Five ways NHL Center Ice could be better

center_ice_logoThis month, I got the bill for NHL Center Ice, the pay-per-view subscription package that lets hockey fans watch every out-of-market NHL game. For $160, it’s a pretty good deal. But like all things, it could be better. In fact, the NHL could make Center Ice a lot better without even trying that hard. Here are five changes that would make Center Ice go from good to awesome.

1. Every game should be in HD

Why are we still putting up with low-def broadcasts on HD TVs? [NHL Video]

Go to your local electronics store and tell an employee that you would like to buy a low-definition, analog television. You can’t.

And yet, many games on Center Ice – particularly those in Canadian cities – are not broadcast in HD. That is inexcusable.

Whenever I tune into, say, a Tuesday night game between the Jets and the Flames, I can count on it being a fuzzy, low-def broadcast that leaves the sides of my widescreen TV blank and much else to be desired. Although watching a Jets-Flames game leaves much to be desired anyway, like goal scoring.

Get with the times, teams and television stations. This is 2013. Broadcast all games in high-definition. You can still broadcast in low-definition too for the Baby Boomers who insist on using their TV from 1998; just don’t punish the rest of us.

2. All pre-and post-game shows should be televised

The Colorado Avalanche tread everyone like locals.
The Colorado Avalanche treat everyone like locals. [NHL]

I’ve subscribed to Center Ice for six seasons now. Over time, I’ve come to follow the Colorado Avalanche – not because they are the greatest team (though they are off to a great start this season) – but because they televise both their pre-game and post-game shows when broadcasting a game. This has increased my appreciation of the team since I can get an inside look at the Avalanche usually enjoyed only by locals.

When watching other teams’ local broadcasts, I am not so lucky. The game’s feed on Center Ice will usually start a few minutes before opening puck drop, and cut out at the first commercial break once the game is done. No postgame interviews for you, out-of-market fans!

If teams are interested in growing fans in other regions, then they should strongly consider airing their pregame and postgame shows on Center Ice. Heck, the NHL should make it mandatory, as it would help grow teams’ fan bases in other cities.

3. Do not black out “foreign” commercials

In the far away land of Canada, hockey players appear in commercials!
In the far away land of Canada, hockey players appear in commercials! [Scotiabank]

When watching your own team’s broadcasts for 82 games, it is easy to quickly tire of the same commercials over and over. (Has anyone seen those terribly-boring Chevy commercials with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane during Blackhawks games?) So, watching commercials that are “foreign” to me is a treat – especially those from the great white north.

I’ve grown to appreciate how inventive some Canadian commercials are. A few years back, Scotiabank ran a commercial with then-Flames captain Jarome Iginla trying to get a free coin bank intended for kids. McDonald’s promoted collectible mini goalie sticks with commercials starring a one-foot tall, trash-talking goaltender. Don Cherry was in an entertaining commercial for a mortgage company last season.

Sometimes, though, a game on Center Ice will black out the commercials, showing a message stating that the game will be right back while playing awful lounge music. What is even worse is that sometimes games on Center Ice black out the entire 15-minute intermission, denying me the possibility of seeing fun, foreign commercials and between-period analysis.

Is this because the NHL is afraid my puny, American brain will explode if I see a commercial for Boston Pizza, like I am too stupid to understand that other countries have businesses I’ve never heard of? Guess I’ll just change the channel, then.

4. Hockey Night in Canada should be immune to local blackout

Don't deprive us of Don. [CBC]
Don’t deprive us of Don. [CBC]

For those who have never had the pleasure of watching Hockey Night in Canada, it is basically the Monday Night Football of hockey, but on Saturday and with a better sport. HNIC is a high-quality production. It starts with a half-hour pregame show, followed by two hockey games, and then wraps up with “After Hours,” which recaps every game that night and features two in-depth, sit-down interviews with players or coaches from the second game.

In between periods and between the games, Don Cherry’s “Coach’s Corner” segments are always entertaining, regardless of whether you agree with him or not, as are other segments like “The Hot Stove,” where we learn the latest gossip from around the league. HNIC is six-and-a-half hours of televised hockey that cannot be beat. No other broadcasts – especially in the U.S. – come close.

