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What You Get (And What You Don't) with NHL Gamecenter Live & the NHL Vault

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The NHL Gamecenter Live people provided a promotional code for a review of the NHL Gamecenter Live and NHL Vault services. This is that review.

Business can lead to opportunities and this very post is the product of one of them. The NHL has provided promotional codes for NHL Gamecenter Live, with access to the NHL Vault. In exchange, we write a post telling you about it which includes an explicit disclaimer about this one because some other people who don't know you think you need to be told about it. Now that you've been told about why you're seeing a post like this, let's get right into what you get from NHL Gamecenter Live these days.

For the uninitiated, NHL Gamecenter Live is the league's online platform for airing games as they happen as well as those in the past. If you're aren't blacked out due to broadcasting rights in the region and your internet connection is pretty good, then you can watch games as you would on a normal HD channel. Here's a screenshot I took from tonight's Dallas-Boston game. It really looks good, even after I scaled it down to fit into this post. Outside of the fact my laptop is smaller than my TV, the streaming picture quality is good enough such that I cannot tell the difference.


It's hard to make out in the photo but the bottom bar is of utmost importance to your viewing experience. You can have your choice of broadcast feed if both are available and switch them on the fly. I did in this case and the transition was pretty quick. The timeline bar at the bottom allows you to jump to any point in the game that's already happened. Given that it's another broadcast's feed, you may get a commercial but jumping around allows you to check out what's already happened. The "X" and "O" dots indicate shots on net and goals, respectively, and you can jump directly to those as well. Not all shots on net are there - that would have been ugly given that Boston was shooting the lights out of the Stars at the moment - but I would imagine those that would become the highlight saves in highlight video packages the league site makes available. Should you want to go there, then you can do so very easily. The pause, fast forward, and reset buttons speak for themselves; but the most interesting are the circular arrow and "View slow" icons. The former allows you to instantly go ten seconds back from the point you were viewing, which is fantastic to identify what led to shot, goal, penalty, and so forth. The latter allows you to look at the game in slow motion, which is very good in case there's a lot of action and you want to focus on one player or where the puck is. When you want to jump back to live viewing, then click "Live" and you're set. There are options for additional views if you want to watch multiple games at once on the left which are easy to follow. Lastly, if the stream isn't running smoothly, you can change the quality on the fly on the far right. And if you don't like the game, you can switch to any of others at the top. It's all very straightforward and I haven't had a single issue.

The only actual complaint I have about the control bar is that it's small. It's still very functional without impeding on viewing the game. I just wish it was a bit bigger both in width and length when it fades in so that it's easier to move about the timeline. Other than that, my only other issues is that any boxscore or roster listing pops up in a separate window. You can move it to the side next to the standard view to keep tabs on both as the game goes on. But I wonder why they didn't include that on the sides to begin with in the standard mode. But I can see how some would think that can be distracting from the game action, too.

Essentially, the live streaming of games works very well in NHL Gamecenter Live. It's easy to log in, load a game, and enjoy a very good picture quality. You still have to put up the broadcast itself, but that's not anything the NHL can control. Blackout restrictions are the one thing that "holds it back," but that's just a nature of the beast that are broadcasting rights. The teams presumably want to keep their potentially lucrative TV deals, the league wants to keep their own as well, and so NHL Gamecenter Live isn't going to rock that particular boat anytime soon. So you won't be able to see locally available or nationally televised games on NHL Gamecenter Live. That said, you can view all games in your local area and nationally televised 48 hours after it's aired so you're not completely shutout - just delayed.

The NHL's archive of modern games is impressive, though. As far as I can tell, all NHL games from 2007-08 through to today are available to watch at any time through the NHL Vault. For example and this post, I was able to easily leave the live Dallas-Boston game to go watch the Devils play Atlanta on February 15, 2008 (they lost 4-3, for what it's worth). The interface through the vault isn't as fancy. The older games don't have as many features such as broadcast selection, slow motion, or HD viewing (that may be because of the broadcast, like the Atlanta feed of said Devils-Thrashers game). You can't put an old game in a mosaic view like you could with a live one to watch side by side with something else; though you can pop it out to a separate window. There are other pop-up buttons for game stats, which is a nice feature. But the main draw is to watch full games from as far back as six seasons ago and it does that function quite well. If you want to see those games for whatever reason, then the NHL Vault has you covered.

If you want to see condensed versions of those games, which are essentially extended version of the general highlight videos NHL have for free viewing, then the NHL Vault has you covered for all games as far back as 2009-10. For example and this post, I switched from the Devils-Atlanta game from 2008 by clicking on the Condensed tab, selected Devils as the team, chose a season at random, and chose January 10, 2000 (a Devils 1-0 SO win against Our Hated Rivals; here's my recap, for what it's worth). It's a 11:50 long reel of many moments of that rivalry game in the same interface as the Archive games (and in HD since it was a VERSUS game). I see the appeal of this sort of feature. It's a way to check out an old game without having to slog through all of the ultimately minor and interstitial moments, but it gives you more than just the goals. During this particular video, there were cut-in ad-like screens from NHL Gamecenter Live pointing out it's features. Except they didn't last for more than a few seconds and cut-out all of the sudden. I wonder if this is to fill in otherwise spots in the broadcast that couldn't be kept in? It wasn't that intrusive or annoying, but worth noting all the same. Still, it's an additional feature that's worth a look if you want to check out games from the past four seasons.

