The NHL Network has proven to be a godsend to hockey fans in the United States. Without it, fans would be lost as ESPN barely mentions the NHL, while Versus is still trying to build up it’s programming. When the NHL Network debuted in the States, it was loaded with classic games and several original programs. As time has gone on, many of those original shows have been jettisoned for more studio analysis. The lack of original programming really shows up during the summer. Instead of airing encores of these shows or new programming, U.S. viewers are stuck re-watching the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. And even worse, it’s the same games over and over again. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Clearly, it’s not easy for a league network to fill time during the off-season. The NFL Network does a fair job while the NHL seems to be lost. Last season, NHL Network tried an interesting summer promotion. Their Raising The Cup series featured every Stanley Cup clinching game over the past 30 years. It was great re-living these moments, especially since many of these games hadn’t been aired in years. They were balanced out with Vintage Games and other former NHL Net programming. This summer has been a disaster and the NHL Network has been nearly unwatchable since July 2.
The NHL Network previously showed plenty of original shows. These included Voices, Top 10, Pioneers, A Day in the Life Of, Captains, A Day That Changed the Game and The Hodge Stove League. Unfortunately, virtually all of these shows are dormant and are no longer in current production. That leaves the network with a huge void when it comes to filler programming. To fill this void, the decision was made to load up the schedule with game after game of the 2011 playoffs. And sometimes, this schedule didn’t make any sense. Last week, they featured the series between Buffalo and Philadelphia. It was repeatedly shown over and over again. In one case, they aired games 1-7 in a row, only to then count down and show games 6-1 after airing Game 7. Surely, there is something that would’ve worked better in that timeslot then repeatedly showing the same series, and even odder, out of order at one point.
While there’s nothing wrong with re-airing the best of the 2011 Playoffs, why not balance it out with Vintage Games and new episodes of Top 10? A little variety would go a long ways for the network during the summer months. Instead, U.S. viewers are stuck with watching the same thing. Even stranger is that Canadian viewers are seeing a balanced schedule. The Canadian version has shown some 2011 games but they aren’t repeatedly aired. Instead, the lineup is filled up with Vintage Games, Classic Series, and encores of the now long cancelled original NHL Network programs. It’s a much better schedule than in America, and while it’s not compelling programming, it’s better than the same things over and over again. Another welcome addition to the U.S. feed would be a simulcast of TSN’s That’s Hockey. Since that show is being shown during the summer and it’s loaded with NHL Network personalities, it would be a perfect fit on the schedule as would repeats of HBO’s 24/7.
Former ESPN producer Mark Preisler became the NHL Network’s executive producer this past winter. He’s made some nice changes including adding a pre-game version of On The Fly. The addition of Kathryn Tappen leads me to believe that some new original programming is on the way for the NHL Network. Hockey fans are craving that. While studio analysis is great, it can get monotonous and in no way, can that fill up time during the summer. Creative original programs are re-watchable and that should be a focus of the NHL Network’s to help grow the channel. It’s hard to be taken seriously if you just want to show the same games and highlight shows repeatedly. It’s time for the NHL Network to add some more variety and give hockey fans something to enjoy during the long off-season. The current schedule isn’t cutting it.