Monday, October 1, 2018
Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick
CHRIS McCLOSKEY: Thank you and good afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining us today for this NHL preview conference call. On the call today is Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire, as well as NBC Sports Executive Producer, Sam Flood.
As many of you have probably seen the big story for NBC Sports heading into this season is the introduction of a new brand, Wednesday Night Hockey. Although the traditional NFL rivalries will still be prominent, this new NBC FM platform will be more inclusive of the entire NHL, with more double headers, more Western Conference teams and more Canadian teams than we’ve ever had before.
It begins this Wednesday night as the Bruins take on the Stanley Cup champion Capitals, followed by the Ducks at the Sharks. Coverage begins on NBCSN at 6 p.m. Eastern.
A reminder, a transcript of the call will be available in a few hours on our media-dedicated website, NBCSportsGroupPressBox.com or email one of us here in the PR staff.
Let’s begin the call now with opening remarks from Sam Flood.
SAM FLOOD: Thanks for joining us, we can’t wait for the season to begin. We are excited about the new Wednesday nights Wednesday Night Hockey and what it’s going to bring; the best teams, the brightest stars and the biggest stage for hockey for starting this year.
Rivalry was a fun night and had a lot of great stories and great games in it, but the League has changed and grown so much in the last few years that we realize we needed to embrace the new teams, the new stars and the teams that weren’t part of those traditional core rivalries. Rather we’re celebrating all these young new players that are transforming the game and making it faster, making it better, making it more exciting.
To think that we’re going to have a Wednesday Night Hockey game on with two Canadian teams, October 24th, Toronto and Winnipeg. That’s how much we believe in players and teams and stars and taking advantage of the great hockey being played in these markets and they’re not U.S. cities. But they are cities that matter to the game of hockey and we’re going to lean in and we’re going to have studio shows onsite that will embrace the local hockeydom. And make sure that we celebrate everything that goes on in these places.
So for at least 10 of the games this year on Wednesday night the studio crew will travel to the site. And Jeremy Roenick will very often travel to either the early game or the late game to showcase what’s going on in that city and why players in that team matter.
And then Pierre, when we have a doubleheader game, is going to be out on the second game of the doubleheader to give that telecast to focus with Pierre as the vehicle for that. We think it’s a great way to embrace all the hockey that’s going to be played this year, and Wednesday night will be that destination night for the hockey fan. To be break from the travelism and be part of the bigger game.
EDDIE OLCZYK: Well, it is great to be back. It is great to be back with my family at NBC. Off the IR, to start this season, feeling strong, feeling healthy, and looking forward to getting back doing what I love to do.
There are so many story lines coming off of last year, the incredible run of the Vegas Golden Knights, of course, against the Washington Capitals and their miraculous playoff where everybody knows losing the first two games at home in overtime and most people thinking that they were done. And there they are hoisting their Stanley Cup.
But what I’m looking at is the big, big moves that were made over the course of this off season. First via free agencies with John Tavares going back home to the Toronto Maple Leafs. And of course late in the summer Max Pacioretty going from Montreal to Vegas. And Erik Karlsson going from Ottawa to San Jose and seeing how these, all three of these players, different in their own right, but certainly impact players in messages being sent by those particular organizations that grabbed them and said, you know what, we feel we have a chance to win. And to see how they settle in and play for their new teams.
So it’s going to be a lot of fun to see what these guys look like and how they find their way. But looking forward to getting back into the booth with Doc and Pierre. As I’ve done for I think for the last 11 years on the conference call I’ve been able to pass the buck to Pierre McGuire.
PIERRE McGUIRE: Thanks so much. Before I get going and talking about the great season that’s about to start, I’d just like to acknowledge Scotty Hartnell’s retirement today and his 17 seasons in the NHL. When we first started Rivalry Night a long time ago, Scotty Hartnell played a role in a lot of those Rivalry Nights, and he’s been a tremendous asset for our broadcast and he had a fantastic career and I just want to acknowledge his retirement today.
Eddie is right on about what’s gone on in the off season in the league, it’s Karlsson and Tavares, and it’s so much. Tampa Bay not having Steve Yzerman on a day-to-day basis, and how does that translate. Jim Montgomery going to the Dallas Stars. And Valeri Nichushkin, coming back from the KHL, playing for the NHL, and the impact he could have on that team. It’s the Philadelphia Flyers, who a lot of people thought they weren’t going to be much with the ten game losing streaks, but rallied to make the playoffs and I think they have one of the best young cores in the National Hockey League.
