Atrophy and Timeslots in Love

by Ryan

Tonight the Penguins and Capitals are playing hockey less than 24 hours after they last met. That means it’s going to be a heck of a hockey game on a Saturday night, perfect for Hockey Night in Canada.

There’s something about hockey on a Saturday night. It’s not just the presentation by CBC or the Canadian teams involved. Hockey is meant to be played at night, and whether you’re watching at a bar or with some friends in your house, the games are always enjoyable as part of a late night.

They just feel more important on a Saturday night, and that’s especially true when it comes to post season hockey. Some of the best games I’ve ever watched were the late night overtime games in Calgary or Edmonton during the playoffs, and the time of night had a lot to do with what made those games great.

If not for golf tonight’s game would probably be played at 1pm. Instead, NBC will be showing golf for six hours. At 7pm they will show the evening news, which I suppose is completely acceptable. After that NBC will have reruns of Law and Order (Special Victims Unit), Southland, and Law and Order.

Now, I know what the ratings say. These shows probably outdraw hockey, and that’s all NBC needs to know when it schedules these things. However, isn’t this the perfect game to put in prime time and try to attract some attention? I mean, how are the two biggest stars in the league not playing the pivotal game in their playoff series on national television?

The problem is that NBC loves the afternoon time slot. I’m sure the reason is justified, but it completely goes against everything that CBC, TSN, and Versus does with hockey. In fact, it goes against everything that anybody does with the playoffs. Even baseball puts its games at night becuase that’s where the ratings are. If even baseball is on at night, why not hockey?

What this means is zero prime time hockey games on NBC until the Stanley Cup Finals, which is completely unacceptable. How do you build momentum for your championship series if no one sees the games on your network?

I mean let’s face it, as hockey fans we put up with a lot of bullshit from NBC. They cut out of games because of horse racing, ignore about 24 teams in the league, and find any excuse not to air games. As a national broadcast partner, NBC is about as bad as they come.

But here’s the thing: the NHL has no choice. As Ray Ferraro said on the Jim Rome Show earlier this week, it’s clear which dog is wagging the tail here. The NHL plays patsy to NBC because they have no other options, and it’s downright embarrassing. The NHL has done an admirable job shaping Versus into a real television channel, but it’s still light years behind cable networks like TNT (NBA) and the almighty ESPN.

The problem is that the league is stuck, and it’s frustrating for fans to know how strong a product is being produced this time of year and how routinely it is being ignored. This past week Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin both notched hat tricks and lead off Sportscenter.

What are the odds that someone noticed and is looking for that on a Saturday night? If Cleveland is blowing out Atlanta and the channels start to change, tell me sports fans don’t stop on a Pens/Caps game with the series tied at two. Both superstars have five goals in four games, and you’re telling me people aren’t interested to see Ovechkin on the ice every third shift?

The NBA playoffs have been some of the most exciting in recent history. However, the same can be said for the NHL. But if an exciting series is played and no one knows where to watch it, how does it help a sport grow?

In a league riddled with atrophy, no one seems willing to help it grow.

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