Monday, May 26, 2008

Stanley Cup Finals' Game 1 reels in largest American cable audience since 2002

One important goal of the executive suits at the National Hockey League's corporate headquarters in New York City is to rebuild and grow its audience for their games on national television in the United States. There's no bigger cheerleader in this regard than commissioner Gary Bettman. And why not? His job is to increase popularity of the sport around the country, increase its financial footing and most of all, oversee the improvement the product itself.

Many observers whether it is the fans, the media or both, they may view this year's Stanley Cup Finals as a dream matchup of sorts, pitting two teams that have lots of firepower, plenty of marquee value and reside in two traditional sports towns. The Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins provide plenty of those elements for this championship series.

Saturday night's Game 1 at Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit drew the largest cable audience in the United States since 2002, according to Mike Reynolds of Multichannel News. And with that, it was the highest rated NHL game shown on Versus, the current American cable national television home of the league.

The series opener posted a 1.8 household rating and reeled in nearly 2.32 million viewers on Versus, Nielsen Media Research data shows.

Versus' 1.8 household rating for Game 1 surpassed the network's recent all-time high of 1.7 for the Penguins' 4-2 Game 2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals. However, that game and not Saturday's Stanley Cup Finals opener drew the largest audience ever for Versus with May 11th's 2.35 million viewers.

At the local level, predictably the two host cities of the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals ended up with the highest household ratings as Pittsburgh had a 19.0 rating for Game 1 while Detroit had an 8.4 mark.

With all three local teams in action and each playing in their home venues on Saturday night, the Red Wings' television audience might have been reduced a bit to what they potentially could've brought in. Just blocks away over at Comerica Park, the Detroit Tigers played the Minnesota Twins. Plus, the Detroit Pistons hosted Game 3 of their NBA's Eastern Conference Finals series against the Boston Celtics at the Palace of Auburn Hills, 27.7 miles northwest of downtown Detroit. So the competition was high for southeastern Michigan viewers to watch all the local teams (except the NFL's Detroit Lions who are in their offseason) on the same night.

How many tune in for Game 2 tonight for Versus' final cablecast of the season and then for the rest of the series to be shown on NBC remains to be seen, but if Game 1 is any indication, it is something for the NHL to build on in having fans tune in more regularly and in greater numbers.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mike Modano plans to return for 19th NHL season

Questions about father time and retirement talk have begun to creep up on Dallas Stars forward Mike Modano following his team's long playoff run that ended six days ago with a Western Conference Finals loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Modano said he plans to play next season, his 19th in the league. He will celebrate his 38th birthday on June 7th.

Just five days ago, his fellow countryman Jeremy Roenick made the decision to return to the San Jose Sharks for his 20th season at age 38.

Destined to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame after he retires, Modano's career began when he was drafted first overall in the 1988 Entry Draft when this franchise was the Minnesota North Stars. He helped lead the team to the 1991 Stanley Cup Finals and then accumulated a career-high 93 points in the 1992-1993 season, the final campaign for the Stars in Minnesota. Modano matched that point total a year later following the franchise relocation to Dallas, a city where he is among the most notable professional athletes to ever play in northern Texas.

Despite the fact the only Stanley Cup championship in franchise history came nine years ago, Modano feels that the Stars have the opportunity to continue making progress in their quest for their second title.

"There was a series of ups and downs and a lot of changes, but to be able to put it together at the end and have the run we had is pretty rewarding," Modano told Ken Sins of "Going into the playoffs, we probably weren't thought of too highly because of the way March ended. But we came back and surprised a lot of people and made it a hockey town again and brought some fans back with a playoff run that's been long overdue."

Modano may not be the prolific point producer that he once was, but he still makes a serious impact on and off the ice. He scored 21 goals and dished out 36 assists for 57 points this season. One night he'll never forget was a milestone he achieved on November 7, 2007 with a two-goal performance to lead Dallas to a 3-1 victory in San Jose. With those two goals, he passed Phil Housley to become the all-time leader for most points by an NHL player born in the United States. Modano now has 1,283 career points in 1,320 regular season games.

He may continue to center one of the top three scoring lines while spending more time in a checking role in key situations, but he knows he can still contribute at a high level and still have fun doing it. With two years left on a five-year contract extension he signed when he was eligible to become a free agent in 2005, he wants to continue to honor that agreement.

