The best news, without question, in the 2019-20 NHL broadcast schedule is that NBC, the league's U.S. television partner, has carried over its decision of last season to spread the wealth among teams.
For the most part, that is.
Wednesday night is the showcase night on NBCSN, and three-quarters of the league's teams are going to get their shot in that spotlight. That includes everyone from Montreal to Vancouver to Arizona (twice!). That's pretty cool.
(Of course, there are a variety of teams featured every night on ESPN+, where you will find the NHL streaming again this season.)
As we have done each time the TV schedule is released, here are the winners and losers from the new NHL on NBC docket:
Winners: St. Louis Blues
The Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues (yep, still weird) saw their total games increase to 15, up five from 2018-19. That includes their banner-raising on Oct. 2, four appearances on the Wednesday Night Hockey showcase and an Oct. 26 Saturday night showdown in Boston against the Bruins in a Cup Final rematch. Also, the NHL All-Star Weekend is in St. Louis. Prepare to hear "Gloria." A lot.
Losers: St. Louis Blues
When the NBC schedule dropped, there was one universal reaction: How could the reigning Stanley Cup champions, from a solid U.S. market that produced strong playoff ratings and that looks to contend again this season, not merit a single appearance in the NHL on NBC slate after appearing twice in 2018-19?
The Philadelphia Flyers are on NBCSN 18 times and NBC twice for a total of 20 games, by far the highest total for any NHL team in 2019-20. That's an increase of three appearances from last season, when the Flyers failed to qualify for the playoffs. I've been meditating on why a team that's 25-1 to win the Stanley Cup and whose biggest offseason acquisition was coach Alain Vigneault would appear more times than the Boston Bruins (12) and San Jose Sharks (7) combined, and this is the only answer I could muster: Gritty.
Please recall that this fluffy orange demon debuted after last season's schedule was released and pretty much became the NHL's biggest crossover star since Wayne Gretzky soon thereafter. So absent any other logical explanation for the Flyers having more appearances than any other team in the league on NBC, it's Gritty. The answer is always Gritty.
Loser: P.K. Subban
The Nashville Predators were featured 12 times last season with Subban and are on another 12 times this season without him. His new team, the New Jersey Devils, added Subban, No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes, and 2018 Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall returns ... and they had a net increase of just two games, none of them on NBC. There are 17 teams with more televised games than the Devils. (Although, in context, the Devils haven't had more than two appearances in a season since at least 2014.)
Winners: Central Division teams not named the Blackhawks or Jets
The Blues (15), Dallas Stars (6), Colorado Avalanche (12) and Minnesota Wild (12) all saw increases from their appearance totals from last season. In fact, the six-game bump for the Avalanche was the largest for any team, while the five-game increases for the Stars and Blues were tied for second-highest. (As mentioned, the Predators were a push.) So the Central Division is booming ...
Losers: Blackhawks and Jets
... But not for everyone. The Jets' brief surge in national broadcast exposure has receded, as they go from five games last season down to one this season, the Heritage Classic against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 26. Last season marked their first regular-season TV appearances after failing to make the cut since at least 2014.
The Blackhawks are still a heavily featured team, with 14 appearances, but that's down five from last season. More importantly: For the first time in recent memory, the Blackhawks do not have an "NHL on NBC" appearance ... while the Detroit Red Wings have two. Go figure.
Winners: Western Conference on NBCSN
In what's either a transparent attempt to fight back against "East Coast bias" taunts, an acknowledgement of the NHL's power imbalance or perhaps an accounting error, NBC announced that the Western Conference accounts for "more than 60 percent" of the schedule this season. Again, this is mostly due to the Central Division, as the Sharks (minus-1), Ducks (minus-4), Golden Knights (minus-3) and Oilers (minus-3) all saw declines. (The Los Angeles Kings, inexplicably, gained two appearances year over year. The Todd McLellan Effect!)
Losers: Western Conference on NBC
Where the West didn't win: The NHL on NBC. There are just two games featuring Western Conference teams on the schedule, down from three last season: the Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl between Nashville and Dallas on Jan. 1, and the Stadium Series game at Air Force between the Kings and Avalanche. Every other game on NBC features Eastern Conference teams.
