League hires a former NFL executive to beef up programming, NHL Network to see overhaul

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Even the most cynical hockey fan should value the NHL Network to at least some extent, especially if you’re an American puckhead. For all its faults, the channel often covers the league’s big events (trade deadline coverage, later rounds of the NHL draft, the occasional live game during the regular season) and NHL on the Fly is the best TV show for hockey highlights.

Still, there’s no doubt that the NHL Network has a long way to go before it becomes a must-watch channel for hockey fans. While I think their snark was a little bit excessive (the network features some decent original programming, particularly their day in the life series that follows a hockey player from their homes to the rink), Orland Kurtenblog captures some of the weaker points of their programming. Here’s their take on how the network’s Top 10 programs compare to the superior NFL Network versions.

The bigger problem, though, is poor execution. Each NHL Top 10 has a similarly stale feel. Host Dan Pollard stands in front of a television (I think it’s a Magnavox) and introduces the show. He then segues into No. 10. The list runs in reverse sequential order; each number is accompanied by a vignette of mashed-together, unnarrated highlights culled from a box of VHS tapes found in the network basement *. Pollard will only explain between three to five of the 10 on any given list, which leaves the viewer with a lot of questions: Why is this guy at No. 6? How come that game didn’t make the top three? Who exactly compiled this list of Top 10 shorthanded goals scored in 1997?

The Top 10 shows definitely have a low-tech feel and, as they point out in the article, it would be nice to gain greater context to their random lists. Why not throw in some interviews as players and coaches look back at those rivalries, if nothing else?

Well, as Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy points out, the NHL hired Charles Coplin (former NFL vice president of programming) to overhaul the league’s content across a variety of platforms. Coplin’s title will be executive vice president of content. As such, he hopes to overhaul the NHL Network (among other league vehicles) to compete with other networks in breaking news and – perhaps most importantly – to generate original content.

First big news: The NHL is taking over its own Network from CTV, and a new Hi-Def studio will be built in Toronto. Which is great news for anyone wondering why Kevin Weekes(notes) keeps appearing on a public access set five times a week to talk about the Predators.

Second big news: NHL Network is going to stop being a meandering home of highlight reels and random archival programming, and start becoming a place that breaks news and creates timely shows throughout the year.

While it will take some time for the network to transition from “Low budget station that features many reruns and strange informercials about Randy Couture’s exercise equipment/the occasional creepy spot about catheters” to a top-notch operation, it’s exciting to hear that the league is going to put some resources into NHL Network. I think I speak for most hockey fans when I say: the more hockey, the better.

A really bad day for NHL ice

Detroit Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader (8) knocks the puck from New York Rangers right wing Pavel Buchnevich (89) in the first period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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In two different NHL arenas, there were two emphatic complaints about the ice on Sunday.

The first complaint was launched by Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, after his team defeated Detroit, 1-0, in overtime at Joe Louis Arena.

“I know the ice was the same for both teams, but the quality of the ice today was just horrendous,” Vigneault said, per the New York Post. “When you can’t put two passes together because the puck is bouncing all over the place, makes it very hard on both players, who have some skill. It makes it hard to put that skill on display.”

The second complaint came from Canucks goalie Ryan Miller, following a 3-2 loss to Chicago at United Center.

“This ice is the worst ice I’ve seen in my career,” said the 36-year-old netminder, a guy who’s been in the NHL since 2002.

Perhaps Miller was upset about the loss, but the winning goalie at United Center was Corey Crawford, and Crawford himself is no fan of the ice in many NHL buildings.

“I’ve always thought the real issue (with the lack of scoring) isn’t goalie equipment,” he said recently, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “The issue is ice. If you can make ice like the way it is in Colorado, the way it is in Washington, Edmonton — you make the conditions like that for every game in every rink, guys are going to score. … Massive difference between battling with the puck and making sure it’s going to be on the ice, and just playing. … You watch a game where the ice is just horse[bleep], it makes a huge difference.”

We wonder if Crawford has heard that the ice in Edmonton isn’t actually that good anymore.

Outspoken agent Allan Walsh weighed in on the topic Sunday.

“Hearing from players that generally the quality of ice league-wide is getting worse,” Walsh tweeted. “Over time, can lead to groin, back and hip issues.”

Now, to be fair, it’s not an easy task, making good ice in buildings that also host basketball and concerts and whatever else.

But if the quality of the playing surface is, indeed, getting worse, then it’s a problem that the NHL needs to address. Whether it’s sending more experts to help, or even cracking down on teams whose buildings don’t meet the standard, something needs to be done, because the entertainment product is at stake.

P.S. — Sunday in Pittsburgh, there weren’t any emphatic complaints about the playing surface at PPG Paints Arena, but there was a lengthy ice-related delay that sent the Penguins and Bruins to the dressing rooms with 6:26 remaining in the first period.

Pens d-man Ian Cole called it “a pretty good hole” in the ice.

“They got it slush-filled, and then the ref came over and checked it and it was just slush,” Cole said, per the Post-Gazette. “It wasn’t even close to ice, so they were like, ‘OK, we need to do a little more work on it.'”

Related:

Barclays Center ice was ‘unplayable’

The Sharks are going to try and fix their ‘garbage’ ice

Amid trade rumblings, Gionta wants to ‘continue the job’ in Buffalo

COLUMBUS, OH - APRIL 10:  Brian Gionta #12 of the Buffalo Sabres fires the puck into the zone during the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 10, 2015 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus defeated Buffalo 4-2. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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There’s an interesting dynamic at play with Buffalo captain Brian Gionta.

