Deal with MLBAM Should Improve NHL’s Digital Media

The end of July and early August are usually the quietest few weeks on the NHL calendar and, for the most part, this year has been no different. Besides a few minor free agent signings and the National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid not much else has really transpired. With that being the case it’s understandable if you missed the news that the NHL has reached a digital media agreement with MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM).

For those that aren’t baseball fans (and those that are) the name MLBAM may be pretty unfamiliar. Besides running the various MLB media platforms such as, the various team websites, MLB Network, MLB Extra Innings, MLB TV, and the mobile app MLB At Bat, the company is also in charge of several other entities. As per Sportsnet, MLBAM is already the streaming video provider for ESPN, HBO, and WWE among others. Forbes called the company “the biggest media company you’ve never heard of.”

With the six year, $1.2 billion deal MLBAM will take over control of and the team sites, Gamecenter Live, NHL Center Ice, and (perhaps most importantly) the NHL Network. If you’ve ever watched the MLB Network on a day or night with a full slate of games, the fact that the MLBAM is taking over the underwhelming NHL Network can only be seen as good news.

Having watched my fair share of the NHL Network, MLB Network, NFL Network, and even NBA TV, I can confidently say the MLB Network blows the other three out of the water. Baseball’s flagship station sports a huge, modern studio, live programming usually from 10 am to after midnight, and an impressive arsenal of studio analysts that includes 14 former players, a former team executive, and several well respected baseball lifers such as Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal.

So how will (or how could) the new deal impact hockey fans and how they use the NHL’s media outlets? It’s a safe bet that the NHL Network is going to get a nice upgrade. As part of the agreement, the NHL Network will have a new headquarters in Secaucus, NJ, where a new set will be built. There may also be a few new faces in front of the camera. As already mentioned MLB Network has a huge amount of analysts and hosts, while the NHL Network only has ten listed on its website. Not only could NHL Network expand the amount of analysts at their disposal, the move down to New Jersey may impact a few of its current hosts. The likes of Andi Petrillo, Craig Button, and others live in the Toronto area and have been based their for many years. It will be interesting to see if Petrillo (who was previously with CBC) and Button (who also does work with TSN) make the trip to the states. If MLBAM opts to run the channel in a similar way as it’s MLB cousin, there’s a solid chance of more live programming (and less condensed reruns from 2-4 in the afternoon). Among the additions I’d love to see is a live, well run, morning show. MLB Central airs live at 10am on MLB Network after its version of NHL on the Fly, and is a great alternative to Sportscenter.

Statheads will also be pleased with MLBAM. The company has a series of “Statcast” videos that go into detail on various advanced stats in regards to everything from pitch velocity to an individual player’s advantage when it comes to stealing bases. This video on which player covers the most distance in center field is a great example of the work they do. When focused on things like zone entries, shot speed, or where players are shooting from on the ice, these videos could be a huge hit.

When it comes to the individual team sites and the league site, MLBAM will begin to implement its changes in January. It’s not clear what changes will be made but if the MLB team sites and the league site are any indication, there will likely be more information available on the team homepages. By taking a look at a baseball team’s website (I glanced at the Yankees’ and Brewers’ sites) as compared to an NHL team’s (I looked at the Sabres’ site) there are a few noticeable differences. First of those is that the team’s social media is embedded and easily veiwable on the baseball sites. “What’s trending” is also a feature on the baseball sites. Overall, the baseball sites are significantly more interactive and provide a huge amount of video content when compared to their hockey counterparts. When it comes to the league site, video content and trending topics is also prevalent. MLB’s website also has a feature called “Cut 4,” which is a video channel dedicated to offbeat and funny baseball related videos that some times aren’t even related to any major league team. Among the videos currently available are a minor league team unveiling an Arnold Schwarzenegger bobbehead and a softball player hitting a home run with a behind the back swing. It is features like this that draw people to the site and provide entertainment; it is also features like this that is currently lacking.

MLBAM will also be coming out with an NHL version of the MLB At Bat app. At Bat is baseball’s in game app that provides live scores, pitch tracking, and live statistics. There’s also a premium version that allows subscribers to watch certain games and listen to any game via the home or away radio broadcast. An NHL app that provides those features would be of great value to many fans, especially expats who can’t see or listen to their hometown team on a regular basis.

The NHL has botched a lot of things in the past, but it appears they’ve found a company willing and able to significantly improve some ways fans get their hockey fix and revolutionize others. While drastic changes likely won’t be hugely noticeable when the puck drops on the season in about two months, my bet is by the end of the year there will be a change for the positive.

Instigator Podcast Episode 39 – 2ITB Mock Draft Spectacular

We get together to discuss Tim Murray’s pre-draft press conference along with going through our own picks for 2015 NHL Draft.