There’s so many story lines that Eddie touched on, but I think this will make Eddie the most excited, his old team the Winnipeg Jets, who we’re going to have on national TV is in the United States that Sam alluded to, what an amazing team they could be, if they can keep it on the track, and they’re potentially one of the better small market stories around.
I just can’t wait to get going. I’m really pumped about doing the late night games. Really excited to have Jeremy on the road. And let’s get after it.
We can get started with questions now.
Q. Thanks for doing this, as always. Hope you all enjoy the season. I wanted to go over to Pierre if I could. Pierre you were in Clinton for the Hockeyville game. I wanted to get your impressions of Rasmus Dahlin of the Sabres, and Jack Eichel. Does Jack Eichel need to become this year’s version of MacKinnon or Taylor Hall for the Sabres to get where they want to be?
PIERRE McGUIRE: Rasmus Dahlin is a generational player. I was blown away by how fluid he was. His ability to read and react to the floor check. Not afraid to take chances. Not too dissimilar to what his head coach was like when he broke into the league in terms of Phil Housley. I think he’s going to be a marquee player that needs to be shown on national TV and will be shown on national TV in the United States.
But for the rest of his team, they are a work in progress, but I think a real positive work-in-progress. I was blown away by the atmosphere around their group in the two days I was around them in Clinton.
The biggest thing when you talk about Jack, he clearly put the work in this summer. His conditioning levels are tremendous. I think he needs to be that player that you were alluding to, whether he’s Connor McDavid or whether he’s Nathan MacKinnon, a young star that makes a difference. I believe he can do that. I know that the coaching staff is expecting him to do that. He’s insulated really well right now, especially with Sammy Reinhart, who obviously had a tremendous year last year.
And the other thing that I think is really important is getting Patrik Berglund into that situation. He’s a mature guy that can really help Jack understand what it means to be a go to guy in the league.
And finally Jeffrey Skinner, you put Skinner on the line with Eichel and Reinhart, the line that was playing there in Clinton, that’s all fire power. And I know Skinner is really excited to be that. Had a great visit with Jeff.
But I think your point about Jack and bang on, he’s going to have to be that guy that — that person that makes a difference in the community both on and off the ice and I think he can do it.
Q. This question is for Sam, I’m sure you’re aware what BA is offering in terms of micro-transactions, the ability to pay a little bit to see the final quarter of a game. The ability to pay to get one singular game in that league. Just understanding that the league obviously was part of this, but philosophically as part of a television producer, how would you feel if the NHL made your product available on either a certain game-by-game basis or even like a period-by-period basis?
SAM FLOOD: I think that needs a lot of thought because ultimately it can cannibalize the bigger product. So there has to be conversations about what makes sense, how it’s going to work, and make sure it helps everyone.
CHRIS McCLOSKEY: Okay. Should we go to next question?
Q. I guess this question is for any and all, just your thoughts on Rod Brind’Amour becoming a head coach, and whether he can be the difference in getting the Hurricanes back in the playoffs?
EDDIE OLCZYK: I don’t think there’s any doubt that he can. The one thing that Carolina has in their favor is they’ve got an incredible defensive core to be able to find a way to win games, maybe when you’re not getting as much offense. Their defensive core is, no question in my mind, it’s a top ten, and it could be working themselves into a top five defensive core.
So I think when you have that going for you and if they can find the goal tending rotation against Scott Darling, I know he got banged up on the weekend, but seemed like he was having a pretty good training camp, if they can get consistent goal tending and find the way to put the puck in the back of the net a little bit more, they could be one of those teams that people are not talking about, that can take their next step because they’ve made a boatload of changes there, coaches, the removal of Ron Francis as the general manager.
Full disclosure, the assistant general manager, as well, my brother, Ricky, no longer in Carolina, but to me I think he’s in a really good spot, especially the key to that to me is their top six when healthy, they are really, really good and that will give them an opportunity to be a very competitive team, as long as their goal tenders make a routine save a hundred percent of the time and make those difficult saves, eight out of ten, seven out of ten, because they’re going to be in every game because of their defensive core:
PIERRE McGUIRE: I would agree. They’re going to have to get a lot of run support. The goal tending is unproven, but the defense should cover-up a lot of the blemishes that potentially could be there.
