Thanks for nothin’, NHL

Yesterday I would have loved to have watched the All-Star game. What’s not to love about a 12-to-11 blowout that was settled in the shootout? The only problem was, the game was on VS.

VS, aka Versus. You know, that channel that has the national broadcast rights to the National Hockey League here in the U.S. of A. As far back as I can remember during my years of following this sport, the NHL All-Star game has been televised on NBC. Free TV, not cable.

But this year, the League–despite its hype and high ratings of the Winter Classic–felt that the annual game made up of the best hockey players in the world would best be served on a cable TV station that many people in the U.S. don’t get.

Even the NHL circa-1990, with their caveman-like ways of yore, were smart enough not to bury the All-Star game on cable. At the time, their national broadcast partner in the United States was SportsChannel, which was not carried in many regions. But the All-Star Game, thankfully, was on NBC. It usually got piss-poor ratings, but it was the one hockey game that anyone in the U.S. could see.

So, I have to wonder, what gives? With “The NHL on NBC” having a “Game of the Week” each Sunday–as well as games three through seven of the Stanley Cup Finals–you’d think the freakin’ All-Star Game would have been a killer time-slot filler. Sadly, that was not the case.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I can get Versus in my area. For the past six years, I subscribed to ComCast Cable. ComCast owns Versus, and is trying to grow it to become a competitor for ESPN; hence Versus was part of even ComCast’s most basic of channel lineups. As in, you always got it, and for no additional cost.

Since moving last June, I decided that I was damn tired of ComCast’s overpriced cable. Sure, it was good, but is it eighty dollars a month good? My girlfriend Shellie previously subscribed to Dish Network, and I was easily swayed, as we could get most of the channels we wanted for $50 a month.

Most of the channels. Guess what channel is not included.

Yep, that one. A basic subscription to Dish Network would cost $40/month. For $10 more, Shellie can get all of her Animal Planet-type channels, and I would get ComCast SportsNet Chicago–which makes me ask, just how many “sports channels” does ComCast own? But CSN is a necessity to me, since they televise most of the Chicago Blackhawks games. But paying $60 a month (instead of $50) just to get Versus, seems like a waste of money.

Here’s why Versus *is* a waste of money if you are not a ComCast Cable subscriber. Versus shows two games a week, usually involving one or more of the following teams per game: the New York Rangers, the New Jersey Devils, the Detroit Red Wings, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals and/or the Buffalo Sabres. For $10 a month, you can get your fill of the Patrick Division, and then some. But you’ll never get to see, say, the Phoenix Coyotes take on the San Jose Sharks.

After some thought, I decided–with urging from Shellie–to take the extra $10 that I’d be spending each month for Versus and apply it to the Center Ice package.

OMG! Now, instead of seeing two games per week, I can see all the games *except* the two that are on Versus. Because unbeknown to Versus, hockey games occur on Tuesdays through Sundays too. Either Versus does not know that “hockey happens” seven days a week, or they’re too busy televising quail hunting or bull riding or swamp boat racing.

Except that, yesterday Versus put aside their bull riding and televised the All-Star Game instead. Damn.

Canadians are lucky that they don’t have to put up with this.


Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

6 thoughts on “Thanks for nothin’, NHL”

  1. Sal,

    for $10 bucks extra I got the NHL network … I live off it during the winter (except for the two soccer channels that I am glued to.)

    I never knew how much hockey I was missing until I got NHL TV.

    All I used to get was Florida cable – Lightining and Panthers (although Florida is ok – I’m an original six man).

    I love getting hockey night in canada on NHL TV …

    good luck

  2. Fortunately, the NHL Network is included in the Center Ice Package.

    HNIC is the bomb. I used to watch it when I was a kid–my Aunt had a satellite dish “back in the day”. It’s good to see Don Cherry again.

  3. I don’t think you can directly blame the league for not having it on network TV – if it was up to them, it would definitely have been on NBC. NBC must not have wanted it.

    NHL Network isn’t included with my Center Ice package! Wish it was. (I’ve got Time Warner…)

  4. As a Canadian who went to school in the States, I feel your pain and went through the exact same sort of frustration trying to watch any good hockey in the USA.

    I get basic cable in Canada, which in addition to the crappy NBC Sunday game yields me every single Montreal Canadiens game on the french channel RDS, at least 2 games a week on TSN, Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday’s and virtually every playoff game on CBC, and 3-4 games a week on Sportsnet. Throw in major junior coverage, the world juniors over Christmas, the Spengler Cup coverage, and I’m not hurting anymore.

    Plus, the commentators actually know something about hockey. USA announcers treat every telecast as a Hockey 101 for people with special needs. “Icing happens when…” I mute USA telecasts, even though I don’t mute French telecasts and I don’t know French.

  5. Hey guys-Check out this link for information on getting the NHL Network free this week (3/1-3/7/09).

    I have NHL Network as part of my Fios cable package but I am considering the "race for the cup" package for streaming game coverage. Works really well with verizon fios. I think it's like $20/mo and there is an option to combine with for the baseball package.


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