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The NHL's Center Ice package is simply fantastic. So too is NHL Gamecenter -- the online subscription that allows hockey fans to tune into games from essentially every market in North America. In terms of clarity, availability, and fairly low-cost, I'd argue that the NHL's package to bring the game wholesale to its respective fan base is second to only the NFL's Sunday Ticket package, but even that's debatable.
One of the big selling points for the two packages above is the ability to choose between home/away feeds. No longer is a fan subjected to whatever broadcast the local network carries; he (or she) is free to flip to the other side, or, an entirely different game.
I've watched a ton of hockey over the past few years -- enough to have a solid feel for each of the thirty broadcasting teams featured on the various networks. My rank-and-file of the thirty below teams may be subjective in nature, and admittedly could -- and should -- vary from person-to-person. My suggestion: Don't get caught up in the specific number. Rather, look at the placement of the team and what tier they've been slotted into.
The criteria I've used to judge the thirty teams is as follows:
(a) Is the broadcasting team entertaining?
(b) Is the broadcasting team objective?
(c) Is the broadcasting team critical?
(d) How thorough and thought-provoking is the analysis? Am I learning from the broadcasting team?
(e) The variables; Clarity, fluidity, chemistry in the booth. High? Low?
(f) A sub-point to (b). How homerific is the broadcast? It's expected that teams are going to have a slant, so I'll measure this relatively against one another, and not to my specific expectations.
Below, the rankings.
(30) Pittsburgh -- Paul Steigerwald and Bob Errey
It's possible former play-by-play man Mike Lange set the bar incredibly high, but Paul Steigerwald takes objective play-by-play to another echelon of suck. Steigerwald sees the game with the most rose-colored of glasses for sixty minutes a night, and it completely clouds an otherwise decent call of the action. He also cracked a joke about Hobey Baker's plane crash
and death on-air, and somehow kept his job. So, there's that.
Bob Errey's not much better.
(29) Anaheim -- John Ahlers and Brian Hayward
The Ahlers and Hayward combination just doesn't do much for me. I do like Ahlers in his role and think he's better than advertised, but Hayward just clogs up most of the feed with incessant screaming and doubletalk.
Like many of the teams near the bottom of the rankings, this pairing isn't much for objectivity. Watching Ahlers trying to keep the game on-track is a thing of beauty; he can only hold on for so long until Hayward just lets off some idiotic, overzealous rant. I'll never forget his take
when James Wisniewski ran Brent Seabrook.
(28) Boston Bruins -- Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley
Nothing I could say in this small paragraph on the abortion that is Jack Edwards' play-by-play work would be insightful or refreshing. He's the biggest homer in hockey -- he's the second-biggest homer in sports
. It's actually pretty shameful that NESN continues to employ a guy who so willfully blurs the reality of the sport with such partisan analysis.
The sad part? Color guy Andy Brickley is awesome. So much so, it -- against all odds -- keeps the Boston Bruins from finishing thirtieth in this ranking. Brickley's understanding of the game is pretty unparalleled, and when Jack Edwards does give him the green light to talk to the viewers, it's almost always insightful and educational.
(27) New Jersey -- Steve Cangialosi and Chico Resch
From what I understand, Cangialosi is pretty well-received by the suits. I'm not a fan, but admittedly, it'd be tough -- if not downright impossible -- to replace a legend like Doc Emrick on the call. If I could offer a few recommendations: Take more control of the broadcast, a little less shrieking, and a little more objectivity. Again, not the best, but not the worst.
Point A -- taking control of the broadcast -- is important here. Why? Chico Resch. Devils fans revere the guy, but he's borderline-insufferable. It'd take an Act of God for a Devils skater to make a bad play, commit a penalty, or generally be in the wrong in the eyes of Resch. You can tell he's one of those generally nice guys that you'd probably slam a beer with at the local bar, but as far as color work and analysis, I'd go elsewhere. Anywhere.
