That may be the wordiest headline in In Lou We Trust/All About the Jersey history. It is entirely warranted. Earlier today, the National Broadcasting Corporation Sports division announced their national television schedule for the upcoming 2018-19 season. This was more than just a schedule announcement. No, there were changes to announce. Glorious changes! Changes to their broadcast of hockey games! Between this article by Kevin Allen at USA Today and Sean Leahy’s posting of what looks like a press release at the NBC Sports site, we have changes such as:
- Wednesday Night Rivalries is no more! After 12-13 years of matchups that were occasionally actual rivalry games being aired, the network people finally figured out that the name did not work so well. Now it’s a plainer title: Wednesday Night Hockey. Hockey and sports writers looking for a cheap bit of snark said to be hardest hit. Rumor has it they’re working overtime to figure out the newest way to Own the Peacocks.
- Doubleheaders! At least on NBCSN, most nights (which are not all Wednesdays, no word if the other days of the week will get creative names like Wednesday Night Hockey) will have two games. The first will start at 7 PM ET or 7:30 PM ET and the second, usually involving a Western Conference team, will have a 9:30 PM ET start time. Those times are changes in of itself, with the start times moving up from the 8 PM ET and 10 PM ET mainstays of past year. Will this mean games will run into each other? Absolutely. Regular season games typically take about two and half hours. Get those overflow channels ready, NBC producers.
- Stars will take center stage! STARS! Hockey is all about stars. The sport just lends itself to one player doing everything and taking over games. What’s that? Goalies can do that? Maybe if they could score goals on a regular basis.
- The schedule will be more diverse! More teams! Even Canadian teams will appear on NBC or NBCSN! President and executive producer of NBC and NBCSN Sam Flood said, “We are touching Canada in a way we never have before.” I hope Canada is ready for the possibly clammy touch of the Peacock Network. I mean, it’s not like they have two major sports-based national networks that run coverage on all teams to a point of saturation. Here comes NBC!
Those latter two deserve more detail. First, about the star power, here’s how NBC sold this in their release. Thanks to @PatCarragher on Twitter for making me aware via the site’s official account:
Star Power – Established stars and young phenoms will take center stage on “Wednesday Night Hockey,” highlighted by multiple appearances from the likes of Alex Ovechkin (WSH), Marc-Andre Fleury (VGK), Sidney Crosby (PIT), Patrick Kane(CHI), P.K. Subban (NSH), Patrice Bergeron (BOS), Steven Stamkos (TBL), Claude Giroux (PHI) Connor McDavid (EDM), Patrik Laine (WPG), Auston Matthews (TOR), Henrik Lundqvist, (NYR), Johnny Gaudreau (CGY), Joe Pavelski (SJS), Jonathan Quick (LAK), and Nathan MacKinnon (COL);
This made me see red. Where in the red hell is Taylor Hall? You know, the Most Valuable Player of the National Hockey League from last season? You know, the man who put the Devils on his Atlas-like back while shrugging off defenders and goalies looking to deny the Devils? You know, the man who best personifies the Devils’ recent approach of “Fast, Attacking, Supportive” hockey? You know, the man who just put up one of the greatest seasons in Devils franchise history? How do you look at someone who won the Hart Trophy, an award that goes out to the most outstanding player of the season - an award voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, a.k.a the media, who largely defines who is and is not a star - and conclude, “No, he’s not a star?” The amazing thing is that if you check out Kevin Allen’s post, the headline has a video of Taylor Hall talking about what players can do to be more star-like. Clearly Allen or an editor or someone thought he was a big enough star for an article based on a release that completely did not mention him!
This is more outrageous when you look at who NBC decided to hype up as stars. Sure, more of them are legitimate stars of the game and among the best players in the league.
- Marc-Andre Fleury? After the season Vegas just had, how is he the star? The team kept boggling opponents when he was hurt while William Karlsson was hot all season and Jonathan Marchessault stunned everyone who realized that he was given up.
- Jonathan Quick is listed for Los Angeles and not do-everything-well-like-Patrice-Bergeron (who is on this list) forward Anze Kopitar. Kopitar was also a Hart Trophy finalist last season. Clearly being up for the league’s MVP award on top of being the best thing about the Kings for about a decade doesn’t have the cache of a goalie who was outstanding six years ago. At least, not according the geniuses at NBC. Nathan MacKinnon and Avs fans should at least respect that the marketing people didn’t shutout all the 2018 Hart nominees.
- Henrik Lundqvist is on this list because he’s a “name player” on a team that obviously blew it all up in February for a full-on rebuild. I don’t know about having a “name player” on a team shooting for the bottom five in the NHL in 2018-19 is someone to hype up. I guess there’s an unwritten thought among television people that Manhattan-based sports teams are forever and ever relevant despite how bad they are or how little impact they had and/or will have in the league. I call it the Knicks Effect. Congratulations, Lundqvist, you’re now on the level of (checks card) Kristaps Porzingis. Well, that’s a bit harsh, your knees are functional. Point still stands.
