The NBC Sports Group released their television schedule for the upcoming 2016-17 NHL season touting a record 106 games (up one from last season) to be aired on NBC and NBCSN and the Buffalo Sabres will be a part of that.
Thanks to Yahoo's Greg Wyshinski a breakdown of the schedule shows that NBC has the Chicago Blackhawks on tap for 21 games and the Philadelphia Flyers with 20 to lead the way amongst appearances. With 17 appearances, the Boston Bruins surpassed both the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the Big Apple's NY Rangers who both have 15 as well as and the Washington Capitals who are on tap for 14 games.
This year the Buffalo Sabres are scheduled to be on national TV eight times. Last year with Jack Eichel in the fold after bottoming-out the prior two seasons, NBC tapped the Sabres for five appearances on their network which included a March 1st, post trade-deadline day meeting with Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers at First Niagara Center. Buffalo would end up finishing 1-3 in primetime NBC/NBCSN matchups last season with an OT loss vs. Edmonton in a game that was yanked from the national schedule.
Buffalo won at Tampa Bay 4-1 on November 10th to conclude their four-game season series. In what can only be described as weird scheduling--or punishment for the Sabres perceived tanking to get Eichel--the NHL schedule-makers had the Sabres face the defending Eastern Conference Champion Lightning four times in 30 days. Tampa had beaten Buffalo the previous three games by a combined 10-3 score before Eichel helped the Sabres bust loose with a goal and an assist in the victory.
The Sabres faced the NY Rangers at Madison Square Gardens on January 25th and the national TV audience on NBCSN was treated to some pretty good hockey featuring a 4:52 span when we thought we were watching a game straight outta the mid-80's. The Sabres erased a two-goal deficit as Zemgus Girgensons scored twice taking two feeds from linemate Eichel to even the score at 3-3. Unfortunately Derick Brassard stole the show with two goals of his own plus three assists in the Rangers 5-3 win.
Buffalo would try to make a game of it against the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins on February 21st for a matinee game to kick off Hockey Day in America, one week before the NHL trade deadline. However the Sabres went into the third period down 4-1 against a Pens team that was 8-3-1 in their previous 12 games and despite two goals from defenseman Zach Bogosian they ended up on the wrong end of a 4-3 score.
At Detroit in their final appearance of the season on national TV, the Red Wings stifled the Sabres for 57 minutes before Buffalo broke through. Down 3-0 with three minutes to go, Girgensons snapped a wrister to make it 3-1 then just over a minute later rookie Sam Reinhart took a feed from recently signed Casey Nelson to make the game 3-2 with 1:49 to go in the third. However, the Wings would hold on for the victory.
Conspicuously missing from the original NBCSN schedule was the first-ever "McEichel" matchup on March 1st. NBC opted to go with Pittsburg Penguins/Washington Capitals in a rivalry game featuring superstars Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin instead of the scheduled Oilers/Sabres game. On tap for NBCSN in Buffalo would have been the first-ever meeting between franchise players McDavid and Eichel, the top two picks in the 2015 NHL Draft. Too bad, because the national audience would have been treated to two goals by McDavid, including the overtime winner after Eichel missed on a breakaway, in a 2-1 Oilers win. Firsts only come around once and the network missed out on that one.
It was Edmonton's only shot at national U.S. audience last season and for some unknown reason they're not on the schedule this year. They will have two opportunities late in the season as NBC has two open slots Saturday April 8th and Sunday April 9th, but how the network can completely dismiss them, especially with the addition of Milan Lucic, certainly is a head-scratcher. The Oilers are playing a home-and-home with the Vancouver Canucks that final weekend.
As for the Sabres, their most notable game on the schedule is against the Chicago Blackhawks where they will once again be a part of Hockey Day in America on January 25th. Buffalo will host Chicago for the third game of the day starting at 6:00 p.m. It's the second of two national games for the 'Hawks against the Sabres.
The Sabres national TV schedule:
--Tuesday, October 25, 7:30 p.m. at Philadelphia, NBCSN
--Tuesday, January 3, 7:00 p.m. at NY Rangers, NBCSN
--Thursday, January 5, 8:30 p.m. at Chicago, NBCSN
--Thursday, February 2, 7:30 p.m. vs. NY Rangers, NBCSN
--Thursday, February 16, 7:30 p.m. vs. Colorado, NBCSN
--Sunday, February 19, 6:00 p.m. vs. Chicago, NBC Hockey Day In America
--Tuesday, March 7, 7:30 p.m. vs. Philadelphia, NBCSN
--Monday, March 20, 7:30 p.m. at Detroit, NBCSN
Of note. Buffalo will be on the road in Florida the final weekend of the season as they finish with a Saturday April 8th game at the Florida Panthers and a Sunday April 9th game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.