It started on July 19th, in the middle of the day. I was having lunch at Fuddrucker's. ESPN was showing clips of hockey. I knew it could only mean one thing: Russian superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk had signed with the New Jersey Devils. I was elated that the Devils had somehow managed to keep the high-scoring winger, surprised that they were even still in this (remember when the Kings were the favorites to get Kovy? Hope you enjoyed your summer, SB Nation LA) and shocked at the term and money involved: 17 years, $102 million. Lou considers Jeff Vanderbeek's money his own, so to see him spend it this way was as radical a Devil departure as I've ever seen.
Then, news came of the NHL rejecting the contract on July 20th. Conspiracy theories abound about the NHL trying to screw the Devils over, about Lou talking down the contract to get it rejected, and how the deal was Vanderbeek acting on his own, while Lou subverts everything. Of course, in the end all of this seems unlikely, but it was easy to be rash when the NHL was choosing to do something that seemed so personal and political to affect upon the Devils and their fans, who have always struggled from the worst case of New Jersey's red-headed step-child mentality.
Another month, and we see an arbitration hearing. Then, the surprise of the rejection upheld. I was driving to the Meadowlands to buy Tom Petty tickets when it happened. It seemed I was always missing these big moments in the case. I was determined to be around for the time it was finally decided. I would be there, and be able to write about it, in real time.
Then came Friday, when it was discovered that the NHL and NHLPA were likely to settle. It was a happy day, and I couldn't wait to be around when it was official. It was said it would be done by 5. 5PM passed. A second deadline for 7PM was set. That passed. 8PM deadline passed. Then a 10PM, and a 1AM one. One had to think that they would just try to finish tomorrow, or after the Labor Day Weekend. I had given up all hope and decided to head for slumber at 2AM ET.
A funny thing happened though. I simply couldn't sleep. After about 45 minutes of false starts, I headed back to following the coverage. A few minutes later, it was confirmed. One of the best goal scorers since the lockout would remain a Devil for what seems like the forseeable future. Oh, and hey, hockey season starts in a month. Training camp begins in 12 days, and the preseason's in a mere two weeks! I love life! Yay!
What is the point of all this? Well, the entire time, after that ESPN report of the initial signing, I did not use one traditional, "mainstream" media outlet to find out about the Kovalchuk deal. Not either of the two New Jersey papers, or the myriad New York papers, the regional sports networks. Not even MSG, which covers the team, and apparently continues to exist when hockey isn't around.
I got my news from Twitter, and the startlingly fantastic blog of Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record, with some supplemental rumors from the terrible Mark Everson of the New York Post. Five years ago, news would've traveled at a snail's pace in this case, maybe even three years ago. However, because of modern technology, this may have been the juiciest, most-reported on controversy not involving drugs, death or A-Rod's tongue in years, at least in these parts. It was a sports controversy that actually had something to do with sports!
But largely, the New York media ignored it. MSG Plus, I'm sure, covered it on it's weekly Hockey Night Live's, but it just isn't easy to watch that network between May and September. SNY feigned ignorance and hid apathy by pretty much just not talking about it. Papers like the New York Daily News probably felt it was more a New Jersey story. The Jersey papers did the best they could. ESPN Radio and WFAN don't care about hockey in general. Poor Don LaGreca. This was one of the biggest free agent stories of the summer, that extended past the media's sloppy kisses to LeBron, past the MLB tread deadline, engrossed a lot of people for weeks and weeks, and most papers and networks chose not to care.
It just shows the true divide between the New Jersey teams (soon to be a singular team) and the New York media. I've always felt that the Devils should set a precedent of giving priority access to New Jersey outlets. The two dailies (Newark Star-Ledger and Bergen Record) get precedent before New York papers. Allow News 12 New Jersey an interview with John MacLean on one of their sports wrap-up shows each week, instead of sending him on the ignorant, moronic Mike Francesca show in July. What Tom Gulitti needs should come before what Larry Brooks needs. I hope it is that way right now, because if it isn't, it's not serving the Devils core fanbase.
I like that the Devils have stressed "Jersey pride" this summer. They need to get real and know that only the most diehard Rangers separatist from New York is going to root for them. It'd be better for them to try and invade Flyer territory than attempt to care about New York. Because all we saw this summer was New York failing to care about them, at least in the media.
FOX and ABC: Keeping Us Bored
When you go a month without showing a New York team you have to do a lot to keep attention onto your broadcasts. FOX is not doing a good job with their baseball selections.
Case in point: This Saturday, FOX aired Minnesota/Texas in the New York market over Cincinnati/St. Louis. That's all well and good, as Minnesota and Texas are both likely playoff opponents for the Yankees and a likely great option for New York viewers on a loaded college football Saturday.
But the Twins strutted to a 9-0 lead in the fourth inning, largely courtesy to two Jim Thome home runs. By the seventh inning, it was 12-3 Minnesota, yet we were still watching this dull, listless game. Meanwhile, the Reds/Cards game was 5-1 in the 8th, while Rockies/Padres - another regional option - was at 3-1 in the seventh. Both were likely to finish before FOX's 7PM baseball exclusivity window closed. So, why risk losing viewers on a game that, in the end, is decided and one that New York-area fans really have no stake in?
It just shows that FOX continues to see baseball as it's redheaded stepchild vs. NFL and NASCAR coverage. I guarantee you if Panthers-Giants turns out to be as big a stinker as last year's Meadowlands finale was last season, people outside of New York and Charlotte will be switched away to another tilt as soon as the 4th Quarter begins. It is just a shame that, while ways of keeping baseball on network TV interesting are available, FOX chooses to just live and let die.
Meanwhile, New York viewers were denied an alternate option in another way and in another sport. ABC's college football coverage is one of the last non-NFL/MLB leagues that continue to show regional coverage, but they do it in a different way. When two games are aired on ABC in a regional split, one game will air on ABC in the closest local market, while ESPN2 or ESPN will air the other game. When three or four are air aired, they find the most effective ways to split games.
On Saturday, ABC 7 aired UConn-Michigan, in a continued quest to find a local college football team for the New York area (wherefore art thou, Rutgers?). This was the right decision regardless, as Kentucky-Louisville features only one Big East team and Kansas State-UCLA doesn't really appeal to anyone. Regardless, we were scheduled to get the latter game on ESPN2, yet ESPN2 kept a blackout of the entire channel during that window. There was no explanation for this, and no excuse for this. With the New York market so divided in it's college football loyalties, they deserve to see as many games as possible, not fewer than everyone else.