- Joe Pavelski? Excuse me for one expletive minute. JOE PAVELSKI gets a shoutout as a star to highlight? In what universe is JOE PAVELSKI a star? Maybe - just maybe - in his family he’s a star. Other than that, the only way he’s a star is if he gets traded to Dallas. He’s not even the most well known ‘Joe’ on San Jose, nevermind a star player worth mentioning over the rest of the team! Everybody knows and recognizes the massive beard and prolific shooting of Brent Burns! Everybody knows about Joe Thornton, who now has the benefit of the always beloved old-man-still-contributing storyline he has going on! Everybody knows Logan Couture is the scoring machine now on the Sharks! Pavelski gets billing over all three of them! Who can defend this mention? Was it a joke, something some dingbat at NBC Sports threw in just to see who’s paying attention? Get out of here with this absolute nonsense that Pavelski is a star, NBC Sports. No wonder blogs by amateurs like me continue to run circles around sports media.
Oh, and Taylor Hall is not enough of a star over these players either. Dragging the team to a playoff spot for the first time since 2012; winning the first Hart in franchise history; and with a rotation at right wing plus a rookie, first-ever-Swiss-first-overall-pick, and future-star-in-the-making center, Nico Hischier. All on a team that was infinitely more entertaining (and talented) than John Hynes’ first two years behind the bench, which made for a lot of close, competitive games with all opponents. Nope, gotta leave Hall of a list of stars to make room for an aging goalie on a tanking team, one the least interesting Golden Knights, not-even-close-to-a-crucial King, and Joe flipping Pavelski. I think mentioning him on this blog gives him more mainstream attention than ever before.
Hall and Devils fans and people with brains that know Hall is a Superstar should not be the only ones upset. Where’s the point-machine, Nikita Kucherov? If Johnny Gaudreau is worth a mention, surely, Blake Wheeler can get some love if it’s about new stars to promote? Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Artemi Panarin, or Quasi-General Manager Jack Eichel? Nope, nope, nope, nope, and nope. The most popular man in free agency and the previous face of the New York Islanders franchise? Sorry, John Tavares, you’re not enough of a star to make a list promoting nationally covered games. You’re not enough of a big deal despite all of the media attention and the big, fat contract saying otherwise. Related to that: Nobody wants to give some TLC to Isles fans and note Mathew Barzal? Or, on the topic of fanbases who are down in the dumps on their team, Erik Karlsson, who people really should know more if only to understand why trade rumors for him is such a really, really big deal. There’s a lot of omissions here and that speaks to the larger issue of not making stars.
Even if the NHL are providing the names, surely someone at NBC Sports may want to look at their product and expand their scope. There’s no harm in mentioning 20 or 30 players that everyone should know. Especially if the emphasis for this year’s national TV schedule release is more stars and more teams among their changes. List more stars! Of course, this presumes that anyone at NBC Sports would do this and someone with decision-making power would actually listen. I fear they made and accepted this list honestly, which honestly makes me think they’re so dense that they honestly believe it when they say it is raining as they pee on your leg.
Speaking of peeing on a leg and proclaiming its precipitation from the sky, let’s talk about the national TV schedule and it’s claims of diversity! The Devils would surely be a good choice to expand things. The Devils were awful in 2016-17 and did not warrant more attention. They absolutely proved they did in 2017-18. Surely, they have taken note of an squad that improved by leaps and bounds over 2016-17 to play a fast, attractive style of hockey led by the league’s reigning MVP. No, the playoffs are not a guarantee in 2018-19 but they will make it interesting. Surely, the network can reward this improvement and achievement with a good number of games.
Surely not! Hall and the Devils have exactly two games on national television. Two! On Wednesday, March 12, 2019, they will have the second half of a TV-doublerheader with a road game in Edmonton. On Tuesday, March 19, 2019, the Devils will host Washington. That’s it. Two games and they are six days apart and one of them is far away from home so the East Coast may not stay on it all the way through. The team with the reigning MVP, a team with a rising star in Hischier (and, to a lesser extent, Butcher), a team that became better at least from an entertainment standpoint, and a team that is going to have a lot more going for it than the Blue-shirted dopes in The City - they get just two games. Way to widen the scope of these national TV games.
As expected, the usual subjects will get the most. Sure, I can respect Washington getting 18 as they are the defending Stanley Cup champions and Philadelphia getting 17 annoys me, but given their owner and that they usually are a playoff team, it’s not the worst. But old habits die really hard at NBC Sports (and maybe in television/media as a whole). I repeat my comment about Chicago, who are now a cautionary tale for teams top heavy with top talent that is getting older with huge contracts, leads the way with 19 appearances. 19! I know Chicago has a big, passionate fanbase that will wear Kane and Toews jerseys for decades and decades. But 19 games for a team that isn’t going to make the playoffs next season? Who asked for this?