Yes, there are time zone considerations. No, you shouldn't crow about a "60 percent Western Conference schedule" when that number for games on the biggest stage is about 16 percent.
Winners: Vancouver Canucks
On Oct. 9, the Vancouver Canucks host the Kings as the nightcap of a Wednesday doubleheader. Why is this significant? Because it's the first time the Canucks will have appeared on NBCSN in several seasons. Going back to 2014 -- and possibly beyond it -- Vancouver never had a single game on the network, despite being a perfect late-night foil for West teams and having the Sedins. So congrats to Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes for doing what the Sedins couldn't, we suppose.
Losers: Ottawa Senators
The only team without a game on NBC or NBCSN this season, after getting the goose egg last year too. But don't worry, the Senators will be featured plenty when Eugene Melnyk's plan to win the Stanley Cup "in three to five years" comes to fruition.
Winner: Sidney Crosby
The Kid remains the king. The Penguins are on NBC networks 16 times, up one from last season and even from two years ago. Crosby's team is on "NHL on NBC" six times, more than anyone else, and on Wednesday Night Hockey six times.
While NBC deserves credit for having spread the wealth to different franchises in the last two seasons, this schedule does a disservice to two of the league's biggest attractions.
McDavid is, demonstrably, the best offensive player in the world. He is on four times, three fewer than last season. Matthews, a generational talent on an Original Six team (and video game boxes) whose popularity cuts through borders and demographics, is on three times, three fewer than last season. That's one more than Columbus. McDavid and Matthews do face each other on NBCSN on Jan. 6.
Winners: Flyers/Penguins/Capitals love triangle
Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington are geographic rivals that have been intertwined at times during the Crosby vs. Ovechkin era. Eight games on the schedule are some combination of the Flyers, Penguins and Capitals, including four of the 12 games featured on NBC.
Losers: Moments that matter
Among the games not nationally televised on the schedule: any game featuring John Tavares at the Islanders; Phil Kessel's return to Pittsburgh; Subban returning to Nashville; Milan Lucic in Edmonton as a Flame; Corey Perry's return to Anaheim; Nazem Kadri's return to Toronto; Artemi Panarin or Sergei Bobrovsky returning to Columbus; and Joe Pavelski's return to San Jose.
There's a lot of great hockey on this schedule. There are a lot of compelling matchups. But for years, fans in the United States have noted the disconnect between the league's compelling storylines and the games that are ultimately featured. And with due respect to the always interesting battle between the Flyers and the Penguins, on Jan. 21, the night that game is on NBCSN, Joel Quenneville returns to Chicago as head coach of the Florida Panthers. How is that game not nationally televised? (Yes, I'm asking for another game featuring the Blackhawks. Hey, at least it won't be outdoors.)
Here's the full breakdown of each team's appearances; last season's totals are in parentheses.
Carolina Hurricanes: 1 (1)
Columbus Blue Jackets: 2 (2)
New Jersey Devils: 4 (2)
New York Islanders: 2 (1)
New York Rangers: 13 (14)
Philadelphia Flyers: 20 (17)
Pittsburgh Penguins: 16 (15)
Washington Capitals: 12 (18)
From reader Christian, in China:
"Greetings from China, where we watch KHL and CWHL (pro women's hockey) games played at rinks around the country. I spotted this woman, who had no idea what she was wearing, at the bag pickup day for the GuiLin Marathon in the southern Guang Do province. Many people were photographing her, although none likely knew the significance of her attire or how 'foulish' it was on so many levels."
So, in summary: This person was wearing a Brett Hull St. Louis Blues jersey, stitched to a Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers jersey as some sort of gown, and was unaware as to why people were gawking at it?
What a remarkable Foul. Perhaps the first one we've ever had that could be loaned out by Rent The Runway.
Are general managers overpaid or underappreciated?