Instigator Podcast Epsiode 39 - 2ITB Mock Draft Spectacular by The Instigator Podcast on Mixcloud

How the Sabres’ Prospects Fared at 2015 WJC’s

Every year the World Junior Championships is used by top NHL prospects as a showcase to prove to scouts that they are either worthy of a 1st round pick, deserve that first pro contract, or maybe a first shot in the show. As we are now three days removed from Canada’s triumph in the gold medal game the final sprint to June 26 in Sunrise is now underway. As evidenced by ISS’s January Top 30, scouts place a premium on performance (or lack thereof) at the World Juniors.

Sabres fans enduring the three-way battle royale for 30th place this season can take solace in the results from this year’s tournament, as many of their current prospects helped their cause, while some names they may have interest in come June also performed well. Here’s a look at how current Sabres farmhands fared in Toronto and Montreal, as well as how some 2015 draft eligible players helped or hurt themselves. Continue reading

Surprises on Opening Night Rosters

Every year there are relatively unknown players that work their way onto opening night rosters. Luke Adam for the Sabres in 2011 and Cory Conacher for Tampa Bay in 2012 are examples of players not only finding their way onto rosters, but contributing right away. While those immediate impacts were short lived, and instances of a relatively unknown player bursting onto the season as those two did are pretty rare, there are players on every roster that no one expected to be there. Here is one player from every NHL team (except the Sabres) who are surprises on opening rosters, unknown to the league (and the fans) or both.

William Karlsson, Anaheim Ducks– The 21 Swede spent the majority of last season playing in Sweden before making cameo with Norfolk of the AHL. He posted nine points in nine regular season games and three points in eight games for the Admirals. While he is on the opening night roster, he looks to be in a battle with Rickard Rackell, who got his first extended look in the NHL last season, for the Ducks’ last center spot.

Justin Hodgman, Arizona Coyotes- He’s bounced around from Fort Wayne to the KHL before signing a two-way deal with Arizona at the age of 26. He’s not a scorer, having neot registered a 20 goal season since he was in the OHL, but may find a home on the Coyote’s 4th line.

Bobby Robins, Boston Bruins- The 32 year old journeyman racked up over 300 career AHL games, along with making stops in Great Britain, Austria, and Slovenia, before cracking an NHL lineup with the Bruins on Wednesday night. He even got in his first NHL fight, with Luke Schenn.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames- Gaudreau is not exactly an unknown to hockey fans after he torched the NCAA during his two years at Boston College. He got a one game audition towards the end of last season with the Flames and found the back of the net. He’ll get a chance to stick with the big club during his first full pro season.

Patrick Brown, Carolina Hurricanes- The 22 year old will start his first professional season in the NHL after four years at Boston College. He begins the years on the ‘Canes’ 4th line with Riley Nash and Chris Terry.

Trevor van Riemsdyk, Chicago Blackhawks- The kid brother of Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk made the Blackhawks roster after the team had to trade Nick Leddy because of cap issues. The 23 year old has been skating alongside Niklas Hjalmarsson in practice recently.

Dennis Everberg, Colorado Avalanche- Everberg is new to North America after playing the last five years in Sweden. At 6’ 4” Everberg definitely has the size, and will get a look on the Avalanche’s 4th line. Continue reading

Five Storylines to Watch as the Sabres Head to Camp

Sam Reinhart- This is the obvious one; expectations are sky high for the Sabres’ highest draft pick since Pierre Turgeon in 1987. By all accounts Reinhart played well in Traverse City despite not finding the back of the net. Reinhart will obviously face a step up in competition as he heads into his first NHL camp. The rookie will most certainly get his shot at the beginning of the year with his nine game pseudo tryout before a decision must be made on his future. All eyes will be on him as he attempts to force his way into the Sabres’ top six forwards, but looking at the Sabres’ roster make up, don’t be shocked to see Reinhart headed back to Kootenay for another year.

The Defense- Only seven, maybe eight blue liners will be on the roster when the puck drops against Columbus on October 7. The team currently has ten candidates for those spots, with the rest shipped down the thruway to Rochester or sent back to juniors for the beginning of the new campaign. Looking at the roster, four spots are locked up in Tyler Myers, Mike Weber, Andrej Meszaros, and Josh Gorges, plus the signing of Andre Benoit to a one way deal likely wraps up the fifth spot on the back end. That leaves Jake McCabe, Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen, Chad Ruhwedel, and Nikita Zadorov to battle it out in camp for the two or three remaining spots. Zadorov took a seat for a period or two in Traverse City due to a perceived lack of effort and looks set to be on the way back to the OHL for another year of seasoning barring an exceptional camp. While play on the ice will obviously be the major factor in deciding who sticks with the big club, contract flexibility may also pay a factor; a player like Rasmus Ristolainen is still able to be shuttled between Buffalo and Rochester without going through waivers, which makes him a more likely candidate to start in the AHL.

