Chambers: ESPN rules analyst Dave Jackson calls it from Colorado

The NHL’s return to ESPN is nothing short of awesome, and having retired NHL referee Dave Jackson serving as the network’s on-air rules analyst solidifies that statement.

Jackson, a Montreal native who lives in Highlands Ranch, will work 3-5 games per week from either his home, an ESPN studio in Bristol, Conn., or beside the NHL’s situation room in Toronto. He will tell you what the NHL is thinking before a decision on a controversial play is made.

“ESPN wants to grow the fanbase, the viewership, and the best way to do that is with an educated fan base, a knowledgable fan base,” Jackson said. “If your fans know the rules they’re much more inclined to watch. By using me as a retired official, I explain why things are called, why things happen. Sometimes, what’s written in the rule book and what’s called on the ice doesn’t jive. The rule book is pretty black and white, versus the interpretation on the ice is often gray.”

Jackson, who worked 1,550 NHL games over 29 years, did not work the Avalanche’s opener on Wednesday that saw Gabe Landeskog make a vicious late-game check on Chicago’s Kirby Dach that led to Landeskog’s two-game suspension by the NHL Department of Player Safety on Thursday. Landeskog was assessed a boarding minor on the play.

TNT covered that game. If ESPN had it, here’s what Jackson would have told you:

“A body check gone bad, meaning (Landeskog) had him lined up for the big hit which would have been legal, however, (Dach) blew a wheel. He’s down on one knee, and in the referee’s opinion, Landeskog had time to let up when he realized that the player was vulnerable, but chose not to. Without speaking to the (NHLDoPS), I would assume that’s what factored into their (two-game suspension) decision.”

Jackson is now the liaison for the fans when on-ice officials strap on their headsets and communicate with the folks in Toronto. Hockey previously lacked that liaison.

“When the referees go to Toronto it was always kind of a mystery. What’s going on? Who are they talking to? Who’s making the decisions and what criteria are they using to make their decision?” Jackson said. “Those are all things that I hope to explain and clarify when it’s happening in real-time.”

Fellow retired NHL referee Don Koharski is doing Jackson’s job for TNT, which like ESPN has also unveiled a large star-studded lineup of pregame, intermission and postgame shows.

Having Wayne Gretzky shoot rubber pucks on Charles Barkley with Anson Carter, Rick Tocchet, Paul Bissonnette and host Liam McHugh looking on was good TV.

Avs coach Jared Bednar was in COVID-19 protocol over the last week and said he had multiple TVs on hockey on two levels of his house during quarantine.

“Some real good speakers on the panels. Large groups on the panels, so lots of different perspectives,” Bednar said Friday when he rejoined his team. “They seemed like they kept it loose, but they’re real knowledgeable. A lot of ex-players, ex-coaches, guys who have been around the game for a long time in the media world.

“I thought they were good. They’re putting a lot of work into it and it’s only going to grow the game. We have some great players and great talents in this league, and great teams, and it seems like we’re starting to get the coverage they deserve.”

With the NHL back on ESPN, hockey is indeed for everyone in the United States.