've literally never heard in my life. Ovechkin, yes, but also Gynge, Kasanchuk and Pestunov. There are other KHL teams with a larger number of names you and I have heard.
For example, there is Ovechkin's opponents for the TV game, HC Lev, which actually has players hockey fans have heard of if they've been paying attention. Yes, they have Chara and Voracek, but also semi-recognizable names like Martin Skoula, Marcel Hossa, Erik Christiansen, Jiri Novotny, Michal Repik, Tomas Surovy and Jaroslav Svoboda. I don't mean to imply that people are saying, "Honey hold the kids outta school, Petr Vrana's playing this afternoon!" but at least these are names people who've played NHL 09 would recognize, for the most part.
2. Very few people have ESPN3, and those who do probably aren't hyped to watch hockey on it.
This right here says the ESPN3/WatchESPN platform has 40 million subscribers. It was semi-recently crowing about having 108,000 unique visitors watching at least part of a match between Premier League champions Manchester City play Queens Park Rangers.
To put that into perspective, at the time the NHL signed with OLN in 2005, that network had 64 million subscribers. Remember all the jokes then?
3. No one cares about the KHL outside Russia.
Therefore, when the diehardest of diehard hockey fans tune into these games, guess what they're going so see: Ovechkin. And nothing but.
Remember how bad hockey coverage was back in the NHL's OLN days? Every game had Sidney Crosby in it, and every action was viewed through the lens of "How does this affect Sidney Crosby?" You can expect one whole hell of a lot of that come once again on Tuesday, as Ovechkin's every move and lazy backcheck will be dissected ad nauseum. You might get a little of that with Chara as well, in that "Alex Ovechkin and Dynamo Moscow take on Zdeno Chara and HC Lev" way, but make no mistake, they're focusing on Ovechkin because they want you to remember he scored 65 that one time.
The biggest issue for actual hockey fans who might be tempted to watch these games, though, is who's going to be calling them. Steve Levy and Barry Melrose. Both, presumably, have the job because they raised their hands when one of the executives asked a crowded lunchroom who there liked hockey.
For most hockey fans, this pairing is a non-starter. Levy is of course a very familiar face on a network that has largely ignored this sport to the point where mentioning the two in the same breath is, 99 times out of 100, for the sake of a punchline.
Meanwhile, Melrose is known mostly as the guy with the mullet, and, for those with somewhat longer memories, the guy who was hired for name recognition purposes by two of the NHL's more recent incompetent owners, then benched Steven Stamkos, and was predictably fired after 16 games.
Plus, as anyone who has watched the NCAA hockey tournament on ESPN the last few years can attest, he has only the vaguest recognition of players he claims to have watched all season. Listening to him try to figure out all the little accent marks over Czech players names tomorrow might be the only reason to tune it at all.
Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to be able to watch hockey, because I am the absolute target audience here because I would watch you and your friends play hockey on a 13-inch black and white television with a blurry picture.
But the question, for a network that has done all in its power to tell hockey fans to cram it with walnuts for the last seven years, should be whether this is something that appeals to more than a few thousand people who have no lives (again, like me), and the answer, you'd think, is "Of course not."
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Bobby Ryan has no plans whatever to play overseas during this lockout. "I think it's important to stay here (in the United States) and be part of the solution and not just run from it," he said. That's a shot across your bow, Alex Ovechkin.
Boston Bruins: Chris Bourque played his first game for the Providence Bruins in a 4-1 exhibition loss to Springfield. Did you know his dad is legendary Boston defenseman Ray Bourque?
Buffalo Sabres: Zemgus Girgensons is the youngest player in the AHL this season, at just 18 years old. He's 15 days younger than Hampus Lindholm, who's also in the league, which just goes to show that if you're 18 and in the AHL, your name is required to be pretty awesome.
Calgary Flames: The Flames are pretty pumped to have drafted Max Reinhart, who they believe is almost at Sven Baertschi's level of NHL preparedness. That's pretty high praise, but it also doesn't matter since there's a lockout that will probably last the whole season. An extra year in the minors never hurt anyone.
Carolina Hurricanes: This is my favorite link of the week: "Hey just so you know the AHL isn't also locked out. Oh, you weren't aware that the NHL was locked out? Right, I forgot, we're in Charlotte."
Chicago Blackhawks: As with most NHL players who haven't gone to Europe yet Duncan Keith's agent says doing so is still an option if the lockout stretches on. Same for Toews and Kane and Sharp.
Colorado Avalanche: I find it hilarious that Semyon Varlamov went over to Yaroslavl to be the backup to Vitaly Kolesnik. This guy is the future of Avs goaltending?
Columbus Blue Jackets: Those rumors of John Davidson to the Jackets just won't go away, and if he goes there, I expect Scott Howson to be carrying a box with a fern sticking poking out of it out the backdoor of Nationwide Arena within a week.
