25 April, 2014


Summertime on the NHL Network: Not Yet Must-See TV

Any criticism of the NHL Network has to be qualified with the acknowledgment that during its dullest, most uninspired of programming slates it offers puckheads a respite — 24 hours a day — from ESPN and everything else that is broadcast-indifferent to our great game. So it is in the spirit of constructive criticism and unyielding gratitude that I offer my personal assessment of what the network presently is and what it could, and should, become.
In July especially, the network has relied, disproportionately, on replays of games from the most recent NHL postseason. To reiterate, were it to broadcast merely the pre-game warmups from those games I’d embrace that over say a home run derby carried off by bloodstream-polluted lab rats called major leaguers. Or televised poker. Or the WNBA. (Gracious what a wasteland July in American sports is.) But the NHL Network, which is a promotional tool for the league, isn’t going to lure in new viewers with that manner of prime-time programming. I love hockey as much as Mr. Hockey, but I just don’t need a refresher on game 4 between the Ducks and Stars from April. Every night of the summer.
In this odd bit of recurring programming the outlet seems to fail to recognize that the allure of NHL postseason hockey is the cumulative effect playoff series have — of antagonism built up over the course of 10 days, and from rivalries forged from season to season — and that isolating individual, non-classic playoff games isn’t the same thing as chronicling the Habs-Nordiques April wars of two decades ago.
But initially let’s acknowledge what the network is getting right. Some of the network’s staple programming — ‘Hockey Odyssey’ and ‘Hockey Academy,’ for instance — is quite good, carrying strong production values and well serving the larger hockey community. These 30-minute programs are not easy to produce, nor do they offer the promise of delivering big revenue returns for their costs. These are acts of TV goodwill by the league for its supporters.
The network also deserves plaudits for its coverage of the most recent NHL Draft, most particularly for carrying forward coverage all the way through on Day 2. The draft has become a bit of a cult hit for the league, and so it’s a natural fit on the league’s TV network.
I was also very impressed by the NHL Network’s presence in Buffalo in the leadup to, and after-event coverage of, the Winter Classic. When the NHL hosts a special event, its network seems to rise to the occasion.
But covering hockey in the dead of winter ought to be like breathing for the rest of us for this network.
I’m not an XM subscriber, but I’m familiar enough with the characteristics of XM 204 to know that puckheads who have it are grateful for it. The league has something good going with XM, and in-season, when the NHL Network broadcasts all two hours of ‘NHL Live’ each day, that’s quality programming. Repeating it in the early evening is wise as well, as most fans aren’t home at 10:00 a.m. to view it. The network in the offseason suffers to some extent by losing such a program, which offers engaging in-studio interactions with serious league insiders like E.J. Hradek and their thoughtful take on league developments, delivered informally and always with enthusiasm. That’s a winner of a TV formula, and the network needs to find some manner of replacement for it in the offseason.
It seems to me that there needs to be a recognition by the network that its patrons in summer are, on some level, seeking an escape from summer heat, from baseball — from NASCAR most particularly. It’s then when we most need images and associations of our frozen game. So why not offer up a re-broadcast of the very first league-sponsored outdoor game, the Heritage Classic, when frosty Edmonton froze up the event’s Zambonis? Some NHL teams are now annually holding one or more practice sessions outdoors (as the Caps do at Chevy Chase Country Club). Footage from those affairs would be especially novel to view in the dog days of summer.
There are also compelling stories emerging from every NHL summer Development Camp. The league’s network should be broadcasting press conferences and prospect interviews and even snippets of scrimmages. When George McPhee beamed in front of cameras at Kettler Capitals last week about the arrival of the Frozen Four in Washington next spring, that was an occasion for all of hockey to celebrate. This is not a league or a sport that goes dark in the dead of summer (influencing, incidentally, the genesis of OnFrozenBlog) — and its TV channel ought to reflect that.
I’ve yet to see ‘Slapshot’ air on the network. May I ask why? Schedule that for one summer Saturday night, and promote it with an appearance by the principal actors offering commentary in interludes, and see if more than 17 folks tune in (the Canadian Parliament will go out of session).
This is a league that is chronicled, on line, by some of the most creative and talented commentators in all of sports. Why wouldn’t the league open up a few hours of its offseason each week on the NHL Network to the wit and wisdom of its bloggers? “My NHL” was advertised by the league just a couple of seasons ago. Make it so on the network in summer, and eventually year round. After all, we’ve given traditional media a fair century at the endeavor, to underwhelming reviews.
The NHL was bold and beautiful with its idea of a Winter Classic; similarly, it needs to be bold and beautiful with its around-the-clock television broadcast branding. Especially during Redskins’ training camp.



