Puck Daddy - NHL

The evolution of the NHL's GameCenter Live subscription-based online viewing platform has been impressive over the last few years. It's gone from a way to simply stream live, out-of-market games to a completely immersive experience for fans, with multiple views and live stats and instant video clips of big plays.

For more than a few puckheads, it's a necessity.

The NHL's task is to continue to find ways to make it more vital and to justify its consumer cost, which can range from $120-$160 depending on when the subscription starts during the season. (The NHL is dropping it down to $79 for the rest of the season and the first two rounds of the 2009-2010 playoffs -- blackouts permitting.)

Its latest innovation? Going old school.

"NHL Vault" is a library of full-length classic games which will be available to GameCenter Live subscribers; non-subscribers can get in on the fun for a $4.95 per month standalone subscription. The tentative launch date for the service is Tuesday, March 23, according to the NHL.

If you thought reading a blog was a great way to procrastinate via hockey during the work week, how about watching the entire Heritage Classic outdoor game from 2003?

Coming up, some screen shots (via the NHL) and some of the nearly 150 games that will be available when NHL Vault is added to NHL.com next week.

The digitized games date back to the 1960s; and as you can see, they're not all in color. The NHL says the initial library is about 150 games, with new games added every month. Hopefully this becomes like "Rock Band" downloads, with requests and breaking news on message boards about which games are being uploaded.

From the looks of things, there's a lot of functionality in the Vault, with fans able to head directly to certain moments of the games. Hopefully it's like a DVD player, where you have a menu and can skip to those classic goals or saves or fights; if not, there's always room to improve in Version 2.0.

From the NHL, some of the classics that'll be featured in the NHL Vault:

May 19, 1984 - The Edmonton Oilers defeat reigning champs (New York Islanders) to win their first Stanley Cup

Dec. 2, 1995 - Patrick Roy's last game as a Montreal Canadien (vs. Detroit)

June 14, 1994 - New York Rangers defeat the Vancouver Canucks to win their first Stanley Cup since 1940

November 22, 2003 - The Heritage Classic featuring the Canadiens vs. Oilers

Dec. 31, 1975 - The Montreal Canadiens meet the Red Army in the famous New Year's Eve game

May 29, 1993 - Wayne Gretzky records a hat trick as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Leafs and advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time.

May 2, 1985 - Quebec Nordiques eliminate the Canadiens with an overtime goal in Game 7

May 24, 1980 - The New York Islanders defeat the Flyers and win their first Stanley Cup on Bob Nystrom's overtime goal

May 1, 1992 - Canadiens eliminate the Hartford Whalers with an overtime goal in Game 7

Previously, classic NHL games have been available on NHL Network and on Hulu, which has about 16 of them available for streaming. Neither of them compare to what the NHL is doing with its Vault. Especially since the Vault apparently includes the Whale.

If you aren't subscribing already, would this addition increase the chances that you would plunk down dough for GameCenter Live? Does watching classic games and highlights online do anything for you?

Most of all: What games would you want to see digitized in the future? Like, for example, shouldn't every All-Star Game be digitized A.S.A.P.?

We're encouraged by this, but want to see what it looks when it goes live next week; specifically, what the games are going to look like. Because our ratty old VHS tapes haven't been re-cut by a digital editor, so hopefully NHL Vault offers the same unfiltered nostalgia. Even if we may be spared the unparalleled joy of local commercial breaks.

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