Ahead of the 2021-22 NHL season, the league was in-need of a new television partner.

It's long-standing agreement with NBC was set to expire, and with the network actively consolidating its sports presence, the National Hockey League began to pursue new TV partners.

They found not one, but two, television partners, with ESPN and TNT both agreeing to become the exclusive homes of hockey for the next seven seasons. The Worldwide Leader in Sports was considered the "lead" partner, so-to-speak, as they would be responsible for broadcasting four of the next seven Stanley Cup Final series. TNT, meanwhile, would broadcast the remaining three of them.

To this point, ESPN's coverage has been met with a lukewarm response from fans, and incidents like this one, which happened on First Take last week, are prime reasons why fans still aren't completely on-board.

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ESPN's First Take Faces Backlash from Hockey Fans Over Rangers' Comments

A video clip from ESPN's debate-centered show, First Take, began to go viral late last week on Twitter. Specifically, the video began to go viral within the hockey community, which is usually a bad sign, considering how little First Take and hockey tend to intersect.

In the clip, hosts Molly Qerim and Stephen A. Smith are joined by New York Yankees' broadcaster, Michael Kay. The trio is set to discuss which New York sports team will be responsible for bringing the city its next championship.

Michael Kay gave his answer: the New York Rangers. Smith and Qerim responded with this:

So, ESPN pays the NHL $400 million annually to broadcast their games, yet if one of the most popular teams in the league wins a championship, it doesn't really matter? 


Here were some of our favorite responses to the clip:

In the hours following the posting of the viral video clip, Stephen A. Smith took matters in to his own hands. He posted a video on his personal Twitter account, saying the following:

Look, this is a no-win situation for everyone involved. ESPN looks bad, as does Stephen A. Smith, but, the NHL shouldn't be let off the hook in this instance, either.

Of course, the entities that are going to take the majority of the blame for this conversation are Stephen A. Smith, Molly Qerim, and their employer, ESPN. Even if Stephen A. and Molly actually feel this way about hockey, they have a responsibility to ESPN to use their platform to build excitement for the sport, and they failed in that regard.

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On the flip side, however, the NHL does next-to-nothing to make its sport more exciting, or, more accessible to the casual fan. If you're not a die-hard hockey fan, it's easy to get lost in the minutiae of bizarre rule changes, salary cap manipulation, and all of the other issues facing the NHL in 2023.

What Stephen A. Smith said was tough to hear for hockey fans, but the motivation behind the comment has some merit to it. If the NHL wants to be held in the same esteem as the NFL and NBA, it needs to take its game to the next level, and fast.

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