(26) Minnesota -- Anthony LaPanta and Mike Greenlay
This ranking is a bit of an unknown, with LaPanta coming in to fill the vacancy left by the departed Dan Terhaar. If you're looking for a positive, it's that Terhaar was one of the worst PxP guys in the business, comically missing the play, mispronouncing names, and putting a pro-Wild spin on things at any passing chance. LaPanta's been prepped by Fox Sports North for this role for quite some time; he's loved by the company, and has made the rounds. Unfortunately, this is his first NHL-level call.
I don't have a whole lot to say on Greenlay. He was Terhaar-lite. Perhaps LaPanta can come in and turn the broadcast in a positive direction.
(25) Colorado -- Mike Haynes and Peter McNab
What saves Haynes and McNab from the bottom of the barrel? Their call of the game as it happens is actually respectable. They're quick to point out subtleties that the average viewer may miss, and generally have a solid working chemistry.
When it comes to homework, though, I'm giving Haynes and McNab an F. How else can you explain such commonly bungled names from the opposition on a game-to-game basis? You only need to hear the pronunciation of names like 'Visnovsky' and 'Foligno' one time before it should be thoroughly embedded. Further, the analysis of non-Avalanche players often feels like a lot of rhetoric, hyperbole, and staring at stat-sheets to draw full opinion.
(24) Calgary -- Rob Kerr and Charlie Simmer
Replacing Peter Loubardias with Rob Kerr remains one of the more idiotic things I've seen unfold in the booth. Loubardias wasn't flawless, but his call was more than respectable. Kerr? It's abhorrent. Again, a bit subjective, but I think Kerr may lose track of the play more than any other lead in the league. Kerr did improve slightly over the course of last year, so here's hoping that trend continues.
Charlie Simmer is probably the most forgettable name on this list. Not good, not bad; just there. His playing experience is a plus, but Kerr is destined to run this train into a wall regardless of what Simmer does or says.
(23) Edmonton -- Kevin Quinn and Louie Debrusk
The biggest-plus here is that the calls from both Quinn and Debrusk are engaging and exciting. Even though the Oilers have been a pretty poor team for the past few years, the tandem has maintained some exuberance, and it's welcomed -- especially considering their comparable over on Long Island(below). I've always thought Quinn had one of the best voices, too.
What kills this duo is that they suffer from the same disease that's plagued Minnesota Wild broadcasts -- a complete unwillingness to criticize. I'm not sure if this is coached from the top-down(it probably is), but Quinn and Debrusk can't seem to a find a flaw in anything Edmonton Oilers. Pretty incredible for a team that's been so bad three years running.
(22) NY Islanders -- Howie Rose and Butch Goring
I'd hazard to guess that no team would benefit more from a team's improvement in the standings than Rose and Goring. Neither have a ton of flaws; in fact, the Rose and Goring tandem, when in the middle of an exciting and relevant game, may be one of the better pairings in the entire National Hockey League.
But, therein lies the problem. The Islanders have been irrelevant forever, and it's almost as if Rose and Goring are more willing to talk about anything -- anything -- than what's happening on the ice. Honestly, it's hard to blame them at this point.
(21) Vancouver -- John Shorthouse and John Garrett
Shorthouse and Garrett don't belong together, and it's really that simple. Shorthouse is a respectable call -- Garrett's maybe a step above the likes of Chico Resch and Brian Hayward. Shorthouse is quick with his call and does well to translate what's happening on the ice to your living room. It's almost as if Garrett's paid to destroy it entirely.
The homerism on these calls knocks this duo down a ton, but again, I've long suspected that Garrett is leading this charge, and Shorthouse is along for the ride.
(20) Tampa Bay -- Rick Peckham and Bobby Taylor
Like a better version of the Edmonton broadcast, Peckham and Taylor combine for one of the more intense and engaging broadcasts, but continue to suffer from the slants we see often near the bottom of this list. Considering the substantial drop in the standings from two years ago to last season, one would assume that the pair would regularly fire away at the lack of winning.
