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ESPN reveals its World Cup of Hockey coverage plans

One of the biggest storylines from the revival of the World Cup of Hockey is the revival of the NHL’s relationship with ESPN. 

It’s not always been the smoothest relationship: The lowball offer that led the NHL to cast its lot with Comcast and NBC; the lack of coverage through the years because it wasn’t an ESPN rights property; and, going back a few years, the way hockey was shoved aside for flavor-of-the-minute things like poker tournaments, irking fans.

So what will the coverage look and sound like when the World Cup returns to the World Wide Leader in September?

ESPN released the details on Monday:

NHL studio analyst Barry Melrose, SportsCenter anchors Steve Levy and John Buccigross and former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes will call ESPN’s telecasts of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre from September 17 – October 1.

A minimum of 16 games (17 if the final goes three) will be televised.

In addition, Hall of Famers and former NHLers Chris Chelios and Brett Hull will join ESPN to provide studio analysis and work with hosts John Saunders, Adnan Virk and John Buccigross. Leah Hextall will serve as an ice-level reporter for each game. SportsCenter anchor Linda Cohn will provide features.

Mark Gross, ESPN senior vice president production and remote events, said, “ESPN’s commentator team brings together a stellar combination of hockey knowledge and experience from Hall of Famers to seasoned play-by-play voices, analysts, reporters and hosts. The World Cup of Hockey 2016 will feature the best players from around the world and will create an environment of international competition and pride in country. Our team of commentators will capture that emotion and provide in-depth analysis from diverse perspectives that fans at home expect.”

Melrose and Levy will call all of Team USA’s games as well as both semifinals and the best-of-three finals. The duo has reported from every Stanley Cup Final since 1994.

Buccigross and Weekes will call the remaining games. Hull, Chelios, Saunders, Virk and Buccigross will work in the studio during the tournament.

Levy and Melrose have time-tested chemistry, even when they were attempting to do KHL games from Connecticut during the lockout. If nothing else, it’s great to see them, Buccigross, Saunders and Cohn get rewarded for soldiering on as the voices of hockey as after ESPN lost the NHL rights.

Weekes is one of the best analysts in the game when it comes to breaking down the game, which is why he works so well on NHL Network. I do wonder, though, with Melrose and Weekes if we’re loading up the analysts side with some, shall we say, calmer demeanors. Guess the action will speak for itself.

On the studio side, I don’t get it.

Like, I do get it: Hull and Chelios are both World Cup of Hockey veterans, but this isn’t really the World Cup of Hockey they played in, unless I missed the Europeans Whose Countries Aren’t That Important All-Stars from those tournaments.

Chelios can be engaging and candid, and for a broadcast pitched to American fans he’s a solid choice to that end. His analysis for Fox Sports 1 during the Sochi Games wasn’t all that remarkable.

I’m more than willing to give second chances, which is why I’ll remain open-minded on Hull. But after a strong debut on NBC, Hull went on to become one of the most underwhelming big-name “gets” in recent hockey broadcasting history before leaving NBC after a single season to become Ambassador of Fun for the Dallas Stars.

So this might not be the best Xs and Os tandem for the studio, but could work as a crap-talking flag-waving old-jocks-hating-on-the-newbies duo.

I think.

It’s a little disheartening to see the ESPN press release fail to recognize anyone on the digital side. Craig Custance, Scott Burnside, Pierre LeBrun, Joe McDonald and others have worked incredibly hard to give the brand respectability in hockey circles as the TV side dedicated countless hours to Steph Curry’s shoes and Tim Tebow’s non-existent career rather than hockey. There’s fighting the good fight and then there’s being the only ones on the battlefield. Hopefully they play a significant role in the coverage.

What’s your reaction to the ESPN broadcast team, and what does it need to do to improve your viewing of the tournament?

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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