NHL and ESPN Are Together Again

According to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, NHL fans may be getting what they want with ESPN signing a new deal with the NHL to become on of their media partners starting next season. ESPN will get rights to four Stanley Cup Finals between 2022 and 2028 and streaming rights to the league. The NHL and NBC deal ends at the end of this season and plenty of people were clamoring for the NHL to go elsewhere. It may look like they’ve partial gotten their wish.

The NHL hasn’t been a regular entity on ESPN’s family of networks since 2004, they have had games on ESPN+ over the past couple of seasons, as well as beefing up their coverage of hockey thanks to the work of Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski, as well as Chris Peters– who was let go from ESPN during the pandemic. With NBC Sports Network going dark in lieu of PeacockTV, it only makes sense that ESPN would pick up the lead in this for the TV side.

While this does seem like a step in the right direction, the issue remains whether or not it’ll tip the scales all that much and if we’ll actually get a change in the teams being broadcasted. The biggest issue when the NHL spurred ESPN for the old Outdoor Life Network was because ESPN didn’t see the NHL as a money making entity and low-balled them on a new deal. Has that sentiment changed at all?? Maybe. Honestly, though, I don’t see the NHL getting as much screen time on a network that is jammed up with other, more profitable for the network sports.

It would be great to have the ESPN talking heads be all about the NHL and yell and bitch on their overpaid showcases of hot takes that mimic a talk show– but I don’t see that happening. If nothing else, the NHL gets more exposure due to the notoriety that ESPN has over other sports networks. That said, I don’t see it really tipping the needle in terms of exposure to the sports for people since the NHL will move to fourth on the depth chart of sports over the defacto top spot they had on NBCSN. Granted, it was the NHL or Meecum Auctions, so the competition of the networks wasn’t that stiff.

Yet, when you think about it– the numbers could be slightly better just due to reach, but outside of that– who knows what that could bring. You have to think that an NHL Tonight type show will be around; but outside of that– what’s it going to take for people to notice the NHL on ESPN?? More importantly– how long before NHL fans bitch about not receive the coverage they think they should get on the World Wide Leader??

In the grand scheme, this is an upward move– how can it not be?? ESPN is everywhere and they have a multitude of platforms on the TV side that people can get to on cable and whatnot. Streaming rights are what they are, which makes me wonder if things don’t go swimmingly or other leagues start to demand more, if that was a safety net installed to put the NHL on ESPN+ when all is said and done and only use ESPN or ESPN2 for the bigger events. This also doesn’t account for who the other partner would be for the other half of the NHL rights and how those two will co-exist.

But for not, strike up the National Hockey Night theme and relive the good-old days of hockey on ESPN.

NHL Outdoors Was Great, Don’t Expect It Again for a Bit

The Lake Tahoe games happened. Aside from the sun being the mortal enemy of ice on Saturday– you’d have to say it was ultimately a success. The sights, the sounds, the kayaks– all of it was solid for the viewing public. That was ultimately ruined by Rutledge Wood, but we take what we can get with NBC’s budget on hockey for sideline reporters. It was super enjoyable, especially in a year we didn’t think an outdoor game would happen.

Odds are we won’t be seeing that for a good while.

With this “NHL Outdoors” branding, there are four different outdoor games that can occur now: Outdoors, Heritage Classic, Winter Classic, and Stadium Series. The only one that you can’t utilize in a league that needs all the money it can muster is the Outdoors concept. The rest of those are in over-capacity venues that will provide solid revenue for the league, while this Outdoors concept seems to be the one that is where there’s little to no fans. That way, the ad wizards at the TV license holder can pat themselves on the back when they keep using the ideal of “taking the game back to its origin” and remind us of all the players starting out on the pond playing hockey.

There’s a good chance that next season, we’ll have PLENTY of outdoors games– assuming people will be let into buildings to watch sporting events. When the NHL had the shortened 2012-13 season, they made up for the lost half-season by holding six outdoor games the next year and made some good cash off of that to put into the Hockey Related Revenue. For some reason, I could imagine that number at least doubling because of all the lost revenue from the pandemic not allowing capacity crowds into the buildings. They need to start to break even some how.