"It's a year-at-a-time thing right now," Modano said. "It's been that way for a while. When I signed my five-year deal, I thought I'd finish my five years out and then really take a look at where I'm at."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

"Fans' Most Wanted: Rangers" to help ease New York's off-season withdrawal

Locally here in the New York City metropolitan area, Rangers fans that have already been going through off-season withdrawal since the 2008 Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins sent their team home for the summer on May 4th will have something to watch on Friday nights for the next eight weeks.

MSG Network presented a brand-new show called Fans' Most Wanted: Rangers last night and it highlighted the best playoff moments in New York Rangers history. Among them (as shown on their Game On! blog entry) were their 1986 playoff run, beating the Philadelphia Flyers the following season in a memorable 5-game series victory, their 1997 series clinchers against the Florida Panthers (Esa Tikkanen's goal was shown) and New Jersey Devils (Adam Graves' wraparound goal past Martin Brodeur) and of course their successful 1994 playoff run to end the franchise's 54-year Stanley Cup title drought.

I taped it and then watched it before I went to bed last night and I was satisfied with what I saw. Rangers television play-by-play announcer Sam Rosen hosted the show and regardless if you're a Rangers fan or not, it is a pleasure to hear him talk NHL hockey at any time of year.

Next Friday's (May 30th) show will highlight the best of this 2007-2008 season. The last new episode in this series will air on August 15th. There will be plenty of re-airings for those that aren't around on Friday nights.

If you don't live around these parts, don't worry. If you want to see this show, you can. Cable providers of MSG Network in upstate New York, northeastern Pennsylvania and southwestern Connecticut will definitely have access as well as satellite providers such as DirecTV and Dish Network.

Friday, May 23, 2008

My second ArmchairGM interview previews the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals

Falcon02520 was kind enough to ask me to provide my insight on the upcoming 2008 Stanley Cup Finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings over at ArmchairGM. What a series this has the potential to be. He asked me five questions from everything from the matchup of the battling duos (Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin vs. Pavel Datsyuk/Henrik Zetterberg) to keys to the series to of course, my prediction of which team will hoist Lord's Stanley high over their heads in two weeks or less.

I really think you enjoy this article. Now go watch this series starting tomorrow night in Detroit!

Resident Interview (5/23/08)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Stars remove interim tag for Brett Hull and Les Jackson

When Doug Armstrong was relieved of his duties as general manager of the Dallas Stars, team owner Thomas Hicks had to make the final decision on who will be the replacement. The day was November 13, 2007. The Stars were 7-10 in their first 17 games and some observers prior to the start of this season wondered if this team would even make the playoffs.

So at that point, Hicks ended up going with two familiar names to take over for Armstrong. It is very unusual to see not one, but two people share the same job. It is very common to see a general manager and an assistant though, so this is something I cannot remember seeing at least in the recent past. Here, the Stars named Brett Hull and Les Jackson as interim co-general managers for the remainder of the season.

Dallas began to turn their season around under Hull and Jackson and finished in 5th place in the Western Conference with a 45-37 record and 97 points. The co-GMs had orchestrated a blockbuster deal at the February 26th trade deadline that brought 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Brad Richards into the fold and certainly that had an impact on the Stars' fortunes.

The Stars open many eyes with their surprising series upset victories over the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks and then the heavily favored San Jose Sharks to reach the Western Conference Finals for the first time in eight years. However, the one team that was clearly a superior club than they were, the Detroit Red Wings ended Dallas' season with six-game series loss. With their solid playoff run, Hicks was convinced that Hull and Jackson were the right hockey people to continue moving the franchise forward to bigger and better things.

So earlier today, Hicks announced that Hull and Jackson were each signed to new three-year contract extensions through the 2010-2011 season to run the Stars' hockey operations together as co-general managers.

"Brett and Les have earned these extensions, doing an excellent job in leading this hockey club this past season," Hicks said. "This unique combination of talents gives us many advantages for our hockey club. Signing Les and Brett to these contracts provides stability for the future. We look forward to building on this year’s relative successes."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Jeremy Roenick will play in 2008-2009 season

After playing beyond the expectations the San Jose Sharks had for him and even for himself, Jeremy Roenick decided he wants at least one more shot at a Stanley Cup championship with the team. Yesterday, he announced he will be back for the 2008-2009 campaign, his 20th season in the National Hockey League. The Sports Network (TSN) reports that the new contract will be for $1 million.

We go back 16 days and that was when the Sharks' promising season came to an abrupt end. Brenden Morrow shattered any championship dreams San Jose had by scoring in the fourth overtime of a 2-1 Game 6 victory for the Dallas Stars on May 4th to win their Western Conference Semifinal playoff series. Obviously, Roenick wasn't satisfied with ending his career on such a memory with a bitter season-ending defeat.