Instead, it was a lot of 'unlucky!' and 'if they could just fix this..' and the usual way of trying to remain objective without offending the higher-ups.
(19) Detroit -- Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond/Larry Murphy
If you're looking for a broadcast full of fluff, dial it right here. The analysis is pretty slim, and they collectively veer off into a random tangent that can suck the life out of the broadcast for minutes on end. My whole opinion of this team is that they're (probably) pretty close, and perhaps close to a fault. You get the feeling that it's a few good buddies getting together and talking about a sport; not exactly two men working a game for sixty minutes.
Individually, I think Daniels is the standout of the three. His play-by-play work isn't bad, but he can get awfully distracted by the color guys and lose his rhythm.
Larry Murphy is a disservice to the entire broadcast. I get the feeling that the Red Wings' brass knows this, but because of how important of a staple he is to the franchise's history, he's given incredible leeway. Maybe he's earned it. Regardless, a casual observer tuning into the game would pick up the tone of a genuinely nice guy that would prefer to talk about anything -- his playing days, his family, whatever -- over the on-ice action.
Redmond's a lot better, but I've noticed that he's not available on road games, which again hurts the quality. He's much more quick to criticize as opposed to Murphy, and pulls few punches in general.
(18) Chicago -- Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk/Steve Konroyd
Here's a team where I can identify with the local fans -- I get why Pat Foley is a big-sell in the Chicago market. Foley treats every moment like it's a 2-1 game with the goalie pulled late, even if the score or the moment is hardly indicative of such. More importantly, it feels authentic.
I like Olcyzk, too. He does have a bit of a condescending tone when talking to the viewer in his analysis -- coaching rather than showing. Still, his understanding of the sport ranks higher than most, and for that, he's a welcomed asset.
The middling ranking is actually a byproduct of the two together. Individually, I think they're both strong. Together, I think they get lost in the same buddy-buddy moments that crush the broadcast in Detroit. I'm not asking the two not to get along -- I'm asking for it not to hijack the feed.
(17) Phoenix -- Matt McConnell and Tyson Nash
No complaints on this broadcast, other than that replacing Dave Strader -- the best play-by-play man in the business -- was going to be an impossible feat. McConnell's doing an alright job, and probably could deserve a slight uptick from keeping viewers engaged during Coyotes games. They're not the most exciting in the league.
Nash is one of those player-analysts that actually gets it. His knowledge of the game is the basis of his color call, and it translates well to the more casual fan who may not understand all of the nuances in the sport. Nash does have that loathsome ability to run off into tangents that focus around Tyson Nash, Tyson Nash, and Tyson Nash, but other than that, he's pretty solid.
(16)Buffalo -- Rick Jeanneret and Rob Ray
Rick Jeanneret may be the most polarizing figure in these rankings. His positives are off-the-charts: Knowledge of the game, and fluidity of the call immediately come to mind. Even in his old age, it's rare that Jeanneret misses the play, and often times, he's a few steps ahead of the viewer. The negatives? He's a pretty ridiculous homer, and his over-the-top calls of the most innocent plays aren't entertaining; they're annoying.
Rob Ray's role is still in flux. With Jeanneret still in the mix, Ray's going to float around, working from the ice during home games and the booth on the road. I actually thought Ray's analysis in parts was pretty quality, but as a former brawler, his constant all-things-pugilism slant is a bit tiring.
A local market probably views this tandem as one of the best. A non-local market probably views this tandem as one of the worst. Truthfully, they're somewhere in the middle.
(15)Winnipeg -- Dennis Beyak and Brian Engblom / Mike Johnson
I don't have a ton to say about Winnipeg's team, and that shouldn't be viewed as a bad thing. I thought Beyak was solid in his first-year covering the Jets on a play-by-play basis, and Englbom's color work is laudable for the most part.
