Sidney Crosby finally returns to the Pittsburgh Penguins after sitting out almost an entire calendar year due to a concussion suffered January 5th. Versus has changed their television plans for the occasion and will televise Penguins-Islanders tonight at 7 PM ET. Here's what the network had to say...
With Sidney Crosby making his return to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup for the first time since January 5, VERSUS is switching from the Boston Bruins/Montreal Canadiens game scheduled for Monday night to air the New York Islanders/Penguins game at 7 p.m. from the CONSOL Energy Center. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live after a 30-minute edition of NBC SportsTalk at 6 p.m. ET
The team of Dave Strader (play-by-play announcer) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside the Glass’ analyst) will call all the action from Pittsburgh.
CBC in Canada is also picking up the Pens-Isles game as well, so all hockey eyes will be on Pittsburgh tonight. I'm a bit surprised Versus wouldn't call on Doc Emrick for such a big occasion, but you can have some fun during the telecast by Twitter searching "Pierre McGuire" to see how much hockey fans love the inside the glass analyst. As a Pens fan, I'm beyond excited to see Crosby finally healthy and fit to play. More importantly though, Crosby's comeback game is great news for the sport. Such a lengthy layoff due to a concussion was quite scary for the game's most notable superstar. However, the Penguins didn't rush Crosby back and throughout his absence important conversatons have taken place on treating concussions and preventing players coming back too soon. If anything, Crosby's 10 month plus absence has forced hockey and other sports to take concussions even more seriously than before.
Even without Crosby, the NHL has continued its slow rise on the national scene in the last year. Last season's Stanley Cup Playoffs was a ratings success, especially the exciting Bruins-Canucks Finals series and its Game 7 that was tied for the best television rating since 1995. Continuing that momentum, the Flyers-Bruins season opener on Versus this year was the highest rated regular season game in the network's history with over 800,000 viewers. It'll be interesting to see how Crosby's return does in the ratings, but it can be only good news for the NHL.
Conventional wisdom would tell you the NHL should be the main benefactor of a protracted NBA Lockout along with college hoops. It may not show in the ratings right now with football dominating the sports landscape. Numbers are up and down on Versus for nationally televised games through the first month of the NHL season. However, if February and March roll around without an NBA season (and there's nothing but tumbleweeds on that front currently), then hockey ratings may start to soar. Also worth factoring into the mix is NBC effectively rebranding Versus as NBC Sports Network and making a huge marketing push during the new year. As the cornerstone live sports property on the network, the NHL will be a major part of that push. As the season develops, Crosby's return tonight in Pittsburgh may be just one piece of an even larger NHL resurgence this year.