Ed Note: This article appears courtesy Bloguin's national NHL blog Puck Drunk Love where our Steve Lepore also contributes.
Sometimes, it's fun to pick up on how NBCSN is doing. We don't write about it much as we (and by we, I mean both myself as someone who's covered the NHL on TV forever, and hockey fans in general) used to. I think part of it is the 10-year contract. We all know the league is in this relationship into the next decade. But part of that is that there's fewer and fewer chances to complain about what the network is doing.
This was a real thing!
Personally, I think NBCSN's doing as good a job at programming the league as they have since they rebranded from VERSUS. They do an hour-long pre-game show before every single telecast, which no network in the history of hockey has ever done on a consistent basis. Not in America or Canada. You can complain that you don't agree with Milbury or whatever, but it's mostly a well-run ship. Liam McHugh is an immensely likable hockey host, and Keith Jones has developed into one of the game's better analysts.
Game coverage remains fine. I know you all have opinions about Pierre McGuire, but you can't really deny that he has good information on most of the league. Mike Emrick is still good, and Eddie Olczyk is okay. Dave Strader and Brian Engblom make up an excellent B-team. They're probably my favorite regular national hockey broadcast each week.
Where NBCSN has taken it to a different level is with two new ancillary shows that air following games on Tuesday night, NHL Rivals and NHL Top 10. They're the closest thing I've seen to NHL versions of NFL Network programming. The shows are run by many of the people who do the network's Olympic programming, and they kind of scour the world to get interviews with some of hockey's biggest past and present stars. Seeing Dominik Hasek on both shows was a real treat.
They've also tried some in depth profiles of the game's greats. Sidney Crosby did a half-hour sitdown with Bob Costas a couple of weeks ago. They're going to do an hour-long profile of Bobby Orr in the next couple of weeks, if their schedule is to be believed. These are all hugely positive steps in their goal of creating a top flight hockey network. By most metrics, they already are.
As far as improvements go, I'd like to see them reinvest in a late night show. They tried out NHL Overtime in various timeslots over the past couple seasons. It's now the name of the network's postgame show. I still think there should be something airing every night at 1 a.m. ET recapping the night's action, a la NHL2Nite. I think the network should invest in some younger talent, a host with a sense of humor, and a player who's only recently retired, and put them in the same timeslot, promote them a bit, use social media, see if something grows.
NBCSN also seems to be suffering from getting either bad games, or good games at bad times. A ton of Boston and St. Louis and Los Angeles matchups at the same time as playoff baseball games being played at the same time. Way too much Buffalo and Philadelphia… as in any Buffalo or Philadelphia. The network has two Sabres-Flyers matchups scheduled for later in this season. I'll revoke every kind word I've said here if those games aren't flexed out.
That said, NBCSN really does seem on its way to becoming a top flight hockey network. Like I said, a couple of minor complaints, but I think it's mostly satisfying hockey fans. Not only do they do three nights a week of NHL (four once we hit January), but they have a night of college hockey each week, plus some pre-tournament USA-Canada women's hockey. It's time for us all to settle down and get comfortable with the network, since were stuck with it for at least another eight years.
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