There's no doubt Beyak and Engblom benefited from some of the most exciting games last regular season, though. I'm not faulting them for walking into that dream, but when you're covering a team that's regularly locked in high-scoring, tightly-contested affairs, it's going to help the broadcast along.
(14) Montreal -- Dave Randorf, Gord Miller or Rod Black and Mike Johnson/Darren Eliot (TSN Habs)
Note: Since I don't speak French, I can't give an accurate analysis of the RDS team. For what it's worth, I've heard great things. Alas, I don't speak the language, so we go to the TSN team.
It's tough to rate this broadcast with so many interchangeable parts. Gord Miller's fantastic. Dave Randorf does solid play-by-play work, and I do think Darren Eliot adds some insightful angles and opinions occasionally.
Mike Johnson's hit or miss. His genuine excitement and love for the sport is noticeable and well-received, but sometimes, I think he misses the big picture of it all. I'm not trying to offer a vague take of my own here -- just remember a number of instances where Johnston would attempt to break a play down and get bent on a smaller detail that may or may not have even contributed to the larger play.
There's too many moving parts here, so I'm going to throw them right down the middle. Fair? Fair.
(13) Philadelphia -- Jim Jackson and Keith Jones/Bill Clement; Steve Coates
Jim Jackson's play-by-play work has improved with each passing year. NBC's actually vultured some of his work for their national broadcasts, and I actually think that's where he's more suited towards the end of his career. If there's one thing holding Jackson back, it's a pro-Flyers slant. His call of the game is on-point and insightful, largely free from mistake.
Keith Jones has also been contracted out to NBC, and much like Jackson, continues to improve. His obsession with physical play and the general pro-pugilism takes probably knock him down a notch, but for a guy with a ton of airtime and a ton of chances to rile up fan bases with pure opinion-based takes on NBC, he's done a respectable job. Plus points for Jones speaking his mind, too -- there's plenty of figure-heads who get both local and national airtime in sports that will simply tow the company line or suggest what's popular to avoid criticism. Not Jones -- for better or worse.
My lone complaint is the same I've pushed on the likes of many already mentioned: It's a lot of rah-rah for the home team, sometimes to a fault.
(12) Columbus -- Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge
First, full marks to Rimer and Davidge for working through another disastrous Columbus Blue Jackets season. From game one to game eighty-two, their collective call didn't suffer, even if the team was a complete sideshow and circus.
Rimer's style is a far cry from the usual quick-hitting we see from play-by-play men these days. He's more laid-back and talking rather than screaming; it works beautifully.
I'm surprised Davidge has kept his job for so long -- he's actually quite objective in his analysis, so much so he's regularly beating up the Blue Jackets for their inconsistent and oft-shoddy play. The front office -- a mockery by any measurement -- actually deserves some credit for employing a voice that's willing to keep it real.
(11) St. Louis -- John Kelly and Darren Pang/Bernie Federko
John Kelly's one of the most excitable voices in the business, period. He's kind of in a weird-spot with St. Louis -- a team loaded with talent, but not necessarily the most entertaining product of the thirty National Hockey League teams. With a more wild, high-flying team, Kelly would probably excel even moreso than he does in St. Louis.
I'm actually in the minority when it comes to Darren Pang. His knowledge of the sport is unrivaled, but his constant 'ooh!' and 'aah!' over Kelly's call is one of the most irritating elements of any broadcast. I love his enthusiasm, but as a color analyst, your role is to step in and deliver when called upon -- not commandeer the feed with inaudible screaming.
The good news is that Darren Pang's lone issue is entirely fixable, and his strengths do mitigate it as a fault.
Federko's pretty forgettable. He rarely does something to annoy the viewer, but you can go an entire broadcast and not pick up much from Federko's end. Not good, not bad.
(10) Toronto -- Joe Bowen and Greg Millen
The anti-Leafs crowd won't own it, but Joe Bowen remains one of the best play-by-play men in the business, and his improvements over the past season were remarkable. His call is as exciting as any, and considering the incredible pressure that must be levied on the shoulders of a man who works for Toronto Maple Leafs brass, I'm surprised -- almost bewildered -- at how many shots he got in as the Maple Leafs struggled. Joe Bowen of the past would've Kevin Quinn'ed up the broadcast, ignoring the bad and coaching up the good. This Bowen? He's approaching an even keel.