The last feature of the NHL Vault is the Classic Games archive which in theory should be the big feature of the NHL Vault. It should be the selling point since there are 866 full games that go as far back as the 1960s. Yet, the interface and selection of the games was a big head-scratcher. You can select certain decades, teams, key players, categories (e.g. NHL Stanley Cup Winners). Since Jason Arnott announced his retirement today, I figured that checking out Game 6 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals would be a good idea. It was the game where he scored one of the best goals in Devils and possibly playoffs history. Surely, that would count as a classic, right?

Nope! Arnott's not listed as key player because I guess he wasn't tagged in the database, though Jamie Langenbrunner was for five classic games (one more than Ed Belfour). I checked other players in that game (those two, Mike Modano, Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens, etc.) but it didn't show. It did not appear among the 23 listings for NHL Stanley Cup Winners. Under the 109 games for the Devils, Games 2, 3, 4, and 5 from that series are available. Not the big one in Game 6. Not only that, but they had plenty of other games from that playoff run but not Game 7 in Philly. I found the Six Shot Game against Toronto but only when I searched for Toronto. I can only scratch my head at not seeing those available (or available directly for the Devils) since they're definitely heartfelt moments to many Devils fans. Making it worse is how the games were organized in their interface:


There's no rhyme or reason to their order. It starts with 1994, jumps to the 2000s, and then goes back around. The search bar on the side is no use. If it was in chronological order, then this format would be fine. But it's not so it's really hard to find a particular game.

And some of the selections of classic games stretch the definition of classic. For example, here are three games listed for Scott Stevens. You know, Scott Stevens. Dominant defenseman from the 1980s through the early 2000s. He should have plenty, right? Like his number retirement ceremony or those Cup-clinching games? Nope! They are: October 11, 1999 (Devils at Ottawa) when Stevens became the first player in NHL history to play 600 games for two different organizations; December 21, 2000 (Devils vs. Dallas) when Stevens broke the franchise mark for assists by a defenseman; and Game 2 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals when Stevens became the all-time playoff games played leader among defensemen. They're accomplishments, sure, but are they really notable enough to call them Classic Games? The Vault has Game 6 against Anaheim if they want to show Stevens destroying Paul Kariya (and the subsequent revenge goal by Kariya); that's not even listed for Mr. Stevens.

I suspect that part of the issue may be with rights, but even that doesn't make sense. How can the league get full games from earlier in a playoff series but leave out the biggest games? Do they want to keep them for something else? If so, why have a NHL Vault touting over 800 classic games? They do go far back, there are three for the Colorado Rockies if you must know. But if the 109 for New Jersey doesn't include some of those big playoff games in their three Cup runs, then I suspect there are bigger omissions for more storied teams like Detroit and Montreal. The interface for just the Classic games part of the NHL Vault is cumbersome and a chore to work with. Not having some of what we could call classic games available just increases the bitterness on the sour feeling it's left me. The NHL Vault can and probably will add those missing games at some point. What and when, I do not know. Come to think of it, an email for fans signed with Gamecenter Live would help, actually - "Come see this new classic game featuring your team." It can be done since you do have to list your favorite team in your account. But until the interface improves to the level of the other two parts of the NHL Vault, which are really good for what they provide, it's this section that I find the weakest. It's sad because it could and should be the main feature of this side of the NHL Gamecenter Live service.

It would also help justify the cost. NHL Gamecenter Live at this very moment costs $169 in one installment, or nine payments of $18.99. Since I live locally with the Devils, I follow them closely as one could get, and I'm in area where I get the NHL Network, NBCSN, and two other local teams, the appeal of NHL Gamecenter Live isn't so strong. I can watch a lot of hockey as it is on TV. To put it another way, as very good as it is for streaming live games and recently archived games, I would not purchase it on my own right now. I can't justify spending that much money to watch a few games here and there on top of the ones I already do. Now, if I lived outside of New Jersey and away from the Devils' market, then I would gladly pay that much for this service. I would definitely justify the cost since it would be a legal way to watch my favorite team and still get the same local broadcast for a majority of the season. The ability to watch older games and other games live would be additional icing on the cake. If the NHL Vault was better organized with some better classic games, then the icing would be even sweeter. Ultimately, I think the product is best suited for those who can't easily see their favorite team on TV. If you think getting full games from the past is worth the money as well, then by all means - but I wouldn't get my hopes up about the classic games.

I'd like to thank the NHL Gamecenter Live staff for providing me the code to check out their program. Do you have NHL Gamecenter Live? If so, are you pleased with it and the NHL Vault? What improvements would you make if you have the ability to make changes? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the service in the comments. Thank you for reading.