Two years ago, ESPN signed a large rights deal with the NHL to once again take over as one of the two primary national broadcasters, alongside TNT, after being an NBC property for nearly two decades. While moving back to ESPN meant more SportsCenter coverage, written features on the dot com side, and of course games being shown on the four-letter, it did not change the hierarchy of the network’s flagship morning show.
First Take does not dive into the hockey world, as that is simply not a sport Stephen A. Smith even bothers to pretend to follow. Normally, it’s an unspoken rule, but on Thursday, Michael Kay joined the show and was asked which New York team was closest to a championship. Kay said the Rangers, and promptly got yelled at by Molly Qerim and Stephen A. Smith for daring to talk hockey on First Take, as they explained what they meant was “baseball, basketball, or football.”
It would’ve been very funny if Kay had followed that up by saying the New York Liberty — which would be the objectively correct choice after their summer adding Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones, and Courtney Vandersloot — but he instead went with either the Yankees or the Mets.
As for the reaction from Smith and Qerim, it’s pretty wild considering ESPN is an NHL partner, but at the same time, it’s probably better for them to take this approach than for Smith to fake his way through hockey talk as that’d look even worse. We’ve seen times where Smith wades into waters he’s not entirely familiar with, and it always ends poorly. Those are usually sports he tangentially watches (like college football) but isn’t as dialed on. Hockey isn’t even on that level and as such, they just ignore the NHL. While the league would probably love to get some attention on the biggest sports morning show out there, the alternative would probably be worse.