While many fans and other hockey observers continue to ponder the "what if" scenario of whether or not the National Hockey League would have their games return to ESPN as early as the 2008-2009 season, the league unveiled yesterday their national television schedule for the upcoming campaign.
One part of it already disappoints me. Only the back end of the two-game NHL Premiere series in London will be shown on national television here in the United States. For the September 30th game between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, viewers can see it on Versus. But to see the first game that will be played the previous day, only HDNet subscribers can see it. It should be fun to watch the defending champions go up against their big city rivals at the new O2 Arena on back-to-back days (both games will start at noon Eastern Time) at a place where hockey's popularity continues to grow in the United Kingdom. I still remember the New York Rangers playing a preseason game in London at the start of their 1993-1994 season-long journey to ending a 54-year Stanley Cup title drought.
Versus and NBC will each begin its third straight season as the national television homes for the NHL. How well the do in their efforts to improve ratings from last season remains to be seen. Versus has hired former one-time ESPN Sportscenter anchor Bill Patrick (not to be confused with Dan Patrick) to be their new studio host. Bill Clement (Patrick's predecessor) has left and won't be doing his NHL on NBC job either. Pierre McGuire will take over Clement's role as an intermission show host in addition to his game analyst duties. Versus will show 57 games exclusively in 2007-2008 (all available in high definition, I may add), so make sure you have the channel if you want to get those particular games. The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins will appear a season-high eight times each while the other 28 teams will appear at least once during the upcoming season.
NBC will switch their "Game of the Week" schedule to Sundays, an interesting and risky move if you ask me. NHL games will compete directly with NFL games on CBS and FOX and you know that's all but a losing battle for ratings. However, if there are enough true hockey fans in this country (and I still believe there are), they'll watch. One way NBC is trying to make this happen is using a flexible schedule where the most desirable matchups to be televised are chosen 13 days in advance. More good news is that all of their games will be available in high definition format and as many as four games per week will be shown regionally at the same time. Eight out of the nine weeks during the regular season will already feature the Rangers while the Penguins are expected to appear seven times. And yes, you won't miss a Stanley Cup championship clincher on NBC as they are scheduled to show Games 3 through 7.
After Canadian hockey fans wondered whether the 50-year-old Hockey Night In Canada tradition would end on CBC with the impending expiration of their last television contract, an extension through 2014 was finalized on March 26th. So it will be back next season for 85 games and you'll get to see more of Ron MacLean and Don Cherry every Saturday night. Plus, for the eighth straight season, there will be another "Hockey Day In Canada" on February 9, 2008. What I read that raised my interest was that viewers will have an opportunity to watch the CBC game of their choice live online regardless of what game is on television in their broadcast region. I cannot say it will be available for American viewers though due to broadcast rules. I remember last year wanting to watch a few hockey news events that were on TSN or Rogers Sportsnet and I was blacked out online because I don't live in Canada.
TSN will be Canada's other national television partner as they will cover what CBC doesn't have exclusively on Saturday nights. They'll have 70 games slated for the upcoming season with an increased emphasis on showing more of the six Canadian teams. You've seen CBC doing doubleheader Saturdays, so on other nights, you'll see TSN do the same on eight nights. Also like NBC, TSN will have a flexible schedule where they'll select the best matchups as the season progresses. So keep that TSN schedule handy so you can follow along in the event there are schedule changes.
Le Réseau des Sports (RDS) will continue to show Montreal Canadiens games in Canada as well other select games that are yet to be finalized from the master broadcast schedule. HDNet in the United States will have a Thursday and Saturday schedule and we won't know yet what games will be shown beyond the first two months of the season until a later date. While we wait for an announcement on the anticipated launch of the NHL Network in the United States, Canadian viewers are scheduled to see 40 live games.
For more on the NHL's national television coverage for the 2007-2008 season, you can check out these news hyperlinks.
National Hockey League official news release (August 15):
NHL releases 2007-2008 national television schedule
The Sports Network's (TSN) NHL page (August 15):
TSN releases NHL on TSN TV schedule
CBC Sports' hockey page (August 15):
CBC Sports announces Hockey Night In Canada schedule
NBC Sports' NHL page (August 15):
NHL on NBC flex schedule released
Versus' NHL page (August 15):
2007-2008 Versus schedule; Bill Patrick new studio host