Likewise, who asked for 14 games featuring the Rangers? Did anyone at NBC Sports not pay attention to last season? This team is in a re-build; a not-so-subtle state that means the team will absolutely, positively suck. Sure, I have a bias because I have a clue and so I hate the Rangers and know they inherently suck. But even a neutral party has to question how often this potentially-awful-on-purpose team will be featured. They have to question why this team will be featured more than legitimate Cup contenders Nashville (12 games) and Tampa Bay (12 games). They have to question why this team will be featured more than spectacle of Vegas (who has 9 games), the Edmonton McDavids (7 games only), the burgeoning Maple Leafs (6 games), and the Joe Pavelski NBC-Branded Star with Friends (8 games). They’re not even going to be the best hockey team in their own city! Who at NBC Sports thinks Sweden’s slightly-poorer version of Roberto Luongo and a bunch of scrubs in front of him is going to draw ratings solely on the fact that they play in the World’s Most Overrated Arena to justify fourteen games? Are there enough casual fans who would enjoy watching the NYR take L’s on national TV? And if so, can you tell them about the Devils, since they’re not going to see them except for a twice-in-six-day stretch in March?
Let’s look at the flip side. For all of the talk of diversity of teams being shown off, there are a lot of teams with just two or fewer games like the Devils. Florida showed a lot of gumption and displayed a lot of skill to lead another potential wild-card battle for next season. NBC Sports says just one game for you, Luongo & Barkov. Dallas may be a mess of sorts but they have all kinds of offensive firepower in a big market in Texas. NBC Sports says just one game for you too. The Isles may be in a bad place but are likely to finish ahead of their cross-city rivals. NBC Sports says only one game for you too. Columbus, you’ve been making quite a bit of noise and have commanded more respect in the league. NBC Sports does not respect you; two games only. Want me to pour more salt in this wound? Arizona has five games. Yes, NBC Sports decided to feature the Coyotes more than the Devils, Blue Jackets, Panthers, Stars, and the Isles. I like Clayton Keller just fine but that is straight ridiculous. Of course, we’re in a world where a network worth billions has people who presumably get paid a lot of money believes a set-to-be-crummy Rangers team who will have nothing to play for by January 2, 2019 is worthy of over ten appearances on their channel in the hopes of attracting people and advertisers to pay attention to the NHL.
Oh, and for all of Sam Flood’s “touching Canada like never before,” that may be true except Calgary led by NBC-recognized star Gaudreau gets just two games, Montreal gets one game, and both Ottawa and Vancouver get none. You may not feel so bad since Canadian networks cover their teams closely. Fine. And who wants to see truly rudderless dumpster fires like Ottawa and Vancouver on a national stage in the United States? Other than for a hopefully likely win by their team? But NBC Sports are the ones bringing the hype, proclaiming that they are touching featuring Canada more and having more teams on their schedule. That may be ring technically true, but it rings hollow when the appearances are just a check in the box for a lot of teams and two out of 31 NHL are shutout, bad as they may be.
The long and short of this rant is that if this is progress, it is not enough. Life is not fair and no one ever said they have a right to more. But NBC Sports really flopped here. Even if the NHL did not do the promotion, NBC Sports absolutely could. Their name is on the press release. Their name is on the network. They have more than just a voice in this process. With this release, they demonstrated they do not have much of a clue in it, though. How do you not feature the MVP of the league in a press release? How do you proclaim a more diverse set of games and roll this out? Yes, big markets do command some priority, I can agree with that. But if the intent and hype is to show more teams and expand the scope of starpower of the league, then that requires actually doing some expansion beyond throwing a bunch of token games to a lot of teams (and shutting out two others) while still cramming the same group of common teams over and over onto broadcasts. Press releases are partially meant for generating hype and attention; but that has to be lived up to. This doesn’t really.
At least some of those big market teams are competitive and likely to be good like Washington, Boston, and (sigh) Philly. The real foul is to lump Chicago and the Rangers with them. No matter how big the markets are, the viewers, more than ever, recognize what is real and what is good and they’re not going to waste a lot of time watching bad teams on TV. This was the year to really push Nashville and Tampa Bay. This was the year to give more opportunities to lesser-served squads or highlight other matchups that were not on TV before. Give more to New Jersey, to Dallas, to Florida, to Columbus, and even a couple more to the Arizonas, Buffalos, and Winnipegs (although five I’m not saying the Devils deserved ten games, but five would have been fine. Two is almost insulting, more so given how the network doesn’t want to recognize the Superstar and 2017-18 MVP Taylor Hall - but does recognize nondescript center Joe Pavelski.
If nothing else, this only further justifies the feeling among the Devils faithful that the New Jersey does not get enough respect. As usual, I say fine: may Hall and the Devils take respect in 2018-19. That’s my rant about this. Thanks to Allen for his article at USA Today, @PatCarragher on Twitter for letting me know about the bit from the press release Leahy posted, and all of you. Have your say about the nonsense from NBC Sports in the comments. Thank you for reading.