They did make some significant coaching changes. Rod is one of the guys that can communicate really well with young players. Had an awesome visit with Roddy down in Dallas and he has a real good idea for the identity he wants to team to have, which is positive, when you’re young you have to have an identity. Jeff Daniels and Dean Chynoweth are tremendous hockey people, they’ve been at it a long time, so I think they can help, as well.
But the defense is great. The goal tending is a question mark. They’re going to have to get run support. And that’s going to be the interesting part of it. Sebastian Aho is the key to all of that. If Sebastian can step up and be a difference maker, then they can be what that team is that Eddie was talking about, not a lot of people are talking about them, potentially by game 40 people will be talking about them.
Q. Everybody, before we go to the next question, Doc, are you back?
MIKE ‘DOC’ EMRICK: Yeah, I am.
CHRIS McCLOSKEY: Great. Doc, maybe if you could, if you could give what your opening remark was going to be, that would be great.
MIKE ‘DOC’ EMRICK: In light of everything, it’s inconsequential. I just think it’s a wonderful time that we have, and I think it will be a thrilling night for all three of us with the two games that we have. And especially one of the great things that we’ll get to where the captains watch the banner go up. It’s predictable, but it’s one of the great moments in my life. Especially considering what they went through last winter.
And so those were the things that I’ll appreciate and anticipate great times ahead in the season ahead. That was it.
Maybe I am too close to the international boundary, here, and that’s the problem. (Laughter.)
CHRIS McCLOSKEY: Thank you, Doc.
Q. Thanks for doing this. Question for Sam. You guys are going to be taking the studio show on the road a little bit more this year. I know you have the premiere folks go across the water every so often to create an atmosphere. In this era when a lot of resources are being kept home, what are the advantages that you see in getting out there and exposing your studio show?
SAM FLOOD: The beauty is engaging the audience in a different way and making people realize how special it is to be on location. Our entire NASCAR operation hometown is always on site for the races. We see there what a difference it makes.
We saw just this past Saturday, down in Washington, D.C. at the Fan Fest, that it engages the audience at a much higher level.
During the Stanley Cup Finals when the studio show was in Washington and in Las Vegas, it created atmosphere, a feel that you wanted to be a part of it. And it captured more fans and more fans captured that sense of urgency, sense of excitement, and sense of being part of something. That inclusiveness that makes you feel like you are a part of something bigger, as an assembled group than individually at home sometimes can be a huge advantage. And we like it. We’re going to push hard with it and have some really neat ideas to celebrate each market in a unique way.
Q. For anyone, what does the Golden Knights have to do to continue from last season, and avoid the hangover from the Stanley Cup Final? It’s tough the next year to bounce back. How do the Golden Knights avoid that and how successful can they be this season?
PIERRE McGUIRE: I was going to say they’ve already addressed that a little bit by changing up a little bit of the chemistry in the room. You bring in a Max Pacioretty, you bring in a Paul Stastny, Daniel Carr, you’re bringing in new people. You’re bringing excited people. You’re bringing in a captive audience, and once you bring that into the room that’s already energized. I think that’s positive.
No. 2, with Marc-Andre Fleury, in particular, I think that really makes a big difference. And Eddie can talk about that. He was his first ever pro coach. But I don’t see that team slipping at all. In fact I think that team is going to be just as difficult to play against.
But the one thing they established last year that has to hold true this year, I truly believe this is their home ice advantage. It’s a tremendous advantage for the home team when they’re playing the way they do. They cause a lot of problems for the opposition. If they can maintain the home ice advantage they had last year, that’s going to be gigantic for their group.
EDDIE OLCZYK: It’s so hard to win at the highest level, and to come so close, obviously in their first year. You think you can win. You think you can attain the top of the mountain. The moves that George McPhee has made, the guys that he has mentioned, Pierre, bringing in Paul Stastny, making a tremendous trade to get Max Pacioretty, you know, I think it sends an incredible message to the guys inside that room. Because in a lot of locker rooms as a player, when your manager goes out and makes certain moves, whether a team is rebuilding, it sends a message, or a manager goes out and says, you know what, we’re going to spend money and we’re going to go out and get premiere offensive players and improve ourselves. That’s sending a message like, you know what, we know we can win.
And I think that’s the message that was sent by Vegas over the course of the last whatever it is, 60 days, 90 days. Like, look, we know we can win. And, yeah, it’s hard. It is incredibly hard to win. You need a little luck. And what — no better place to look for a little luck than in Las Vegas.
But that’s speaking from experience, just for the record. You just never know when you need a little Lady Luck once in a while.