Which is why the Outdoors idea will only come into play when the league has the money it need and has a setting and teams that are remote enough that little to no fans will be in. We’ve joked on the Face Off Hockey Show about the idea of the league putting the game on an aircraft carrier like the NCAA did with the Carrier Classic or the WWE did with trying to slam Yokozuna. I mean, if they can make ice anywhere, the aircraft carrier is far too perfect, while also serving their want/need to hold games at military venues as they did at the Air Force Academy and Naval Academy.

Everything was perfect for this event to take play and give a way to have an outdoor game in a pandemic. But it’s only because they couldn’t have fans anyway and the golf courses weren’t actively being used in February. Just don’t be surprised when it doesn’t happen for another five years or so and everything is stabilized. Then you can have stories of how people tried to break into the closed event.

Divisional Sponsors Are My New Favorite Thing in the NHL

The NHL is getting that bread, gamers, as they announced divisional sponsors for the upcoming shortened season. Scotiabank (North), Mass Mutual (East), Discover (Central), and Honda (West) will be the presenting sponsors of the divisions in a move to not only recoup losses from lack of box office, but maybe add another way to get hockey related revenue into the game.

Rumors have this as being a one-and-done thing given the oddity of the upcoming season…but why?? Why turn a potential money-maker into a one-year events when you have to think there’s sure to be hiccups going into the 2021-22 season, as well, when it comes to attendance.

As someone who covers NASCAR, I love the idea of sponsorships being a thing. Do they run sports?? Sure, just look at how arena naming conventions are and then try to debate me on this and helmet decals ruining the purity of the game. It’s also some more money coming into the league. Like I said with the helmet decals— until capitalism dies, this is the way to go. And what a smart way for the NHL to go about it by pretty much selling everything they can and say it’s only for a year. If it gets people talking, if it creates more marketing opportunities, if it’s generating dollars…why kill it after one year.

The NFL doesn’t do this, nor the NBA and MLB. But you have to wonder if the NHL is going to blaze the trail for getting money out there in a new way.

Sure, these sponsors are already in the NHL’s pockets with other deals and this was probably a small raise to their rate already, but it’s a start. If this could garner interest in new sponsors coming in to the game, why not?? Plus, the intrigue of whether or not a company will renew their divisional rights and who could swoop into getting them. In NASCAR, this happens all the time, it’s a hoot to see where companies are going and what companies come into the fold. Not only that, but think of the trickle down in the minor leagues. The AHL and ECHL probably would want some of that money into their leagues.

I’m all for this being a thing always and forever. If this league relies on money to stay alive, why not search out every avenue in which to make it?? If it flames out after a year, fine– you made the money you needed. If it keeps going, however, I think it’s the best for business because once that money goes into HHR; every then will benefit in some way, shape, or form.

Helmet Ads Are Here and They’re Fine

Photo via Washington Capitals

Stop bitching about company logos on helmets. Stop bitching about the idea of company logos on jerseys. This is the 21st Century and it’s an inevitability it was going to happen in hockey– so just sit back, grit your teeth, and let it take you in. The NHL is going from ads on practice jerseys to helmets and it’s just another evolution of the sports business. You’re not a traditionalist, calm yourself.

The Washington Capitals announced they’ll be one of the first teams to have sponsors on their helmet, with Capital One on their helmets. The New Jersey Devils also announced they will have Prudential on their helmets. Both of those sponsors are the sponsors of the team’s arenas.

The minor leagues have done this for decades and it’s what has kept them alive. Many minor league hockey fans may not even notice them today because they’ve been such a part of the uniform. Some junior league teams have ads on jerseys to help off-set costs and get their name out there more in the community. It’s how brands do things and it’s just a small part of how sports are done masquerading as a game and being more open about being an actual business– if you hadn’t figured it out before.

Nathan Fournier of the Lewiston Sun-Journal made mention of NASCAR drivers and if those fans were pissed off when company logos were displayed on cars and fire-suits for the first time. I counter with the fact they probably weren’t mad; but felt closer to the driver and team because they bought the certain sponsor or ate at the restaurant on the fire-suit.

Yes, the European sports leagues have logos every which way but loose, though that’s more of a situation where sports aren’t the big moneymaker there and the teams need everyone dollar to pay the players and survive from year to year. North America doesn’t necessarily have that problem, so they can make small patches doable. Of course, you’ll have people out there trying to make a mountain out a mole hill claiming traditionalism and the sanctity of the sports– but it’s a business. It needs to make money to survive. Until capitalism dies, this is how it’s gonna be. I will say, I don’t think the NHL is as stupid than to make their member teams have their crest be dwarfed by a sponsor on the jersey. They’re silly geese in the NHL offices, but not that silly.