Greg Millen is like a life-sucking tick. For the biggest hockey organization in the world, I'm hard-pressed to believe that Greg Millen is the best man for the color job. In fact, I think he's the worst man for the color job. He can't identify the play. He can't identify the players. He can't identify when to step in and when to play second-fiddle to Bowen.
Awful. It's a miracle this tandem made it into the top-ten with him as part of the equation.
(9) NY Rangers -- Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti
Rosen and Micheletti must have went through the Joe Bowen school of rationality -- I noticed a positive change during this season. Rosen and Micheletti are still Rangers honks, but previous broadcasts were all about New York -- so much so, you often wondered if they were skating against a Rangers B-Team. This year? Much, much more attention on the other club, and the knowledge they possessed on teams from around the league was impressive. You can tell this tandem does their prep-work.
If I had to hazard a guess, I think it's Micheletti bringing Rosen up a bit; not the other way around. I've seen Rosen away from Micheletti, and the mistakes are more readily noticeable.
(8) San Jose -- Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda
Hahn's wit is his biggest sell. His call of the action is solid, but during dead-time, Hahn keeps the viewer engaged and intrigued. He's a generally captivating guy, and I expect he'll be pushed into an even more expanded national role at some point in his career.
Remenda's got a decent grasp of the game, but I find that he gets stuck on the same point or points quite often. Perhaps it's stubbornness; perhaps it's an unwavering ability to maintain focus on the same three things happening in the game.
It's the slightest of complaints, really, but at this level, it's enough to keep you out of the top-five.
(7) Nashville -- Pete Weber and Terry Crisp
We've seen a number of talented hockey players try and work their way back into the National Hockey League through front office positions, broadcasting work, and the like. Sometimes it translates. Sometimes it ends horribly.
Terry Crisp -- he of the five-hundred and thirty-six games logged professionally -- absolutely falls into the former. Crisp remains one of the most candid and honest observers of the sport; so much so, you'd hardly know he's working a broadcast on behalf of the Nashville Predators. There's times when he's beating his own team into a corner without pulling a punch. In almost every instance, it's deserved. And welcomed.
Pete Weber's voice clarity and to-the-second call are sensational. There isn't a single complaint I can levy against Weber, and this is without taking into account that Nashville may not exactly ice the most electric hockey team.
(6) Ottawa -- Dean Brown and Denis Potvin
Pound for pound, Dean Brown may be one of the best play-by-play men in the game today -- local, national, doesn't matter. Aside from the occasional pro-Ottawa spin, I find Brown to be incredibly on-point with his call, rarely making a mistake and readily identifying what's happening with every passing second. He's actually a pretty funny guy, too -- it's a lot like San Jose's Randy Hahn, a welcomed attribute that isn't abused or over-sold.
Denis Potvin's a mixed-bag. His on-ice credentials speak for themselves, and much like his pairmate in Brown, he's certainly entertaining. His negatives, though, hurt this broadcast from time-to-time. When Brown does step-back and let Potvin go to work, you consistently see some of the same player identification and mispronunciations that have prompted various Dennis Potvin parody accounts, with the accompanying #DDP hashtag. Thankfully, his understanding of the game can counter-balance enough to not kill the broadcast.
(5) Washington -- Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin
Beninati's the Splash Mountain
play-by-play. You can test out all of the other rides, but when you need a thrill, you know where to stop. Beninati has his faults -- he rides tangents with partner Craig Laughing endlessly. Still, I'd wager that if one was to watch all eighty-two games of every team from the past few seasons, the majority would suggest Beninati is the true thrill.
