Editorials

NHL’s Best, Worst National Games Of 2016-17 Season

By Colin Likas
Feb 25, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook (7) being pursued by Nashville Predators right wing Viktor Arvidsson (38) during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 25, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook (7) being pursued by Nashville Predators right wing Viktor Arvidsson (38) during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /
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National television will feature plenty of hockey starting in October

On Thursday, the NHL and the NBC Sports Group announced the national television schedule for the 2016-17 season. The Chicago Blackhawks led all 30 teams in national dates with 21 appearances on NBC or NBC Sports Network, with 19 of them coming on the latter channel.

Of course, how the national schedule lays it isn’t all about the Blackhawks. I mean, that’s what’s most important to those who write for and read this blog, but all-around hockey fans would be happy to watch other national contests not involving the Blackhawks. And they wouldn’t mind avoiding some dates, either.

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With that said, let’s take a look at five games to catch and five games to skip this upcoming season on the national schedule.

Catch: Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators, Oct. 14, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)

Of course you should watch the opener between the Blackhawks and rival St. Louis Blues, which will be on NBCSN as well. But this game follows closely behind, and it could be pretty interesting.

P.K. Subban is in, and Shea Weber is out on defense for the Predators as the team appears ready to contend for the up-for-grabs Central Division crown. Outside of that, there will be plenty of red in the crowd (despite pathetic efforts to keep it out of Bridgestone Arena), so it should be a fun early-season atmosphere.

Skip: Boston Bruins at New York Rangers, Oct. 26, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)

Rivalry Night (AKA Wednesday during the NHL season) is generally hit and miss with national games being actual rivalries. This is one, but it’s between two teams on a downslide.

The Rangers were proven to be a mess in their early playoff exit, with the only solid constant in Henrik Lundqvist struggling behind a “meh” club. The Bruins may be in even worse shape after collapsing down the stretch last regular season. This game may be ugly to watch, especially early in the season.

Catch: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Islanders, Nov. 30, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)

The defending Stanley Cup champions against a rising, young Islanders squad? Sign me up. Sure, seating at the Barclays Center is a little rough, but that shouldn’t affect the TV experience.

The Islanders grabbed Andrew Ladd in the offseason and signed him to a long-term deal. To go along with John Tavares, Brock Nelson, Nick Leddy and others, it’s a team worth watching in the Eastern Conference. With Pittsburgh needing to make few changes this offseason, it should be a tough battle as the teams are getting into gear.

Skip: Philadelphia Flyers at Colorado Avalanche, Dec. 14, 9 p.m. (NBCSN)

Besides the fact it’s a late game, this is a very weird matchup to have on national TV. It’s like New York and Boston above, but without any semblance of a rivalry.

I guess the Flyers have Shayne Gostisbehere and the Avs have Nathan MacKinnon, but that can only take this game so far. At least there should be a lot of goals scored, unless Michal Neuvirth stands on his head, because neither of these teams knows how to protect the net.

Catch: Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks, Jan. 3, 9 p.m. (NBCSN)

Like with the opener, of course you should watch the outdoor game between the Blackhawks and Blues a day before this. That’s easy bait for this post, however, so I’ll go with a game it’s not always easy to see outside the West coast.

The Sharks made an unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Final this year, while the Kings were eliminated by them in the playoffs’ first round. It’s a traditional California rivalry, and it features a Kings team without Dustin Brown as captain.

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Skip: Montreal Canadiens at Minnesota Wild, Jan. 12, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)

I think of the Wild as a really boring team, as anyone who reads my posts can figure out. Pairing them with a rapidly sinking ship in the Canadiens should make for bad theater.

I mean, I guess you could tune in to see Phillip Danault play for Montreal. But we see enough of what was a really annoying Minnesota outfit last season during games against the Blackhawks, and the Habs have little redeeming outside Carey Price.

Catch: St. Louis Blues at Detroit Red Wings, Feb. 15, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)

NBC actually did a really good job with the two games on this night, as an odd-looking but compelling matchup between Florida and San Jose follows. These two Blackhawks rivals, however, take the cake.

I’m not sure what the Blues will look like next season after losing their captain, David Backes, as well as a few other pieces. And the Wings will be without Pavel Datsyuk and coming off an up-and-down first season for coach Jeff Blashill. But these two teams have history and tend to play in opposite ways, so it should be a fun event.

Skip: New York Rangers at Boston Bruins, March 2, 6 p.m. (NBCSN)

Wait, this again? I can’t imagine how this is going to be much better than the earlier-season matchup. So skip it again.

Catch: Chicago Blackhawks at Tampa Bay Lightning, March 27, 6:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

These matchups have brought constant playoff intensity and really tight play in recent seasons. The Lightning have an impressive group of young talent that’s going to keep making a run at the Stanley Cup until the salary cap causes issues, and the Blackhawks … well, we know what the Blackhawks bring.

This could be a critical game for both sides in the playoff chase, as the Atlantic and Central divisions featured really close races last season. If anything, we can watch Corey Crawford stone shot after shot like in the 2015 Final.

Catch: Dallas Stars at Washington Capitals, March 6, 6:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

Well, I decided there were more games I wanted to catch than skip (without repeating the same “skip” teams). And this is a really intriguing tilt, based on last year, so I’m throwing it in.

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Both teams were offensive dynamos last season, with Alex Ovechkin and Tyler Seguin/Jamie Benn showing the way. The Caps actually had goaltending, while the Stars didn’t, and that projects as the case again this season. Regardless, it should be a really fun shootout with some of the league’s top talent on display.

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