The NBA has made plenty of money with it and the MLB have tried to dip their toes into the waters, why shouldn’t the NHL; especially considering the times we’re living in and the unknown of when they can have full arenas of people– not only by lifting of restrictions, but people’s willingness to spend money they may not have budgeted for and go out in public during a pandemic.

Your team is going to have the same color and pattern to their jerseys, they’re going to still have the same players out there, there’s just addition Hockey Related Revenue on their person to make the game more profitable, which raises the salary cap, which allows more players to get paid, which allows less transactions due to a stagnant salary cap.

To quote Gandhi (or was it Ric Flair), “Whether you like or don’t like it, learn to love it, because it’s the best thing going today. WOOOOOOOOOO!!”

Pretty sure that was Gandhi.

NHL, PA Agree To Season Start Time

Alright, here we go, the NHL is coming back with a vengeance on January 13th and it’s going to be…something.

When the 56-game season was announced Sunday, the people rejoiced, and why wouldn’t they?? The idea that a season would happen this early (if at all) was a welcome surprise. For me, the biggest eyebrow cocking moment was the length of season, with eight more games added than past shortened seasons have been. I understand that the NHL wants to get the most games out of the season, but for some reason, the idea of 56-games is a little odd to me given past history.

The revamped divisions will have all the Canadian teams in one, then as much regional content as possible.

Chaos happens in the Central with a nice mix of Midwest and Southeast content, which will really make travel fantastic for them. Along with the Canadian teams, these squads will be either battle-hardened by the playoffs or completely exhausted.

All the games will be within the revamped divisions for this season divisions with the playoffs almost being the same format until the final four teams are there. There’s not going to be any conferences this year and the final four teams out of their divisions will be reseeded on regular season points– which could create an all traditional Eastern or Western Conference Stanley Cup Final. The idea of that could be one of the better ones to come out of this whole season. If the NHL really wanted to shake things up…do that every year. To hell with the idea of Eastern vs. Western, just make the final four reshuffle and go from there. If it goes to a traditional match-up, sobeit– but the idea of a non-traditional Final is pretty solid to me.

In some locations, there will be fans. Dallas has hinted at going for the amount of 5,000 fans in attendance, which other teams haven’t been as clear on their plans. More over, the California teams can’t play in their home arenas due to restrictions in the state, while the British Columbia health ministry will stay strict when outside teams to come into the province to play. The NHL has said neutral location games might have to happen, while the idea of a baseball style series– three games in three days in the same location– could be a very prevalent look for the NHL this season.

No one knows what will come of this season, there are some on the fence on whether it should happen at all with the vaccines just rolling out into the world. That said, it gives people some joy in an otherwise dreary Christmas season.

Reverse Retro or BS Cash Grab 2020

When in need of revenue– make a new jersey.

That seems to be the tactic the NHL and Adidas are going when it comes to the new “Reverse Retro” jerseys that will be coming out for all 31 teams this upcoming season. Each team will have an imaginative retro jersey that will be a retro design, but the colors reversed. It’s not just a clever name.

While we’ve had some purported leaks when it comes to the idea of what could come from these (Pens, Flyers, Knights, Ducks, Bruins, Blue Jackets, and Caps), Adidas rolled out a teaser for every team. Chris Creamer of SportsLogos.net made a video about each team’s possible reverse retro garb.

There will be some hits, but there will be plenty of misses. I’m sure when it comes down to it, the idea of these will be in the eye of the beholder. Granted, this is great for the Hockey Relater Revenue that the NHL will need with the lack of fans in the stands, I don’t know if I like the road they are going down in terms of saturating the market with jerseys. It’s almost akin to the NBA and their “City” jerseys that Nike puts out every year for those teams.

I will concede that this is a new way to look at a retro jersey and that the actual retro jersey fad has been lacking any kind of excitement, I don’t know if this idea is any better or worse than the Stadium Series jerseys which basically are a “Turn Ahead The Clock” gimmick for teams playing in it. There’s only so many jerseys to look to and NHL has a lot of people claiming to be traditionalists that hate the idea of going too far outside of the box with retros.

