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.

Report: Oilers and potential UFA Maroon talking extension

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The Edmonton Oilers and forward Patrick Maroon are reportedly discussing an extension, according to TSN’s Ryan Rishaug.

Maroon spent a good chunk of the season playing with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and it showed in his numbers.

The 29-year-old scored a career-high 27 goals (he had never scored more than 11 goals in a season) and 42 points in 81 contests.

Maroon is in the final year of a three-year contract that came with an annual average value of $2 million. You’d have to think that he’s in line for a raise.

“Obviously without those two I wouldn’t have the success I did, but sometimes you’ve got to give yourself some credit too,” Maroon said earlier this month, per NHL.com. “Those two are very tremendous players, and for me I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing to stay with them.

“Obviously [Oilers coach] Todd McLellan had a really big part in that. He gave me an opportunity to play with those two. For me, I’ve just got to continue what I did last year, come [to training camp] in really good shape again, and hopefully good things fall into place again.”

‘We’ve got to get that out of his game’: Trotz wants Ovechkin to cut down on slashing penalties

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As you may have noticed, the NHL is trying to crack down on players cheating on faceoffs and stick infractions.

The first week of the preseason has been nothing more than teams getting a good look at their power play units because players still aren’t used to the way officials are calling the game.

One of the players that has to adapt to the officiating is Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, who took two slashing penalties against Montreal on Wednesday night.

“Too many slashing penalties,” Caps head coach Barry Trotz said, per the Washington Post. “Ovi took two. We’ve got to get that out of his game.”

Like all players, it’s something the Capitals captain will have to get used to before the regular season begins. But let’s be honest, there’s a good chance that these officials won’t be as strict on the stick or face-off infractions as the regular season goes on.

Ovechkin isn’t the only star player that’s having an issue adapting to some of these stricter on-ice policies. Earlier in this week, Bruins forward Brad Marchand ripped the new face-off rule.

“This faceoff rule’s an absolute joke,” Marchand said. “That’s how you ruin the game of hockey by putting that in there. They’re going to have to do something about that because we can’t play this year like that. That’s brutal.”

We’ll see if the league actually sticks to its guns here. If they do, how long will it take the players to adjust?

Housley focused on making Sabres ‘an aggressive team’

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The Buffalo Sabres haven’t been a playoff team in quite some time, but the organization is hoping that their major offseason changes will help them take a few steps in the right direction.

One of those major changes came behind the bench, as the team hired Predators assistant Phil Housley to be their head coach.

Housley did some terrific work with defensemen like Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban last season. A big part of Nashville’s attack came from defenders pushing the pace from the back.

“We want to be an aggressive team,” Housley said, per NHL.com. “I think everybody we’ve talked about playing aggressive offensively but we need to play aggressive defensively. I think defense gives you a chance to win every night and they’ll understand that we want to be fast and aggressive. The days are gone when a guy wants to make a breakout pass and the [defense] just watched the rush go up and play; they have to get up in the play not only to maybe join the rush and add to the attack, but to be in the offensive zone, being able to keep pucks in, or else you’re going to start playing defense.”

The Sabres could use an offensive boost from their defense (or anyone really). Last season, Jack Eichel collected 57 points in 61 games, which comes out to an impressive 0.934 points-per-game. But Unfortunately for the Sabres, no player topped 60 points in 2016-17.

Buffalo changed the look of their defense during the summer, as they acquired Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal and Marco Scandella from Minnesota. Both guys are capable of moving the puck, which should help Housley execute his plan.

Also, it’ll be interesting to see if Housley can take Rasmus Ristolainen‘s game to the next level. The 22-year-old has surpassed the 40-point mark in each of the last two seasons. He’s also served as the big-minute guy on the Sabres blue line.

“We’re here to learn from him and pick his brain, he was a [heck] of a player in his day,” defender Zach Bogosian said. “He gets the game. He’s played for a while, he’s coached for a while, he’s been around forever.

“Guys are looking forward to playing that style.”

Report: Blue Jackets RFA Anderson in contact with Hockey Canada about 2018 Olympics

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The preseason is well underway and Josh Anderson is still without a contract.

Anderson, who scored 17 goals and 29 points last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is one of two remaining restricted free agents without a new deal. The other is Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings.

While there were reports this summer about Athanasiou potentially going to the KHL for this season, John Shannon of Sportsnet reported on Thursday that Anderson’s representatives have reached out to Hockey Canada’s staff about the 2018 Olympics. 

Anderson’s entry-level contract, with an AAV of just over $894,000, expired at the end of last season.

Meanwhile, here is the latest on this ongoing contract situation.