Puck Daddy - NHL

There are a few bits of positive news in the 2010-11 VERSUS schedule for the NHL regular season, so let's get those out of the way before reaching the bang-head-on-desk scheduling decisions that infuriate puckheads on an annual basis. 

Give VERSUS credit: After years of snubbing Pacific Time Zone teams, there's a real effort in this year's schedule to cover them. The Sharks saw their games double from last season; the Kings went from one game to five. The network is at the whim of the NHL schedule-makers, and what is scheduled for Mondays and Tuesdays; but clearly, there was an effort made to include more left-coasters. 

While the argument can be made that the scheduling remains quite top-heavy -- the Bruins, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Rangers, Penguins and Capitals appear a combined 66 times -- there does appear to also be an effort to bring new talent to the audience, as the Coyotes and Canadiens both saw their appearances increase.

From VERSUS:

Throughout the 2010/11 regular season VERSUS will televise 78 games, 13 more than last season, including 53 exclusive regular season games and 25 bonus games.  VERSUS will also air All-Star weekend from Raleigh, N.C. on January 29/30 and cap off the final week of the regular season with a game each night (Monday-Friday) leading into the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

During the postseason, VERSUS will once again air wall-to-wall action throughout each round, culminating with Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.

All of the network's non-bonus regular-season games are exclusive and VERSUS' regular-season schedule features a 'Game of the Week' wherein VERSUS will be the only place on television to watch an NHL game in the U.S. at that time.  VERSUS' bonus game coverage is subject to local blackouts. 

Coming up, the team-by-team breakdown of the schedule, including a year-to-year comparison for the teams. If you're a Florida Panthers fan not living in South Florida ... well, you may want to invest in Center Ice.

Here are the team-by-team totals for the VERSUS schedule next season, including exclusive games and bonus coverage, with last season's totals from the initial schedule release in parentheses:

Boston Bruins: 11 (7)

Chicago Blackhawks: 11 (9)

Detroit Red Wings: 11 (9)

New York Rangers: 11 (8)

Pittsburgh Penguins: 11 (8)

Washington Capitals: 11 (7)

Buffalo Sabres: 9 (7)

Minnesota Wild: 9 (7)

Philadelphia Flyers: 9 (8)

San Jose Sharks: 8 (4)

Montreal Canadiens: 6 (2)

Tampa Bay Lightning: 6 (2)

Colorado Avalanche: 5 (3)

Los Angeles Kings: 5 (1)

New Jersey Devils: 5 (6)

Phoenix Coyotes: 5 (1)

St. Louis Blues: 5 (5)

Carolina Hurricanes: 4 (Zero)

Columbus Blue Jackets: 3 (2)

Dallas Stars: 3 (5)

New York Islanders: 2 (2)

Anaheim Ducks: 1 (Zero)

Atlanta Thrashers: 1 (Zero)

Calgary Flames: 1 - Heritage Classic (1)

Nashville Predators: 1 (1)

Toronto Maple Leafs: 1 (2)

Vancouver Canucks: 1 (Zero)

Edmonton Oilers: Zero (Zero)

Florida Panthers: Zero (1)

Ottawa Senators: Zero (Zero)

Here's how the exclusive/non-exclusive games play out:

A couple of observations with the totals here and above:

• How does a network that brought viewers the 2010 NHL Draft fail to bring its viewers a single game involving that draft's No. 1 pick Taylor Hall(notes)? Jan. 4 has the Oilers and Red Wings, and VERSUS goes for the Wild and the Devils. Yuck. Fact: The Oilers haven't had a game on the initial schedule for VERSUS in each of the last three years.

• Nine appearances by the Buffalo Sabres happen because their local audience can move the ratings needle and because of Ryan Miller(notes), OLYMPIC HERO; but for a national hockey audience, that's probably about five appearances from the Sabres too many.

• The Montreal Canadiens' playoff run clearly showed them to be a draw on American TV, even if Cinderella has probably left the ball; and VERSUS responded to that. But again: You want to smack the schedulers for not getting a Montreal/Washington rematch on U.S. TV. 

• Phoenix and St. Louis play on New Year's Eve; please recall last season, Versus had a Winter Classic pre-show on Dec. 31. Nice move here to have a game to lead into that.

• Another case of local ratings meaning more than good hockey: The Minnesota Wild getting nine appearances this season, an increase of two from last year. Wow, someone must be amped for Matt Cullen(notes).

• VERSUS is using Ovechkin and D.C. to carry the ratings in games against the Islanders and Columbus after holding back on the Capitals in the past relative to the numbers for teams like Pittsburgh and Detroit. The Penguins, meanwhile, also play the Islanders and are featured in a game against the Maple Leafs.

• Finally, the inexplicable snubbing of the Vancouver Canucks continues.

Here's a team with a Hart Trophy winner, an Olympic star in goal, a video game cover boy at center and enough buzz as a Stanley Cup contender to warrant a few games against teams like San Jose and Eastern Conference powers on the schedule. Instead, it's one game against Detroit. Bottom line: VERSUS and the NHL's schedule-makers needed to get at least one Canucks/Blackhawks game on VERSUS, instead of two on TSN and one on CBC.

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