Kevin Bieksa on Sportsnet playoff coverage. Kevin Bieksa on Sportsnet playoff coverage. (Sportsnet on X/Twitter.)

Heading into Game 4 of the NHL’s Western Conference Final Wednesday, there was a lot of criticism for Edmonton Oilers’ defenseman Darnell Nurse. The 29-year-old Nurse, an assistant captain on the team, has their second-largest salary this year ($9.25 million, behind only captain Connor McDavid), but had been on the ice for 12 more even-strength goals against than for, higher than the leaders on the next three remaining teams combined. That, and some of the specific situations Nurse had struggled in, led to many pieces blasting Nurse, and to his morning media availability getting noted for its brevity:

Nurse’s quick media availability drew him some more criticism ahead of the game. And he got off to a rough start there, being on the ice for the Dallas Stars’ opening goal and then having another puck bounce off his rear past Edmonton goalie Stuart Skinner.

However, Nurse bounced back. He finished with three blocked shots (one of which helped set up a short-handed second-period goal that would prove the game-winner), an assist, and 12 hits, and getting praise from coaches, teammates, and media for his role in the Oilers’ series-evening 6-2 win. And on the post-game show on Sportsnet’s Canadian broadcast, analyst Kevin Bieksa not only weighed in in defense of Nurse, but blasted the Edmonton media in strong terms:

“You think about his day, his morning. He gets to the rink, and he has to meet with the Edmonton meat. That’s what I call the media, because they’re raw, dead, and dumb.”

That drew quite the expression from fellow analyst Kelly Hrudey:

There’s a lot of context to consider here. For one thing, Bieksa has been regularly unafraid to be controversial with his commentary, and that’s worked out well for him since he joined Sportsnet’s NHL coverage in 2020. He was nominated for Best Sports Analyst at the 2021 and 2022 Canadian Screen Awards, and won that title for the first time this week. And while this is still an unusually-strong comment for him, it’s less surprising than it would be from many other analysts.

There’s also Bieksa’s personal playing history. He played for the Vancouver Canucks, a long-time close rival of the Oilers, from 2005-15, before finishing his career with the Anaheim Ducks from 2015-18. He spent plenty of time playing games against the Oilers while with Vancouver in particular, so he’s got some first-hand experience with some of the media he’s talking about (and it’s notable that many of the Edmonton hockey media, in particular, have held their roles for a long time, so it’s not like this is a completely new group from what it was then). And given his fiery and physical play, and his willingness to speak his mind off the ice, he definitely had some notable exchanges with media members, including those in Edmonton.

Beyond that, Bieksa’s playing career as a physical defenseman probably gives him some sympathy for Nurse. And there was a whole lot of criticism for Nurse before this, from “Oilers’ Nurse struggling to find the right mix in his game” (Jim Matheson, The Edmonton Journal) to “Oilers have big problem in the present and future with struggling Darnell Nurse” (Frank Seravalli, Daily Faceoff) to “Kris Knoblauch Quietly Calls Out Darnell Nurse” (Caleb Kerney, The Hockey News).

That isn’t all unfair. As noted, Nurse certainly had had some on-ice struggles in these playoffs, and his big contract does make him a target. But it’s understandable why he wasn’t feeling in his most media-friendly mood Wednesday morning. (And while it hasn’t been specifically brought up here, there is a long history of questionable hockey media coverage of minority players, part of the larger issues brought up by many of those players.)

It’s notable to see Bieksa chime in to defend Nurse and blast the media in such strong terms. And this wasn’t a throwaway comment; Sportsnet’s post-game web story here (“‘A rock’: Oilers’ Darnell Nurse quiets critics with bounce-back game“) also has a long video featuring Bieksa with Ken Reid and Evanka Osmak, where he talks up Nurse’s play in this game and argues that his plus-minus stats don’t tell the whole story.

It can be debated if Bieksa’s commentary on the Edmonton media is fair or not. There are often problems with overgeneralizations, including about cities’ media pools. And criticisms this strong could maybe use more specifics. But this was a snappy line, and it did stand out as pushback on some of the critical coverage of Nurse. And it was certainly interesting to see that level of media commentary on a national post-game show.

[@Flewtt on X/Twitter; image from Sportsnet on X/Twitter]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.