Chris Botta of FanHouse had breakfast with NHL COO John Collins (SPOILER WARNING: They had coffee and eggs) to discuss a great many things about the league's marketing and television plans.
Collins has been a driving force behind the growth of NHL Network and NHL.com, both in viewership and in the scope of their coverage.
The website, for example, has answered the demands of fans who were going elsewhere (re: blogs) for things like fight videos, news stories that don't exactly flatter the league and breaking hockey news. NHL.com has, in the last year, improved in those areas, and readership has grown.
NHL Network, meanwhile, is a lot less focused and captivating. Last summer, Sean Leahy spelled out a few changes he wanted to see on the station, including some revisions for the signature highlight show "NHL On The Fly." Collins told Botta some good news: It'll be presented in HD next season.
Some less-than-good news? NHL Network is still going to be milquetoast in its commentary about the league. Which is why you're likely not searching it out now on cable.
From FanHouse, here's Collins:
Wouldn't the league be better served by a little more emotion, perhaps the occasional viewpoint that not every move a coach, general manager, player or league executive makes is okay? The former NFL Senior VP was blunt.
"I don't think fans go to a league-branded network expecting a talk-radio discussion," he said. "They know they're going to get their information fairly straight-up. Where I'd like to see us continue to expand is by providing more access. That's where the NHL Network and NHL.com can really be at their best."
There's a happy medium here that Collins doesn't seem to want to reach.
But that doesn't mean the network shouldn't have more debates, more unfiltered critiques of the game than it does now.
Collins came from the NFL; any given Sunday, the NFL Network provides more candid commentary about the games and the sport from its talking heads than the NHL Network ever does.
Perhaps this is due to the fact that NFL coverage on the broadcast networks is so opinionated that the NFL's station has to respond to that tone. Perhaps NHL Network doesn't see the urgency in, say, matching Brian Engblom's scintillating oration on VERSUS.
The point here is that there's a void for quality hockey opinion and engaging hockey talk on American television. The VERSUS studio show has annually failed to provide it. ESPN barely touches the sport in an in-depth way on the air. If NHL Network was to provide that "talk radio"-like banter, the fans would respond. Because, in the U.S., there's nowhere else to find it on television.