“NHL on TNT” is What the League Needed

Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals was the final broadcast of TNT’s first season covering the National Hockey League, but I’m sure hockey fans in the U.S. wish the series went on just a bit longer.

Rules Analyst Don Koharski, reacting like many of us would watching the review of the Avalanche’s game-winner in overtime to send them to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 21 years, was a part of the final moments of the in-game broadcast…

It wasn’t the only s-bomb to be dropped during TNT’s coverage this season, but if there was one thing to take away from Turner Sports’ first time covering hockey is that they did not take themselves too seriously, with the studio show being the best example.

It was very obvious from the start of the season that the “NHL on TNT” crew was looking to be like its NBA counterpart, which is not only the best studio show in professional basketball, but the best in all sports. In a way, that’s what the NHL studio show became on TNT.

Liam McHugh is Ernie Johnson, Paul Bissonnette is Charles Barkley, while Anson Carter, Rick Tocchet and Wayne Gretzky took on roles similar to Kenny Smith and Shaq.

As someone who watched a lot of NBC’s NHL coverage over the years, it appeared that McHugh and Carter, who were a apart of the studio show there, seemed more comfortable and looser as their first season at TNT went on. The once clean-shaven McHugh grew a beard and recently was seen sporting some spiffy frames…

For those who remember the studio shows at NBC and the now defunct NBC Sports Network, it always felt stiff. All business, with little to no fun.

The one thing that TNT has that separates itself from NBC, and even ESPN’s current hockey coverage, is Paul Bissonnette.

Bissonnette provides good analysis like his Hall of Fame counterparts Gretzky and Tocchet do, but Bissonnette is not afraid to push the envelope on what he can say and do during the broadcast before the F.C.C. calls Atlanta. Bissonnette, when he’s not in the studio, is co-hosting the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast as part of Barstool Sports, where he and fellow former player Ryan Whitney can be their true, unfiltered selves.

Many of the studio show’s funny moments come from Bissonnette.

The bigger studio compared to what NBC provided also gives TNT’s coverage more opportunities to explore the space, whether it’s Gretzky firing shots at Charles Barkley, or having a birthday party for Gretzky when he’s not there, they got creative with the pregame, intermission and postgame segments as time went on.

Taking the studio show on the road for the Western Conference Finals was great, too. Especially when they arrived in Edmonton for Games 3 and 4, with Bissonnette having to pay his lost bet with Ryan Whitney before Game 3…

And for the next two games, viewers in the U.S. were treated to this look…

When it was announced that ESPN and Turner Sports would split the NHL T.V. rights deal for the next seven seasons, I was eager to see what TNT would do with a studio show, and they exceeded all my expectations. Maybe because the bar was never high to begin with.

ESPN, back covering hockey for the first time since the 2003-04 season, has done a good job and still has the Stanley Cup Final on ABC coming up later this month. There are familiar faces like John Buccigross, Steve Levy, Linda Cohn, Barry Melrose and Sean McDonough, along with newcomers Emily Kaplan, Leah Hextall, Ray Ferraro, Mark Messier and Chris Chelios. That’s what you expect from the rights holders with the bigger half of the deal. Buccigross may be the closest to Bissonnette over at ESPN.

For the NHL on TNT, there was the disadvantage of being the cable-only “B-Side” that had never covered the game before. Safe to say, this was a good first impression.

It was fun, insightful and their coverage of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final should be highly anticipated.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s