A TV schedule is never something worth criticizing or praising in too many words. We don't know anything about these teams, who's gonna be good or bad, which players are going to have breakout seasons, the whole thing is a crapshoot, especially during a lockout season. TV schedule criticism really only works in hindsight, and then... the games have been on the air, so what the hell is the point?
So here are some mini-observations and some news from the NHL TV world that will make the whole enterprise worth doing. Enjoy.
1. NBC will ensure that everyone sees the Kings' banner raising. The regionalizing of opening day was a smart idea from NBC: the Kings are at their most popular in Los Angeles, but as last year's Stanley Cup Final shows, they still lag in terms of national firepower. Showing them with the already popular Blackhawks, and in only about half the country, is a solid strategy. It did concern some people, however, who wondered if the Kings banner raising would be relegated to the internet for those east of Detroit.
Fear not, folks, as NBC has planned for just that. They will be airing (as will CBC in Canada) the entire banner raising ceremony to 100 percent of the country, as well as the first 10 minutes (in real time, not hockey time) of Blackhawks-Kings starting at 3:25 p.m. ET. At 3:35 p.m. ET, half of the country will be switched over to Penguins-Flyers. Overall, I like this opening day strategy from NBC, though I wonder if a better move might have been Penguins-Flyers at 12:30 followed up by Kings-Blackhawks at 3:30.
2. Let's just say it: the Devils are on way too much. Since when did New Jersey become TV darlings? I've lived here all my life, and I can't remember the Devils ever being this popular. I recall a few years ago, NBC couldn't drop Devils games fast enough. They chose against flexing a game onto the network that could have shown Martin Brodeur breaking the all-time record for goaltender wins. Now, all of a sudden, NBC loves the Devils. Nine games featuring Marty and the Devs will air across the two NBC networks.
It's cool to see New Jersey get a bit of respect, but it seems a little unwarranted. Sure, the Devils went to the Stanley Cup Final last year, but with the loss of Zach Parise, and Brodeur yet another year older, who exactly is going to want to watch this team nine times?
3. The NBC Sports Network will focus on hockey best it can this week. The cable home of the National Hockey League won't cover a game until Sunday night (Chicago-Phoenix at 10 p.m. ET), but they'll have plenty of lead-in programming. A re-airing of Cold War on Ice: '72 Summit Series, the excellent documentary that premiered after the Winter Classic last year, will be Wednesday night. On Thursday and Friday, NBC Sports Network has college hockey, as Providence takes on UMass-Lowell Thursday, while NBCSN has Harvard-Yale Friday.
Following that Harvard-Yale game, NBCSN will air The NHL is Back at 10 p.m. ET, a one-hour preview of the 2013 season.
4. The Philadelphia Flyers are NOT on way too much. Yes, the Flyers are on NBC a league-leading 13 times this season. However, that's perfectly fine. Since Comcast took over at NBC and VERSUS became NBC Sports Network, I believe there is a limit of 15 appearances per season per team between the two networks, not one or the other. For example, the Chicago Blackhawks five appearances on NBC wouldn't have been possible in years past, when the limit for NBC games was four.
The Flyers are on national television a combined 22 times, tied with Boston for second-most. Is that a problem? Not necessarily. The Flyers can either be entertaining from a legitimate, hockey-watching perspective, or they can be entertaining from an Ilya Bryzgalov does anything perspective. They draw well, ratings-wise, they have some names, and they can be car crash entertaining when they're bad. There's no reason not to put them on television as much as possible. I'd take another 24/7 with them right now.
5. If you're a Penguins fan, why bother purchasing Center Ice or GameCenter Live? The Penguins have Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. I think people have started to get over the fact that the league is going to showcase two of it's five biggest stars all the time. That the Pens are going to have 29 of their 48 regular season games on some nationally televised outlet, however, is a bit absurd.
If you live in Pittsburgh, I'm sure plenty of those games will be available on FS Pittsburgh and not on NBCSN or NHL Network, but if you live out-of-market, purchasing one of the two pay-per-view services is a legitimate question. Do you really want to fork over $50 or $60 for, essentially, 18 games?
6. NHL Network is back in full force this week. The network was justifiably criticized for it's endless cycle of reruns during the lockout, without one minute of studio programming. The World Juniors kind of got the network back on everyone's radar, which is good because they've begun original programming right away. NHL Tonight, the network's signature show hosted by the solid Kathryn Tappen, is previewing the season division-by-division each night this week. The network is also airing a fantasy draft, borrowing some studio programming from TSN, and airing the CHL Top Prospects Game this week. Beats Game 7 of the Rangers/Capitals series. Also, NHL Live is back for two hours every day.
