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THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND: Why no network for the NHL?

12/03/2007 3:26 PM -


By Chad Huebner

For a while now, I wanted to do a rant about the fact the NHL, considered one of the four major sports in the United States, doesn’t have its own network. The NFL has its own network, and so does the NBA, and I’m pretty sure MLB has something on some Internet server in Bud Selig’s office, but zip for the NHL? I was going to say if the NHL wants to take itself more seriously in the minds of sports fans everywhere, they better cobble together something, even if it’s relegated to some community access channel in Toronto.

Well, look who looks dumb right about now? The NHL Network started broadcasting on American TV in early October. (Channel 215 on DirecTV, in case you were curious. Or living under a rock and had no access to the Internet.) In fact, NHL Network has been around since 2001, though we Americans didn’t start getting this wondrous piece of media until now. That’s like only broadcasting the NFL Network in Europe (I do miss NFL Europa, I really do) or only broadcasting the NBA Network in China (though having a viewer ship of over 1.3 billion people ain’t bad for the Nielsen ratings). NHL, you’ve already established yourself in the Great White North, isn’t it time to get cracking on the rest of the continent (I’m sure there are a few fans in the high mountains of Peru)?

Putting my bitter rant aside, the NHL Network is totally awesome! First you have a nightly highlight show called “NHL on the Fly” that analyzes the action. But instead of having the “NHL on the FLY” announcers do the analyzing (no offense to ESPN’s SportsCenter, I can’t get enough of Neil Everett yelling “Bartender, TOP SHELF!” anytime someone scores a goal in the top of the net), they let the announcers of each game do the scoring, penalties, saves, and other important plays. It just brings back fond memories of “NHL 2Night” on ESPN 2 (Bucci and Barry).

All of that would be enough for me, but wait, there’s more!!! Basically, it’s all the stuff NHL has sold over the years in video or DVD form, and now they’re putting it all on their network. Stuff like “Top 10 Playoff Rivalries of the 90s” (disappointing that the “Pittsburgh vs. Washington” rivalry wasn’t ranked higher than sixth, but that’s my opinion) or “Top 10 Defensemen of the 70s” (I’ll take their word on this one, since I didn’t really follow the league until the mid 80s). They also have notable games condensed into 2-hour segments. Well, at least they say it’s notable, but I wouldn’t know Game 6 of the 1984 Division Semifinals between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the St. Louis Blues from a hole in the ground.

And if you want current hockey action, the NHL Network broadcasts certain games during the season, and on days not named Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday (take that, Versus!). They also air an “AHL Game of the Week”, so they’re doing the whole “see tomorrow’s NHL stars today” bit (and of course, what a fine thing it is, right, Rockford?).

I’m only scratching the surface, but I find myself watching the NHL Network more than even SportsCenter (and for me, that’s saying a lot). If you have this network, then I’m just singing to the choir. But if not, beg, borrow, implore your cable/satellite provider to carry this. It might take more doing if you don’t offer up a cash prize, but whatever, just get them to carry this channel. Then maybe the NHL and all of its appealing qualities will actually fare well in the “Battle of the Four Major Sports in the U.S.”

In other news about the NHL, not the Network, the league just approved of a scheduling change for next year that in my humble opinion is good and bad (gad?). For next season, teams will play 24 divisional games, 40 conference games (same as before), and 18 inter-conference games.

That last part is important, because now teams will get to play at least one game against every other team in the league. The remaining three games are used for something called “at-large scheduling”, and no, I have no idea what that means, either.

Now, fans in every city will get to see the likes of Crosby, Ovechkin, Toews, et al at least once, whether in their own arena or on TV if that particular game is on the road. It always seemed a bit silly to me that for the last three seasons, teams could only play against certain inter-conference opponents. Why limit the potential for some awesome matchups on a yearly basis?

The only bad part about this new scheduling system is the significant decrease in divisional play, from 32 games down to a measly 24. That should be a priority with not only the NHL, but any sports league. Divisional play means the potential for some great divisional rivalries (or at least the potential to market divisional rivalries, like Detroit vs. Columbus, or Atlanta vs. Tampa Bay). Taking eight games away from that kind of excitement makes no sense to me (but then again, this is the NHL).

Why not cut down on the conference games? Is their some law that says a team has to play its conference brethren at least four times? Isn’t there some easily accessible formula to use if a team plays, say only 32 conference games? Distribute the conference games in an easy to figure out fashion, so we can move on.

No seriously, let’s move on to my final topic of this column, which are books on hockey. Selections are limited in the libraries, so like with anything else in life, the best ones to get need a certain amount of cash by you. I’m not going to do some hockey version of Oprah’s Book of the Month Club (“A Million Little Pieces”? “A Million Little Lies”, more likely!), but I will mention one book I read recently that might appeal to the hockey fans out there who feast on obscure trivia and facts: “Shorthanded: The Untold Story of the Seals-Hockey’s Most Colorful Team” by

Sure, we’ve had teams last in a certain area for a notable amount of time, only to pull up stakes and relocate, usually changing their names in the process (i.e. the Winnipeg Jets-Phoenix Coyotes, or the Kansas City Scouts-Colorado Rockies-New Jersey Devils), but it’s been awhile since one of those teams folded. Enter the Oakland Seals, aka California Seals, aka California Golden Seals. The Seals came into the NHL when the league expanded from its “Original Six” to the “Not-So Original 12” in 1966. Since there was going to be a team in the Los Angeles area (good ol’ Jack Kent Cooke figured there were plenty of transplanted Canadians living in the area, there would be an instant fan base, not realizing most of those Canucks didn’t like hockey), the league wanted a team in the San Francisco area for an instant rivalry and somewhat easy travel. This book covers the Seals’ life in Oakland (after 1976, the franchise moved to Cleveland, renamed itself the Barons, and died a quiet death two years later by being “absorbed” by the Minnesota North Stars) using the facts and info available, but mostly going by the stories of the players/coaches/owners themselves. I really liked the players’ stories, but felt there were too many of them (about 300 pages worth). I would have liked to see some sort of statistical listing for the Seals, to see who the all-time leading scorers are, career and season, for example. But overall, it’s the best book out there on the Seals.

Actually, it’s the only book out there on the Seals (I did a search on

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