NHL Network’s programming has come a long way since its launch in 2001, most notably with the Stanley Cup Playoffs and league-wide events. However, it’s still a work in progress – especially in the dog days of summer. Recent weeks have exposed a flaw that needs to be corrected if the network wants to be on the same level of other pro sports networks: around-the-clock coverage.
Last Wednesday, when the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl tragedy occurred, the network was showing replays of the Bruins-Lightning playoff series. And it stayed that way all day. Although the Lokomotiv news isn’t news you want to discuss, it’s something that needs to be covered by the “Home of Hockey”. The only television updates in the U.S. came via SportsCenter or CNN, maybe once or twice an hour at the most.
Even before that plane crash, Sidney Crosby had an important press conference scheduled. The presser went on as scheduled, and the NHL Network failed to cover/stream it. The deaths of Wade Belak and Rick Rypien went by with just breaking news updates on the ticker, instead of On the Fly breaking in with reaction around the league. On a much lesser note, the unveiling of the Winnipeg Jets’ jerseys was an anticipated event last week… but forget about it being shown on NHL Network.
When you compare the NHL Network’s coverage (particularly in the off-season) to, say, the NFL Network, they aren’t even in the same league. When the NFL was locked out, they still had original programming and updates of the situation. When it was announced Peyton Manning would miss a game for the first time in 40 years, the league’s network stopped in its tracks to bring coverage. God knows what the network would do if Brett Favre ever made another comeback.
I like re-living the Stanley Cup Playoffs more than anyone else. I enjoy watching the Classic Series programs. But there’s a different way this should all be approached.
Understanding this stale summer programming has something to do with money, there’s no reason why the NHL Network can’t have at least a once a day update on news and notes around the league throughout the summer – a shortened version of On the Fly. Maybe that becomes every other day or once a week in August.
The point is, if the NHL Network wants to be one of the ‘big boys’, it needs more wall-to-wall coverage when the games go on a three-month hiatus.
There are a lot of things to like about their in-season coverage. On the Fly: Final is a great staple to the network and is the place fans go to get their highlights. The network has done a stand-up job covering major events like the Stanley Cup final, All-Star Game and Winter Classic in recent years, and bringing in former players with great insight and a unique perspective. NHL Live!, though not the same in the new format, is a popular show on weekdays.
Contrarily, there are some places where they can improve. On the Fly during the evening, it could become less chatter and more hockey. I’d love to see the ratings of these shows, as 99 of 100 fans opt to watch the games. Again, taking a page out of NFL Network, the NFL’s Red Zone channel is a football fan’s dream. Maybe the NHL Network could have a live whip-around to all the games instead of cliché interviews with players/coaches that are just going to be shown on On the Fly: Final?
Back to the topic of discussion, though: NHL Network’s summer programming, which has to change.
The replaying of every playoff game gets old, especially when each series is devoted a week. Maybe one day per series would be enough? Or maybe you keep the same replay schedule and spice things up for each game? Section 303’s Jeremy Gover suggested just that earlier this summer:
So, how do you make it more interesting? How about some director’s commentary?
Okay, it may get a little clunky putting an audio track over a play-by-play audio track but there are ways they can pull this off. Take Game 5 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Quarterfinal between the Blackhawks and Nashville Predators for example. Instead of just showing the moment when Martin Erat centers the puck instead of tying it up to preserve the one goal lead in the dying seconds of regulation, why not put a picture-in-picture box with Head Coach Barry Trotz sharing his post-game comments? Heck, why not the post-game comments from Erat himself? Who wouldn’t want to hear what those guys thought just moments after that monumental collapse happened?
The NFL Network does this every week during the season, where they condense a handful of games and include post-game commentary from coaches and players on almost every play. Suffice to say, it’s a lot more interesting to watch than just viewing the original TV broadcast over and over and over again.
And why stop with the playoff games from the most recent spring? How about do the same thing for classic games from five or ten years ago? Something the MLB Network does periodically is produce 30-minute or hour-long programs where they have former players in studio to talk about memorable games from the past as highlights are being shown.
Perhaps the network needs more behind-the-scenes content similar to Oil Change? More A Day in the Life pieces with players and broadcasters? I know the NFL Network, from time to time, replays HBO’s Hard Knocks series. So why can’t the NHL show 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic in the future?
Whatever the solution may be, it can only be an improvement over the snooze-fest the NHL Network currently offers in July, August and most of September. From July 4th until pre-season, the network goes on auto-pilot and takes a vacation with the rest of the hockey world.
In the current age of constant news, the NHL Network should observe the successes of the NFL and MLB Networks, and consider taking their game to the next level when next off-season rolls around. And it all starts with more around-the-clock coverage.
Photo credit: Courtesy NHL.com