Hockey fans: "Most NHL general managers are overcompensated idiots, old boys who get jobs based on reputation and not merit and then perform their duties for two or three years building toward a championship and then several years of self-preservation. Really, you could find a 17-year-old playing EA Sports NHL, hire them and get the same result. They are eminently replaceable."
Also hockey fans: "Tom Dundon is a fool for being a tightwad over Don Waddell's contract and letting him interview with the Minnesota Wild."
The maverick owner of the Carolina Hurricanes opted not to hand his general manager a new contract after the season. According to News & Observer writer Luke DeCock, the Hurricanes have until the end of August to have a GM under contract, per NHL rules. Waddell, meanwhile, interviewed with the Minnesota Wild about succeeding Paul Fenton as general manager. A nominee as GM of the Year in the NHL, it's expected that he is going to be a significant contender for a gig that would seem to compensate him better than will Dundon.
"I'm not going to pay what other guys pay GMs, so me having a contract with a GM doesn't really help me," Dundon told DeCock, adding that he'd let him interview even if he had a contract. "Don in essence has a contract. I already told Don, 'I'm not going to fire you. If I did, I'd tell you a year in advance.' My life's pretty good. I want people to do what's best for their life. If this is what's best for Don, the Hurricanes will be fine."
Herein lies the difference between talent and management in the NHL. Sebastian Aho wasn't allowed to leave, and the Hurricanes paid him what the "other guy" decided he was worth. If Craig Leipold wants to hand Don Waddell a fat contract, Dundon likely lets him walk.
Essentially what he's saying is: "Our front office is bigger than one guy. It's a team philosophy fueled by a smart, effective support staff that's dedicated to analytics. If my guy wants to leave to chase the money, that's fine. There are 32 jobs like this in the world. I'll find someone else. I'll be fine. Frankly, my coach is more important."
Back to hockey fans. We really need to pick a lane. Either most general managers are recycled, replacement-level doofuses who keep other qualified candidates from ascending to the throne, or they're too precious to lowball on a contract.
Personally, I think Dundon could be on to something here.
Goal of the summer
Clearly, Canadian goalie Alexis Gravel should have had the millimeter next to his head covered.
Said Gravel after the game: "At first, I didn't know it was him. But then as soon as he shot it there I was like, 'No way it's in,' and then I knew it was him, because he's the only one who could do it."
Listen To ESPN On Ice
The season archive of our podcast can be found on iTunes. Honestly, if you're lounging at the pool, nothing is better than listening to two people who have had it up to here about playoff officiating.
Is this the year that age finally catches up with the Washington Capitals?
Justin Bourne on what prevents NHL coaches from having more creativity: "It feels like chances, and in turn goals, and in turn wins are being left out there by just about everyone, every night of the NHL season. The game is always changing and I think we're going to undergo a big shift in the coming years. The only question, as always with pro sports, is who wants to go first?" ($)
Sidney Crosby's appearance on the Spittin' Chiclets podcast finally dropped, and here are the Sid vs. Ovi highlights.
A look at pro hockey in Mississippi." Did you know both Mississippi State and Ole Miss have club hockey teams? They do. Did you know Mississippi has produced at least one born-and-raised-here professional hockey player? His name is Marvin C. Powell II, born in Jackson, raised in Madison, and he raises eyebrows everywhere he goes."
One Florida community plans on improving their water quality with ... hockey sticks?
How Ron Francis plans to build the Seattle NHL front office with analytics ... and those Eric Tulsky and Michael Peterson rumors.
Ryan Lambert looks at the free agent scrap heap.
Finally, this floor hockey team's jerseys might be my favorite thing I saw this week:
Our floor hockey team (the Heartfelt Whalers) has the ugliest jerseys possible. pic.twitter.com/eGuJV1jjDN— Mike Winters (@Mike_Wntrz) August 4, 2019
Matthew DeFranks of the Dallas Morning News, who's had a strong summer of writing, with a fantastic look at Joe Pavelski's goal scoring and how Dallas Stars coach Jim Montgomery sees him fitting with the team.
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
My look at the "lottery ticket" contracts in the NHL, i.e. players who took one-year contracts after massive buyouts. For every Brad Richards, there was an Alexander Semin.