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ESPN lays off three NHL reporters, appears prepared to virtually ignore hockey all together 04.26.17 at 3:58 pm ET
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ESPN is cutting virtually all of its NHL coverage. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

ESPN is cutting most of its NHL coverage. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Hockey diehards often lambast ESPN for skimping on NHL coverage. But now it looks like the WorldWide Leader is preparing to ignore the sport all together.

As expected, ESPN underwent mass layoffs Wednesday, cutting dozens of high-profile employees so it can trim tens of millions of dollars from its payroll. The network’s relatively minuscule NHL department was hit hard, with three respected reporters receiving their walking papers.

NHL Insider Pierre LeBrun, columnist Scott Burnside and Boston-based reporter Joe McDonald have all announced they were laid off. The status of anchor John Buccigross, who plays a significant role in the network’s Stanley Cup Playoff coverage, remains uncertain. The Hollywood Reporter said earlier Wednesday he was let go, but walked the story back. Buccigross’ contract expires July 1 and hasn’t been renewed.

“Whatever happens, I’m very optimistic about the future of ESPN and about my future,” Buccigross told Sporting News last month. “We both will be fine. I’m not the anchor for gossip. I go into work with my head down, work with our producers to put a compelling 60 minutes together, and walk out the door and drive to my rural Connecticut home singing Jason Isbell songs. I get home, eat 10 pieces of American cheese and then read until I fall asleep.”

Given Barry Melrose was the only NHL analyst to receive significant television time, the coverage on “SportsCenter” and other studio shows likely won’t be much different. But the NHL’s limited exposure on ESPN’s digital properties will probably be further minimized.

Since ESPN doesn’t own NHL rights, this decision isn’t surprising. Like every other TV network, ESPN is interested in promoting its own programming.

Read More: ESPN, NHL,
Despite denials, NHL officials discussed links between fighting, concussions in 2011 emails 03.29.16 at 8:58 am ET
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Gary Bettman

Gary Bettman

In a 2011 email exchange recently unsealed in court, several NHL officials discussed a connection between fighting and concussions. The messages were sent in a group that included league commissioner Gary Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly and former head of player safety Brendan Shanahan.

The findings are in direct conflict with statements made by the league during an ongoing lawsuit filed by several ex-NHL players. Following the death of three players in 2011 which were all attributed to health issues, league officials discussed the state of fighting in hockey.

“An interesting question is whether being an NHL fighter does this to you (I don’t believe so) or whether a certain type of person (who wouldn’t otherwise be skilled enough to be an NHL player) gravitates to this job (I believe more likely),” Bettman wrote.

“I tend to think its a little bit of both,” Daly wrote back. “Fighting raises the incidence of head injuries/concussions, which raises the incidence of depression onset, which raises the incidence of personal tragedies.”

What these league officials acknowledged in private, they never have admitted publicly. These recent findings certainly are not a good look for the NHL as it faces a very serious lawsuit.

“I believe the fighting and possible concussions could aggravate a condition,” Bettman wrote. “But if you think about the tragedies there were probably certain predispositions.”

One former NHL player, Derek Boogaard, died after overdosing on prescription pain killers he was given by team doctors and medical staff. His family is fighting the NHL in a wrongful death suit. Some of the messages revealed in these documents comment on the use of such pills.

“This is not the same role as it was in the ’80s and ’90s,” Shanahan wrote. “Fighters used to aspire to become regular players. Train and practice to move from 4th line to 3rd. Now they train and practice becoming more fearsome fighters. They used to take alcohol and cocaine to cope. (Kordic) Now they take pills. Pills to sleep. Pills to wake up. Pills to ease the pain. Pills to amp up. Getting them online.”

The class-action lawsuit against the NHL is ongoing at the United States District Court in Minneapolis.

Read More: Derek Boogaard, Gary Bettman, NHL,
Brain analysis of late NHL player Steve Montador shows signs of CTE 05.13.15 at 10:41 am ET
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Steve Montador

Steve Montador

An autopsy revealed that former NHL blueliner Steve Montador had a degenerative brain disease before he died Feb. 15 at the age of 35 of an undisclosed cause. The disease, according to the researchers who examined his brain, is related to repeated blows to the head.

Montador, who had a brief stint with the Bruins during the 2008-09 season, had multiple concussions throughout his career and had been exhibiting signs of a possible brain disorder, including depression, memory problems and erratic behavior. He had arranged for his brain to be donated to the Krembil Neuroscience Centre when he died, and when it was, the Centre’s Canadian Sports Concussion Project  found that Montador’s brain had “deposits of an abnormal protein that is a marker for [chronic traumatic encephalopathy],” Dr. Charles Tator said Tuesday.

Montador’s family plans to sue the NHL. William Gibbs, a Chicago attorney, said the findings in the analysis made the family more confident of the fact that Montador’s brain had been “decaying due to the head hits he endured during his NHL career.”

“It’s bittersweet,” Paul Montador, Steve’s father, told the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve lost a son, on the one hand. And that can’t be changed. But … it brings some small sense of explanation as to why these things were happening to him — and that he had no control over them.”

Paul added that Steve’s concussions “had significant impact in terms of memory loss, thinking, decision-making — all kinds of things that were difficult for him near the end of his life” and that he would forget things within minutes. Paul also said that Steve was aware of what was happening and “he realized it. He was trying to relate it to the concussions or depression or whatever was causing those things.”

In a statement, the NHL said the league’s “thoughts, condolences and prayers remain with Steve’s family and friends.”

The league also said that it doesn’t “agree that the reports and allegations made [Tuesday] establish any link between Steve’s death and his NHL career.”

Sixteen other athletes’ brains were analyzed by the Sports Concussion Project, and about half displayed signs of CTE or the presence of another neurodegenerative disease.

