Dropping Bruins/Sabres Could Recall An NBC Mistake From Years Ago

The NHL and NBC continue to evolve with a special triple-header on the final day of hockey season, April 7th. They will be airing a Blackhawks/Red Wings game on NBC at 1 p.m. ET, followed by a doubleheader on NBC Sports Network featuring Flyers/Penguins and Capitals/Rangers. The three games were picked from a grand total of four games, the non-chosen to be sent back for the regional sports networks to air. That game featured the Buffalo Sabres taking on the Boston Bruins.

One can’t help but wonder if, after the Sabres’ thrashing 6-1 defeat of the Capitals Tuesday night (in a game that maybe NBC should have thought to flex in when the Lightning looked out of it around January) they aren’t regretting this decision. The Sabres are now a full two points clear of the Caps for the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference. It is clear that this will be a battle to the end for both teams, as neither seems capable of a 5-0/0-5 run down the stretch.

You have to wonder, if NBC wasn’t going to bother boosting their ratings with another Pens/Flyers game on the main network, why not just air Bruins/Sabres and Capitals/Rangers back-to-back? Wouldn’t that make for the most exciting doubleheader possible, attracting fans from at least four markets (Buffalo, DC and Boston and New York) to maintain their interest in staying tuned to NBCSN for well over five hours?

However, it isn’t the first time NBC has ended up making such a mistake. Back in 2007, the network seemed to think they were doing no harm by dropping a few games they had originally scheduled back to the local networks. This was when the network typically aired three regional games, but toward the end of that season, they were only choosing to air two per week. I think they only aired three games three or four times out of the nine scheduled blocks that season. Anyway, two of the games taken away were Devils games late in that season, which is why I have such a vivid memory of it. Oh well, the Devils aren’t a big ratings draw, and were secure in their playoff position, and it doesn’t look like either team they’re playing will be in a big must-win by then either…

But, as it turned out, one of them did, and as a consequence of dropping the game, missed out on one of the greatest, craziest regular season-ending games in National Hockey League history, as the Devils were defeated by the New York Islanders in a shootout at the Meadowlands, and the Islanders – in the season’s dying seconds – clinched a playoff spot just over the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s right, NBC had the rights initially to Wade Dubliewicz’s and Richard Park’s heroics in New Jersey, a game I spoke to analyst Billy Jaffe, who as a benefit got to call the game on MSG, about late last year.

What an insane game. The Devils had clinched a division title and home ice in the post-season, so there was no real rooting interest. The Devils-Islanders rivalry, for someone my age, is fairly non-existant. I never even knew an Isles fan until sophomore year of high school, and even that was a chemistry teacher. I had no real problem with the Isles getting to the playoffs. In fact, as I recall in that interview, I was yelling out “Oh no!” with Billy Jaffe myself.

NBC ended up going with two much more meaningless games: a pre-Kane/Toews Blackhawks visiting the Dallas Stars, who’d clinched a playoff berth and a Pacific Division title. Meanwhile, the premiere game was the Sabres – again, clinched a playoff berth – visiting the Flyers, who were going through their worst season in franchise history. In retrospect, why on earth wouldn’t you air this game, at least regionally? It may only be two teams from one media market (and the lower rated of the two at that) but it probably would’ve broken some sort of record for non-Rangers regular season games in New York had it aired on NBC. It’s crazy to think that they didn’t.

I hope that there’s someway that NBC can revisit their decision to drop Bruins/Sabres, if only so they won’t miss out on whomever might become the world’s next Wade Dubliewicz.