There certainly were some memorable moments for Roenick in his first season with the Sharks. On November 10, 2007, he scored his 500th NHL goal against the team he played for a year ago, that being the Phoenix Coyotes. Then there was his 1,300th NHL game on February 9th in Nashville and notching in 1,300 NHL point on March 28th in Anaheim.

But his biggest game in a San Jose uniform came when he put together a 4-point night (2 goals and 2 assists) on April 22nd to propel the Sharks to a 5-3 series-deciding Game 7 victory over the Calgary Flames in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

"I'm so happy to say that I will be back for another year," Roenick said from the team's "State of the Sharks" session at HP Pavilion. "Super GM Doug Wilson and myself agreed to a deal the other day and I can't tell you, I am so ecstatic."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Is the "glow puck" making a comeback?

If you're a American hockey fan that had seen nationally televised National Hockey League games on FOX Sports between 1996 to 1998, you may remember that the network introduced at the time a new innovation. We'd hear complaints by those casual fans they couldn't see the puck and therefore some of them didn't bother watching hockey games after giving up trying.

So FOX Sports created FoxTrax, pucks with tiny circuit boards containing shock sensors and infrared emitters contained within them, designed to make it easier for television viewers to keep track of its movement when high-velocity shots are unleashed. Back then, it seemed to be an exciting and modern solution to the complaints made by those casual fans who couldn't see that puck. However, when ABC took over the national TV rights in August 1998, the FoxTrax concept didn't carry over with it and was scrapped.

Recent rumblings from the hockey world have suggested that Versus, the current American cable television home for the NHL three years running, has considered bringing back that FoxTrax concept in the form of a "glow puck" as early as next season.

Michael McCarthy of USA Today reported on May 11th that Versus hockey television executive producer Marty Ehrlich wants to add to his NHL telecasts a new version of "puck tracking".

"We're looking to track the evolution of a play," Ehrlich told McCarthy in an interview. "There's people who looked at it as a great success at FOX. A lot looked at it as a dismal failure."

Some critics feel that FoxTrax had been too gimmicky and took away the pureness of watching the game. It feels like that kind of negative feedback we heard from traditionalists back then had re-surfaced when the NHL decided at the end of the 2005 lockout to implement shootouts to determine a winner in regular season games. One of those critics is "100%InjuryRate" at with a blog entry on this subject.

"There have been some truly awful inventions in our time. Like the flatulence deodorizer, the jet-powered surfboard and the snooper camera. But perhaps the worst sports invention of late, or maybe of all time, was the NHL's glow puck. I'm not even a hockey fan and I thought it bastardized the game to an obscene level. And here's the bad news, a version of it could be coming back."

Certainly a very interesting, yet honest way of looking at the idea from those who don't support this possible resurrection of the FoxTrax concept for NHL pucks on Versus cablecasts.

Versus just recently had its largest audience ever for an NHL games shown on their network as 1.2 million viewers tuned in on May 1st for the New York Rangers' 3-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series. Obviously they want to build their audience base as the accessibility of Versus in 72 million cable homes to date continues to rise. But is bringing back that "glowing puck" really going to bring in more viewers? We will have to see in the event this concept makes a comeback for televised NHL games in the United States.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Nate Anderson's blog photo of Xcel Energy Center

Here is a photo blog entry that caught my eye in making my usual rounds on my favorite television web sites today. Nate Anderson snapped a beautiful picture with his camera from high above the ice at the Xcel Energy Center during last month when the Minnesota Wild were still playing in this year's Stanley Cup playoff season. As a photojournalist for KARE-TV in Minneapolis, he is no stranger to hockey and stated in his blog how great the X is for its beauty, its atmosphere and the overall experience you'd enjoy at a Minnesota Wild home game.

The Wild gave a heads up on the posting of Anderson's photograph and here you can see his blog entry for yourself.

KARE-TV's (Minneapolis) Nate Overnight blog (May 12, 2008):
You don't need to be a hockey fan...

I still cannot take my eyes off that the photo. Truly one that I'll never stop appreciating.

My ArmchairGM interview on Flyers/Penguins playoff series

I was asked to do an interview with one of my fellow members at ArmchairGM, a great place to talk and even write about sports. Falcon02520 asked me three questions about the Eastern Conference Finals which as it worked it as the "Battle of Pennsylvania" for the right to go to the championship round to play the best in the West.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers go to war for Keystone State supremacy. Should be a fun series. I talk about a few things about the two teams in the interview, so take a peek if you can!

Resident Interview (5/13/08)