It remains remarkable to me that the man who gave hockey talk on NBC its credibility came to it from a show that was largely known for having Jenn Sterger, better known as the person on the unfortunate, receiving end of the alleged photos in the Brett Favre scandal.
With Liam McHugh as its host, NHL Live — which airs an hour prior to every NBCSN game and a half-hour prior to every NBC game — is now a good show. Perhaps it’s not in the category of the elites — College Gameday, Inside the NBA — but it seems to be getting there. It is, by a wide margin, the best American hockey show since the heyday of NHL2nite.
How did this whole thing come together? Analyst Keith Jones has been with “the network” in its various formats since day one, when OLN first turned on the lights for NHL action in October of 2005. Take a second to think about how long ago that was. Their NHL studio looked like this:
Pierre McGuire is, of course, now the main inside the glass reporter for NBC and NBCSN. Bill Clement is the Philadelphia Flyers’ color analyst when Jones isn’t on NBC or NBCSN. The man they call “Jonesy” has just stuck around — through OLN, VERSUS and NBCSN — and kind of remained the same guy.
Liam McHugh came to VERSUS in 2010 to host a program called The Daily Line. It was kind of a mess, but McHugh was funny. The show lasted about six months, and tried out a lot of the gambling-friendly segments that Fox Sports Live was immersing themselves in recently.
After the show was cancelled, McHugh stepped in to occasionally host VERSUS’ NHL studio show, as well as be the regular host of the network’s (now-cancelled) late night hockey show. By the 2011-12 season, McHugh became the network’s main hockey host, and by then, the show (which was now re-named NHL Live and now a more regular presence on the network’s NHL coverage) had brought on its variable.
Hockey people hate Mike Milbury, or at least they seem to relish in thinking he’s wrong. Whether its the notion that a man who ran the New York Islanders the way he did doesn’t deserve the opportunity to analyze NHL GMs and players on TV, or they just don’t like his attitude. Milbury is easily the most polarizing hockey figure on American television, and is maybe right behind Don Cherry in terms of his ability to agitate viewers.
I don’t know when it happened, but I realized I like Milbury. I think his television persona (a sort of “I don’t really care, but I’m here anyway, so listen up”) makes him a hilarious match for McHugh and Jones, and the three of them make me laugh intentionally at least once a night. Whereas a lot of hockey analysts seem very stoic and staid in their opinions, I believe you can see the wheels turning when Milbury comes up with something, and that he’s a lot smarter than he gets credit for.
McHugh, Milbury and Jones have hit that sweet spot that a lot of the better shows that I mentioned before really aspire to: funny but not silly, legitimate yet not to be taken too seriously. I dread watching a lot of NHL studio programming on a local (and sometimes national level). I never dread NHL Live.
The show can get better, for sure. I think it’d be wise to make the post-game edition an hour-long, especially towards the end of the season when highlights are more important. More of a journalistic, news-gathering element (Bob McKenzie appears once a week, but for a few minutes) would also make it a must-watch even for those who’ve sworn off Milbury for one reason or another.
I’ve been waiting for a long, long time to be able to praise a U.S.-produced hockey studio show and not sound like I’m just preaching to a choir. NHL Live has become the show worthy of praising. With TSN leaving the airwaves (nationally) at the end of the season, they’ll likely start off 2014-15 in the pole position for best national hockey show in either country.