NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour features original shows, films and documentaries this week on NBCSN, headlined by Center of Attention: The Unreal Life of Derek Sanderson, The Joe: Joe Louis Arena Documentary and 2020 All-Star All Access.
Beginning Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET, NBC Sports will present two episodes of NHL’s Who Wore It Best? on NBCSN. The episodes will feature analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp taking part in debates over the best players to wear certain jersey numbers in NHL history.
NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban continues Monday at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Hosted by the Devils defenseman, the show features fans answering a trio of hockey trivia questions from their homes, along with appearances from NHL players and celebrities, for the chance to win NHL prizes. NBC Sports’ Pierre McGuire will join the show, as well as Hockey Hall of Famer and six-time Stanley Cup champion Bryan Trottier, Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood and NHL referee Wes McCauley.
Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.
Monday, June 1 – NBCSN
• NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban (Episode 8) – 5 p.m. ET
• The Joe: Joe Louis Arena Documentary – 5:30 p.m. ET
Tuesday, June 2 – NBCSN
• NHL’s Who Wore It Best? (Episode 2) – 5 p.m. ET
• NHL’s Who Wore It Best? (Episode 3) – 5:30 p.m. ET
• Distanced Training: Ready to Get Back in the Game – 6 p.m. ET
• Unveiled: Smashfest – 6:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday, June 3 – NBCSN
• #HockeyAtHome: He Skates, She Skates – 4 p.m. ET
• Our Line Starts – 4:30 p.m. ET
• Fort Neverlose – 5 p.m. ET
Thursday, June 4 – NBCSN
• 2020 All-Star All Access – 5 p.m. ET
• Center of Attention: The Unreal Life of Derek Sanderson – 6 p.m. ET
NHL HAT TRICK TRIVIA HOSTED BY P.K. SUBBAN : NBC Sports’ ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will join the eighth episode of NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban. The show features fans answering a trio of hockey trivia questions from their homes, along with appearances from NHL players and celebrities, for the chance to win NHL prizes. Additional guests on the episode include Hockey Hall of Famer and six-time Stanley Cup champion Bryan Trottier, Devils goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood and NHL referee Wes McCauley.
THE JOE: JOE LOUIS ARENA DOCUMENTARY: The film highlights the construction of the arena and a number of the significant moments that took place there over the years, including the team’s Stanley Cup-clinching win in 1997 that ended a 42-year championship drought. The Joe includes interviews with former captain and current GM Steve Yzerman, as well as late Red Wings legends Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay.
NHL’S WHO WORE IT BEST?: NHL’s Who Wore It Best? will feature hockey writers, broadcasters and insiders debating the best players to wear each jersey number in NHL history. The five-part series will air on NBCSN every Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET. The second episode features NBC Sports analyst Keith Jones, who takes part in debating the following jersey numbers: 55, 40, 34, 32 and 31. The third episode features NBC Sports analyst Patrick Sharp, who takes part in debating the following jersey numbers: 28, 27, 26, 25 and 21.
DISTANCED TRAINING: READY TO GET BACK IN THE GAME: NBC Sports’ Jac Collinsworth hosts a digital series, Distanced Training: Ready to Get Back in the Game, which showcases the home workouts and mental training of some of the world’s top professional, collegiate, and Olympic athletes. This 30-minute special from the digital series includes interview clips with:
UNVEILED: SMASHFEST: Former NHL player Dominic Moore hosts a 30-minute program with special guests Brad Marchand of the Bruins and Mitch Marner of the Maple Leafs who work with a world-renowned street artist to design custom ping pong tables for charity.
#HOCKEYATHOME: HE SKATES, SHE SKATES: NBC Sports’ Kathryn Tappen co-hosts a 30-minute program that features three sets of NHL players and their family members who play the sport professionally or collegiately. The pairings are:
• Avalanche forward J.T. Compher and sister Jesse Compher, who plays for Boston University
• Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse and cousin Sarah Nurse, who plays professionally and for Team Canada
• Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson and wife Emily Pfalzer Matheson, who plays professionally and for Team USA
OUR LINE STARTS: The latest episode of NBC Sports’ weekly NHL podcast will be presented at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The show is hosted by Liam McHugh alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp, who analyze the league’s Return to Play format and potential matchups in the Qualifying Round.
FORT NEVERLOSE: Titled after the nickname of the Nassau Coliseum, this one-hour special examines the Islanders’ history and memorable moments on the ice in the storied arena.
2020 ALL-STAR ALL ACCESS: This behind-the-scenes special, narrated by actor Jon Hamm, looks at the 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend, which took place in St. Louis, Mo. in January. The program includes exclusive audio content from mic’d players and features on numerous All-Stars throughout the entire weekend, including the fan fest, skills competition and the three-on-three All-Star Game.