Top Six Forwards- Tim Murray was able to add much more depth to the NHL ranks on July 1, and the majority of that depth comes in the form of top six forwards such as Brian Gionta and the returning Matt Moulson. Those additions, along with the likes of Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Drew Stafford, and Chris Stewart would lead folks to believe the Sabres’ top two forward lines are fairly set. There are still some questions positionally, mainly who will man the middle. Cody Hodgson’s defensive deficiencies have led some to believe he could end up on the wing, while Tyler Ennis saw time at both center and wing last season. With these players seemingly locked into scoring roles barring a trade or injury, it looks like a tough task for anyone, including Sam Reinhart, to break into the group on a permanent basis. Another name who gets lost in the shuffle is Mikhail Grigorenko. The odds are certainly not in his favor for an opening night spot, but he has added 15-20 pounds of muscle and heads into this season in what looks to be a much better frame of mind when compared to last year; I’m pulling for him to put forth a good showing in camp.

Bottom Six Forwards- The Sabres have a ton of bodies looking to fill the final eight roster spots (including healthy scratches). While Zemgus Girgensons is basically a lock to man the middle for the 3rd line and likes of Marcus Foligno, Brian Flynn, and the repatriated Cody McCormick also look to have spots, there are still plenty of questions. Torrey Mitchell barely got on the ice for the team last year before getting hurt, and is thus a bit of an unknown. Nic Deslauriers acquitted himself well in limited duty last year, and Matt Ellis is back in the fold for another year. Add in the now healthy (and sometimes forgotten) Pat Kaleta, new signing Zac Dalpe, Johan Larsson, and new addition Jordan Samuels-Thomas (who played very well in Traverse City) and the competition for the last few spots will be fierce.

Goaltending- For the first time since the early 90’s the Sabres go into the season without a definitive answer in the crease. Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth head into camp as the goaltending tandem for the Blue and Gold, and all indications point toward a scenario where the two are viewed as option 1a and 1b by Ted Nolan. While it is unknown how Nolan will split time in net during the preseason, the two 26 year old netminders will be looking to show that they deserve the nod on opening night. The year may start with the time split relatively even, Nolan will likely not hesitate to go with the hot hand. While the opening night starter is by no means a guarantee to play 55 or 60 games, whoever gets the start will have the first chance to prove himself to the coaches. New goaltending coach Arturs Irbe may also play a role in determining who eventually wins the job. Irbe was considered an undersized goaltender throughout his career and he is now tasked with mentoring the 5’ 10” Enroth and Neuvirth, who is listed at 6’ 1”. Whichever goaltender is able to take to Irbe’s methods quickest may benefit in the form of more playing time.

2ITB second round predictions

For the third-straight season I rolled up six out of eight correct playoff series predictions in the first round. I fully expect to almost completely whiff on my second round predictions for the third-straight season.

While I swung and missed on my Cup Finals prediction, I managed to guess most of the second round participants and I’ll now provide my predictions for the second round series.

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators

This will be a very interesting series to follow. The main storyline is the Penguins struggles in net but this will really come down to Pittsburgh’s firepower matching up against Craig Anderson and Ottawa’s ability to defend. Pittsburgh has a deep offensive lineup that would create ugly matchup choices for an All Star team, let alone the seventh seed in the playoffs. If Paul MacLean can work his magic and Anderson stays hot, this will be a long series.

Why Pittsburgh will win: Firepower is the name of the game for the Penguins. They outscored their way to the second round with little more than average goaltending supporting their back legs. This is an offensive juggernaut which also has a pair of bottom six lines capable of mixing offense and defense quite nicely. Goaltending will obviously be an issue and the hot button issue until Tomas Vokoun proves he can carry this team.

Why Ottawa will win: The Senators have continuously proven that they’re capable of overcoming and they did a fine job of that all year. They certainly weren’t overmatched by the Canadiens but I feel they will be in many ways during this series. However, if they can find offensive success they should have little issue being very competitive against this team

Outcome: Penguins in six Continue reading

NHL risking oversaturation with more outdoor games

With news breaking that the 2013-14 schedule may have upwards of four outdoor games, my wheels again began to turn at the thought of the diminishing spectacle that is outdoor hockey.

The lockout prevented the 2013 Winter Classic from occurring but the Red Wings and Maple Leafs will meet on New Year’s Day 2014 to make up for their missed appointment this past January. In addition, rumors have indicated that the Canucks will play host to the Heritage Classic with additional whispers of a Kings and Ducks showdown at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodger Stadium game is expected to occur on Hockey Day in America and would potentially serve as a doubleheader with another outdoor game played at Yankee Stadium featuring the Rangers. The latter three games have yet to be confirmed, but it would appear that they’re going to be part of the plans for the 2013-14 season.

While I think the Hockey Day in America doubleheader could make for some cool television, I fear that by the time those two games roll around no one will care much for the outdoor product. As it stands now, the Winter Classic makes for a fun game to watch in the elements even though the on-ice product isn’t always up to snuff. Scheduling a pair of games to come after the Winter and Heritage Classic could seriously cheapen what has otherwise become a very cool product.

I wrote this last year about the potential for watering down what these outdoor games mean. I fear that oversaturating the market will change these from unique spectacles to just another blip on the NHL radar. Continue reading