Laughlin -- much like the previously-mentioned Potvin and Remenda -- do well in spots, but are largely carried by their play-by-play pairmate. I've often wondered if Laughlin's the reason these two can just drive off into random, endless rambling in the middle of a game, or if its a byproduct of the two together.
(4) Los Angeles -- Bob Miller and Jim Fox
Just a high-quality production no matter how you slice it. For two guys in Miller and Fox that have been around the block for so long, their objectivity in the broadcast is wildly impressive.
Miller's one of the best play-by-play men in the game, period. He's not the most excitable, but it's almost impossible to find a mistake in his call, and much like a number of the names below, you can tell he's a fan of the game, and not a fan of the Kings. His knowledge spans thirty teams.
Fox is right there in lock-step with Miller, and it's unfathomable to think of a Kings broadcast that cuts out either part. The chemistry here is second-to-none.
(3) Carolina -- John Forslund and Tripp Tracy
John Forslund and Tripp Tracy combine for a nearly-flawless call. Tracy knows what he's paid for -- sharp, concise, fair analysis when Forslund paves the way. Tracy doesn't overwhelm Forslund's emphatic and accurate call, and Forslund knows when to step out and let the expert speak.
If you're looking for one flaw -- any flaw -- to keep them outside of the top-two, consider it Tracy's inability to find any blame in the play of goaltender Cam Ward. It's not a major issue, but it's a bit irritating when every goal against is due to poor defensive positioning or a battle with the luck gods. Believe it or not, there's instances where Cam Ward simply fans on a shot, although you wouldn't know it listening to Tracy.
(2) Florida -- Steve Goldstein and Bill Lindsay
If you're counting, this is the third team from a smaller hockey market that employs a top-ten broadcasting team. There's one more coming, but let's keep it right here for now.
Goldstein was born and bred for play-by-play work. His voice and clarity is fantastic; his exciting nature and attachment to the sport -- no matter what the score or the spot -- is genuine. I'm not sure of the exact details of Goldstein's prep-work coming into his position with the Florida Panthers, but it almost feels like the guy was groomed for the spot. Mistakes are non-existent, and he keeps viewers locked in with his call.
Lindsay and Goldstein are like your perfectly-paired wine and cheese. I don't know how Lindsay would fare away from his partner, but I do know that together in Florida, they make one hell of a duo. Lindsay's background as a rough-and-tough player gives him real insight into some of the less obvious elements of a hockey game, and he does well to bring that to the viewers in a way that's entirely instructive. Lindsay knows when to step in and make a point that perhaps Goldstein may not have thought to mention, then falls back into the distance and lets the professional get to work.
(1) Dallas -- Ralph Strangis and Daryl Reaugh
If there's one landing spot I'm absolutely certain of, it's the combination of Ralph Strangis and Daryl Reaugh at number one. I'll go as far as suggesting that Strangis and Reaugh single-handedly make the Dallas Stars a better watch -- that's an incredibly tough feat considering that most of the intrigue emanating from an organization is how strong or weak of a product is iced on a yearly basis. These two could turn croquet into must-watch television.
There's not a single-flaw to the broadcast, and both Strangis and Reaugh are at the top of the list in their respective fields. Strangis' works through the game like a chef works through a five-course meal, consistently making accurate and relevant information readily available to the viewer. If he's talking, you should be listening. I learn something from the man daily, and find his call to be one of the most enthralling and alluring in sports -- not just hockey.
Reaugh is your analyst's analyst. The guy would beat the living hell out of his father if it was his father in the wrong. He's the most thoroughly objective analyst I've seen working since the lockout lifted in 2004, calling a spade a spade, a spade a spade, and -- well, a spade a spade. When he steps in, you prepare for an educational experience that you won't get anywhere else. Credit his attention to detail to a hockey upbringing and subsequent fight for every minute at the professional level. Reaugh wasn't a talented professional on the ice, but he used it as a learning experience and carved out an even-better niche up in the booth. He's also one of the most intelligent men in the field, which certainly helps with his delivery.
Thanks for reading!