CENTER OF ATTENTION: THE UNREAL LIFE OF DEREK SANDERSON: This one-hour documentary chronicles NHL star and two-time Stanley Cup champion Derek Sanderson’s remarkable life on and off the ice. The film, narrated by actor John Slattery, features interviews with eight Hockey Hall of Famers, including Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito.
NHL Return to Play: A look at the Western Conference matchups
While a lot can change between now and actual, meaningful hockey happening, the NHL announced its return-to-play plans on Tuesday. That means we learned the 24 teams who will be potentially playing hockey later this summer, with 12 from the Western Conference and 12 from the East. We also learned about the seven teams who will have a long wait until next season, and how the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will be handled.
Most directly enticingly, we found out about eight Qualifying Round matchups if play is to resume in a few months. We also learned that the top four teams in each conference will play in round robin tournaments to determine seeding for the First Round.
For the Western Conference, the winners of each Qualifying Round will go on to face one of the Blues, Avalanche, Golden Knights, and Stars.
Now that we know the teams, let’s take an overview of the four Western Conference qualifying round matchups.
The Oilers surged to the Pacific Division’s second spot on the strength of “The Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid Show.” A lot had to go right for that to happen, even beyond Draisaitl and McDavid dominating compared to their usual, lofty standards.
When it comes to judging the Blackhawks, it’s all about your expectations. If you were expecting the return of dynasty days, then sure, you’d be disappointed. Most have tempered such expectations, and with that in mind, the team at least found ways to scrap toward reasonable competitiveness. Sure, they can be a mess, but sometimes they snatched victory from the jaws of defensive defeat.
On paper, Chicago probably hopes to break even regarding special teams. Yes, both teams featured top-10 penalty kill units this season, but the Oilers boasted the most efficient power play in the NHL, while Chicago’s PP was almost the worst.
Even with Robin Lehner shipped away in a trade, the Blackhawks may hold a goaltending advantage. Corey Crawford finished 2019-20 on fire, while Edmonton’s options were merely average.
Considering the gap between McDavid and Draisaitl vs. Kane and Toews, cynics might groan when things are framed as the battle between a dwindling dynamic duo and a rising one.
But … c’mon. It is fun to picture how those rising stars will try to learn new tricks from those old dogs. The truth is that Kane and especially Toews already “passed the torch,” yet this could be a lot of fun. Really, the (mostly) flawed rosters around both duos could make the battles more fun to watch.
After stumbling for much of the season, the Predators were starting to get their wits about them entering the pandemic pause. On the other hand, the Coyotes seemed to be running out of gas, and rank among the teams lucky to still be in the dance.
Even before COVID-19 disrupted life and sports, the Predators experienced plenty of drama. It says a lot about the ups and downs of the Predators’ season that they a) fired Peter Laviolette during the season, b) hired John Hynes, who was also fired during 2019-20, and c) managed to finish in the old wild-card setup entering the pause. Phew.
That goes for Laviolette to Hynes, and also improving on issues from 2018-19. Despite adding Matt Duchene and removing P.K. Subban, the power play remains a drag. New issues surfaced, too, with Pekka Rinne‘s play sagging to a worrisome degree.
Personally, the feeling with the Predators is “they made all of those changes to end up, basically, in the same spot?” You could say similar things about the Coyotes. Despite bringing in Phil Kessel and then Taylor Hall, the Coyotes continue to live off of goaltending (and to a lesser extent, defense).
At least Arizona’s goalies have delivered enough to make that living survivable, if not easy. Darcy Kuemper continued to quietly rank among the league’s best, while Antti Raanta came through when Kuemper got hurt.
The Coyotes and Predators split their season series 1-1. Nashville won the last meeting 3-2 on Dec. 23.
Predators: The 2019-20 season presented the Predators with injury issues, but they were healing up nicely around the time of the pause. Dan Hamhuis should probably be healed up, though.
Storylines to Watch
When you look at the way these teams are put together, both the Predators and Coyotes made bold moves to step forward. Instead, they’ve basically stood in place.
Will either team be able to argue that the gambles eventually paid off once play resumes? Can Duchene justify his price tag? Can Phil Kessel regain his scoring touch? How much money will Taylor Hall lose or gain in free agency?
The Predators and Coyotes have a lot to prove, and a lot to lose.
Also, “Coach vs. Player” doesn’t really do much for me when the two say glowing things about each other, but Hynes did coach Hall during Hall’s Hart season so …
(7) Canucks vs. (10) Wild
Regular season recap
As different as their paths and outlooks have been, it’s fascinating how little space there ended up being between the Canucks (78 points, 69 games played) and Wild (77 in 69 GP).