But if you live in the U.S. and your local team is on HNIC, you are out of luck because it will be blacked out, forcing you to watch the local broadcast of your team. Yes, I understand that local advertisers want me to see the commercials they pay for. So I get why, say, a Dallas broadcast of a Stars-Blackhawks game would be blacked out on Center Ice in Chicago. But if the Blackhawks are playing a Canadian team and the game is on HNIC, an exception needs to be made and the game should not be blacked out from Chicago viewers.

Look, I watch plenty of locally-televised Blackhawks games, and most ‘Hawks fans watching the game on TV probably don’t have Center Ice anyway. Seeing my team on HNIC would be a treat. I want to see pre and post game analysis of the ‘Hawks by Kevin Weekes, P.J. Stock, Glenn Healy and the gang. I want to hear what Don Cherry has to say about the ‘Hawks, especially if one of them does something great or awful in that night’s game. Hockey Night in Canada is hockey’s flagship television show. It should never be blacked out. Period.

5. Include NHL Game Center Live with the Center Ice package

Now you can watch hockey on everything BUT your television.

If I can’t be at a game, the next-best thing is to watch it on TV — although many would rightly argue that watching a game on TV is better than watching it in person. If I can’t watch a game on my big-screen, high-definition TV, then I might settle for watching it on my 15-inch laptop. Watching a game on my phone is not an appealing idea for me.

And yet, the NHL thinks that people want to pay $169 for a subscription to Game Center Live, which lets you watch games on your cell phone, computer or other internet-enabled device, like an XBOX attached to your TV. (They even made Upper Deck pimp the service with advertisements, like the one above, inserted in packs of hockey cards.)

So, what’s the point if I already have Center Ice? Why do I want to pay another $169 to watch games on a computer if I’m already paying $160 to watch games on my television?

What would make much more sense is if Center Ice was not just for your television, but for all of your devices with screens. One subscription for all devices. Even if this raises the cost of Center Ice by $20 or $30, it would be worth it to have a backup plan in case you cannot watch games on TV.

So, what are your thoughts on this? Do you subscribe to Center Ice? Do you have your own gripes you’d like to share? Feel free to post a comment below.


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

12 thoughts on “Five ways NHL Center Ice could be better”

  1. I got GameCenter this year because 1) I live in an area where only DirectTV is available and that is pricey and a commitment and 2) I don’t watch TV much and the shows I do watch, I can catch the following day online for free. The exception is sports, so I plucked down the $150 or whatever to get GameCenter and watch the Bruins. Since I now live in California, I am out of the local market. The one downside is that games broadcast on the NHL Network and NBC Sports (or whatever it is called) are blacked out. With the Bruins one of the better and more popular teams, they have a decent chunk of games on these two networks, which sucks. They need to eliminate that aspect.

    The quality is nice though. Streamed and in HD with the occasional hiccup.

    1. Good to know. The same goes for Center Ice — all national broadcasts are blacked out. So, it also does not include games on NBCSN (formerly VS).

  2. Couldn’t agree more with all 5 points – #1 Despite still using an analog tube tv that is 10 years old now, I don’t really mind if it is shown in HD, just as long as it doesn’t cost me more somehow since we all know they love to upgrade and pass those costs along to the consumers (in Canada anyway).
    #2 on your list has driven me insane for years. I occasionally am blessed with the post or pre-game show for the Penguins broadcast when the game is shown from Root, however often, it’ll cut out at random (at the top of the half hour/hour when the game is “over” according to the tv schedule) and I’ll miss out. The odd part is that they are already getting the feed….so why not show the last 15 or 20 minutes of the post game show and any interviews (chances are if your watching an “out of market” game you probably have an interest).
    #3 This always pissed me off. Sure we have some awesome commercials like you mentioned (the Don Cherry one mentioned is particularly good), but we do miss out on a lot of the American ones (google Max Talbots “Superstar treatment” commercial for example). Either way, it makes me feel like they think we’re stupid enough not to notice the change or something.
    #4 doesn’t bother me but then again I live here, I have no issues getting it, and your so right!
    #5 Would love this when I am out and about and could just pull it up on my phone or whatever.

