Quite a week for the NHL, inking a seven-year, $2.8 billion national TV rights deal with ESPN starting next season. That’s $400 million annually — double the current NBC deal — just with ESPN. But the league is also parceling off more rights and three of the next seven Stanley Cup Finals to a secondary bidder. It’s expected those will go to NBC or Fox and bring in $200 million more a year.
So, the league likely tripled its U.S. TV rights revenue. That should help team owners struggling with COVID-19 shortfalls, and it won’t hurt player pocketbooks.
OK, enough of that. You didn’t fill my pocketbook but did replenish the Kraken mailbag, so let’s get to your questions.
Q: @_joelperkins asked: Where do the Kraken draft in the regular (non-expansion) draft? Do they at all?
A: Joel, not only will the Kraken get picks in the regular NHL draft July 23-24, but general manager Ron Francis is guaranteed to choose in the top six overall. Just like the Vegas Golden Knights ahead of their 2017-18 expansion season, the Kraken will get the third-best lottery odds of teams vying for the top overall pick.
In odds-speak, the Kraken has about a 10% chance to pick No. 1 overall and a roughly 33% chance at the top three. But you never know. Vegas had an 82% chance to pick top five but tumbled to a worst possible No. 6 once the lottery balls dropped.
I’d venture the Kraken will improve upon Vegas. Also, it will have the third pick in each of the ensuing six rounds.
Q: @CelestialMosh asked: As a diehard fan of the Sonics, Mariners and Seahawks, who’s never been into hockey, what can I do to get myself pumped up for the Kraken?
A: One of the best things about the NHL is the authenticity of the rivalries and the loyalty and passions of various fan bases. Some of those rivalries date back more than 100 years. So if you want to get into the Kraken and NHL, try starting with those. The best thing this year is, divisions are regionally grouped because of COVID-19. Teams play only within those divisions all season, and some rivalries will grow even more heated. In Canada you’ve got Montreal-Toronto, Edmonton-Calgary and Toronto-Ottawa, but honestly, any time Canadian teams square off it’s a big deal because the fans there are so passionate.
In the U.S. you’ve got Pittsburgh-Philadelphia, the New York Islanders-New York Rangers, New Jersey-Rangers and Pittsburgh-Washington out east, Detroit-Chicago in the Midwest and Vegas-San Jose and Los Angeles-Anaheim being pretty good out west. I mentioned only those rivalries because they are grouped within current divisions. Ordinarily I’d go with Montreal-Boston and even the more recent Boston-Toronto as top rivalries when regular divisions are in play. Detroit-Colorado was really good for years as well.
You’ll notice many rivalries are regional, which bodes well for the Kraken and Vancouver Canucks getting into it early. All it takes is one incident or a huge series, and, well, NHL fans hold grudges.
If you go on YouTube and scroll to the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, you’ll see why these rivalries occasionally wane but never vanish. Watch the third period and overtime of Game 7 between Montreal and Boston in the 1979 semifinals to figure out why generations in Beantown absolutely hate the Canadiens. Check out the regulation finish plus the overtime of the Islanders-Rangers decisive Game 5 in the opening round of 1984 for some of the best hockey you’ll ever see. To see the origins of the Detroit-Colorado feud, watch the Claude Lemieux hit on Kris Draper in Game 6 of the 1996 conference final, then the retaliatory brawl from March 1997.
For more recent rivalries, catch the third period and overtime of Vegas-San Jose in the 2019 opening round, when the Sharks overcame a 3-0 deficit and eliminated the Golden Knights in shocking fashion. Or, the third period and overtime of Game 7 between Boston and Toronto in the 2013 opening round, when the Maple Leafs colossally choked up a 4-1 lead.
Among the best documentaries exploring the passion of a hockey fan base is “Road to Victory: The 1994 New York Rangers Story” chronicling the first Stanley Cup on Broadway in more than a half-century. You also can’t go wrong with “The Sweater” — an offbeat animated short film describing the Montreal Canadiens and their importance to cultural life within a French Quebec existing in the shadow of predominantly English Canada. Or, the more recent “The Broad Street Bullies” look at how the expansion Flyers won over the fans of Philadelphia.
Q: @nashman92 asked: A) Will the Kraken have a radio color commentator and B) any idea when a studio analyst and color commentator(s) will be brought into the organization?
A: I’m told the Kraken will hire a radio analyst, and that is expected to be addressed along with additional broadcast hirings in the next few months. One interesting thing to watch will be the TV side. John Forslund is such a renowned play-by-play broadcaster that he can take over a game without help from a former NHL player, which is the traditional booth setup. That could lead the Kraken to consider an analyst without NHL experience. A woman in the booth? Or perhaps someone who is local? Maybe it’s a rotating group. One thing I’ve learned is to never underestimate the Kraken’s desire to try something different. Forslund provides an opportunity to go bold.
Q: @joelperkins asked: Also, have you ever been an NHL beat writer before. If not, are you excited for it? More so than writing baseball?
A: You’re double-dipping, Joel, but my first answer was short so I’ll give it to you. No, I’ve never covered the NHL as a beat writer. But I came real close.
Back in 1996, the reason I left the Montreal Gazette’s news section and joined the paper’s sports department was because I’d been promised the Montreal Canadiens beat-writing job within another year or so — a dream gig for a kid of 27 who’d grown up in that city. The beat writer since 1955 — no, that’s not a typo — had been the legendary Red Fisher, and the plan was to promote him to a hockey columnist role to get him off the daily grind and more focused on the award-winning features and brilliant commentary for which he was known.
But after a year we had a change in management, and the new boss wanted to keep Red where he was. Less than a year later I was hired by the Toronto Star to cover baseball. So this Kraken beat feels like something that’s come full circle and was meant to be. By the way, Red had always been great with me dating back years before my time in news when I’d sat with him and his wife at a journalism event dinner. I’d even been to his house, a hockey museum of sorts and not something everyone got to see. Funny thing, though, Red notoriously never spoke to “rookies” — be they NHL players or sports department newcomers — so he cold-shouldered me that lone year I spent in sports covering football and awaiting a hockey job that never happened. But then, right before I left for Toronto, Red pulled me aside and said some very kind words I’ll keep private but have never forgotten. Understand, I’d grown up reading the man since about age 7 and watching him on “The Fisher Report” between periods on “Hockey Night in Canada.” I’d modeled the style of my early sports writing after his hockey stories starting as a teenager. So, his words meant everything.
Interestingly enough, Red did become strictly a hockey columnist within a few years and kept at it until retiring in 2012 at age 85. He died three years ago at 91. I keep a signed copy of his autobiography on my home office desk with a personalized note from him — also very kind — inscribed inside.
So this whole hockey thing is quite a personal and special journey. And to answer your question, yes, I am excited about it.