Gionta, who turned 38 last week, is in the midst of a quality campaign. With 10 goals through 46 games, he’s flirting with 20 for the season — a mark he hasn’t hit since the ’10-11 campaign in Montreal.

He’s also on pace for 39 points, which would be his high since signing with the Sabres three years ago.

For a playoff team, this kind of production and veteran presence is invaluable. More to the point, a playoff team wouldn’t part with it.

But the Sabres are right on that playoff bubble — five points back of Boston for third in the Atlantic, and five back of Philly for the final wild card — and, should they fall out of contention, the Gionta conversation becomes quite different.

At that point, he’d be a pending UFA (last of a three-year, $12.75 million deal with a $4.25M cap hit) armed with a limited no-trade clause, as opposed to the full NTC he had in years one and two.

Gionta would also figure to be a fairly intriguing addition at the deadline. In addition to his experience and leadership qualities, he’s appeared in over 100 Stanley Cup playoff games, winning it all with New Jersey in 2003.

He knows it might be time to move on. But he also knows he wants to stay.

“That’s out of your control,” Gionta said of trade talks, per the Buffalo News. “The only thing you can control is on the ice, and I’ve had it before throughout my career where your contract’s up.

“I want to continue what’s here. I want to continue the job I thought I’d be a part of.”

The Gionta situation in Buffalo will certainly be one to watch as we get closer to the Mar. 1 deadline.

Detroit loses Vanek, Larkin ahead of key tilt against B’s

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 15:  Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on while playing the Tampa Bay Lightning at Joe Louis Arena on November 15, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. Tampa Bay won the game 4-3. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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It’s been an injury-plagued campaign in the Motor City, and now that bug has carried over to two of the club’s top forwards.

Thomas Vanek — the team’s leading scorer this season, with 31 points — and speedy sophomore Dylan Larkin will both miss tomorrow’s crucial game in Boston with their respective injuries, per NHL.com.

Larkin, 20, is out for the next two games with an upper-body ailment suffered in Sunday’s 1-0 OT loss to the Rangers. Though he’s struggled in his second professional season — just 18 points in 47 games — he had shown signs of coming on lately.

In fact, Larkin starred in last week’s wild 6-5 comeback win against the Bruins, scoring his 12th goal of the year while recording his first multi-point effort since October.

As for Vanek, he also suffered an injury on Sunday — of the lower-body variety — that will temporarily derail what’s been a solid bounce-back campaign (Vanek is day-to-day, per GM Ken Holland).

The 33-year-old has shown well in Detroit after getting bought out by Minnesota last summer — as mentioned above, he’s tied with Henrik Zetterberg for the club lead in scoring and it’s fair to suggest he’s been Detroit’s best player this season, even though injuries have limited him to just 36 games played.

The Wings head into tomorrow’s action four points back of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, and four back of Philly for the final wild card spot. If they’re going to extend their historic playoff appearance streak, every game matters — yes, even ones now, in late January.

NHL on NBCSN: Sharks look to complete home-and-home sweep of Avalanche

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 21:  David Schlemko #5 and Kevin Labanc #62 of the San Jose Sharks celebrate after Schlemko scored the game-winning goal in overtime on Spencer Martin #30 of the Colorado Avalanche at SAP Center on January 21, 2017 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Colorado Avalanche host the San Jose Sharks at 9:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Tonight’s game between the Avalanche and Sharks will be the second time they go head-to-head in three nights.

On Saturday, Colorado came back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, but they eventually fell in overtime, as Sharks defenseman David Schlemko scored the game-winner just 1:18 into the extra frame.

Despite the loss and the horrific record they own, Avs coach Jared Bednar has felt good about the way his team’s been playing of late.

“We are coming on,” Bednar said on Saturday, per the Denver Post. “It’s discouraging at times because you don’t get the results. It’s those one or two mistakes. You have to find a way to cure, to eliminate them as much as you possibly can, make sure you’re not making the same mistakes over and over. But we’re playing real good hockey against real good teams right now and we’re fighting and in all the games.”

When you’re 13-29-2 overall, you try to find small victories in every battle, and improved overall play during losses has to be considered a small win every time.

Over their last 11 games, the Avalanche have come away with just a single win (2-1 in OT over the Isles on Jan. 6). With the OT loss to the Sharks on Saturday night, Colorado has picked up three of a possible 22 points during that stretch of 11 games.

As you may have expected, scoring has been a huge issue for them. If we look back at their last 10 games, they’ve managed to score more than two goals just once, and that came in a 6-4 loss to Chicago on Jan. 17.

As for the Sharks, things couldn’t be going much better right now.

Since their 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 14, they’ve rattled off four straight wins over Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay and Colorado.

So yea, these two teams couldn’t be headed in more opposite directions. San Jose won as many games last week as the Avalanche have since Dec. 8.

Saturday’s game against the Avs was the Sharks’ fifth game in eight days and at times, they looked fatigued. Even though they ended up pulling out a win, they weren’t satisfied with their overall play.

“When we’re on our game, we’re making it tough with grind time and traffic at the net, some chances,” Joe Pavelski told CSN Bay Area on Saturday. “Tonight we didn’t have as many as we could have had. We’ll try to find a little bit more for next game.”