The NHL is back and thankfully, so are the fans. The early returns on the rule changes are positive, so here's hoping television ratings will see a noticeable bump.
But what about the media? Is the coverage better than it was before the lockout, the same, or quite possibly worse?
For now and I stress realistically and optimistically that it is extremely early we appear to have taken a step back.
The print-media scorecard for the Islanders is okay at best. Thankfully, Newsday has always understood the Islander's importance to Long Island and its editors treat the team's beat as a major one. Even on the odd day in-season when he doesn't have an article in the paper, Alan Hahn is all over the team seven days a week. As Hahn continues to grow as a journalist, the Newsday coverage of the Islanders is as good as it's ever been.
You really have to hand it to the New York Post. The paper's sports editors seem to understand New York fans and always find room for the many local pro teams. Even during the Yankee's run and with the NFL getting started, Evan Grossman was dispatched to Yarmouth to cover the Islander's training camp. Except for when we're getting hammered, the team appreciates all the coverage it gets in the Post and the hard work and professionalism displayed daily by Evan. I hope the fans realize this, too, and support the paper.
The Daily News and New York Times, alas, are other stories. I hold out hope that Daily News sports editor Leon Carter will assign a regular reporter to the Islanders beat again now that my Yankees are finished. (I know the Yanks will likely make even more news off-the-field!). If it's Peter Botte, a Long Island guy and a tremendous pain-in-the-neck reporter that's a compliment even better for Islanders fans. I'll be happy to deal with getting Botte's personal calls mistakenly transferred to my hotel room on road trips.
Ah, the Times, they are a changin. This is a heartbreaker for me because I have always loved the paper. But when did they start trying to be a daily Sports Illustrated? Perhaps a better question is, why? The Times covers the Red Sox like they were New York's third baseball team. But anyone in the world with a computer or in New England with 50 cents knows the one-stop source for Sox news is a little daily called the Boston Globe. The Times still has some of the best writers around George Vescey remains one of my heroes and one of the most decent gents you'll ever meet in the business but I don't understand their decision to stay away from the Islanders and Devils lately. I hope we can change their minds.
A real cynic would theorize that the lockout gave many baseball-adoring/hockey-loathing sports editors the perfect excuse to blow off NHL coverage. I really do not hope this is true. It's the job of folks like my colleagues in the NHL office and yours truly to work with the newspapers and build the case for increased coverage. This game is so good that I think we'll be all right.
For now, my advice to Islander fans is to buy Newsday and the Post and watch MSG Network's Sportsdesk and the sports segments on News 12 Long Island (as the ad goes, ONLY ON CABLE.) Now that NBC has the national contract, I suspect our friends at Channel 4 like Len Berman and Bruce Beck may ramp up their hockey coverage even more. Also take comfort that, in Howie, Joe and Deb, along with JW and Kinger, I'll take our broadcasters over anyone in New York. The only announce teams you could even try to argue with me about are the Met's radio tandem of Cohen and that guy Rose, or Sam and JD.
Fans can make a difference by contacting newspaper editors and letting them know you want more coverage of your favorite teams. Every paper in town has a website with the appropriate contact info. It couldn't hurt.
As we try to win the prodigal press back, our emphasis remains on placing the Islanders in non-traditional media outlets. Our brief bit on œThe Apprentice, in which we received some bonus exposure because one of the contestants got hurt, is a recent example. Hey, if someone has to break an ankle for the Islanders to get some coverage, so be it.