Dallas Stars: Here's a Q&A with Jamie Benn after he signed with the Hamburg Freezers. After reading it, I was very hungry.
Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: Jonathan Ericsson is yet another player who will go to Sweden during the lockout, but right now he's only committed to playing in three games over there. Seems like the shortest-term deal ever.
Edmonton Oilers: Expect to see headlines like "Oil Barons pummel ______" all season long. Especially because they beat talent-laden Houston Friday night, 4-0, without either Jordan Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Florida Panthers: Florida's farm team in San Antonio is starting to draw some respectable crowds. How respectable? Some 16,151 showed up to see a preseason game last season, and drew 7,134 on average last year. The team hopes to beat that this year.
Los Angeles Kings: Jordan Nolan and Andrei Loktionov are pretty much the only two actual Kings on the Manchester Monarchs' roster, but they also scored the only two goals of a preseason game against Bridgeport, so I guess that's all they'll need.
Minnesota Wild: Despite that first loss to Oklahoma City, Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle might already be way too good to play in the AHL. In Saturday's return engagement, they scored six goals. Four of them were Granlund's in his first semi-official pro game in North America. Doesn't seem fair.
Montreal Canadiens: That "La Tournée des Joueurs" tour is still going very well, and will be at Le Colisée in Quebec City on Thursday. They have 15,000 seats available, and have sold out everywhere else they've gone. Carey Price recently joined the tour too.
Nashville Predators: The Preds are hard at work trying to keep the fans they have engaged even during this lockout. That includes by getting discounts for fans who wear branded merch to local businesses.
New Jersey Devils: Travis Zajac on how the lockout effects his Devils: "We're in an area where there's tons of sports, the Yankees, the Nets, the Knicks, football. All these teams are in competition for fans and it definitely hurts us coming off a successful season like we had." Yeah, the Knicks, Nets, and Jets are really drawing a lot of positive interest.
New York Islanders: Lots of defensive depth in the Islanders' pipeline, if you count Ty Wishart, which you shouldn't.
New York Rangers: Not that it will come as a surprise, but Chris Kreider is officially committed to playing for the Connecticut Whale. "It's still pro hockey. I don't look at it like (this isn't the NHL)," Kreider said. "It's still a huge jump up from where I played most of last year, so I have to be ready and I have to be focused." He'll get big-time minutes in the AHL.
Ottawa Senators: Kyle Turris to Kärpät of the Finnish elite league, where he'll be able to play with Jason Demers and Jussi Jokinen. Exciting times to be a hockey fan. Jeez.
Philadelphia Flyers: Oh, maybe never mind on Jake Voracek playing for Lev on Tuesday.
Phoenix Coyotes: Today is Day No. 59 since Jude LaCava of Fox 10 in Arizona said Greg Jamison would have the deal for the Coyotes sewn up within the next five days.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Speaking of European signings, Dustin Jeffrey might now lead the league in "weirdest." He's going to play with the Tilburg Trappers of the Dutch Eredivisie. The most notable player on that team currently is former decent UNH forward Josh Prudden.
San Jose Sharks: Apparently no one reported on this until now but Brad Stuart got a no-trade clause on his new deal with San Jose. I feel like I knew that though. Someone must have come up with that, right?
St. Louis Blues: Alex Steen is killing it in Sweden so far. Four goals and 10 points in just six games.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts seem to really like having their AHL team start training camp in Newfoundland, as they're now doing it for the second straight year. Their new affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, have 11 players that have gotten into at least one NHL game in their careers.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Mikhail Grabovski says it doesn't matter if the entire season is locked out. Cool, man.
Vancouver Canucks: Kevin Bieksa will host a charity game with a pretty damn good roster. The Sedins, Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra, Max Lapierre, Cory Schneider and Willie Mitchell will all play against UBC on Oct. 17 to raise money for a number of Canucks charities.
Washington Capitals: Braden Holtby got his first exhibition action of the year, giving up two goals on 10 shots against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. "Where was this guy last spring?" wondered the Boston Bruins.
Winnipeg Jets: Andrew Ladd was gonna go play in the KHL but now he's not, for reasons that I should think are obvious.
Gold Star Award
This was a pretty decent goal by future No. 2 overall pick Nathan MacKinnon. Too bad he's no Seth Jones.
Minus of the Weekend
Ilya Bryzgalov says some Russian players might not come back from the KHL after this lockout. "Oh that would be really terrible don't do that," said Ed Snider, probably.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "Vankiller Whale" is on top of things.
To Vancouver: Hossa, Ott 1st, Anderson
To Ottawa: Luongo, Hjalmarssen, Connauton (VAN's best D prospect)
To Chicago: Turris, Lehner, Raymond, Van 2nd
Yes yes yes. Yes across the board.
If you want, you can read a bloated government report on smoking, or go straight to the horse's mouth and get the facts from the tobacco industry.