15 Comments

  1. stimpy wrote:

    I like some of the ideas, but I have a couple others (stealing from the NFL). NFL Films helped create an aura for the NFL with special camera angles, creative editing, and extraordinary commentary from John Fusenda. Using HD cameras at various levels, slow motion editing could turn some of the NHL games into weekly summer classics. Also, follow a team through an entire season with a behind the scenes look at professional hockey. Follow the GM in the office working deals or planning sessions. Look into the coaches office as they work up game plans for an up coming game. See players getting sent to the minors or their first arrival into an NHL locker room before their first game. All could be shown as a summer special.

    16 July, 2008 at 10:05 am | Permalink
  2. Outstanding ideas, Stimpy! My hope is that other readers will similarly chime in with their own.
    Perhaps for late-night viewing: spirit squad tryouts!

    16 July, 2008 at 10:16 am | Permalink
  3. Tina Jones wrote:

    As the Lowe-Burke saga exposed, we here in Southern California (San Diego) can’t read about hockey in the newspaper and we certainly don’t have the NHL Network. As imperfect as it may be, be grateful.

    16 July, 2008 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  4. puddin_an_semin wrote:

    Bravo!!! I have been feeling this for a while now. And why might I add have they not shown one Caps/Flyers game from this post season? Seriously! My dad has been disappointed by the classics they chose to play. He would love to see some of the games from back in the 1950′s or 1960′s when he first started to get into hockey. I would also suggest that they could replay some of the world championship games, or classic international games such as the Summit Series of the 1970′s, the Miracle on Ice of the Olympics. Why not replay the World Juniors in which Ovie and Crosby played each other? I want to watch hockey but I am not gonna lie watching the same 2 games every night of the week ain’t gonna cut it. I just hope that they listen.

    16 July, 2008 at 11:14 am | Permalink
  5. More great programming ideas — the World Jr. showdown matchups in particular. Keep ‘em coming. Those individual games — unlike games 2 or 4 in a particular NHL playoff serie — carry obvious importance. Also, there have been some amazing games contested in the World Cup of Hockey, for instance.

    16 July, 2008 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  6. TG wrote:

    Congrats. You’ve gotten national notice:
    http://www.fannation.com/blogs/post/217579

    16 July, 2008 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  7. WVHockeyFan wrote:

    I, like you, am not always thrilled with the exact game being broadcast on the network, but I still enjoy cranking up my AC, watching a game and pretending it’s late November or early February. My only real beef with the summer (and overall) programming is that more of it is not broadcast in HD. I enjoy the live games during the season and the playoffs in HD on NHL Network, but I think more of the studio shows (On the Fly) and the game re-airs should be done in HD. There’s something about the detail of a High Definition broadcast that brings out the best in a hockey game, maybe more than any other sport in the world. Maybe some re-airs of some Junior or NCAA hockey games involving highly touted prospects or recent draft picks wouldn’t hurt either. I wouldn’t mind seeing John Tavares skate or watch some classic CHL clash between the teams of two eventual lottery picks. I do have to say, however, that whatever the NHL Network decides to show, it’s still better than the NFL Network. Ugh.

