ESPN hosts eventful Expansion Draft for Kraken

Some of the highlights and lowlights from ESPN's first televised NHL event
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By , WGR 550 SportsRadio

For the first time since agreeing to a seven-year broadcast deal back in March, ESPN hosted its first major NHL event on Wednesday night with the Seattle Expansion Draft for the league's 32nd franchise.

Let's just say it was quite an eventful day all-around for the Kraken and the NHL.

While the event did not take place until 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2, the Kraken had a 10 a.m. ET deadline to submit their picks from the 30 teams (excluding the Vegas Golden Knights) participating in the Expansion Draft to the league. In the down time leading up to the event, the picks for all 30 teams ended up being leaked on Twitter from a number of NHL insiders, most notably from Frank Seravalli from Daily Faceoff.

With all the picks made by the Kraken revealed on social media hours ahead of the Expansion Draft, it took most of the hype out of the event. Even after the event, the league made no announcement of any side trades the Kraken made to select or not select a player from a team in the draft.

The Expansion Draft commenced with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addressing the crowd in attendance and, of course, was greeted by Kraken fans with a warm welcome of boos.

Hosting the event on Wednesday ended up being longtime ESPN host and play-by-play man Chris Fowler along with new ESPN NHL analyst Dominic Moore. Moore was a no-brainer to be part of the event with his past experience with NBC Sports, who held the broadcast rights to the NHL from 2005 to this past season.

Fowler, on the other hand, has mainly worked as a college football broadcaster, hosting "College GameDay" from 1990 to 2014, and eventually taking over as the play-by-play voice of "Saturday Night Football" on ABC, as well as College Football Playoff games. In addition, Fowler has called play-by-play for other sporting events on ESPN, including tennis and soccer.

It was quite evident from the start that Fowler was out of his element when hosting a hockey event.

Following the first eight picks of the Expansion Draft for the Atlantic Division, it was time to shift to the Metropolitan Division selections when Fowler mistakenly addressed the Carolina Hurricanes as the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers, of course, is the National Football League franchise based in Charlotte, North Carolina, where as the Hurricanes are based in Raleigh more than two hours away.

The Hurricanes and Panthers then teamed up for some social media fun at the expense of Fowler, changing up their profiles to reflect the mistake.

Later in the evening, Fowler made another gaffe with team names in the NHL, calling the Anaheim Ducks and Anaheim "Mighty Ducks," dating back to their days under the ownership of The Walt Disney Company. He also considered the New York Islanders as a "New York City team" when the team is based out of Long Island.

One way Fowler did make his presence known at the Expansion Draft was by taking some shots at teams around the NHL as they appeared on the board.

It started with the Buffalo Sabres, who were second on the board after Seattle selected defenseman Jérémy Lauzon from the Boston Bruins. Just before the introduction of former Seattle SuperSonics head coach Lenny Wilkens to announce the pick of Will Borgen from Buffalo, Fowler made mention of the "turmoil" within the Sabres organization through their 10-year playoff drought.

The Sabres weren't the only team Fowler roasted, though. He also had plenty to mention with the Toronto Maple Leafs, bringing up the blown 3-1 series lead to the Montreal Canadiens, as well as their own Stanley Cup drought of 53 seasons.

It certainly was a head-scratching decision by ESPN to have Fowler step in to host the Expansion Draft in Seattle over hosts like Steve Levy, John Buccigross or Linda Cohn, who have plenty of experience working hockey broadcasts for the network.

Meanwhile, the rest of the ESPN broadcast of the Seattle Expansion Draft had its ups and downs throughout.

The event itself was electric with the crowd in attendance at Gas Works Park in Seattle. The Kraken were also able to have six of their selected players in attendance, including forwards Jordan Eberle (New York Islanders) and Brandon Tanev (Pittsburgh Penguins), defensemen Jamie Oleksiak (Dallas Stars), Haydn Fleury (Anaheim Ducks) and Mark Giordano (Calgary Flames), as well as goalie Chris Driedger (Florida Panthers).

The lineup of guests to make pick announcements was an impressive one, which included Macklemore, U.S. Olympic women's basketball star Sue Bird, USA Hockey legend and Kraken scout Cammi Granato, Sonics legend Gary Payton, and Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner.

Perhaps the most notable guest appearance was former Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who announced the Kraken's selection of Calle Järnkrok from the Nashville Predators with ESPN NHL analyst Kevin Weekes:

Another memorable appearance, maybe for the wrong reasons, came from Sonics legend Shawn Kemp, who joined Payton on the stage to make the announcement of Seattle's selection of Joonas Donskoi from the Colorado Avalanche:

The broadcast also featured some unique ways the Kraken made their selections around the City of Seattle. This included a trip down to the iconic Pike Place Market, where Weekes assisted in Seattle's selection of Jared McCann from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Some other trips Weekes made around Seattle included the Seattle Aquarium, where an octopus made the selection of Dennis Cholowski from the Detroit Red Wings. He also made stops at the Space Needle, Climate Pledge Arena, and the Virginia Mason Hospital and Seattle Medical Center.

In the overall picture, the Seattle Expansion Draft was not quite the start ESPN wanted to get covering the NHL. The good news is the network will get more chances over the coming days to make up for the shaky start.

ESPN will host the NHL's 2021-22 regular season schedule release on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET, while also carrying Round 1 coverage of the 2021 NHL Draft on Friday starting at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

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