Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

The NHL Drops The Ball Again

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 28, 2009

I love hockey.  I think in most years the Stanley Cup Playoffs are infinitely more exciting than the NBA version.  This year is an exception with the Nuggets making it to the Western Conference Finals (I’m looking forward to being at the Pepsi Center tomorrow night for game six against the Lakers and enjoyed being there for game three), but if the Nuggets don’t win their series against the Lakers, hockey will take over the TV in the Fischer household during finals time.  The Stanley Cup Finals rematch between Detroit and Pittsburgh should be thrilling theatre, and needless to say should be an intense, fierce, competitve series.  Thing is, the NHL keeps shooting itself in the foot, making the games difficult for the average fan to see.

Check out the schedule for the Stanley Cup Finals:

Game 1: Saturday at Detroit 8 p.m. EST on NBC

Game 2: Sunday at Detroit time TBA on NBC

Game 3: Tuesday at Pittsburgh 8p.m. EST on Versus

Game 4: Thursday, June 4 at Pittsburgh 8 p.m. EST on Versus

Games 5-7 TBA

Now, looking at this, it’s no wonder the NHL is widely considered a second tier professional league.  It should come as no shock that ESPN and other national outlets don’t give more than five seconds thought to the NHL.  I have several issues with this schedule:

– First, look at the date of game four.  This is going directly opposite, wait for it, GAME ONE OF THE NBA FINALS.   DUMB DUMB DUMB DUMB DUMB!!!!!!   It won’t matter one bit that the Wings-Penguins series will likely be 2-1 one way or the other heading into a very pivotal game four.  It won’t matter if it’s the most exciting game of the NHL season.  It won’t matter if it’s a four overtime classic.  ESPN and other networks will go gaga over the start of the NBA Finals, with no fewer than 100 analysts on site, and the NHL coverage that night will pale in comparison.  (We were going to show you the hockey highlights with Barry Melrose, but wait!  Sasha Vujacic is at the podium for the next 15 minutes!) Meanwhile, the day before and after will have neither hockey nor basketball.  It makes no sense for the NHL to try to go head to head with the NBA in a battle they’re guaranteed to lose.   Gary Bettman should be fired for this scheduling snafu alone.

– Further, the aforementioned game four (and game three) isn’t even on network television, hell it is on VERSUS, a channel a lot of people still don’t know even exists!  I have Comcast and can find it in the very convenient location of channel 73, not exactly a prime slot for the championship of a major sports league.  I have stayed in numerous hotels where the channel lineup stops before 73, and I still hear lots of tales of fans unable to even locate the channel.  All seven games of the finals should be on NBC, period, end of story.  Perhaps NBC is to blame for some of this as well.  Maybe they’re not willing to show all seven games I don’t know.  If that’s the case than perhaps the NHL ought to be shopping for a new network partner.  After all, NBC embarrassed the league big time during the ’07 playoffs when they cut out of an Eastern Conference Finals game (Buffalo-Ottawa) before overtime to show Preakness coverage.  NBC also ignored the NHL altogether during the second weekend in May to show golf.  Still, it is inexcusable for a league that fancies itself as a major player to have two of its best games all season relegated to a channel that is way in the wild blue yonder on the television landscape.  Stanley Cup Finals games should not be relegated to Versus under any circumstances.  Gary Bettman no doubt made a colossal error after the 2005 lockout when he took the cash from then-OLN instead of the offer from ESPN to show games.

– I have serious issues also with games 1 and 2 being on back-to-back nights.  While I think the NHL did right to move the start of the series up from the scheduled start of late next week to avoid a week long layoff, playing games on back-to-back nights is just a horrible idea.  Players will be incredibly fatigued, and it will have a potential to denigrate the overall product that the league is trying to sell.  It is also interesting to note that no time is yet set for game two.  Knowing NBC, it wouldn’t shock me if they were trying to persuade the league to have game two in the late afternoon instead of in prime time.  That would just be the capper, subjecting the league to a day game after a night game.  No risk for injury there!  It is incredibly embarrassing for the league that NBC would rather show “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!” on Monday night than game two of the Stanley Cup Finals.  I’m not making this up, that is what is listed on Monday night on NBC.  If this is the reason the Red Wings and Penguins are being subjected to back-to-back games in the Stanley Cup Finals, shame on NBC and shame on the NHL for allowing it to happen. 

I think the NHL should receive equal treatment to the NBA in terms of the media coverage, but I’m well aware that I’m in a significant minority on that.  I think a lot of this is on the NHL for not marketing itself very well and not giving casual fans much of an opportunity to see their product.  Every time I think there is a ray of hope for the NHL, they take two steps back with something dumb like the setup of this year’s finals schedule.  I’m not sure what the solution is for the league, but coming soon I’ll have a post with some ideas of steps the NHL can take to get back in the mainstream again.

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