NHL on NBC: Game 1 earns best rating since 1997; Pierre McGuire’s honor defended

The NHL entered the 2013 Stanley Cup Final knowing that the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins were going to be a ratings smash in the U.S., based on the strength of the local viewership numbers and the attention this Original Six battle was getting nationally.

So how big was Game 1? Here’s Paulsen of Sports Media Watch with the great news for hockey:

Game 1 of the Bruins/Blackhawks NHL Stanley Cup Final earned a 4.8 overnight rating on NBC Wednesday night, up 100% from Kings/Devils Game 1 last year (2.4), and up 50% from Bruins/Canucks Game 1 in 2011 (3.2).

The 4.8 is the highest overnight for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final since Red Wings/Flyers on FOX in 1997 (5.1), and the third-highest Game 1 overnight since the final returned to broadcast television in 1995. Only Panthers/Avalanche Game 1 in 1996 (5.2) and the aforementioned Red Wings/Flyers game earned better numbers.

It was also the highest-rated non-clinching Stanley Cup Final game since Game 5 of the 2000 Final between the Dallas Stars and the New Jersey Devils (5.3), whom you’ll recall repelled audiences with their defensive style and killed interest in the NHL. File that under “hockey myths.”

Interesting, locally in Chicago, that Game 1 vs. Boston was up 49 percent over Game 1 vs. the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011. Is that the Blackhawks’ bandwagon expanding exponentially, or the NHL’s?

Meanwhile, the man behind the NHL’s success on NBC has had enough with anonymous critics of the divisive man inside the glass, Pierre McGuire.

Sam Flood, the executive producer for NBC’s fantastic coverage of the NHL, recently spoke with Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated about the Stanley Cup Final, and was asked about McGuire being a “polarizing” broadcaster.

Said Flood:

"I consider Pierre to be the gold standard, the position of being inside the glass was created because of Pierre. His skill set is uniquely suited to telling stories on air. His knowledge of the game and background of every player on the ice is incredible. He is a huge asset. He won an Emmy Award this year for obvious reasons. The sad thing about how society is today is there are a small group of people who shout loud and hide behind blogger names and fraudulent titles and attack people. They attack Cris Collinsworth. They attack Al Michaels. They attack Pierre McGuire. They attack Mike Milbury. They attack Keith Jones. They are a bunch of chickens who hide behind their Twitter names and attack people. Shame on them. If you want to say something, say it with your name behind it. But if you want to hide behind funny little names on the Internet, be my guest. But shame on you."

(Does anyone attack Keith Jones? Seriously?)

Andrew Bucholtz of Awful Announcing, who hipped us to the story, had this take:

It's no secret that NBC hockey analyst McGuire has been the target of plenty of criticism from hockey fans over the years. However, writing that criticism off as a product of just those who "shout loud and hide behind blogger names" is insanity in 2013. Some of the most prominent criticism of McGuire has come from the hockey players he interviews, including Henrik Zetterberg rejecting his interview request, Marty Turco's 2011 mockery of him and Mike Commodore tweeting that McGuire "ruins hockey" for him. Even in the media realm, it's far from just anonymous bloggers who bash McGuire. In fact, much of the best criticism of McGuire has come from those willing to use their names.

I’m obviously one that’s put his name to criticism of McGuire, which has at times grown so zealous that I actually gave up mocking him for Lent. Other than the occasional ribbing for ribbing’s sake, I stand by every bomb I’ve tossed, and I think Flood has a deaf ear for the justifiable criticisms of his star analyst.

First off: The idea that critics of an on-air talent should be shamed because of their anonymous drive-by vitriol misses the larger point, which is that they give a damn. About McGuire. About Collinsworth. About Milbury or Roenick or anyone else whose role it is to provoke as they analyze.

Yes, some of the criticism is mean and nasty and, in Pierre’s case, phallus-obsessed. But there’s a reason Pierre is a rock star and Brian Engblom has to settle for being an incredibly smart and insightful analyst whom no one remembers, and it has everything to do with those critics, anonymous as many are.

As for this gold standard stuff ... once more, with feeling: Trivia does not equal insight.

Constantly playing favorites with certain star players undercuts the network’s evenhanded coverage.

The insatiable desire to add as many cents beyond his initial two for every situation detracts from the action and, frankly, undermines his own assets as an analyst: Take last night’s soapbox on hybrid icing during a play between the Bruins and Blackhawks that wouldn’t have qualified for no-touch icing under the proposed rule. Besides getting the situation wrong ... it’s Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final; what’s next, a passionate debate about the IIHF player transfer agreement during the second overtime?

Do I wish more of McGuire’s critics would focus on these issues rather than getting personal with him on social media and message boards? Of course. I’ve met him. He’s a good dude. We’re both Jersey. Flood’s point is taken there.

But again: There seems to be a blanket endorsement of McGuire’s approach when many, many viewers aren’t appreciative of it.

He’s not my brand of vodka, but it’s not like I want him off the air. Toning it down a little and allowing the game to take precedence? I’ll put my name to that request.