The Atlanta Thrashers may be no more, but I can still review their year when it comes to television broadcasting. Over the next week or so, I’ll be reviewing each team’s home broadcasts by division. I had the opportunity to see every team’s broadcast multiple times so I think I have a pretty good feel on each. These are all just my opinion. In some cases, better rink side reporting and intermission reports can make a difference too since they make a broadcast more enjoyable. I’ll be starting with the Southeast Division.
ATLANTA THRASHERS – SportSouth/FS South Matt McConnell & Darren Eliot
The Thrashers had an interesting TV history. When the Thrashers were born, they were under the Turner Broadcasting umbrella and aired on start up network Turner South. From there, things went south. There’s no need to re-hash all of the Thrashers’ problems or the cycle of events that caused them – especially on a post about television, but in some ways the struggles for Turner South mirror the problems of the Thrashers.
McConnell was the original TV voice of the Thrashers, only to be jettisoned as the primary play by play man for soccer voice JP Dellacamera. In 2009, McConnell returned as JP went back to focus on soccer. He’s a competent broadcaster and he has starred when doing college hockey games. Yet, he never got into a great rhythm during Thrashers games. Like McConnell, Eliot has been with the Thrashers since the beginning. I’m quite wishy washy on Darren. At times, Eliot is a terrific analyst, while other times I feel like he brings nothing to the table and he bores me to death. Sometimes these two were a little too biased for my taste but it’s a shame that they are now without gigs. Good luck to both of them. GRADE: C+
CAROLINA HURRICANES – FS Carolinas John Forslund & Tripp Tracy
The Canes are blessed with two terrific broadcasters in Forslund and Tracy. Forslund is a holdover from the Whaler days while Tracy has developed into one of the better analysts. There’s a reason that Forslund has been one of Versus’ go-to guys – he’s passionate, accurate, authentic and fun to listen to. Tracy is a good guy who knows what he’s talking about. He’s always full of information and more often than not, is spot on with what he is saying. At times, there is a lull, but overall, Carolina has one of the better teams in the league. GRADE: B+
FLORIDA PANTHERS – FS Florida Steve Goldstein & Bill Lindsay
The Panthers duo of Goldstein and Lindsay are still a little green for me. Goldstein took over for Dave Strader four years ago after being in the radio booth for two seasons. Strader’s shoes are big ones to fill and I’m still not sure if Goldstein isn’t better suited for radio. Lindsay also comes over after a short run on radio. The Panthers let go long time analyst Denis Potvin for Lindsay and it’s hard to say if it’s an upgrade. Quite honestly, this tandem tends to bore me more often than not and they are an interesting contrast to the Panthers’ hyper radio man of Randy Moller. They aren’t terrible, just not very exciting and excitement is needed when your TV ratings are the lowest in the entire league and the team isn’t exactly a strong performer on the ice either. Combine a poor team with average announcing and you get a snoozer. GRADE: C-
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – Sun Sports Rick Peckham & Bobby Taylor
The Lightning have a great broadcaster in Peckham. Peckham is a veteran and he has called games for several different national networks including Versus and there’s a reason for that. He’s just darn good. There’s nothing flashy about the way that Peckham calls a game but he’s great and is perhaps the best guy in the Southeast division. “The Chief” Bobby Taylor doesn’t stand up to Peckham’s level. Taylor isn’t awful, but when you have a guy like Peckham, it’s a shame there’s not someone top notch to match him. Like Peckham, Taylor has had some cameos on national broadcasts, and perhaps, at one time, he was better, but today, he’s sub-par compared to many of the analysts around the league. He needs to step up his game and make their broadcasts appointment listening. GRADE: B-
WASHINGTON CAPITALS – CSN Mid-Atlantic Joe Beninati & Craig Laughlin
This is perhaps the most controversial of the broadcast teams in the Southeast. Beninati was painfully overexposed on Versus and those Geico commercials weren’t helping either. For whatever reason, Joe B. was darn right annoying for most of his Versus run and that’s surprising. It’s surprising because he’s very good doing Caps games. He’s more on point and flat out more enjoyable doing the regional gig. I’m not sure what the difference is or why it is, but it just seems so. Perhaps he has better chemistry here and the fact that he’s not plugging sponsors or “the NHL on Versus” constantly makes a difference. Whatever it is, this is why I started to like Beninati in the first place and why he’s done so many nationwide gigs from college football to lacrosse. Laughlin isn’t as strong but he’s plenty effective as an analyst. He’s good with replays and I find myself usually nodding with approval, to whatever he says. I just find him accurate and that’s what an analyst should be.
The only real minus with this duo are their voices. They can get grating to listen to after awhile but that’s not their fault. The Caps gain some big points outside of their main broadcast team though. Al “Smokin” Koken has been around D.C. hockey for a long time and has been an advocate for the game in the area. He’s a great reporter and was decent as fill in play by play guy when he had to do it. Alan May makes for an entertaining studio analyst and gives me a reason to watch the pre and post game. One thing that I wish CSN would bring back is the “Ovechcam.” Several seasons ago, to help hype #8, they used the CSN Plus feed to show an iso-cam of Alex Ovechkin during several games and it was fun to watch his every move. With CSN’s ratings through the roof, perhaps they feel like it’s not worth the effort but I’d love to see it come back and maybe use it to focus on some of the other Caps stars as well. GRADE: A-