It’s been a turbulent affair, and it was a hot topic of conversation between not just NHL fans, but hockey fans the world over. The NHL’s decision not to attend to 2018 Winter Olympics certainly touched the nerves of more than just the fans.
Player outrage was expected and certainly came forth in droves, with the likes of Brandon Prust, Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Erik Karlsson, Anton Stralman, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Kevin Shattenkirk, and, the most vocal of all, Alex Ovechkin, strongly opposing the decision. There was even a quote taken from Chicago Blackhawks and Team Canada superstar Jonathan Toews that yet another lockout may be on the horizon because of this decision.
I asked Toews if we're hurtling toward another lockout. He said bumps like this make it feel like we're "heading in that direction."
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) April 4, 2017
NBC refuses to show NHL games
NBC owns the exclusive television rights to broadcast the NHL in the United States of America, but they’re also the channel that will be showing the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. With the league announcing that it will not host a break to enable its players to compete for their respective countries, it significantly dampened the impetus of the ice hockey events at the games which NBC hoped their audience would tune in to. In response, NBC announced that the NHL would go dark across their network for the duration of the games.
Many accepted this as the right move from NBC to really stick it to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman – who isn’t in many fans’ good books – with the pre-season television listing cementing their stance. NBC was set to only show eight games in February, with games on February 1, 2, 6, and 7, as well as on February 26, two on February 27, and the last of the month on February 28. In the huge gap shown here for the Winter Olympics, NBC and NBCSN combined to show 20 NHL games in that time span last season.
NBC has a change of heart
Now, however, NBC has embarked on a slight U-turn, and instead of going completely dark during the Winter Olympics, they will present three, Sunday lunchtime glimmers of NHL light, all to be shown on their flagship channel NBC at 12:20 pm ET before the day’s NBC Winter Olympics programming. It’s a smart move on their behalf, hoping to coax a few more of their loyal NHL fan base into viewing the Winter Olympics despite their favorite athletes not being allowed to compete in Pyeongchang.
To call these three new additions to the NHL television schedule, NBC has drafted in Ed Olczyk and Mike Emrick. In the Republic of Korea, the men’s ice hockey will be called by Kenny Albert and Gord Miller, with analysts Mike Milbury, Pierre McGuire, and Brian Boucher in the team. For the women’s ice hockey, Leila Rahimi, AJ Mleczko, and John Walton will be doing the game calling.
It’s not much, but February will now see 11 NHL games shown on the NBC network instead of the prearranged eight, which is very exciting for hockey fans. Before NBC’s change of heart, these were the only NHL games set to be shown on television:
February 1, 8:30 pm ET
Los Angeles Kings vs. Nashville Predators (NBCSN)
February 2, 8 pm ET
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Minnesota Wild (NBCSN)
February 6, 8 pm ET
Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues (NBCSN)
February 7, 8 pm ET
Boston Bruins vs. New York Rangers (NBCSN)
February 26, 7:30 pm ET
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal Canadiens (NBCSN)
February 27, 8 pm ET
St. Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild (NBCSN)
February 27, 10:30 pm ET
Los Angeles Kings vs. Vegas Golden Knights (NBCSN)
February 28, 8 pm ET
Detroit Red Wings vs. St. Louis Blues (NBCSN)
Now, every Sunday between February 7 and February 26 will host an NHL game shown on NBC, making the shortest month of the year not so devoid of NHL action after all. So, here are the games that have been added to the NBC NHL schedule, and all of the glorious action that they will bring with them.
Sunday, February 11 (12:20 pm ET)
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. St. Louis Blues (NBC)
Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the St. Louis Blues have been legitimate Stanley Cup contenders for the past couple of seasons, with the Penguins going for their third cup in three years this season. This season, however, the reigning champions struggled through much of the first half of the campaign, with their ability – or lack thereof – to keep the puck out of their own net proving to be troublesome.
On the other side of this coin, the St. Louis Blues have been doing rather well this season. With elite-level winger Vladimir Tarasenko on 19 goals and 44 points in just 46 games, a further four more Blues had breached the 30-point mark by the halfway mark, with another three clocking in more than 20 points. Because their defensive game has remained quite strong and they’re scoring at such a high rate, the Blues have become a favored use of an Oddschecker free bet as dark horse candidates to win the Stanley Cup this season.
With 44 games played, the Penguins sat in the second wild card place in the Eastern Conference with a -12 goal differential. When a team boasts the likes of Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, and Patric Hornqvist, goals are never going to be a problem to come by. But, with goaltender Matt Murray struggling without an elite backup in Marc-Andre Fleury as well as rookie Tristan Jarry adjusting to the big leagues, the big name forwards need to do more to put their team ahead.
This will be a great clash between two of the best teams in the league. The Blues will attempt to close out the likes of Crosby and Malkin all game, using deep defending as a springboard to launch their own attacks in the offensive end.
Sunday, February 18 (12:20 pm ET)
Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers (NBC)
Another fantastic pickup from NBC, with the Philadelphia Flyers coming to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Rangers. MSG is one of the premier hockey stadiums in the league and is the perfect place to stage a showdown like this. After 42 games each, these two divisional rivals sat just three points and two places in the wild card standings apart – with the Rangers sitting in the top wild-card place.
While a switch at goaltender to Brian Elliott from Steve Mason hasn’t proved to be as fruitful as the Flyers had hoped, Philadelphia is scoring a decent amount of goals. But, their young defensive corps that boasts future superstars in Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, and often Travis Sanheim, is inevitably not the strongest group of players right now.
Yet again this season, the New York Rangers boast a strong unit in all facets of the game and should get into the playoffs this year. Their strength in depth was particularly highlighted when their top scorer Mika Zibanejad was injured for nine games, during which the Rangers went 5-3-1.
Flyers versus Rangers games often produce a lot of action, both in terms of physicality and scoring opportunities. But the Rangers should be able to extend the gap over their Metropolitan rivals even further with a win here.
Sunday, February 25 (12:20 pm ET)
St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators (NBC)
This time NBC follows the St. Louis Blues all the way to Tennessee, to face the Nashville Predators. These two Western Conference giants have developed a very entertaining rivalry over the last few years, both transitioning to solid defensive teams to great all-around play. With Nashville standing second in the division after 42 games and the Blues in third after 46 games played, this game will have a big impact on the playoff places in the Central Division.
After 42 games, the Predators had only conceded 114 goals, good for the sixth best defense in the league, and that’s without premier defensive defenseman Ryan Ellis for the most part. With Ellis back in the team now, the Predators look stronger than ever. Filip Forsberg and PK Subban have led the team on the point scoring side with 34 and 32, respectively, but all of Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, Kevin Fiala, Roman Josi, Craig Smith, Mattias Ekholm, Calle Jarnkrok, and new addition Kyle Turris had all surpassed the 20-point mark by before game 43.
This may be the best game of the newly added trio, offering a major divisional showdown between two teams that have become accustomed to battling each other all over the ice. It will be a close game, a physical game, and the perfect way to announce the return of regular NHL television programming to NBC.