Granted, I could be put into that latter box; but I feel myself more of the idea that these are going to look hideous and it’s just a Bullshit Cash Grab by the NHL and Adidas because they know people will clamor to these to be apart of the next wave of things.

Maybe it’ll be like the alternate jersey program in the mid-90s when it was just no-holds-barred and what was silly then will hold some kind of prestige after the fact. Hell, they may even be really, really good. But I won’t hold my breathe on either as of yet.

Could the IceRays Suspension Start a Lower Division Trend??

On Monday, the Corpus Christi IceRays suspended operations for the 2020-21 season due to the COVID pandemic and the concern for their team, fans, families, and the like. The positive cases in Nueces County is probably a cause of this, with 18,000 positive cases and 303 deaths; while also having severe outbreaks at living facilities and even the Houston Astros’ alternate site.

While this might usually go to my Clutch And Crab Hockey blog since it’s about the NAHL, this is something that could be the first of several teams making the tough decision to shutter down for the 2020-21 hockey season. Not just because of the ramifications of COVID, but also the uncertainty of the border opening for some leagues and differing regulations from state-to-state in regards to people needing to quarantine before being able to move about the area freely.

For the vast majority of minor league and junior teams, the box office is the biggest contributor for survival. Depending upon the regulations for the area, I would not be shocked to see more of these announcements coming out and leading to a big shuffle for teams and leagues to change schedules and for parent team– finding a spot for their prospective players. You see some NHL teams loaning out prospects to European clubs.

Could there be an off-chance that league make some kind of bubble season?? It’s an outside chance, sure. You have to think that they’d need to find a locale that could handle that sort of thing and then figure out logistics for it. Whether it looks like the NHL bubble or the MLS’ round-robin type tournament, a kind of season or tournament could be had for players and leagues to stay up and running; though it wouldn’t bring in as much money for the team or leagues that they would have hoped…it’d be at least something so they wouldn’t need to shut down for another season and have to deal with being without an end to two seasons of play.

Even with these measures, you never know what teams could still opt out because it’s not in the best interest of the team or community or anyone involved. That’s always a fear for some teams to get into a bubble and then have issues arise that set them back a little more than just opting out. We’re headed for a very odd time for lower division hockey, mostly because they are community based and provide a service to their area and should have a civil duty to help protect their community. Because of that duty, you’d have to think we’ll hear more suspension of operations due to playing not being in the best interest of the team and the area due to this pandemic.

A Look Back at the Qualifiers

The NHL’s first attempt at a Qualifier Round in the Hub Bubble was a success, regardless of how your team finished. The idea of a 24-team playoffs as the “new normal” began to have a little traction, especially with Barry Trotz speaking up about it. The downside to this would be the length of the season, of course. Unless teams vote to knock off 10 games to the regular season in lieu of those playoff games, the 24-team concept will be a one-and-done situation. Of course, playoff tickets do outweigh regular season ones; so teams who consistently make the playoffs could be swayed by that extra revenue; whilst the constant also-rans will hate to have five home games taken from them.

It’s hard to argue that it’s a novel concept– a qualifier of some sort with the top-four teams battling out to reshuffle the top positions. Though, some of the top teams would cry foul if they did get that top spot to have a better advantage in the playoffs, only to lose that spot when it came to the actual playoffs starting– much like how the Bruins lost their top spot because of their subpar play in the round-robin.

Granted, it’s not to say that getting the top spot will assure victory. We saw with the Oilers and the Penguins that just because you’re facing the weakest-seeded team, it doesn’t really mean the top team will get out in front. In fact, four of the eight qualifiers saw the lower seed winning, with Chicago, Montreal, and Arizona being below the 10-seed and still advancing.

A bugaboo for me was the statistics of it all. I don’t understand how the round-robin games count as playoffs games when the OT structure was that of the regular season. It’s not as if they were in any kind of series structure to it, so why would they count as playoff games??

The bubble concept has been great for people, especially since you can’t have fans in the arena, the time teams play is very flexible and creates all-hockey, all-the-time on the networks. We’d have to assume, however, when people are allowed back into the arenas, this will be a thing of the past. You’d actually have to choose between a number of games rather than just sit down and have them come one right after another.

