ESPN just gutted its hockey coverage in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs – Chicago Tribune

Sports teams mutate over a decade, and so the Capitals and Penguins – teams that take the ice Thursday night – will bear almost no resemblance to the ones that played here in 2009. That was the first time the Caps advanced to the second-round in the Rock the Red era, and it was the start of hockey taking center stage in D.C. sports – or as close to center stage as it’s ever been.

Only a handful of players from that series were still around last year, when the teams met again, but the continuity for me came in other ways. In seeing some of the same faces in the Pittsburgh media crew. In interacting with some of the same Pittsburgh fans. In revisiting the same ghosts from the 1990s. And in reading Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun.

The ESPN veterans were both at Verizon Center for Game 7 back in 2009, writing about Washington’s stunning collapse. They both were in Pittsburgh when the Penguins finished off the Caps in the second round last season, joining the rest of us hacks in a dive bar a few blocks from the arena after Nick Bonino‘s goal. This might sound silly, but when Burnside and LeBrun showed up in the press box, big events felt bigger, so I assumed I would be seeing one or both of those men as the teams got ready for Round 3.

Then came this week’s massive ESPN layoffs, and I can’t imagine any sport is more rattled by the results than hockey. Not because Burnside, LeBrun and Joe McDonald – who also lost his job – were the most famous or powerful ESPN employees caught up in this restructuring, or whatever the anodyne term is. But rather, because they were so central to ESPN’s relatively small hockey footprint – the sign that America’s most powerful sports outlet still cared, a signal that marked certain hockey events as Big and Important enough for four-letter interest.

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