NBC has announced their NHL schedule today, and it’s not all Chicago, Pittsburgh and Washington games. NBC is going in a bold new direction by chasing the good teams, the good young players, and giving up on its tired, old “Rivalry Night” concept.
They’re also showing more games than they ever have, which bodes well for the strength of the league and the size of future salary caps. Revenue makes the cap go up, and Leafs fans have to be cheering on rising HRR as much as they do the Leafs if they want long-term success.
The NHL hasn’t gone totally radical. The Winter Classic is Chicago and Boston, and a lot of NBC’s weekend broadcasts are the usual suspects. But in a surprise, the All-Star Game will be aired on the regular broadcast channel in primetime.
NBC has learned some lessons, however. Many games will start at 7:00 or 7:30 p.m., mostly because they’re going to start airing doubleheaders. Imagine that, they’re going to cater to the west coast audiences.
One of those doubleheaders begins on October 24 with the Leafs playing the Jets at 7 p.m. (so we get an eastern time zone friendly start, and they can complain about it). The follow up is Tampa at Colorado at 9:30 p.m.
This is an effort to get young talent on the screen and connect with fans, particularly young ones. To do this while showing good games is not easy, and NBC is taking a lot of risks with this schedule. Chicago games get ratings, and convincing a national audience to watch teams from small markets, even if they’re very good like the Lightning, isn’t always easy. I don’t think Brayden Point is a household name for all hockey fans like Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine are.
The problem is a feature of the way the NHL is structured, and it’s not going away.
This is the top four draft picks since 2010, where they play now, and if that’s a playoff team. Near the bottom of this list, these players are stretching the definition of young; at 26, they’re roaring up on UFA status.
Top Four Draft Picks Since 2010
|Name||Team||2018 Playoff Team||Second Round|
|Name||Team||2018 Playoff Team||Second Round|
|Rasmus Dahlin||Buffalo Sabres||No|
|Andrei Svechnikov||Carolina Hurricanes||No|
|Jesperi Kotkaniemi||Montréal Canadiens||No|
|Brady Tkachuk||Ottawa Senators||No|
|Nico Hischier||New Jersey Devils||Yes|
|Nolan Patrick||Philadelphia Flyers||Yes|
|Miro Heiskanen||Dallas Stars||No|
|Cale Makar||Colorado Avalance||Yes|
|Auston Matthews||Toronto Maple Leafs||Yes|
|Patrik Laine||Winnipeg Jets||Yes||Yes|
|Jesse Puljujarvi||Edmonton Oilers||No|
|Connor McDavid||Edmonton Oilers||No|
|Jack Eichel||Buffalo Sabres||No|
|Dylan Strome||Arizona Coyotes||No|
|Mitch Marner||Toronto Maple Leafs||Yes|
|Aaron Ekblad||Florida Panthers||No|
|Sam Reinhart||Buffalo Sabres||No|
|Leon Draisaitl||Edmonton Oilers||No|
|Sam Bennet||Calgary Flames||No|
|Nathan MacKinnon||Colorado Avalance||Yes|
|Aleksander Barkov||Florida Panthers||No|
|Jonathan Drouin||Montréal Canadiens||No|
|Seth Jones||Columbus Blue Jackets||Yes|
|Ryan Murray||Columbus Blue Jackets||Yes|
|Alex Galchenyuk||Arizona Coyotes||No|
|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||Edmonton Oilers||No|
|Gabriel Landeskog||Colorado Avalance||Yes|
|Jonathan Huberderau||Florida Panthers||No|
|Adam Larsson||Edmonton Oilers||No|
|Taylor Hall||New Jersey Devils||Yes|
|Tyler Seguin||Dallas Stars||No|
|Erik Gudbranson||Vancouver Canucks||No|
|Ryan Johansen||Nashville Predators||Yes||Yes|
I can see why NBC wants to showcase the Jets, as a team that actually took their young stars deeper in the playoffs than the first round this past spring. The Leafs didn’t manage that, but they are a guaranteed good show with yet another top star in John Tavares.
Only 12 players on this list are now with teams that were in the playoffs in 2018. And you have to go all the way back to 2010 to find the second player who got deeper than round one.
Relying on the same old top of the Metro and Central division teams to fill their broadcast schedule, with a sprinkling of the big-market Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins, has not been an inexplicable business choice for NBC. But it makes for a moribund star system. There stopped being anything interesting to say about Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin years ago, swims in fountains notwithstanding.
Why aren’t there more stars in the NHL, people ask, and then they talk about how the players won’t say outrageous things about how terrible the league is in public or wear cowboy hats in warmup. I say there are no big stars in the NHL because most of the good young players are on really bad teams.
But as that list seems to indicate, this problem is not just the draft structure that rewards losing. There are a lot of teams with multiple top four picks who still aren’t any better than a bubble team. So when NBC is picking games to air, they have to be aware of the pitfalls of showing the hottest young player getting rolled over by Pittsburgh or Washington or Tampa.
Lucky for NBC, they can show six Leafs games and four more Jets games to overcome this difficult reality. The full NBC schedule is available in the link above.