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With the news yesterday that ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose would be leaving the network to take over the head coaching duties for the Tampa Bay Lightning, the one question many had wasn't, "How will he turn that team around?' but instead, "Who will replace him as the Worldwide Leader's main hockey analyst?"

Since 1996, Melrose has been working at ESPN and over the course of his 12 years in Bristol he found himself, much like majority of SportsCenter anchors, going from commentator to character. Melrose became more famous for his mullet than for his thoughts on the hockey world. When news began circulating that the Tampa Bay Lightning and their new owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie were interested in possibly bringing "The Mullet" on board to take over for the dispatched John Tortorella, there were mixed feelings. Some thought it was a good move and others, like James Mirtle, disagreed entirely

One thing is for sure, with rumors circulating about a possible NHL-ESPN reunion in the near future, the network's hockey coverage just took a big blow. Melrose was all over ESPNews on Thursday nights during the season as well as hosting his own weekly podcast with ESPN.com hockey editor Joy Russo. If ESPN is going to get back into bed with the NHL in the future, it'll need its hockey coverage to have a solid cast of opinion makers, just like Melrose provided since 1996.

On that note, who could possibly be in line to take over for Melrose once the puck drops again in October? Vote on the choices below and if you select "other," let us know in the comments who you would like to see head up ESPN's hockey coverage.


[Note: There is a poll within this post, RSS readers. Visit Puck Daddy to cast your vote.]

I don't know any of the contractual obligations for the following people; these are just names to throw out there and see what hockey fans think. Here are snarky bios for our nominees.

EJ Hradek: Best known these days as co-host of XM's NHL Live radio show with Don LaGreca, which is also simulcast on the NHL Network. A senior hockey writer for ESPN the Magazine, Hradek knows the game of hockey (though, not according to this guy) as he was a pro-scout for the Dallas Stars in the mid-90's before joining up with ESPN. With Melrose gone, Hradek is probably next in line since he's been a loyal employee since 1998.

Mike Milbury: ESPN has been known to bring in some analysts who've been magnets for controversy. Michael Irvin, Sean Salisbury, Bobby Knight, Rush Limbaugh, and Keyshawn Johnson are just a few. Milbury is kind of that guy during NBC and TSN broadcasts, always saying outlandish things, and in the end is reminded of his wonderful reign as New York Islanders coach and general manager. He's known as "Mad Mike," but I think there's way too much hatred for the guy to fill the position. 

Ed Olczyk: A knowledgeable hockey guy who's played and broadcasted the game for over 20 years. The color commentator for the Chicago Blackhawks and lead color man for the NHL on NBC and NHL on Versus broadcasts, Olczyk has worked for ESPN in the past as a game analyst. Edzo is known for his crush on Sidney Crosby, yet at the same time, distaste for the Penguins who fired him 31 games into the 2005-06 season, his second with Pittsburgh.  I think Eddie O would rather enjoy the next few years watching the Blackhawks grow up and stay in the Windy City instead of flying east to be buried behind college basketball highlights.

Maggie the Monkey: Just because it's fun to include monkeys into any discussion. And she probably has a better chance than Milbury, too.

Bill Clement: This is my personal choice. "Clement, Clement, hands of cement" worked for a long time at ESPN as the network's top color commentator alongside Gary Thorne.  When the NHL's contract was not renewed after the lockout, Clement headed to Versus and hosted their pre-game studio show until he was fired last summer. His replacement, Bill Patrick, was scorned by hockey fans who scratched their heads as to why Clement was let go. The man with the fantastic mustache was also not brought back by NBC for their studio coverage, instead deciding to go with Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury, as well as Bob Neumeier during the Stanley Cup playoffs. I'm sure Clement would love to reunite at ESPN with Thorne, but the lack of a television contract with the NHL will probably hurt any desire to move at this point in time.

So there are my choices. What say you? 

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