But honestly, I just really believe that it brings the players inside that room together and the coaches and just like, look, yeah, maybe we’re way ahead of where we thought we would be. But now the door is open and absolutely we can win and we’re going to show everybody, and there’s no better feeling than being inside the locker room when your manager says okay, let’s go. We think we can win, we’re going to spend money.
And I watched them in preseason and they look like the same team we saw last year in the Stanley Cup Finals. And it will be a lot of fun to get back to Vegas and watch them play.
MIKE ‘DOC’ EMRICK: I think the other thing, too, Pacioretty is not going to be out there and be pressured to be the captain. 158 goals the last five years, and now not living under that kind of pressure.
It will be interesting that the team had all of its home games at the very start and really capitalized on their home ice advantage and leapfrogged right to the top of the division. This year (no microphone) they go on the road five before they come back home for five. That will be an interesting start for them. It will be fascinating, and of course the pressure is on the theatrical crew to see what they can do to make sure they can make those pregame shows interesting for all of us again, too.
Q. This question is for Sam, but anyone else is welcome to chime in. You mentioned with the new Wednesday night hockey schedule there’s focus on the singular rising stars. With hockey being a team sport, what challenges or strategies do you have to highlight these rising stars and introduce a lot of them to the public?
SAM FLOOD: One of our big strategies is having the three guys on the phone to tell the stories and make us care about these players. We will go into each game with an agenda for the players, that if it’s their time and if it’s appropriate will be able to give the back story, give visuals of why that person matters, whether it’s great plays or great moments when the player was a kid, first starting out in the game or a great Golden Junior, or a great player in college, whatever it might be. We’re going to have the production ammo to showcase these stars and build them up.
But through the natural narrative of the game, moments are going to happen. And who better than Doc Emrick to take you through that moment, to celebrate the goal, the play, the hit, the pass. And get the audience against engaged at a different level with these players. But it’s a conscious decision to have these teams and have these players, and really celebrate them. And we know that hockey players always say it’s about the name on the front of the jersey, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the name on the back of the jersey, and we will.
Q. This question is for Sam. I saw that the Capitals are scheduled to be on NBC (no microphone) I want to ask you a question that involves scheduling. And I realize this will be probably a very, very long answer, but in terms of broad strokes, can you give me some insight on sort of what the calculus and the process is regarding what people we get on NBC, NBC FM, and specifically whatever the specific calculus you do in putting American teams or Canadian teams on, knowing that you’re not going to get the captive audience?
SAM FLOOD: The process that the NHL works out the ten full night schedules, the Wednesday night hockey schedule, and they come to us with a proposed schedule of matchups, based on parameters that we’ve all discussed, based on local market ratings, and potential star growth. So all those are factored in. And that’s how the Wednesday night and the Sunday NBC games are determined.
Those are the exclusive windows for both home markets are exclusive to NBC, and we’re the only hockey game in town. That’s how we go through scheduling those games.
The rest of the schedule, the Tuesday nights and Thursdays and Mondays are all based looking at the calendar, looking at the games we have, and deciding what could get the best rating and what can expose the audience to players that want to get out there. Each night is looked at individually with a group that includes programming, ratings and production. And the league is involved every step of the way making sure their agendas and our quotes for the season are all realized.
Q. Question for Eddie or Pierre. Is Karlsson enough to put the Sharks over the top or do you see some other question marks in regards to the roster, some things that need to be answered as this goes on?
EDDIE OLCZYK: You know, I think when I look at San Jose up front, do they have enough — do they have enough offensive finish would be the question. Do they have enough goal scoring, that’s probably the best way to put it.
Players up front when you’ve got a guy like Karlsson is on the ice, he’s going to be able to make plays that most guys in the league aren’t going to be able to. So he’s going to generate more offense for your forwards. And that is certainly going to be a benefit. The more chances you get, the numbers say, your numbers are going to go up, the more chances that you have.
So to me Jones is a very, very good goal tender, their defense — they’re solid — my opinion, one of the top ten in the league when you look at one through six. And then up front getting Jumbo back, but getting a little older. So to me that would be the question mark is do they have enough goal scoring up front to be able to compete with other teams in the west that probably have more offensive finish than they do.
PIERRE McGUIRE: I would agree with most of that. And the big thing is there’s some players that probably we don’t talk enough about, Tomas Hertl, is going to have a big year offensively, and get to be a 30 goal scorer. Evander Kane, I think at 28 or 29 goals when combine his work in Buffalo and San Jose last year. He’s got to get to 30. Kevin Labanc is a young player that I think is one of those guys that can realize some of that offense that Eddie was talking about.
