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Sportscasters too shy with opinions

It's a blog, blog world where everybody seems to have an opinion about sports. Except local TV sportscasters.

If any story cried out for a commentary from local TV's sports stars, it was the Black Sunday losses of Sabres co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury to two Eastern Conference rivals, Philadelphia and the New York Rangers.

You might have thought that Channel 2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore, who weeks ago optimistically speculated twice that the Sabres might be able to keep both captains, surely would be animated enough about how foolish he had been made to look by the Sabres brass to say something.

After all, the extra minutes he gets on Channel 2's Sportszone at 10 p.m. on Channel 49 allow time for commentary. But the closest thing that came to commentary Monday was in Kilgore's story introduction when he said the loss of the captains was "viewed as an unmitigated disaster by a lot of Sabre fans."

Oh, really? The bigger question was "What do you think, Ed?" After all, as the senior sportscaster in town, your opinion should count for something.

On an earlier newscast, Kilgore said, "I think everybody needs some positive news," so he speculated that the Sabres would keep restricted free agents Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy. Then he put up a laughable list of available free agents. Sorry, Ed. It wasn't time for some "positive news." It was time for some expert on-air analysis, even if critical of team management.

A day later, Kilgore checked in with this commentary: "I'm sure the Sabres, though, wish they had tried a little harder to sign Drury and possibly Briere before that." You think?

Channel 7's John Murphy's Monday commentary also was restricted to his story introduction. "It looks like the Stanley Cup window has closed for the Buffalo Sabres," said Murphy. "Sabre fans expect the club to take a few steps back."

And what do you think, John?

Channel 4's Dennis Williams and Paul Peck were off Monday, leaving Robin Adams to cover the story. Rather than give her own opinion, Adams took the safe route. She headed to the Amherst home of Hockey Night in Canada analyst Harry Neale for his diplomatic analysis.

Back when sportscasters believed commentary was in the job description, retired sportscasters Rick Azar of Channel 7 and Van Miller of Channel 4 might have had more to say on the day after one of the biggest disappointments in Sabres history. The soft coverage of the lost captains highlighted the changing times in local sportscasting.

Oddly, the general assignment TV reporters covering the story provided tougher commentaries just by the hard-hitting questions they asked. Channel 4 laughably sent investigative reporter Luke Moretti to the Sabres news conference. He directed a tough first question to Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier and managing partner Larry Quinn: How could they let it happen?

It was such an incredibly naive question from a grandstanding reporter that Quinn initially wondered aloud if he should answer it. But give Moretti some credit. He later asked the question that elicited the most memorable quote of the day. It proved once again that sometimes the dumbest questions get the best answers.

Moretti wondered if the Sabres would be more or less competitive without the captains. The answer was obvious, though Quinn didn't appear to want to answer it. Then Regier stepped in and shockingly gave an honest answer -- that the team wouldn't be as competitive without them. He added some positive spin. But Regier's honesty was so shocking that I suspect Quinn was surprised by it. Regier's body language also suggested that he was in as much anguish as Sabres fans and couldn't deny it anymore.

Channel 2 reporter Scott Brown later asked an equally naive question -- whether Sabre fans who bought season tickets on the assumption the captains would be back -- can get their money back. Quinn deflected that one as easily as Sabre goalie Ryan Miller deflects 50-foot shots. No refunds.

One could only wish the station's sports departments included staffers willing to deliver commentaries as hard-hitting and as passionate as the questions posed by Moretti and Brown on Monday.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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