The Canucks already boast some of the premium pieces the sort-of-rebuilding Wild should clamor for. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes look like stars now, let alone later. Their development buoyed Jim Benning’s gambles, from ones that were brilliant (J.T. Miller, costly or not) to not-so-much (Tyler Myers, mainly costly). Pettersson, a few other skaters, and an on-point Jacob Markstrom have made things work just enough.
By most underlying measures, the Wild were actually a pretty competent team in 2019-20. They played well enough, collectively, that Bruce Boudreau probably didn’t deserve to be fired. That’s just how it goes for coaches in the NHL, though, especially since Bill Guerin didn’t hire Boudreau. (Frankly, Jason Zucker wasn’t the problem either, but at least trading him seemed like a gesture toward rebuilding.)
Really, you could argue that Devan Dubnyk was as responsible as anyone for Boudreau getting fired. If the Wild played at about the level they did — including Kevin Fiala rising to something approaching a star level — Minnesota could be a fairly tough out.
They’ll need better goaltending, though, whether they hope Dubnyk can rebound, or they stick with Alex Stalock, who was increasingly grabbing starts.
Wild won two of the three games, although one of those victories came via a shootout. That aforementioned (Wild won 4-3 [SO]) happened during their most recent meeting on Feb. 19.
Vancouver missed the playoffs for four straight seasons, and five of their last six. The Canucks also haven’t won a series since losing Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final to the Bruins. As much as it sometimes feels like these youngsters are skipping to the front of line for Vancouver, Canucks fans must be getting antsy.
While it only seemed like the Wild were headed toward two consecutive seasons without postseason appearances, their larger decline extends further. Minnesota won two first-round series in 2013-14 and 2014-15, but otherwise haven’t seen much from the Zach Parise – Ryan Suter era. (Who, for all the negative talk around them, remain top contributors for the Wild.)
A Parise trade didn’t work out. Mikko Koivu did not get traded, whether the Wild wanted to or not. As badly as the Wild need a rebuild, this unexpected opportunity opens the door for a last hurrah.
So, will it be one more ride for the Wild, or a chance for the Canucks to take big steps toward an even bigger future?
(8) Flames vs. (9) Jets
Regular season recap
When considering the Flames’ 2019-20 season, don’t compare their work to 2018-19 alone. Unless you want to be sorely underwhelmed.
That’s because, frankly, multiple Flames put together career seasons they weren’t likely to replicate. You could argue that all of Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano, Elias Lindholm, and Sean Monahan might have played over their heads last season. Those players cooled off considerably — maybe extremely — and the Flames suffered as a result.
In a twist, that drop-off didn’t explain why Bill Peters got fired.
Even so, that group remains pretty good, especially with Matthew Tkachuk steadily improving (and thus becoming that much more annoying). Cam Talbot‘s also been a nice addition for the Flames, who are seemingly always looking for that goalie.
That goalie in Winnipeg ranks as far and away the main reason the Jets didn’t totally crash. Connor Hellebuyck absolutely saved Winnipeg’s season, as the Jets were absolutely dreadful on defense. As in: even worse than you’d expect after subtracting Dustin Byfuglien (voluntarily or not), Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers.
Jets: How serious were Bryan Little‘s issues? If they were season-threatening, maybe he could come back? If they are closer to career-threatening, then who knows? Perhaps we’ll learn more in the next few weeks.
Storylines to Watch
Last season, the Flames ranked first in the Western Conference, while the Jets managed 99 points. For all the disappointments in 2019-20, and even with some key omissions in mind, it’s not that difficult to imagine both teams putting something special together.
Two star-packed teams hoping to make the most of what is pretty close to a clean slate? That could be fun. Really, it could actually be the most exciting series for the Western Conference side if everything clicks.
Besides, Patrik Laine might say funny things, and Matthew Tkachuk has all that pent-up pandemic pest energy to release. (OK, that last part has me worried.)
This week’s Hockey Happy Hour on NBCSN will feature four notable milestone and record performances.
Dustin Penner’s overtime winning-goal gave the Kings a 4-3 victory to capture the series. With the win, Los Angeles became the first team to ever eliminate the one, two and three seeds en route to the Stanley Cup Final as well as start the postseason with an 8-0 record on the road.
The late, great Dave Strader, Brian Engblom and Darren Pang called Game 5 from Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz.
