A godsend occurred almost two years ago to my DirecTV programming lineup. In October of 2007 the NHL Network was added and thus, my life changed forever.
In my pre-NHL Network days, ESPN was the standard default channel where I would find my television hockey "coverage". Since that wonderful day in 2007, NHL Network has been the first channel I flip to when I'm not watching Gordon Ramsay calling some poor chef a "stupid cow" or a classic "Seinfeld" episode, like Kramer pretending to be the Movie Phone guy. Two years later, with NHL Network broadening its horizons and expanding on to more cable systems and its popularity growing among puckheads, there are some changes that can be made to improve the viewing experience.
After the jump, I offer five suggestions to help improve the quality of NHL Network.
More vintage games.
The NHL's video vault is likely vast with plenty of moving pictures featuring the likes of Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Maurice Richard, and Milt Schmidt. Fans constantly see these old-school players in interviews and in classic clips, but why not in action? What about the first televised hockey game between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens? Why not "Hockey Night in Canada's" TV debut featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings? How about the 1972 Summit Series with Canada and Russia? There are so many historic and memorable games that many younger hockey fans have never seen outside of clips or still photographs. Let's school these grasshoppers on the greatness of hockey's past.
Extended international/juniors coverage.
Like in international soccer, gaining access to international and juniors games could be a television rights issue, but while the NHL Network has shown AHL and NCAA games as well as the Memorial Cup and specific world junior championship games, it would be great to see the world championships and expanded juniors coverage added. So many fans in the United States don't have the opportunity to get to know any of the draft prospects until it's closer to the end of June. Having the ability to watch CHL games on a regular basis would help educate fans on whom their favorite team might draft. The world championships would be a welcomed dose of additional hockey while the NHL playoffs are in full swing.
Increased original programming.
Shows like "Top 10," "Classic Series," "Day in the Life" and "Voices" are terrific, but with plenty of hours in the day to fill, why not expand? A few weeks back, Scotty Hockey offered his own suggestions and a couple stood out to me as fantastic show ideas. "Home Ice Advantage" would give viewers a behind-the-scenes look at every NHL arena, ranging from the best food options to seats with the best sightlines. My personal favorite, "Puck Stuff" would focus on the collectibles aspect of the game, with different memorabilia showcased each week. Now that plenty of hockey fans have had NHL Network on their cable systems for some time, "Top 10 Power Forwards of the 1992-93 Season" is getting somewhat stale. I also might be able to recite the entire "Voices: Mike Lange" word for word by now. NHL Network added a few new shows last season and I hope it plans on adding even more this coming year.
Update the "NHL on the Fly" set.
View From My Seats feels the same way I do about this topic. The set looks cheap. Flip over to the MLB Network or, heck, even ESPN's "Baseball Tonight." Both of those shows feature expansive sets with their own little fields for the analysts to do demonstrations. Couldn't we get a small sport-court rink for Gary Green to show viewers why certain offensive and defensive systems work or don't work? What about the coach from those great NHL Network commercials? What could he be up to? Maybe he can the run mock rink when Green is off?
"NHL on the Fly" should also be more than just a highlights show with a little bit of talk. Fans want analysis, to see plays being broken down and hear the hot topics of the day discussed. Maybe that's a different type of show altogether, but for the moment, "NHL on the Fly" is the place to be on NHL Network for that type of coverage. Dan Pollard sleeps under that desk anyway, so you know he's always available for coverage should news break at any point in the day.
Improved fantasy hockey show.
One mistake NHL Network made last season when it premiered its "NHL Fantasy Faceoff" show was having hockey personalities as their fantasy analysts. Talking hockey and talking fantasy hockey are two different things. NHL Network needs to get a definitive fantasy hockey personality (or more) on its show. There are plenty of decent fantasy puckheads who know what they're doing and can provide better analysis than "Yeah, Dany Heatley's(notes) gonna score a lot of goals for you." Fantasy fanatics wants to know how many possible starts Tim Thomas(notes) is going to get in the next week and which young players are valuable keepers.
So these are just a few of my thoughts on making the NHL Network better for hockey fans in the future. I'm sure many of you have your own thoughts on the channel and what you would like to see. Please do share with us in the comments.