But Joe Pavelski was a 205th pick in the ’03 draft, he’s not getting any younger. His numbers have been dropping, they need Joe to get back.
When you add in Erik Karlsson, with Joe Pavelski, to get those numbers back, is the power play. Erik Karlsson can offer a power play along with Brent Burns, along with anyone in the National League right now. San Jose is going to have to do their damage there. Teams are going to have to be very aware that they can’t play reckless with San Jose. And that’s where I think San Jose is going to have a lot of offenses, their power play is going to get a lot of opportunities to go to work.
Q. How do you see that working? Obviously Joe Thornton was the quarterback for so long, and now another quarterback in Erik Karlsson. I know it’s a great problem to have, is it a challenge to try to make all the pieces fit together?
PIERRE McGUIRE: I don’t think it’s a problem at all. Using last year’s defending Stanley Cup champions, and I coached power plays, some pretty good ones, and I know Eddie played on some good ones. But I’ll use Washington as an example. Nothing ever happened on that power play unless it went through the stick of Nick Backstrom.
But, Alex Ovechkin is one of the most lethal power play scorers in the history of the game. And John Carlson had a career offensive year, and the big part of that was the power play. You can have the assets San Jose has, much like the Washington Capitals have, and still run a really good power play. And I think that’s one of the great things about getting Joe back, that Eddie alluded to and I agree wholeheartedly, he’s one of the best pure play makers in the history of the sport. And on the power play will he get more time and pace, he will be that much more lethal. Erik Karlsson is going to be amazingly lethal. To try to penalty kill against that team is going to be very, very difficult. You’ll have to be a master of schematics.
EDDIE OLCZYK: I would guarantee that the coaching staff will be letting those players know. So just say it’s Couture in front, you’ve got Pavelski, Thornton, and Burns out there. They will go to Karlsson and to Thornton. Look, it’s okay to shoot the puck every once in a while, but don’t defer all the time. And then what it’s going to do it’s going to keep the penalty killers honest. Every once in a while don’t be afraid to drift the puck into the net. Then when you do that then those passing lanes are going to be open. And Jumbo is going to be able to make those passes. Karlsson is going to make the plays over to Brent Burns, or if somebody shoots the puck, you’ve got the guys with the best hand and eye coordination in the leagues as far as redirects with Joe Pavelski standing around the net.
Teams that players have goals at the start of the year, and when you look at their power play and go, you know what, this is a power play that’s got a chance to go — it’s got a chance to go 25 percent. And if you do that, you’ve got a pretty good chance at being — you’ve got a pretty good chance of being rated the top of your division if you can win the power play battle with those kind of numbers.
Q. Considering what the Vegas Golden Knights accomplished last season, do you see one team or a few teams with I guess low playoff expectations, do you foresee any team that could surprise like Vegas did last season?
EDDIE OLCZYK: We talked about Carolina a little bit earlier. To me it all relies on getting consistent goal tending. I think their (defense)and ye is outstanding. You need some emergence from some young guys up front and for them to stay healthy. I think they can be the one team if they can get goal tending. And we know that. But if they do that, they can be a team that right now a lot of people aren’t talking about. But if they do, they’ve got — they get on a run, why not? Why not a team like Carolina to go ahead and make a run like Vegas.
PIERRE McGUIRE: I’m going to go on the other side of it. The Florida Panthers. I don’t think they get nearly enough credit. And Roberto Luongo and James Reimer are going to have to keep it together. They have fire power. Their coach is so enlightened dealing with young players. Their defense is mobile. It’s physical and extremely well coached. I think they’re a team that can cause a lot of mayhem. And they’re the team that just missed the playoffs last year by a point. I could see them making the playoffs this year realistically.
SAM FLOOD: Maybe this year is going to be their year, but maybe the year after will be. But if you think the Atlantic Division, and almost everybody exceeding the top three, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Boston, they are creeping up there as an automatic fourth in my mind and in a lot of other minds, too, and who’s to say they aren’t going to push one of those top three. I think they’re doing really well, I like the goal tending.
CHRIS McCLOSKEY: Thank you everybody. Again, there will be a transcript available on NBCSportsGroupPressBox.com in just a few hours.
Tune in Wednesday night, it all begins at 6 p.m. Eastern on NBCSN. Thank you.