Today is the big day for hockey's return to US network television as NBC takes the puck and skates into living rooms across North America. The NHL on NBC drops the puck on its schedule with three games starting at 2pm Eastern, 11 am Pacific Saturday. The New York Rangers travel to the motor city to take on the Detroit Red Wings, Peter Forsberg welcomes his former team mates from Colorado to his new digs in Philadelphia and Dallas plays the Bruins to round out the debut of the great return.
The network will then present five weekends of action leading up to the Stanley Cup playoffs when they will provide a fair bit of coverage, including prime time exposure of games 3-7 of the Stanley Cup final. NBC also has the contract for the Turin Olympics and plans on featuring the US Olympic hockey team as one of its main programming options.
The last time NBC and hockey got together was on April 6, 1975 when Minnesota and Chicago took to the ice. Best known for the Peter Puck features of the day, NBC would eventually let the sport leave its programming grid. From there hockey has been on a gypsy like path with stops at CBS, ABC, FOX and ESPN over the years.
This year it finds itself on the Outdoor Living Network as its cable partner, as well as numerous local packages for the American teams. The return to NBC brings with it the usual gimmicks, those kinds of things that American networks love. Saturday hockey on NBC will feature goalie cams, mics on the players and roving reporters right down at ice level between the two team benches.
NBC is not paying any rights to the NHL for the product, it's a form of a barter system in place where the NHL will earn revenue from commercials aired during the broadcast. But for Gary Bettman just getting back on American network television will be considered a victory, he's hoping the speed and action of the reborn NHL will more than help to sell the spots and attract the audiences.