Unsung to these games is the ice crew, who have been amazing in the bubble with the ability to keep the ice as good as can be with three games playing at a time, while also making sure they had the correct local ads on the boards for the “home” team and their regional broadcast. Not only that, but the game operation folks have been tremendous with their humor to the in-game presentations.

This was a good trial run to see how the length of a qualifier, coupled with how to spread out the games. If the NHL does start to scratch their chins about the idea of a consistent 24-team playoffs, then they can pretty much push to this in order to determine the success and failure. Only issue would be doing it across multiple sites and not just one or two.

Overall, the qualifying round proved to be a nice re-introduction to most people for hockey and the playoffs, which will hopefully carry over into the actually playoffs when they start on Tuesday.

Bubble Hockey Schedule Hypes My Hockey Enjoyment

The Bubble Hockey Playoff is going to sour me from playoff hockey the rest of my life.

The NHL has hit it out of the park with the Hub Cities idea and honestly, the way they’ve formatted the schedule so that there’s very few overlapping games, allowing fans to not have to choose between games has been remarkable. To be able to start at noon ET and then it end beyond midnight is just a wet dream for hockey fans, but it also allows all the teams in the play-in to have center stage and put themselves on display. For many of these teams, it’s a big chance to show off what some people may be missing because they don’t get this kind of platform.

Unfortunately, this won’t be happening every playoff because the revenue that the games create is needed for the league to survive, blah-blah-blah– I don’t care. This is the perfect format for hockey to be seen, especially when it comes to getting interest in the game. With it constantly being on the NBC family of networks, it’s hard to avoid the games and the sports with that kind of reach. Let’s be honest, if not for other contracts, you’d have to think that NBCSN would be just 12-hours of hockey for their network.

To be quite honest, I don’t know if I miss the fans in attendance. Atmosphere does count for something and it’s a big talking point during the games. But at the same time, if it’s teams I have no stake in; I couldn’t care less about how the atmosphere is in the arena– it’s not like they can keep it up for all 60 minutes of game time. I’m sure I’ll be tired of hearing the “What could this ‘home’ team do if they had their fans to charge them up” narrative, but such as life.

At first I thought it’d be dreadful to deal with an empty arena– but the NHL and their broadcast partners in NBC and Rogers have done very well. Not only that, the arena workers (who should get more money for this) are doing a great job keeping the ice in as good of a condition as possible, while also quick-changing the advertising around the board depending upon the home team and what they’ve sold for the games. I honestly can’t say that I notice too much– whether that be because the game presentation is the same (if not better with other caveats they’ve put in) or the crowd noise pumped in and video messages being shown; but I like this more now than I would have in a normal playoff.

That said, I don’t know if I could deal with this year-in and year-out, but there’s something to be said about this atmosphere in the bubble and the amount of hockey you get in one day because of the staggered scheduling. I’m quite enjoying how it’s been plan and how it’s been executed– let’s just see if I still feel that way in October when it’s over with.

More Timelines Coming Into Focus for Hockey Season 2020-21

As leagues start to set their target dates for their own reboot, John Hoven of SiriusXM dropped a little tidbit about the AHL that kind of caught my eye and it wasn’t until a second reading that it struck me.

An opt-in/out deadline.

It’s not insane to think of this being a thing, especially since we’ve seen that traveling for sports hasn’t paid off the best dividends so far. However, the biggest thing is the chain reaction this could make overall for teams and their affiliates.

As it stands, about one-third of the AHL is independently owned from their NHL affiliate, so those would be the ones that would be hurt the most with no fans in the arena, which could mean they would be more apt to opt-out for the season rather than take a bigger financial loss by operating without any money to counteract it.

For an entire season, a bubble situation doesn’t seem very viable, as the logistics as it is for the playoffs is pushing the capacity of the ice makers– albeit summer is much different than winter for humidity and all of that. Still, the availability of a location and the stir-craziness that could come from that would most likely be detrimental to the players for an entire season.

There’s plenty of iron out in a short time as they have a week before a vote is put forth, if we are to believe this timeline is true. With the SPHL announcing their plans to restart, you have to think that the rest of the minor leagues will start to make moves– especially with the NHL putting their timeline out there and now the AHL kind of lining up with the same; the ECHL will probably be in that same boat. Should be interesting to see in the next coming weeks.