The U.S. NHL media rights contract is through two years in its seven-year deal with ESPN and TNT. After two full seasons, we have assessed both networks’ approaches to televising the league. Following NBC’s presentation of the NHL from 2005 through 2021 would be a tough act; however, like the NBA, TNT has outpaced ESPN in its coverage both in the studio and the in-game presentation.
TNT went with NBC stalwarts Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, Keith Jones, Liam McHugh, and Anson Carter to make a smooth transition for fans. It also called on Brendan Burke, Alex Faust, and John Forslund as secondary play-by-play men, all of whom were heard on NBC’s coverage. In addition, TNT also tapped former ESPN’er Darren Pang as an analyst.
As for ESPN, the Worldwide Leader elected to go with Sean McDonough and Ray Ferraro as its top team, Bob Wischusen and Brian Boucher on its “B” announcing team with John Buccigross, Mike Monaco, and Leah Hextall as its other play-by-play announcers.
Reaction to McDonough’s selection as ESPN’s top NHL announcer was a head-scratcher to many hardcore hockey fans. Unlike TNT’s Albert, McDonough had not had a long history with the NHL, although he was praised for his play-by-play of the 1998 Nagano Olympics hockey tournament for CBS and had called some games for ESPN from 2000-2003. McDonough’s calls of baseball, college football, college basketball, and golf are solid. Still, hockey is definitely his weakest sport, especially when he attempts to do some storytelling or converse with Ferraro. That is when he tends to fall behind on the action and has to work to get even with his play-by-play.
Albert, Olczyk, and Jones thrive when the analysts combine on replays.
What a BLAST by Jarvis ?
Canes take the lead with 11 seconds left in the first pic.twitter.com/9pbvAiYzKJ
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) May 19, 2023
You can hear the experience and chemistry among the partners there. Albert kept quiet for a few seconds after the goal, then Edzo came in for the first replay, followed by Jonesy. They did not step over each other, allowing for a cohesive broadcast.
The studio panel can have fun like the Inside the NBA crew but can also break down plays like a penalty that wasn’t called in the Panthers-Maple Leafs series.
Should this have been a penalty? ? pic.twitter.com/HcvaxM9ltF
— NHLonTNT (@NHL_On_TNT) May 8, 2023
And bringing Henrik Lundqvist full-time to the show after Rick Tocchet went to coach Vancouver has allowed the studio to go over goaltending styles.
— NHLonTNT (@NHL_On_TNT) May 18, 2023
ESPN’s studio is mainly led by Steve Levy, who could have easily been ESPN’s top NHL play-by-play man. Buccigross is also good in the studio and can lead a panel discussion with analysts Mark Messier, Chris Chelios, and P.K. Subban. However, the studio analysts are not as strong as TNT’s, and with Chelios not returning next season, ESPN’s NHL panel will be a little weaker unless Boucher is pulled from the game analysis.
Where ESPN shines over TNT is its show In the Crease on ESPN+, hosted by either Arda Öcal or Linda Cohn. It goes online after the last regular season or early round NHL Stanley Cup Playoff game; the show brings highlights of every game and does it in a no-nonsense manner.
TNT has managed to not only bring fun to its studio in the manner of Inside the NBA, but it can also be serious when necessary. Liam McHugh has managed to allow the panel to go back and forth and rein in the analysts. Paul Bissonnette of the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast brings some zaniness by meowing. Overall, the NHL on TNT studio outpaces ESPN. It’s close, but we give it to TNT based on the consistency of the cast. ESPN tends to mix and match its studio.
The NHL on TNT will lose on-ice analyst Keith Jones, who is now the President of Hockey Operations for the Philadelphia Flyers. TNT could tap Darren Pang to replace him, not miss a beat, or choose to have Albert and Olczyk work with Jackie Redmond as its rinkside reporter.
TNT has proven it deserves to be in the hockey business. From its game production to its studio show, the NHL on TNT has become a comfortable fit for the NHL.