Tuesday, May 26 on NBCSN
• NHL’s Who Wore It Best? (Episode 2) – 5 p.m. ET
• Kings vs. Coyotes (2012 Western Conference Final, Game 5) – 5:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday, May 27 on NBCSN
• #HockeyAtHome: Meet & Greet – 4 p.m. ET
• Men in Blazers On Ice – 4:30 p.m. ET
• Flames vs. Avalanche (2019 Western Conference Round 1, Game 3) – 5 p.m. ET
Thursday, May 28 on NBCSN
• Blackhawks vs. Ducks (2015 Western Conference Final, Game 5) – 5 p.m. ET
NHL’S WHO WORE IT BEST? – TUES., 5 P.M. ET NHL’s Who Wore It Best? will feature hockey writers, broadcasters and insiders debating the best players to wear each jersey number in NHL history. The five-week series will air on NBCSN every Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET. The second episode features NBC Sports’ Keith Jones who takes part in debating the following jersey numbers: 55, 40, 34, 32 and 31.
#HOCKEYATHOME: MEET & GREET – WEDS., 4 P.M. ET NBC Sports’ Kathryn Tappen co-hosts a 30-minute program that features Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel and Matt Duchene of the Nashville Predators meeting fans and answering their questions virtually during the league’s hiatus.
MEN IN BLAZERS ON ICE – WEDS., 4:30 P.M. ET Roger Bennett, co-host of “Men in Blazers,” hosts an interview series featuring stars from around the NHL. Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews headline this episode.
Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.
Chances are, if the NHL can return to action for 2019-20 in some form, it won’t leave everyone happy. Doing so sounds borderline impossible. With that in mind, it’s interesting to gain some perspective from different players in different situations, including Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson and Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal.
Both Carlson and Staal focus on family regarding possible NHL return
Carlson, 30, and Staal, 35, are both veteran players (each with a Stanley Cup ring) who are in different positions in their careers. Their teams are in different situations, too.
Yet, if there’s a unifying factor for Staal and Carlson regarding an NHL return, it’s the importance of family.
Carlson spoke with Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live” about what really worries him about COVID-19. To Carlson, it’s not as much of a worry about contracting the virus. Instead, Carlson’s more concerned about possibly spreading the infection to a family member less equipped to handle such an illness.
While Carlson seems worried about how interacting with family and friends might go, it sounds like Staal is more concerned about a lack of interaction.
The pandemic pause allowed Eric Staal to support close family while a member sadly lost a battle with cancer. Being isolated from loved ones in a “hub city” setup would be a challenge for Staal, who has a wife and three kids.
“To me, family is everything,” Staal told Dan Myers of the Wild website. “It was good for me to be there for my wife and my kids and my mother-in-law. Playing definitely is a little more challenging with travel and being there in moments, but with everything that’s gone on, we were able to do that and go through that grieving process.”
Both understand the challenges facing the league
Staal spoke of the NHL having “so many hoops, so many hurdles” to get through to make it all work.
“I think this is really hard to see how this is going to finish,” Staal said. “But I know they are still trying to game-plan it and figure it out. We’ll see. They’ll make decisions as time moves on.”
As PHT noted earlier on Thursday, the NHL and NHLPA are reportedly discussing a 24-team playoff format that would include both the Capitals and Wild (their teams in italics):
Penguins (5) vs. Canadiens (12)
Hurricanes (6) vs. Rangers (11)
Islanders (7) vs. Panthers (10)
Maple Leafs (8) vs. Blue Jackets (9)
WESTERN CONFERENCE 1. Blues 2. Avalanche 3. Golden Knights 4. Stars
Oilers (5) vs. Blackhawks (12)
Predators (6) vs. Coyotes (11)
Canucks (7) vs. Wild (10)
Flames (8) vs. Jets (9)
In the event that such a format would be approved, the Capitals would play through preliminary games while awaiting the winner of Hurricanes vs. Rangers. The Wild would hope to beat the Canucks in a play-in series, then face the Avalanche.
Of course, a lot can change with that format, and other factors.
(You can learn more about Carlson’s feelings in the video above this post’s headline.)
Carlson, Staal, and others seem willing to work with the NHL, ultimately
While Carlson appeared hesitant about a 24-team format, he also didn’t seem rigid, acknowledging that “logistics” might trump his concerns about the ideal competitive situation.
Can the NHL find the right mix between balancing concerns from those like Carlson and Staal, while also avoiding critics calling it a “COVID Cup,” as Matt Duchene fears? It doesn’t sound like an easy task, but at least players seem willing to work toward solutions.
On the heels of live sports returning over the weekend, Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Brian Boucher provide their perspective on those events and what they might expect from hockey games with no fans. With the 24-team playoff appearing to be the frontrunner, the guys debate the pros and cons: is it fair? do Montreal and Chicago deserve to be in? Could this be the gateway to a permanent change to the system? Plus, a reaction to Matt Duchene’s comments about wanting to maintain the integrity of the traditional playoff format.
0-0:45 Intros 0:45-4:30 Live sports are back! 4:30-8:10 What to expect from hockey games with no fans 12:00-21:00 24-team playoff: fair or not? 21:00-24:00 Reaction to Duchene’s comments