Mike Milbury out as NBC hockey analyst after 14 years

NHL analyst Mike Milbury is out at NBC after 14 years with the network. The news came on Monday as NBC unveiled its game and studio commentary lineup for the 2021 NHL season, and Milbury was conspicuously absent.

“We are grateful to Mike for all of his contributions to our coverage for 14 years,” NBC Sports said in a statement. “But he will not be returning to our NHL announce team. We wish him well.”

Milbury, the former Boston Bruins and New York Islanders coach and GM, was pulled from NBC’s Stanley Cup playoff coverage in August after his on-air comments about players not being as distracted in the league’s bubble because no women were there in the league’s bubble.

Milbury and analyst Brian Boucher were discussing the benefits of the NHL’s playoff bubble during the broadcast of the Islanders’ series-clinching win over the Washington Capitals.

“If you think about it, it’s a terrific environment with regard to — if you enjoy playing and enjoy being with your teammates for long periods of time, it’s a perfect place,” Boucher said.

“Not even any woman here to disrupt your concentration,” Milbury responded.

The NHL condemned the comments as “insensitive and insulting.” The league said it communicated its concern to NBC, its U.S. TV partner.

In a statement released through NBC Sports shortly after, Milbury apologized for the incident.

“It was not my intention to disrespect anyone,” Milbury said in the statement. “I was trying to be irreverent and took it a step too far. It was a regrettable mistake that I take seriously.”

Milbury had been flagged for insensitive comments several times during his tenure at NBC, including other instances last season. In a qualifying-round game between Pittsburgh and Montreal, Milbury said playing in an empty arena was like being at a college women’s hockey game.

NBC’s broadcast lineup features other tweaks in 2021. Mike “Doc” Emrick, the preeminent voice for NHL games on NBC and NBC Sports for 15 years, announced his retirement in October. Kenny Albert, Brendan Burke and John Forslund were all named on the top billing for play-by-play roles in Emrick’s absence.

The network also announced it was bringing in out-of-work coach Mike Babcock and retired NHL veterans Ryan Callahan and Dominic Moore to contribute to studio coverage.

Babcock is the Stanley Cup-winning former coach of the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. He was fired by the Leafs in Nov. 2019, during his fifth season in Toronto.

Babcock’s hiring by NBC isn’t without controversy, however. Following his dismissal in Toronto, stories of his mental abuse of players began to circulate. Former Red Wings star Johan Franzen discussed having an emotional breakdown on the bench due to Babcock’s bullying, calling him “a terrible person, the worst I have ever met.” While with Toronto, Babcock made rookie Mitch Marner create a confidential ranking of his teammates based on how much effort they gave on the ice, and then Babcock shared that list with the players at the bottom of the ranking. Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, who played for Babcock in Detroit, said his coaching tactics were not “appropriate or acceptable.”

Flood said Babcock’s reps reached out to NBC before the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that COVID-19 restrictions prevented his participation in their broadcasts. Flood said he has been a fan of Babcock’s work since meeting him in Detroit and was eager to hire him as a studio analyst.

When asked by ESPN if he had discussed allegations of mental abuse of players with Babcock, or if Babcock would address them for the first time on NBC’s broadcast, Flood said NBC “had a full process of conversations, as we do with anyone we bring in on the team” and that “we looked at everything.”

Information from ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski was used in this report.

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