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Saturday, March 2, 2024

ESPN Should Elevate Mark Messier To Succeed Barry Melrose

  • Messier captained two NHL teams to Stanley Cup titles.
  • Legendary analyst Melrose stepping away amid a battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Messier Melrose
ESPN Images

Replacing Barry Melrose will be difficult for ESPN. But the network would be wise to elevate Mark Messier to lead studio analyst for its hockey coverage.

The six-time Stanley Cup champion with the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers was one of the most popular players ever — particularly in the Big Apple, where “The Messiah” rescued the Rangers from a 54-year title drought in 1994.

As the only player to captain two teams to Stanley Cup championships (the Rangers and Oilers), Messier’s leadership abilities are legendary. The 62-year-old analyst has loosened up and gotten better on TV.

With ESPN only in the third season of a seven-year, $400 million a year rights deal with the NHL, the network has to step up and make a strong talent statement. 

Warner Bros. Discovery Sports’ TNT, the NHL’s other national TV partner, has made Messier’s former Oilers teammate Wayne Gretzky one of the mainstays of its hockey studio coverage. Countering Gretzky with Messier would be a smart strategic move by ESPN. 

As ESPN televised the Opening Night of the NHL’s 2023-2024 regular season Tuesday night, there was Messier on “The Point” pregame show with Steve Levy and P.K. Subban.

No less than TNT’s legendary Charles Barkley called Melrose “the best analyst” on TV. Levy led a moving tribute to his longtime colleague and friend. 

“Barry Melrose belongs on the Mount Rushmore of ESPN analysts,” he told viewers. “I’ll let you in on a little secret: Producers always said pound for pound he’s the best. Why? Because regardless of the time of day, you could always count on a yes from Barry.”

The 67-year-old Melrose announced Tuesday he’s stepping away from ESPN due to a battle with Parkinson’s disease.

With his long hair, flashy suits, and big cigars, Melrose brought a swag and big personality to ESPN’s hockey coverage for nearly 30 years.

The former Los Angeles Kings head coach joined the network in October 1996, calling regular season and playoff games for ESPN and the former ABC Sports.

Melrose left in June 2008 to coach the Tampa Bay Lighting for a brief stint. He returned on January 1, 2009 – and has been a mainstay ever since, especially during the 17 long years when ESPN didn’t have NHL rights.

“I’ve had over 50 extraordinary years playing, coaching, and analyzing the world’s greatest game, hockey,” Melrose said in a statement. “It’s now time to hang up my skates and focus on my health, my family, including my supportive wife Cindy, and whatever comes next.”

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