The NHL wants you to believe that it's on the upswing as a television property, and its biggest selling point is the Stanley Cup Final. Last year's Game 7 between the Bruins and Canucks was the most-watched NHL game in 38 years, a broadcast that drew 8.4 million U.S. viewers and jumped seven percent from the final game of the Stanley Cup of 2010, which saw the Blackhawks defeat the Flyers in six games.
This postseason should offer evidence of whether last year's numbers were a result of a hockey-mad market (Boston) combined with the thrill of a Game 7, or a more permanent trend. In a press conference at the NHL's New York offices on Monday afternoon to hype the budding romance between the NHL and NBC, both entities announced that every playoff game (a maximum of 105) will be televised nationally, including the opening round (conference quarterfinals). The games will appear across the NBC "family" that includes NBC, the NBC Sports Network, and CNBC. Games will also appear on the NHL Network.
"This has been the partnership we envisioned and we could not be more pleased with how they have worked with us," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Local markets will have their own broadcasts in the opening round except for games on Saturdays and Sundays, which are exclusive to NBC. The NBC Sports Network will air one or two games every night of the first round while NBC will have exclusive afternoon coverage on the weekends of April 14-15 and April 21-22. Once the second round begins, all games will be available nationally. That's a major development for a league where 40 percent of its games in the opening rounds could not be seen outside of local markets. Bettman said airing every match nationally was "the biggest change for us ever regarding broadcasting in the United States."
NBC and the NBC Sports Network will share the two conference finals. As for the Stanley Cup, NBC will broadcast Games 1-2 and 5-7 if necessary. The NBC Sports Network will air Games 3 and 4.
Pregame shows will exist in the form of "NHL Live," which will air every game night at 6:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports Network, and there will also be postgame shows. Sam Flood, the executive producer of NBC Sports, said his network will use two studios during the playoffs. NBC Sports officials added that the playoffs would remain on CNBC even if a major business story broke out during a game.
Both Bettman and NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus addressed the recent inflammatory comments by NBC NHL analyst Mike Milbury, who, in an interview with a Philadelphia radio station last week, called Sidney Crosby "a punk" and mocked his concussion history. Milbury also nonsensically said that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma should have "taken off his skirt" and challenged Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette during a brawl between the two teams.
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"I happen to on a personal level like Mike and I respect him with all that he has accomplished in the game," Bettman said. "Suffice to say, I don't always agree with everything he says. It's an interesting and difficult issue because he didn't even say it on NBC's air. He doesn't work for us and when he said it, he wasn't doing it on their behalf. Needless to say, I did not agree with his comments, I did not think they were appropriate and, frankly, I'm glad he had the good sense to apologize because an apology was in order."
The commissioner also weighed in on the some of the shots that Crosby has been taking off the ice. "The level of passion, emotion and gamesmanship can never be overestimated," Bettman said. "I think people who follow the game closely understand it's just noise. The fact of the matter is my guess is Sidney Crosby is still the most popular player and has legions of fans in multiple countries. The fact that somebody might take a potshot is, I guess, the price of greatness."