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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hockey on Versus and other obscurities

That's right, we're just whizzing away the rest of the summer here because, really - baseball has become uninteresting to us now, football season will be a huge letdown regardless (both in college and in the NFL) and September means... NHL Training Camp.

With that, we've learned what games the Versus Network will be covering this year and being that they're the exclusive home to NHL action on cable...we can't help but be severely let down. Clearly, they've again been struck with a case of the stupids.

This has been gone over already in a couple of places, Steve Lepore at Eye On Media has tackled it as has Yahoo! Sports' Puck Daddy but I wanted to get my two cents in on this.

I think we can all agree that the key to picking games to cover on TV when you've got a fairly limited window to choose from is to pick out the ones with the highest entertainment value, right?

I mean, that seems to be the thing that will rope in a big audience. By that measure, you'd have to expect that the national schedule would be heavy on Washington and Pittsburgh to showcase the big stars, Detroit to show off the Stanley Cup Champions who managed to get even better in the offseason, and to take care of your big markets which in this case includes: New York (just for the Rangers of course), Philadelphia, and Chicago with their renewed interest in professional hockey at the major league level (not to mention the young talent to boot.

Going by those squads you should be able to rack up a lot of fun, fast paced, even chippy games with all the violent side show possibilities one can ask for - the perfect recipe for marketing the NHL in all of its current glory. Let's face it, you get the best of the best this way.

Thank goodness the Versus Network is there to save us from ourselves. As Puck Daddy had already done for us and kept track of the numbers, Versus apparently didn't want to come off like they were playing favorites to anyone because the teams you'll get to watch the most this year are (drunken drumroll please):

Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Minnesota Wild
New York Rangers
Pittsburgh Penguins

You'll get eight games from these teams this year on Versus. It appears that the Versus folks wanted to meet me halfway - I guess that will work.

Now, you all know by now how I feel about the sort of play employed by the Wild and the Bruins and about how that generally makes me feel about things. Suffice to say, the Bruins and to a lesser extent these days, the Wild, play an exceedingly BORING brand of hockey.

If I'm the executive at Versus and I get handed this rundown of games, I tell the folks responsible for picking out this docket to go back and try again and that failure to improve upon this will result in being launched into a great white shark tank.

I also question the selection of the Sabres for so many games, but I think I'll view that as Versus trying to guarantee viewership for eight games because Sabres fans are truly great fans and will tune in no matter what. It also helps that they'll dial up the ratings big-time in at least one city, so Versus has that going for them.

I can't help but be left scratching my head on the Wild and Bruins here though. Tthey could be doing the same thing here that they are with the Sabres and trying to lock up killer ratings within one market - Wild fans are also some of the best in the league when it comes to showing up and TV.

The Bruins don't really make a lot of sense unless the NHL and Versus are banking on the B's to pull a Celtics-style run out of obscurity and to fire up the bandwagon.... Uh, I mean wake up the long dormant die-hard Bruins fans that all helped celebrate Ray Bourque's Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche. What's that? The second game of the opening night doubleheader on Versus is Boston at Colorado? Uhh...


The rest of the team breakdown for Versus makes mostly sense when you consider that Versus is meant to be the American answer to both TSN and CBC (since, you know, NBC doesn't recognize hockey as a sport until January). TSN and CBC will provide all the coverage of Canadian teams that could ask for since Versus is carrying all of nine games that involve teams north of the border. Three each with the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, two with Ottawa and one with Vancouver. Calgary and Edmonton? Too obscure to cover by Versus, but then again, so is Los Angeles as they too won't be making an appearance on Versus this season.

Nevermind how stupid it is that in a season as long as hockey season is and the fact that at least Calgary was a playoff team that you can't get every team on the air at least once in a season, but that's an argument for another time.

Did they do a good job of picking out matchups though? We'll see, obviously results during the season dictate how successful they did. If those five teams become the big guns this season, then it'll be an overwhelming success. I just ask that for the opening night game featuring Toronto at Detroit when the Red Wings raise the Stanley Cup banner that they not screw that up and treat it as a ho-hum normal broadcast.

Show the ceremony. Show the whole lead up to it. Show the national anthems. Heck, do that for ALL broadcasts, CBC does it and it's stirring to say the least, especially for games in Canada. A lot of the NHL fun is the lead up to the game, especially for big ceremonies. If you're covering a game with something big going on, how does it hurt to show it?

One more suggestion, if there's a way, maybe, that you could give Joe Beninati the wrong directions to any of the games you schedule for him, that would be GREATLY appreciated. The Beninati Experience must come to an end sooner than later.

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