The NHL and NBC Keep Their Promise, As Fans Win Big with Every Game on TV

I’ve heard a lot of negative thoughts about the NHL’s new deal with NBC ever since the day it was signed. The sport will continue to not get the exposure it deserves, even a few games on ESPN would have been better. The oddest thing I heard cynicism about was the clause in the contract that required every game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to be on national television. Some were thinking they’d dump it on the SyFy channel, or E!, or Universal Sports or any of the other myriad cable doldrums the networks of NBC Universal inhabit.

If you tuned into the networks of NBC this weekend and saw the schedule release yesterday, however, you’d be hard-pressed to continue thinking that way. NBC aired 13 hours of hockey coverage between NBC and NBC Sports Network on Saturday, including four games and what amounted to more than two hours of studio coverage. This capped off a week in which NBC and NBC Sports Network combined to air a total of 38 hours of hockey coverage, between 12 games and tons of studio shows, you can’t say the NHL’s exciting race to the finish went ignored. Unless you were watching your local team on Saturday, if you loved hockey and live in the US, you were glued to NBCSN.

Onto the playoff schedule. NBC Sports Network and NBC are set to air at least 26 playoff games over the first 12 days of the post-season. That’s great, right there. Hockey fans would settle for that. But NBC promised “Every Game, Every Night”, and they’ve delivered. At least 10 games are slated to air on cable’s CNBC, which is in 100 million homes (20 million more than NBCSN, awkwardly enough) and will have a studio devoted to it’s coverage.

The addition of the NHL Network may be a bit of a tipping point for some. The network isn’t in nearly as many homes as NBCSN even. But, let’s face it, except for a couple of the weaker cable companies – if you want the NHL Network, you have it. It’s where the diehard fans are, and it was a smart choice to bring the Stanley Cup Playoffs to them. Now, in all likelihood, they will be doing simulcasts of CBC and TSN and local feeds (though the local feeds will get NHL Network’s own graphics). However, it’s only five games, most of them are from that Florida-New Jersey series, and it’s unlikely they’ll get the rights to any Game 7 action either. Maybe in a few years, the NHL will deem those games as more useful back on Center Ice/GameCenter, but for now, this is a solid move.

Another solid move? The way the start times are often staggered. Now, I’d have liked to see more of this, but there are only four occasions of overlapping start times in the first 12 nights of the post-season. I’d like to see NBC start up a Twitter account, similar to the ones CBS did for March Madness, that alert people to games closing in on exciting moments or headed to overtime, to give casual fans that ability to flip around all night and constantly see something spectacular.

Not everything is sunshine and roses, of course. 7:30 p.m. ET starts for both San Jose/St. Louis in St. Louis and Detroit/Nashville in Nashville. Why couldn’t these two, especially Sharks/Blues, be moved at least to 8 p.m. ET and at best 9 p.m. ET? Why does this league continually punish fans on the west coast who need to work until 5 p.m. or later? There’s no reason that San Jose/St. Louis series should start before 7 p.m. CT at least. Considering that both games are on CNBC, and not affecting the NBCSN doubleheader’s, this seemed like a particularly egregious gaffe.

But largely, this is the culmination of a decade of hoping for better television coverage of sports’ most thrilling two months. Ever since TSN gained stronger playoff rights to the NHL in 2002, Canada has been ahead of the United States in terms of this. Before 2002, ESPN’s coverage was much better than CBC and Sportsnet’s, simply because CBC owned everything after round one, but couldn’t devote the necessary coverage to all of round two. ESPN’s coverage weakened after ’02, and OLN/VERSUS haven’t been able to do more than they have, which is go doubleheaders every night for a month until the Conference Finals. It’s fine for the basic puckhead, but you know it can be better.

With this playoff schedule, fans in the United States are even, if not better. CBC affiliate CHEX (which is largely available in Ontario) and will be forced into duty for a few playoff games due to time conflicts. This means that, for the most part, fans in the US will get equal, in some cases stronger access to the Stanley Cup Playoffs than their Canadian counterparts. But let’s not get nationalistic here. The NHL has won great coverage for their fans in both nations, and for that, everyone should be happy. At least until all of this begins again on Wednesday.

27 Responses to The NHL and NBC Keep Their Promise, As Fans Win Big with Every Game on TV

  1. Stu Dolgon says:

    What happens when the first game of a NBCSN doubleheader goes to overtime and past the scheduled start of the second game? Will the start of the second game get moved to another NBCU cable network?

