The NHL has finally reached a point in its media coverage where it depends on its knowledgeable fans. During this year's playoffs, we've seen an effort to bring the game back to the mainstream: ESPN producers put hockey talking points in the second (and sometimes FIRST) segment on shows like PTI and Around The Horn. Yet, the panelists are rather blunt about their oblivion in regards to the sport, reinforcing the idea that it's acceptable to dismiss it, as though it were curling or a pool trick-shot competition. And at the end of the day, these lukewarm stabs at relevance do so much less for hockey than an honest evaluation from a true fan. That's why hockey needs Joel Stein on the front lines.
You may remember Stein as the man who told you that you didn't deserve the Ducks. When he wrote that, he was particularly critical of print media, as the LA Times, to which Stein is a regular contributor, no longer followed the Ducks or Kings on the road (and have since consolidated the beat into one writer). "Hockey cuts" are a pandemic in the print world, and Joel now finds himself fighting off the infection.
TIME.com's managing editor, Josh Tyrangiel, recently banned Stein from writing about hockey, declaring the sport "not relevant enough to be in a mass-circulation magazine." The fate of hockey in TIME, the same magazine that once put Bernie Parent on its cover, has been put to a vote. Please vote if you haven't already (please say you have; this story is two weeks old). California and New York have contributed the most voters with an overwhelming stay of execution.
Joel loves hockey, and he's fighting to keep it on the national stage. And having a hockey fan on the national stage is so much more important than having the national stage mention the sport in passing. It's nice to have Wilbon and Kornheiser say a few favorable words about hockey, but ultimately, we know they're not fond of it and can't talk about it intelligently. We don't need those voices, effusing about as much joy and intellect as Bob Costas covering a tractor pull. We need to hear from the people who love hockey, and are dying to tell you about it.
At first blush, that may sound like a blogger call-to-arms. It isn't. Despite the fact that I decided to co-write a hockey blog, I don't think blogs should be the future of NHL coverage. I just think we can do without the sports talk-show hosts nervously discussing hockey out of obligation, as though it were the Kentucky Derby or The Olympics. We need real hockey fans talking about hockey, and we need to support them, far more than we need to clamor about getting onto PTI or the Sportscenter Top 10.