7. The Wild, Penguins, Islanders and Red Wings are all televising scrimmages. Three of those you would totally expect, given that Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Detroit are nuts about hockey. The other is also not necessarily surprising, given that the Islanders lead the way in superserving fans by streaming stuff that wouldn't normally get on television. FS North, ROOT Sports Pittsburgh and FS Detroit are both televising the Wild's scrimmage vs. the Houston Aeroes, the Pens' intra-squad scrimmage and the Red Wings battle with the Grand Rapids Griffins, respectively, while the Isles website will handle their blue-white scrimmage.
8. The Sens and Jets kinda got screwed in Canada. I know they tend to be the lowest draw among the Canadian teams, but how did the Senators end up with so few games on national TV up north? Ottawa gets only 12 games, five of which are against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Didn't the Senators go to the post-season and nearly upset the Rangers last year? Don't they have Erik Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson?
As for the Jets, is the national TV shine off of Winnipeg already? Only 10 games nationally televised, a pittance for a Canadian team in it's homeland. This is especially surprising given that TSN - one of the two national networks - also owns the Jets regional television rights. Considering Winnipeg came closer than Toronto or Montreal to a playoff berth, I'm a little miffed by the decision.
9. Hockey Day in America will return. February 17, coinciding with Hockey Weekend Across America, will bring on NBC's invention of Hockey Day in America. It will feature three games across two networks, including an NBC doubleheader (Penguins-Sabres and Kings-Blackhawks) and an NBCSN game (Capitals-Rangers). No word yet on what city will host the ceremonies. Chicago (in 2011) and Minneapolis (in 2012) have previously done the honors.
10. Is NHL Network doing the scheduling version of subtweeting by putting the Hurricanes on eight times? Somehow, all three national television networks managed to skip over televising Jordan Staal's return to Pittsburgh. Not only did they skip over that, but the NBC Sports Network will not televise a single Hurricanes game this season. Is the NHL Network reacting to that by putting the Hurricanes on eight freaking times?
11. TSN will try out a new show called NHL 30 on Wednesday. I assume - since TSN and ESPN are corporate siblings - that this show is based on the latter network's NFL 32 series. Airing Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on TSN, and then at 9 p.m. ET on NHL Network in the United States, the show is hosted by James Duthie, alongside Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, Aaron Ward and Ray Ferraro, as they "analyze the top on-ice issues facing each NHL team, while Ferraro and Ward pass judgment on the biggest moves of the off-season."
12. MSG Network will try something different: a broadcast from Rangers practice. The network, which is essentially a corporate cousin of the Rangers (both owned by the Dolans), will air a two-hour special live from Rangers practice on Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET, according to Chris Botta. I don't think I've ever seen a live show from a practice, so this could be interesting. Beats whatever else could've possibly been on MSG during the lockout.
13. The NHL GameCenter App is back. It is available, in it's free and premium forms (the premium version is essentially the GameCenter Live package) starting today, with a bunch of new features, including a new menu, live game simulation with near real-time shift changes, boxscores and play-by-play.
14. We seriously need to see more of the Edmonton Oilers. I know they're in Edmonton, the ratings don't count here in the states, but I gotta' see what's gonna' happen with that Oiler team this year. Two late-season telecasts on the NHL Network is insufficient. I think they deserve one or two NBCSN games (probably against Detroit) and three or four on NHL Net. You don't overdo them, but this Oiler team could be destined for great things in the future, and you don't want to have another Kings-esque situation where they make the Final one year and no one in the U.S. knows who Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is.
15. NBC will split up their lead broadcast team opening weekend. Dave Strader will call the Blackhawks-Kings game with NBC's lead color analyst Eddie Olczyk and Strader's usual partner, Brian Engblom. This means Olczyk will be apart from his usual team with play-by-play man Mike Emrick and inside the glass analyst Pierre McGuire. It is unknown as of now if the Emrick/McGuire team will have a third man in, but good to see that Kings/Blackhawks is getting a slightly heavier focus.
16. CBC made the most out of the least. CBC has the strictest parameters around their broadcasting abilities: they're a major television network in Canada, and for the most part, they're stuck with one day a week and they have to feature at least two of only seven teams on a particular weekend, and three of those teams are the Leafs, Habs and Flames. So I give them credit for pulling together a decent schedule. It was never going to be perfect, but Hockey Night will likely remain at the top of all the ratings charts in Canada yet again.
17. All things considered, the NHL's TV partners did a great job. There could be a tad more variety, a few more games on the west coast, but overall, I'm pretty happy with the TV schedule in both countries. In the United States, you will only go one day the entire season without a nationally televised hockey game. Seven or eight years ago, you'd be lucky if you went four or five days a week without seeing the NHL on television. Now we're only going once in an entire season. In Canada, you'll still get the games you want, plus a lot that are going to be added over from the NBC package. The NHL TV partners had very little time to put this together, and they came up with - in my opinion - as good a schedule as they could give us. Let's drop the puck.