Thursday, September 21, 2006

What's wrong with you, NHL?

Alexander Ovechkin is going into just his second year in the NHL, but he's already one of the league's best players, perhaps its most exciting, and probably one of its most well known in the U.S. (For a league where the vast majority of America would have trouble naming even one player, I would have to think Ovechkin--after maybe Jagr and...that may be about it now that Lemieux retired again--is, after his goal on the back last year, as well known as anybody.) So one would think that even though the Capitals are likely to be near the bottom of the standings again this year--Ollie Kolzig was talking playoffs in the paper this morning, but I'm not buying that yet--the NHL would want the U.S. to see the league's most exciting young star as much as possible on television. You'd be wrong.

A quick check of the TV schedule this year for the NHL reveals that on the nine weekend afternoons that NBC will be telecasting hockey this winter, the Capitals will be shown once. And that's not once out of nine games either. Each week, NBC has three regional telecasts, which means that out of a possible 27 games on NBC, the most exciting player in the league will be featured ONE TIME. I thought the NHL wanted to attract new fans. Somehow, I would think getting viewers to watch Ovechkin more than once during the year might be a better strategy to do that than hoping they get excited by a mid-February Lightning-Devils tilt. Am I crazy? The Blue Jackets actually appear on NBC two more times than the Caps. I would bet that more Americans know who Alexander Ovechkin is than could tell you where the Blue Jackets play. (By the way, it's Columbus.)

The NHL's other national broadcast network is called Versus, which you've probably never heard of (it just recently changed its name from OLN, but I can't imagine this being that big of a deal, since judging from the NHL's ratings, no one had heard of the network under its old name either). Versus will broadcast 54 games, and Ovechkin and the Capitals will be appearing twice on that network. Good job, guys.

Now every Caps game is going to be televised by local Washington area broadcast or cable stations this year, so it's not like I'm complaining that I won't be able to see Ovechkin play. But I just find this odd and counterproductive for a league desperate for attention. Strangely enough, the Penguins aren't getting this treatment, even though they're pretty much in the same boat as the Capitals. They have a young, exciting star (Sidney Crosby, who is good but did not make nearly the impact on the public consciousness that Ovechkin did last season), but they were also really bad last year--actually worse in the standings than the Capitals were. And yet they're appearing three times on NBC and seven times on Versus. That's smart--Crosby is the future of the league, just like Ovechkin. But why isn't Ovechkin getting the same treatment? I guess I shouldn't be surprised, though--any league that is dumb enough to take a whole season off certainly isn't going to be smart enough to put together a TV schedule that makes sense, is it?