    16 July, 2008 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  8. Scott wrote:

    AMEN! How many nights this summer have I turned to NHL network hoping for something to heal my hockey-empty heart and i see that game 3 of boston and montreal is on AGAIN, for the fifth time this week. It’s ridiculous…I mean, okay, if they want to show the playoffs then go ahead by all means but at least mix it up a little. Show games that mattered or were exciting. Go back to last years playoffs, or the year before. Heck, even replay great games from the past year.
    Why don’t they have a summer show following the players when they take the Cup with them? I don’t like detroit, but I’d watch that. They have a blog about it on NHL.com (or they used to)…they should video it as well and make it a weekly segment.
    For classic games, they can go outside the original six and canadian teams. i NEVER see any classics except those teams…How about showing some inaugural games (like the Caps first game).
    How about some highlights of minors, perhaps even college and juniors games. What about games from other leagues like sweden and switzerland (especially those in the past featuring todays NHL standouts).
    How about having a weekly show with former greats commenting about a classic game they were in.
    How about a weekly “viewers choice” game where fans can go online and vote for the game they want to see.
    Just some ideas

    16 July, 2008 at 7:45 pm | Permalink
  9. Scott, in addition to offering some terrific programming suggestions, you highlight here just how broad the news coverage of our sport can be. Well done.

    16 July, 2008 at 7:56 pm | Permalink
  10. Flying Cloud wrote:

    Dear pucksandbooks, what great ideas! May I add a few stray thoughts? I love the interviews by Dan (Moriarty?? forgive an old lady with serious failing of the lamplight). He’s a great journalist who brings out the best in the players he interviews. I’d like to see more of his efforts, though I’m sure it’s expensive to produce. There were some shows where he just sat in players’ livingrooms and they watched their great cup games together and commented on all the behind-the-scenes action while the family dog wandered into shot — it was funny and heart-warming, besides very informative. He also did a memorable magazine format story on Slapshot Siberians – a player’s off-ice sled dog business. His show (I think it’s called ‘Cutting Edge,’ or similar)is a great way for the NHL to entertain its fans and have a positive influence on kids who will support it in future. Also, how about a marathon weekend of Hockey Academy re-runs! I’ve learned a great deal from watching that show, even though it’s for kids — it really helped me understand some of the drills at Caps’ practice, and to see the strategies of the plays during actual games. It’s great for someone like me, who has never played hockey. With Don and E.J., I’d become used to exercising at home after work to NHL Live on TV, and am suffering serious lack of conditioning now without it. Overall, you know, it is great to have the NHL channel (as well as Center Ice during the season). I’ve been a Caps fan since 1975 and an avid reader of THN, but was starved for hockey news and hockey action until last season. Having taken many kids to games over the past decades, I’ve made it my mission to bring first-time viewers, both adults and kids, and to encourage them to remain hockey fans for life. Things like NHL Channel programs help. And know what? The vintage games and endless 07 repeats are still interesting — despite no Ovie highlight reels — and I watch despite the intrusion of terrible direct sales ads for useless, tacky junk. (Doesn’t quite square with NHL’s goal to help stop the melting, you know — encouraging sales that will clog landfills with tacky, made-in-China junk.) Hoping for improvements, including many you suggested, but grateful for what we have received, I remain a devoted NHL channel viewer. Please keep your wonderful insights coming.
    Flying Cloud.

    16 July, 2008 at 8:01 pm | Permalink
  11. Sean Leahy wrote:

    NHL Network will be showing the Winter Classic press conference from Chicago on Tuesday 7/22 at 12pm ET

    16 July, 2008 at 8:02 pm | Permalink
  12. pepper wrote:

    I’d like watching some European elite league games, if the rights to them can be had.
    Doesn’t matter if there’s no commentary in English, just to get a feel for the games played in these leagues, that we never get to see.

    16 July, 2008 at 11:25 pm | Permalink
  13. frank wrote:

    I have a suggestion….. get the NHL Network added to FiOS :)
    I don’t have anything else to add that hasn’t been mentioned though – good suggestions all!

    17 July, 2008 at 9:41 am | Permalink
  14. 7 August, 2008 at 8:09 am | Permalink
  15. 23 August, 2008 at 8:36 pm | Permalink