  2. leafsfan1967 says:

    Steve, I agree with your post. This year there looks to be real improvement. Stu does raise an important question, what about OT. NBCSN has an overflow channel, at least on DirecTV but will that be the solution?

    I’m also looking forward to finding out the assignment of broadcast crews.

    • nosferatu says:

      I’ll root for CNBC as an overflow channel, if the games on that network are already done themselves. More distribution, etc. I guess the key being a Sharks fan on the east coast, though, is having other options ready (you know…).

      Only a few possible overflows–instead of possibly every game–certainly make St. Louis more appealing as an opponent than Vancouver, even if the Sharks only scored 3 goals in 4 games against them this year.

  3. bomber says:

    This is heaven for us puckheads.There is nothing like playoff hockey.And best of all no shootouts.

  4. Hank says:

    Meh. If its all TSN and CBC and local feeds then great! NBC still has the absolute worst studio team in JR and Pillsbury and Jonesy et al. If they do show a CDN feed, have the decency to leave the feed’s intermission on. Duthie and his talking heads of Dreger and McKenzie and LeBraun cannot be beat!

    • leafsfan1967 says:

      I do hope that some CBC and TSN feeds are picked up, but I’m not holding my breath.

      One small complaint I have with the NHL (but not with this schedule) is that they sold NHLCI as being regular season plus some games in the playoffs. It looks like this second point isn’t going to be true which is a little bit disingenuous on their part. They shouldn’t sell a package and then change it after people have purchased it.

  5. kevin says:

    I’m kinda excited about this…..if I can find CNBC

  6. The NHL Network will likely be the overflow channel in the States. The issue with me is allowing 2 1/2 hours (7:30/10) for the early game. Unless everything wraps up neat and tight, the beginning of the West Coast game will have to shift.

    • nosferatu says:

      Yeah, they’re getting the big issues right now, which is huge. But some of the smaller ones, like this one and others Steve mentioned, could still use some work. What’s the shame in a 7:30 PT start, for, say, Game 3 of the Blues-Sharks series? Just about every home game in San Jose starts at that time during the regular season, after all.

  7. E says:

    What happens if the 3pm game on Sunday on NBC goes in to triple or quadruple overtime and goes in to the 8pm ET prime time hour? Would NBC continue to show the game on the network? Or, move it to CNBC (since NBCsports will have a game at that time).

  8. benson says:

    This is truly heaven. Steve, you and some of the younger posters on here are too young to remember when hockey disappeared, but some of us remember “Sports Channel America”. This is, essentially, all the games, just like the big boys.

    • bmitchelf says:

      This is better than the big boys. NBA doesn’t have all of its games nationally televised.

      • morganwick says:

        Um, I’m pretty sure they do. If you don’t count NBA TV, you can’t count NHL Network.

      • bmitchelf says:

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t think NBA TV broadcasted all of the games that ESPN/ABC/TNT don’t pick up.

  9. Wade says:

    For NBCSports group, Dave Strader/Brian Engblom will be doing games 1-4, & 6 of NSH/DET series as well as game 4 of PHX/CHI series. John Forslud will be in Vancouver Wednesday, but I’m not sure who the analyst will be. For TSN, Chris Cuthbert and Mike Johnson will be starting in PHX Thursday for their series v CHI and will also be calling action for select games of STL/SJ too. Gord Miller/Ray Ferraro will be calling all of PIT/PHI series as well as select games from other series on TSN. I got all of this information from their Twitters and figured I’d post it.

  10. Al says:

    Game 4 of the LA-VAN series will be an NBCSN exclusive national telecast, no local market picked it up. It may be a CBC feed, though.

  11. Branden says:

    Id rather have games on Syfy than NHL Network

    • Jason says:

      Agreed . Their attemp w using their own graphics is laughable to post a big slide up until the action returns and their other graphics are just non hd friendly. Just show us who’s coverage your airing. Nba MLB tv does a much better job at producing someone’s feed into their own.

  12. Scott says:

    So, is NBC not going to be releasing an announcer list for the first round? Seems weird since they were usually on the ball with that during the regular season. I expected to see it on Monday, and it’s now 6 hours until the playoffs start – still nothing.

  13. leafsfan1967 says:

    Steve, are the NHL Network picking up the CBC feed for the Sens-Rangers game tomorrow?

  14. leafsfan1967 says:

    NHLSN have set up an alternative feed on DirecTV that has the Canucks – Kings game listed for 10:30 eastern. I guess it will be turned on if the Pens-Flyers are in overtime and still playing.

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