A moment of silence, please, for the NHL on NBC.
The network has been a wonderful steward of the game, but its 16-year relationship with the league will end with the completion of the Stanley Cup Finals in July. Beginning next season, ESPN and Turner Sports will share TV coverage for seven seasons.
Tap your stick for the peacock, which gave us Doc Emrick, outdoor games and “Inside the Glass” reporters. Or break your stick over your knee when you consider the bird also gave us Mike Milbury, Pierre McGuire and 8:30 p.m. CT starts.
Overall, NBC and NBCSN gave us tons of games to watch with quality broadcasting and production, not to mention fond memories of Outdoor Life Network and Versus, the precursors to NBCSN, which will be shuttered at the end of the year. The NHL needed to hit refresh and air its games on multiple networks, like every other major American league does.
After ESPN bought the NHL’s primary package for a reported $400 million per year, Turner outbid NBC for the secondary package, paying a reported $225 million per year. According to Sports Business Journal, NBC offered $100 million. Apparently, the network was ready to move on, too.
NBC recently doubled its rights fee for the NFL to $2 billion annually, and it wants to maintain its rights to the English Premier League after this season. The network also reupped with the PGA Tour in March 2020. NBC decided something had to give, and it was hockey.
ESPN has been there and done that with the sport. It most recently carried the NHL from 1992 to 2005, relinquishing its rights after the 2004-05 season was canceled because of a lockout. We already know the network’s famed NHL theme music will return, but we don’t know who will be calling the games. The expectation is that longtime hockey guy Steve Levy will serve as the network’s top play-by-play voice, but his “Monday Night Football” duties could present conflicts for the first half of the season.
We do know who will form Turner’s top crew on TNT: Kenny Albert and Blackhawks analyst Eddie Olczyk. Turner wasted no time ensuring that NBC’s top talent joined its team, giving peace of mind to NHL fans who might be leery of the hockey neophyte’s broadcast quality.
But Turner is no novice when it comes to sports broadcasting, particularly with its eye for shoulder programming. Its “Inside the NBA,” with host Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith, is one of the best sports shows ever. The network also has assembled some great MLB pre- and postgame casts over the years, most recently including Johnson, Chicago native Curtis Granderson, Pedro Martinez and Jimmy Rollins.
For its NHL show, Turner could pick from NBC’s talent roster, which includes hosts Liam McHugh and Kathryn Tappen and analysts Anson Carter, Keith Jones and former Blackhawk Patrick Sharp. But NBC isn’t losing sports, just its sports network, and some of that programming will move to USA Network next year. So there might not be a mass exodus from NBC to TNT like there was when Fox swiped NFL rights from CBS in 1993 and a bunch of CBS people followed.
Turner also could venture into Canada and try to pry some big media types from the home of hockey. The problem with hockey, though, is that there aren’t many big-name personalities among former players, such as Barkley or even Martinez, to draw American viewers.
Might Blackhawks great Jeremy Roenick be able to rehabilitate his image at TNT? Roenick, who was fired by NBC for making inappropriate sexual remarks about Tappen, would fit that controversial, opinionated role. He could be entertaining when he was at NBC.
As for TNT’s game schedule, the popular assumption is that Wednesday night will remain hockey night, as it has been for years on NBCSN. Logic dictates that TNT won’t want the NHL to go up against football Friday through Monday, and the network has devoted Tuesdays and Thursdays to the NBA. That leaves Wednesday, which only would require moving AEW Wrestling to a new night.
However Turner handles hockey, its sports portfolio has never been better, and that includes TNT’s years carrying NFL games on Sunday nights for the first half of each season from 1990 to ’97. Check out Turner’s lineup of big events in 2022:
- NHL Winter Classic
- NBA All-Star Weekend
- NCAA Tournament, including Final Four and championship
- Stanley Cup playoffs, including conference final
- NBA Western Conference finals
- American League playoffs, plus MLB games Tuesday nights as part of new contract
Say hello to the nation’s newest sports behemoth. Who would’ve thought that the NHL would put Turner over the top?
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