Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I know hockey isn't that popular, but this is ridiculous....

I hadn't realize how poorly the Washington Post covers hockey until I picked up the Post sports section this morning. After reading the coverage of the Caps' win yesterday, I looked for coverage of yesterday's outdoor hockey game in Buffalo and found...a photo. Okay, there was one paragraph and a box score, too, which mentioned that the game was outdoors and Sidney Crosby scored the winning shootout goal. And that was it. Nothing on the atmosphere of the game, how the weather affected the players, etc. I thought the game, though it had some faults--the frequent stoppages to fix the ice slowed the game down too much--was pretty cool, and I figured others, even people who aren't hockey fans like me, would have found it interesting enough to give it some coverage.

And I was correct, except for the Washington Post. had a couple articles on the game and gave it a prominent place on its Website (the box above the headlines) on Tuesday. also gave it top placement in its headlines Tuesday and Wednesday morning. The New York Times had a staff-written article on the game and a column about the TV coverage. The Washington Times had TWO wire-service articles on the game, one on the game itself and another on the tailgating beforehand. My dad's in Florida, and he said even the Miami Herald had a fairly lengthy wire story on the game. And in the Post, we got a photo... oh, and a paragraph. And I shouldn't forget the box score, too.

This is just the latest in a series of oversights by the Post in its hockey coverage. Tarik El-Bashir does a fine job covering the Caps beat in the paper and on his blog. And Dan Steinberg has written some great stuff about the Caps over the last year on the D.C. Sports Bog, including some recent entertaining posts about new coach Bruce Boudreau. But outside of that, it doesn't appear that anyone at the Post even knows hockey exists. No Post columnist (not Wilbon, not Mike Wise, not Tom Boswell, not Sally Jenkins) has written a column about the Caps since, if my memory is correct, last January. (It may actually be December 2006, but I can't confirm that because the Post columnist archives don't go back that far.) Even more troubling, this hockey ignorance has led to the Post missing great story opportunities over the last two years that involved former Capitals players--for reasons that I can only surmise are a lack of knowledge of the league and the Caps' history.

Bengt Gustafsson, one of the most popular Caps players ever, coached Sweden to the gold medal at the 2006 Olympics. The Post covered the hockey tournament, but never wrote anything about Gustafsson's history with the Caps, interviewed him about memories of Washington, etc. I'm not even sure if the paper even mentioned Gustafsson's Washington connection. At a time when one can get coverage of sports from so many TV and Internet outlets, this kind of local coverage is what can distinguish a local newspaper and make it essential to its readers. But we didn't get it from the Post.

Perhaps even more inexcusable, when Scott Stevens was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this fall, it got a couple sentences in the four or five paragraph article that made the Post about the Hall of Fame induction. This was amazing. Scott Stevens played more than a third of his career with the Caps, in the heyday of the franchise--when they made the playoffs every year and often finished in the top five of the league in the point standings (although they managed to find some ridiculous way to lose in the playoffs before they should have.) Scott Stevens, with his puck-handling skills and his legendary hip checks, was one of the most exciting players to ever suit up with the Caps and could probably still be called the second-best defenseman that ever played for the team (after Rod Langway). And yet the only mention of his Hall of Fame induction in the Post came in an article which devoted much more space to Mark Messier. No one at the Post could write a remembrance or tribute to Stevens--no one even bothered to even print his stats from his time with the Caps.

When the NHL came back from its extremely ill-advised lockout three years ago, the Post appeared to make a decision--it would cover the Capitals but would not cover the rest of the NHL. So that has meant that it won't send a staff writer to cover the NHL playoffs if the Caps aren't in them. And any time there is any actual NHL news that doesn't involve the Caps (a trade, a suspension, a rule change, whatever), it ends up buried somewhere in the Sports in Brief column--between the results of some tennis tournament in Monaco and the European soccer league scores. This even though we have arguably the best player in the NHL playing in Washington. The only staff or columnist articles it has run about the NHL, in general, have been about how nobody is paying any attention to the NHL.

Post editors have defended this decision based on things such as TV ratings, although they sent a reporter to Japan last summer to cover the World Track and Field Championships, which didn't exactly light up the Nielsens either. In that case, I suppose they thought that event was an important sporitng event that deserves coverage--and I actually agree. I'm just not sure why they've decreed that hockey is so unimportant that anything but last night's Caps game is not worthy of coverage. Maybe the pretty good ratings for the outdoor game--the highest TV ratings for an NHL regular season game in more than 10 years--will change their mind.

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