The NBC Sports Group announced its 2016-17 national TV schedule for the NHL Thursday, which always makes for some fun mid-summer conversation and plenty of hand-wringing. The good news is that between NBC Sports Network and NBC, there will be 106 televised hockey games next season, which is the most they've ever put on in a single season.
However, as we know, hockey television ratings can be pretty hard to gauge. The NHL fan base has proven to be fairly provincial in their TV tastes. There are a lot of fans of specific teams, but it's difficult to count on NHL fans to tune into games that don't involve their favorite clubs. With that in mind, the TV schedule doesn't spread the love a whole lot. There are the ratings drivers that will be seen fairly regularly and several that might be seen once, twice or not at all.
You can view the entire national schedule here. There are bound to be a number of games picked up on NHL Network, so this isn't the full complement of nationally broadcast games, but what was announced today will be the most accessible.
Here are the five big things you need to know about the NBC NHL schedule for 2016-17, including how many times each team will be on:
1. Blackhawks will appear a league-high 21 times nationally, Flyers get 20 games
The league's most popular brand in terms of TV viewership, ticket sales and merchandise is unsurprisingly going to get a lot of run on NBC's platforms. On top of playing in their third Winter Classic next season - Jan. 2 against the St. Louis Blues at Busch Stadium - the Blackhawks will have 25 percent of their regular-season schedule visible to a national audience. They are the biggest ratings driver the league has and NBC is going to milk that for all it's worth. This is the same amount of Blackhawks games they ordered for last season.
The massive amount of Blackhawks games may be one of the biggest points of consternation among NHL fans who are not also fans of Chicago's hockey team. That may be why this humorous tweet from UPROXX's Dave Lozo in particular took hockey Twitter by storm:
Looking over the NBCSN press release about the NHL schedule. They're not even trying anymore. pic.twitter.com/eKYWGOX8w6— Independence Dave (@davelozo) July 21, 2016
It's funny because it almost feels like it's true.
The Philadelphia Flyers, however, also have an extremely robust national TV schedule. They'll be on 20 times next season.
It should be noted that both Philadelphia and Chicago have all of their non-nationally broadcast games broadcast on regional Comcast Sports Networks, which are under the same umbrella as NBC Sports. That allows NBC to pull their feeds without having to send a full broadcast crew to those games.
The Washington Capitals are also on a regional Comcast Sports Network and will be on 14 times next season.
2. Here are the top 10 teams with the most national appearances
1. Chicago Blackhawks - 21
2. Philadelphia Flyers - 20
3. Boston Bruins - 17
T-4. Pittsburgh Penguins - 15
T-4. New York Rangers - 15
6. Washington Capitals - 14
7. Detroit Red Wings - 13
T-8. Minnesota Wild - 12
T-8. St. Louis Blues - 12
10. San Jose Sharks -- 11
There weren't many big surprises in this group. Perhaps one is that Boston will be on nationally five more times than they were last season, which is a pretty significant jump for a team that has missed the playoffs two years in a row.
Additionally, the San Jose Sharks will be getting a lot of run a year after reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history. Meanwhile, the Detroit Red Wings have been trending down these last few years when it comes to national TV appearances.
3. These six teams will be on once next season
The Arizona Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs are all getting one national game.
There are really no surprises here, either. I know the Panthers are not going to be a big ratings driver, but they were one of last season's most compelling teams with Jaromir Jagr's incredible performance amid an exciting young group. This very well could be Jagr's last season and the national audience won't get to see him much. That's unfortunate.
Meanwhile, the best American prospect since Patrick Kane will only be on once in his home country. Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs will have the Centennial Classic outdoor game on Jan. 1 televised on big NBC, but after that, we won't see Matthews again. There are so many cool things going on with the Maple Leafs this season, too, as they celebrate 100 years as a franchise that could be of interest to NHL fans south of the border.
4. These five teams won't be on nationally at all
The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets won't be seen at all on U.S. TV.
Alright, so we kind of already know that the Canadian teams aren't going to get much run south of the border, but Connor McDavid very well could be one of the most important and entertaining players in the league by next season and the American TV audience won't get much of a chance to see him. Maybe a big season from him will change things, but that's really hard to say.
These are the types of situations where they can leverage the popularity of the Blackhawks. If you're going to put Chicago and Philadelphia on 21 and 20 times a year, maybe get them on a few times with Canadian teams?
5. Here's how many times everyone else will be on national TV
Colorado Avalanche -- 9
Buffalo Sabres -- 8
Los Angeles Kings -- 8
Tampa Bay Lightning -- 7
New York Islanders -- 6
Dallas Stars -- 4
Montreal Canadiens -- 4
Anaheim Ducks -- 3
Nashville Predators -- 2
Some quick thoughts on these teams:
Surely, NBC and the NHL were working on this schedule well before P.K. Subban was traded to the Predators, making them a little more enticing with some extra star power. They'll only be on twice this season. This is a team more people should be paying attention to and it's unfortunate there won't be as many opportunities to showcase this franchise in a year they could be taking a big leap forward.
Stars forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are two of the best players in the league right now, but they'll only be on four times (including twice against the Bruins to juice that Seguin Trade narrative that most people are starting to get over anyway).
NBCSN is taking advantage of the late games they can get with the Kings, Sharks and Avalanche, which bought those teams more TV time. The Kings will be on four of the six games that NBCSN is airing after their Wednesday Night Rivalry games throughout the season.
The rebounding Sabres are starting to build back more of a national schedule. They've been a TV ratings driver over the years, but have been so bad that they've been tough to put on. Budding American star Jack Eichel certainly helps as they're up to eight games this season.
The Canadiens have a lot of fans throughout the world and that's even true in the U.S. That may explain why they remain NBC's most aired Canadian team. They'll be shown two fewer times this year compared to last.
TV appearance figures from last season via Puck Daddy.