Read More: NHL, Steve Montador,
NHL realignment would create four divisions, wild card spots 02.27.13 at 8:53 am ET
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The NHL’s new proposed realignment plan would take the league from six divisions to four, with four playoff wild-card spots, according to an ESPN report.

Under the new plan, the top three teams in each division would earn postseason spots, and the remaining four playoff spots would go to wild cards, the two next-highest records in each conference.

The division winner with the most regular-season points would play the lowest-seeded wild card team in the first round of the playoffs, and the other division winner in the conference would play the other wild card team.

The plan still must be approved by the NHL Players’ Association and the NHL Board of Governors. If it is approved, it would go into effect for next season. The plan was laid out in an NHL memo sent to all 30 teams Tuesday, which was then leaked to

The Eastern and Western conferences would be split into two divisions each, with the teams breaking down as follows:

Central Division: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto.

Atlantic Division: Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington.

Pacific Division: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver.

Midwest Division: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.

This is a slight change from the realignment plan that was proposed and approved by the owners in December 2011, which kept Columbus and Detroit in the West. The players blocked that plan, and the two sides have spent the last three weeks working to develop a new one.

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NHL becomes first league to sell sponsorship rights for All-Star Game 11.01.11 at 7:43 am ET
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The NHL became the first team in professional sports to sell title sponsorship rights to an All-Star Game, as the league announced Monday that this season’s All-Star Game will be called the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game.

Tim Hortons is a popular doughnut chain founded by former NHL defenseman Tim Horton, who played for the Maple Leafs, Rangers, Penguins and Sabres over the span of a 25-year career.

As part of the sponsorship agreement, Tim Hortons will receive benefits such as a prominent in-ice brand position, on-air mentions of the brand in connection with the event name and logo and the opportunity to include Timbits Minor Hockey players into promotional activities.

This is not Tim Hortons first foray into NHL sponsorship. The largely Canadian-based chain serves as a sponsor for the Sabres, Flames, Blue Jackets, Red Wings, Oilers, Canadiens, Senators, Maple Leafs, Canucks and Jets.

The game will take place on Jan. 29 at Scotiabank Place, home of the Ottawa Senators.

Read More: NHL, Rumor Mill, Tim Hortons,
Islanders could stay on Long Island, but in a different county 08.07.11 at 8:32 pm ET
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The Islanders appeared destined for a move out of Long Island after Nassau County voters rejected a $400 million plan for a new arena earlier this week, but Suffolk County executive Steve Levy is reportedly interested in keeping the franchise in Long Island.

Levy represents the eastern end of the island, and said he would be open to the idea of moving the team to Suffolk if it benefited the team and the community. Levy reportedly called Islanders owner Charles Wang about the idea but has not heard back as of yet.

The Islanders, who finished last in the Atlantic Division at 30-39-13 in 2010, have a lease on Nassau Coliseum until 2015.

Read More: Islanders, NHL, Rumor Mill,
Winnipeg sells 13,000 season tickets in 17 minutes 06.04.11 at 6:54 pm ET
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It didn’t take long for the NHL’s newest franchise to reach it’s goal for season ticket sales. In fact, it didn’t even take 20 minutes.

The former Atlanta Thrashers set out to sell 13,000 season tickets by June 21, but shortly after fans were able to buy tickets Saturday at noon, Winnipeg reached its goal with ease. According to the Winnipeg Sun, the total reached 13,000 within 17 minutes.

“While I had no doubt the ‘Drive to 13,000′ would reach its destination,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, “the remarkable speed at which it got there certifies the fans’ hunger for NHL hockey and their commitment to True North’s initiatives.”

Read More: Gary Bettman, NHL, Winnipeg,
Atlanta prepared for Thrashers to move to Winnipeg 05.25.11 at 11:04 am ET
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Although the move of the Thrashers to Winnipeg is not official, Atlanta officials are talking like the move is inevitable. The sale could be final as soon as this week.

“It is going to hurt the city but we will withstand it just fine and we will get through it,” Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed said. “We have a lot of positive things going on in the sports franchise space that I think we’ll be announcing pretty soon that will offset it a bit.”

The Thrashers’ average attendance this season was 13,469, which was 28th out of 30 teams. It was also reported that the franchise had lost more than $150 million since 2005.

Winnipeg wants to get the sale done soon. “I think the astute business move would be to get it done ASAP, and to me that’s in the next 48 hours. Before this week is over, for sure,” Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz said.

Read More: NHL, Thrashers,
Sharks coach: Joe Thornton will play in Game 5 05.23.11 at 4:52 pm ET
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According to Sharks coach Todd McLellan, center Joe Thornton will play in Tuesday’s Game 5, after suffering a vicious hit in Sunday’s Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.

Thornton was checked hard into the boards with 10:47 left in the third period by Canucks forward Raffi Torres. Thornton skated for 10 seconds after the hit but then missed the remainder of the game. The Sharks lost the game 4-2, and now trail in the series three games to one.

“When Joe Thornton comes to you and tells you he’s playing, he is playing,” McLellan said.

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Combination of alcohol, oxycodone toxicity lead to Derek Boogaard’s death 05.20.11 at 4:10 pm ET
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The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office announced that Rangers forward Derek Boogaard died as a result of mixed alcohol and oxycodone toxicity and ruled that his death was accidental. Boogaard was taking the oxycodone for pain relief. However, when mixed with alcohol the addictive narcotic can cause severe injury or death.

Boogaard died on May 13 and his family has donated his brain to Boston University’€™s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. He missed most of last season with a concussion. He had been receiving counseling from the NHL’s substance abuse program before he died.

Read More: Derek Boogaard, NHL,