    Honestly, those 5 would be the only things off the top of my head I would suggest. The main thing is that we don’t bring back the “comet” puck like back in the 90’s!

      1. Its been out for a few years but still cracks me up.

        Actually something came to me earlier today during my cab ride to the office – they have team specific channels now and everything is about customization. So why not set something up which allows a customer to give their favorite team and then have channel NHL 1 (if your in Canada thats how its set up) dedicated to that team. For me it’s the Penguins, so if I go to the channel, it only shows when the next televised game will be (currently it shows the run down of the evenings games and what channels they are on). When the game is on, that’s the channel I go to watch it. I have satellite in Canada so my box has a SIM card associated with it – it would be easy enough to associate a team with my SIM card. Hell even the NHL 2014 game allows you to customize the menu’s by selecting your favorite team so I know they can do it.

  3. I’m fed up with the morons who are running the US version of Center Ice. I follow the Toronto Maple Leafs and up until this year we got the Leaf home telecasts (TSN, SportsNet, Leafs TV) which are much more professional than the US fox telecasts. TSN can be a mini HNIC. This year the mentally challenged dirt bags running center ice are not showing the Canadian teams home telecasts. Sitting through the opponents homer commentators is really bad and the in between periods is unbearable. It was bad enough before when these mental giants didn’t show Canadian telecasts in HD! I pay the same fee for center ice as the American fans but I’m not getting my moneys worth. I’m getting ready to open a class action law suit against the NHL and all carriers of the US center ice package. If there is any other fed up viewers out there that want to join, please let me know in the forum.

    1. Jim,

      I recall a Hockey Night in Canada game a few weeks back. It was Toronto vs. Washington, if I remember correctly, and the game went to a shootout.

      Well, just before the shootout started, the screen went black and a message said that the program was unavailable in my area.

      What happened? According to the schedule, the NHL Network was going to show the HNIC broadcast of the Canucks-Blackhawks game. However, that was blacked out in Chicago. Even though they were still showing the Leafs-Caps game, it was 9pm CST, and that “time slot” had to be blacked out. Center Ice was not carrying Washington’s broadcast, so I could not watch the shootout!

      Even worse, the HNIC broadcast was blacked out after the game, too, so I was unable to see “After Hours.”

      That night in particular is what prompted me to write this article.


  4. God suggestions Sal. I have never had one of those subscricptions for any league before, but from what I’ve heard it seems like these would make Center Ice a lot better.

    I find it really weird that the mobile and TV NHL subscriptions are two separate services! And they each cost 160 bucks!? That’s crazy to me.

    And please, do not bring up the Kane and Toews Chevy commercials.

  5. I totally agree on all of your points as well. I am in the East, Carolina’s market but a NYR fan. I try and watch as much as possible, catching a lot of the late(in the east) West games and they let a lot more through they have less blocked out than the East games. Presently watching the Avalanche at the Flames and nothing is blacked out, commercials and in between periods is coming through. Of course it is not in HD, thanks for that too. The addition of GCL would be awesome! I am not sure why there is such a difference, I thought maybe someone fell asleep every night there is a West game that runs into 1AM in the east.
    Thanks for your thought!

  6. have no idea how you Yankees will have it next season, but here in the GWN, we’re screwed.
    Rogers/Sportsnet just spent 5.2 BILLION for the tv contract. The EXCLUSIVE tv contract. (watch the salary cap climb!) That means no more TSN, and all CBC HNIC broadcasts for the next 4 years will be under the exclusive control of Sportsnet. They will choose the advertising, the on air talent, the editorial direction, everything.

    Problem is, Sportsnet blows. It’s like watching a small town NBC affiliate.

    And, they take over total control of Center Ice and Game Center Live.
    They’re predicting the price to increase by as much as 100%, but probably around 50%…

    The upside? No local blackouts. The downside? Horrible coverage by horrible announcers.

  7. Think Dolans. Then think Center Ice. Why are the Rangers, Islanders, Devils and Sabres all subject to the annoying We’ll Be Right Back! and terrible music when none of the other NHL videocasts are not? It’s because the Dolans want compensation and Center Ice will not provide it. That’s why all viewers of games broadcast on MSG Network suffer. The league should be able to do something to remedy this situation.

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