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NHL on NBC Broadcasters Preview the 2020-21 NHL Season

The 2020-21 National Hockey League (NHL) season began on Wednesday, kicking off “Pandemic Hockey.” The league and medical experts worked hard to come up with a set of safety protocols and parameters for the 2020-21 season. This has resulted in a shortened season and exciting new divisions that will forge new rivalries during what is shaping up to be an unprecedented year for the world of professional sports.

Front Office Sports reports that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman expects “the league and its teams will lose more than $1 billion this year” due to the fact that 50% of league revenue comes from “game day income.”

On a conference call with the media, four of NBC’s NHL game analysts, including Pierre McGuire, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher and A.J. Mleczko offered their thoughts on the biggest changes that the league has made that will have an impact on the 2020-21 regular season.

Key Changes made for 2020-21 NHL Season

Here are some of the most important changes the NHL has made:

  1. For 2020-21, the NHL has shortened its regular season from 82 to 56 games.
  2. Each team will have “Taxi Squad” of between four and six players. 
  3. New Offsides Rule
  4. Regular Season expected to conclude on May 8
  5. Stanley Cup Finals expected to be played in July

Bleacher Report’s Abby Mastracco reported last week that the Coyotes, Stars, Panthers, and Lightning are the only four NHL teams who are allowing fans to attend their home games in a limited capacity to start the season.

According to NHL.com, the league has tweaked its “Offsides Rule”. The new rule says, “if a player’s skate crossed the plane of the blueline at the same time that the puck crosses the leading edge of the blueline, a player is considered on sides.” In other words, when a player’s back skate crossed the blueline in the air at the same time that the puck crosses the blueline, that will no longer result in an offsides call.

NBC color analyst, Brian Boucher called this regular season a “56-game sprint” and explained why a shorter season will benefit the fans and NHL players.

“The thing that intrigues me the most with a short season is you get rid of a part of the season that some players dread, and it gets right to the nitty-gritty,” Boucher said. “We’re going to have a 56 game-sprint and I think that’s going to create a lot of intrigue.”

NHL Divisions for 2020-21

The NHL’s new divisions group teams together that play in the same geographic region of the United States. Meanwhile, all seven Canadian teams will play in their own division.

Front Office Sports reports that the NHL renamed its four divisions after its “existing sponsors” and several teams have been assigned to new divisions. The Boston Bruins join the MassMutual East Division where they will play against the three Metropolitan-area teams and the Philadelphia Flyers.

  • Discover Central 
    • 7 Teams
  • Honda West
    • 8 Teams
  • MassMutual East
    • 8 teams
  • Scotia North
    • 7 teams
    • All Canadian Cities

NBC color analyst Eddie Olczyk explained why a shorter season makes it all the more important that NHL teams get off to a good start.

“Everybody’s on the same playing field, no exhibition games, everybody’s had training camp and again, everything will be dictated by the pandemic, but, at the end of the day, teams got to get off to a good start.”

NBC color analyst A.J. Mleczko was a member of the U.S. Women’s Olympic hockey team that won a Gold Medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. She referenced her “playing days with Team USA” to try and explain how NHL rivalries might be different this season.

“Going back to my playing days with Team USA, Canada was our big rival. Leading up to the Olympic Final in 1998, we played Canada 14 times before the gold medal game and I can tell you it certainly made that rivalry heated and the eight, nine times that [NHL] teams will play their rivals will certainly be fun to watch.”

Helmet Ads Debut in 2021

On Dec. 22, 2020, the New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals were the first NHL teams to announce which sponsors will appear on their helmets.

As of Jan. 16, every NHL team, except the New York Rangers, has announced their helmet ad for this season. The Devils and Capitals will sport one sponsor on their home and away helmets, as will 17 out of 31 teams.

According to Front Office Sports, NBA teams started wearing “jersey patches” to represent sponsors for the 2017-18, which has generated more than $150 million for teams. FOS reports that the NHL “hopes helmet ads will bring in $15 million for all its teams during the 2020-21 season.”

Changes to NBC’s NHL Broadcasts for 2020-21

One of the biggest changes in sports broadcasting this year is legendary play-by-play announcer, Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick will no longer do the play-by-play for NBC’s NHL coverage. The legendary 74-year-old broadcaster retired after calling the Stanley Cup finals in October. On Monday’s conference call, NBC’s NHL ice-level reporter, Pierre McGuire described his memories of working with a sports broadcasting legend.

Pierre Maguire’s began his career as the NHL on NBC’s ‘Inside the Glass’ reporter in 2006. He joined Emrick on the live broadcasts, and Maguire described his memories of Emrick:

When we started doing the NHL on NBC, our producer came up with a smart idea, they added ‘Inside the Glass’ [to the broadcast] and had it not been for the excellence of Doc’ Emrick, it never would’ve worked. Now [having a reporter at the playing field level has] become the standard operating procedure for, not just hockey, but for all sports and for that we owe Doc’ a huge amount of respect and gratitude.

In August, longtime NHL game analyst, Mike Milbury, made a sexist comment on air during game five of a first round playoff series. Milbury apologized for his words and stepped away from the booth for the rest of the playoffs.

On Monday’s conference call, NBC Executive Producer Sam Flood confirmed that NHL Head coach, Mike Babcock and 13-year NHL veterans, Ryan Callahan and Dominic Moore will serve as studio analysts for the NHL on NBC during the 2020-21 season. An NBC Press Release confirms that former Women’s U.S. Olympic hockey player and Chicago Blackhawks player development coach Kendall Coyne-Schofield will also be a game analyst for NBC this season.

Player/Puck Tracking

Executive Producer and President of Production at NBC Sports, Sam Flood recently confirmed that “Player Puck Tracking” will be added to NBC’s NHL TV broadcasts, this season.

According to Andrew Cohen of Sporttechie.com, player/puck tracking relies on “sensors embedded in game pucks and the stitching of player jerseys.” Arena cameras will then detect the movements of the puck and players during a game.

The league deployed player/puck tracking technology during the 2019 and 2020 All-Star Games and skills competitions. According to NHL.com, some of the data that will be collected includes: save percentage by distance, location and positioning as well as shot speeds, types, and locations.

Fans Should be Excited for NHL Hockey

Fans, players, and broadcasters alike will be grateful if the 2020-21 NHL regular season is completed without any COVID outbreaks and interruptions. According to ESPN, the regular season will end in May and the Stanley Cup should be awarded in July.

Buckle up hockey fans, it could be a bumpy ride. A.J. Mleczko agrees “we are anticipating some bumps along the way, so kudos to everyone for their patience.” Brian Boucher gets the last word, “I’m looking forward to this year, getting back to my normal routine, and watching a team hoist the Stanley Cup again in July.”

I’ll throw it back to you; hockey fans are you ready?

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Anthony Paradiso
Anthony Paradiso has written for In The Zone since Sept. 2019. Previously, Anthony covered the New York Rangers and NY Red Bulls II since June of 2019. He has reported on-camera and written a monthly column for NYC newspaper, West View News since 2017. A graduate of Montclair State University, he co-hosts a sports talk show on University radio station, 90.3 FM WMSC.

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